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Russia Report: January 26, 2006

26 January 2006, Volume 6, Number 2
By Julie Corwin

On 22 January, the Russian state television channel Rossiya showed viewers film footage of a rock, but not just any rock. This was an artificial rock that allegedly contained espionage equipment. The rock is at the center of allegations by the Federal Security Service (FSB) that four employees of the British Embassy in Moscow have been spying. In addition to organizing information drop-offs at the "rock" in a local park, the FSB asserts, one of the alleged spies is accused of channeling funds to several Russian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Activists fear the FSB is trying to smear their organizations by association.

WASHINGTON, 24 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The FSB gathered a select group of Russian reporters on 22 January to discuss the spy scandal that erupted after the Rossiya broadcast. FSB chief spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko said the scandal involved alleged British spies passing information via a transmitter hidden in a rock planted on a Moscow street.

"The know-how here is such that the intelligence officer can communicate with his agent without meeting him at all," Ignatchenko said. "Let us visualize the situation: the agent, who has to transmit information, walks near the rock, approaches it and transmits information at a distance of about 20 meters via a special device. The intelligence officer also walks nearby, receives information and gives new instructions to his agent."

Ignatchenko said the effort was aided by a Russian national, whom the spokesman said has been arrested and who has admitted to spying for British intelligence.

The FSB spokesman also claimed that one of the British Embassy staffers had provided funding to Russian NGOs via the Foreign Office's Global Opportunities Fund.

Ignatchenko said 12 Russian NGOs had received those funds -- including the Committee Against Torture, the Center for Development of Democracy, the Eurasia Foundation, and the Moscow Helsinki Group.

The UK Foreign Office issued a statement on 22 January in which it rejected "any allegation of improper conduct in our dealings with Russian NGOs." "It is well known that the UK government provides financial support to projects implemented by Russian NGOs in the field of human rights and civil society," the government statement said. "All our assistance is given openly and aims to support the development of a healthy civil society in Russia."

Lyudmila Alekseyeva, founder and chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group who is also a regular contributor to RFE/RL's Russian Service, acknowledged that her group received money from the British Embassy in 2004. She said the money was to finance a trip by activists to the United Kingdom to study international documents on human rights. Alekseyeva described the entire scandal as a "fabrication" whose long-term goal is to stifle dissent before the 2007 State Duma elections and the 2008 presidential race.

"As far as I understand, the goal of these actions is to prepare the public for the crushing defeat of human rights groups, [which are] the more active and independent part of civil society in Russia," Alekseyeva told RFE/RL. "The idea is to repress human rights activists and after that trample down civil society, so that everyone will be silent for 2007-08 and beyond."

Irina Yakishina, director of the Eurasia Foundation in Moscow, denied receiving any funding from the British Embassy in 2005.

However, like the Moscow Helsinki Group, the Eurasia Foundation did receive a grant in 2004 of about $105,000 that was intended to promote independent newspapers in provincial Russian cities.

The spy scandal is just the latest event in an ever-widening campaign of pressure against Russian NGOs that has attracted the attention of Western leaders.

At the center of the controversy is a law on NGOs that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed this month and that takes effect in April. It imposes harsh conditions on the registration and operation of NGOs and effectively bans foreign funding for any NGOs involved in politics.

Sarah Mendelson, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that this is not the first time the FSB has accused NGOs of being a security threat.

"Let's remember there is a pattern also going back quite a few years where the Russian authorities have decided people who were trying to get fair wages for Russians, working on labor issues, that that was somehow involved in national security," Mendelson said. "The Peace Corps was thrown out. The OSCE has been thrown out at various times."

The difference in this case, according to Mendelson, is that the authorities are not applying pressure quietly. Since its debut on 22 January, the footage of the "spy rock" has been shown on Rossiya repeatedly. Alekseyeva is concerned that the broadcast will be convincing for "poorly educated and gullible" people.

(RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report.)

By Victor Yasmann and Liz Fuller

Speaking on 24 January during a two-day visit to Baku, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov warned that Moscow may pull out of the amended Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) that regulates the amount of heavy weaponry Russia and NATO member states may deploy in sensitive strategic locations, Russian and international media reported. Ivanov expressed his displeasure that some NATO member states have still not ratified the Treaty (Russia did so in July 2004). He said: "So far we are fulfilling all our obligations [imposed by the CFE Treaty,] unlike the other states that have signed the treaty, but have yet to ratify it. "[But] we have limits over which we will not go for now. As for the future, we will see," RTR and Channel One reported.

The original CFE Treaty was signed in November 1990 between the Soviet Union, its Warsaw Pact allies, and NATO. Following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and of the USSR, preliminary agreement was reached in July 1997 on amending the original treaty to impose "ceilings" on individual countries' armed forces, specifying the maximum number of troops that may be deployed in each country (including troops from a foreign country or military alliance), and the number of tanks, aircraft, artillery pieces and other military hardware that may be deployed in individual countries in the region extending from the Atlantic to the Urals. Those amendments were further adapted in 1999 to reflect the fact that by that time former Warsaw Pact members Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic had been admitted to NATO and Slovakia, Slovenia Romania, and Bulgaria, as well as the Baltic states, had been given the green light to embark on talks on joining the Alliance. (They eventually did so in March 2004.)

The Agreement on Adaptation of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe was finalized and signed during the OSCE summit in Istanbul in November 1999. But even before the Adaptation Agreement was signed, the U.S. signaled that it would not ratify it until Russia reduced its military presence in the North Caucasus, which had been expanded just months earlier due to the onset of the second war in Chechnya. Consequently, of the 30 OSCE member states that signed the amended treaty, only four -- Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia -- have ratified it. In recent years, senior Russian officials have repeatedly argued that the Baltic states should also accede to the amended treaty, but no further countries may do so until all the original signatories have ratified it. And Washington has imposed further conditions for ratification, namely that Russia make good on the agreement it signed on the sidelines of the 1999 Istanbul summit in Istanbul to scale down its military presence in Georgia, closing two of its four bases in that country by July 2001, and to withdraw all its forces from Moldova by the end of 2002.

Russia duly withdrew from two bases in Georgia by mid-2001, but an agreement on closing the remaining two by the end of 2007 was signed only in May 2005. The situation with regard to Moldova is even bleaker, as 1,400 Russian servicemen and 21,000 tons of hardware and ammunition remain in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester Republic with no clear date set for their departure.

The United States and other NATO countries continue to peg ratification of the amended CFE treaty to Russian compliance with the commitments it made in Istanbul, even though then Russian Defense Minister Igor Ivanov argued in February 2005 that those commitments took the form of bilateral agreements and are therefore not binding with regard to multilateral agreements. Ivanov's statement in Baku suggests that Moscow has decided to flex its military muscle and threaten to destroy a pact that has been described as the cornerstone of the entire European security system. Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov uttered a similar warning last month, telling RIA Novosti on 12 December: "If steps are not taken to ratify [the adapted CFE Treaty] in the very near future, we will be in danger of losing the whole regime of conventional arms in Europe," reported.

But an unnamed Russian military diplomat quoted by "Vremya novostei" on 25 January downplayed the likely impact of a hypothetical Russian withdrawal from the CFE treaty. That diplomat predicted that little would change in real terms, and that Russia is unlikely to embark on a military build-up on its Western borders that would pose a threat to the West.

By Robert Parsons

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) today delivered a stinging rebuke to Russia for its record on human rights abuse in Chechnya. In a resolution adopted by the assembly, it condemned what it called the excessively harsh behavior of the Russian security forces, numerous human rights violations, and the climate of impunity in which the security forces operated. It also urged the Council of Ministers to restart monitoring of human rights abuses in Chechnya.

STRASBOURG, 25 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- There were harsh words in Strasbourg today from a body that is increasingly seen by many as the top human rights watchdog in Europe. Chechnya, the Parliamentary Assembly said, was the most serious human rights issue in any of the Council of Europe's member states.

The resolution approved by PACE states that human rights abuses in Russia's North Caucasus republic have shown no sign of easing and that the excessively harsh manner in which the security forces act in the region in no way contributes to restoring law and order.

The 67-page report on human rights abuses in Chechnya, which accompanied the resolution, goes further still. It states categorically that there has been no end to murder, enforced disappearances, torture, hostage-taking, and arbitrary detention.

Still worse, the report goes on, the abuses appear to be spreading to other parts of the North Caucasus. The conflict in Chechnya, it states, appears to be spreading like an epidemic, threatening the rule of law throughout the Russian Federation.

Most of the speakers held the Russian government responsible, although they also blamed Chechen rebels and the so-called "Kadyrovtsy", the Chechen security forces effectively under the command of Ramzan Kadyrov, the first deputy prime minister of Chechnya.

Christos Pourgourides, a parliamentarian from Cyprus, said he made his criticisms as a sincere friend of Russia: "It is simply unacceptable -- and it should be the most unacceptable to the Russian federal authorities themselves and most particularly to the Russian Duma -- that in so many cases of murder, disappearance, torture, and other serious human rights violations, a criminal case is opened, suspended, and soon closed again."

But a succession of Russian speakers defended Moscow's record, among them nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia member Leonid Slutsky. He said that if you compared the situation in Chechnya now with the situation three years ago it was like comparing night and day. The Chechen capital, he said, was like one huge building site. And why, he asked, did neither the resolution nor the report make any mention of the November 2005 elections in Chechnya.

"I pose this question: is it not the case that the right to elect and to be elected are among the most fundamental rights on the territory of the Council of Europe? Of course they are," Slutsky said. "So why then is there not a word in the resolution about the fact that there have just been parliamentary elections in Chechnya that completed the process of the formation of constitutional power in the republic. For the first time in 15 years and after two wars, the Chechen people are free and, incidentally, have elected a parliament after a serious competition. From the point of view of human rights, that's huge progress."

The argument enjoyed some support in the assembly and was indeed acknowledged by the rapporteur, Erik Jurgens, in his summary. He also countered Russian accusations that the Council of Europe was hostile to Russia. On the contrary, he said, the council recognized the huge nature of the challenge facing Russia and wanted to help Moscow cope.

Rather than stepping back from monitoring events in Chechnya, he said, it was time for the Committee of Ministers, the executive body of the Council of Europe, to start playing a more active role. It hadn't done anything to seek an improvement in Chechnya since its monitoring mission ended in 2002. It was time, he said, for the committee to resume monitoring.

The PACE resolution was even more forthright. It stated that "a fair number of governments, member states, and the Committee of Ministers of Europe have failed to address the ongoing human rights violations in a regular, serious, and intensive manner, despite the fact that such violations still occur on a massive scale."

The resolution is one of the most critical assessments of the human rights situation in Chechnya at such a high level for some considerable time.

By Jean-Christophe Peuch

Russian officials say more than 60 people have been arrested on suspicion of participating, directly or not, in the 13 October deadly militant raids on Nalchik, the capital of the southern republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. Human rights groups, in turn, claim the number of detainees is higher and that most of them have nothing to do with the unrest. Among those who were apprehended in the aftermath of the attacks is former Guantanamo Bay inmate Rasul Kudayev, who recently disappeared from his Nalchik prison cell. Another man, civic campaigner Ruslan Nakhushev, has been missing since early November. Relatives, colleagues, and lawyers are demanding that regional and federal authorities shed light on both men's fate.

PRAGUE, 19 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Ruslan Nakhushev is the regional coordinator of the Russian Islamic Heritage, or RIN, a Moscow-based civic movement that works toward promoting dialogue between religious communities. He is also the head of the Institute of Islamic Studies, a Nalchik-based nongovernmental organization that has been striving to mediate between regional officials and young Muslim dissidents who do not recognize the authority of the government-controlled Spiritual Board of Muslims.

Nakhushev went missing on 4 November 2005, three weeks after the deadly Nalchik raids. Colleagues and relatives say he disappeared after meeting with investigators at the regional headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the Soviet KGB.

Why Nakhushev -- himself a retired KGB officer -- was summoned to the FSB remains unclear. One thing is sure, though -- he disappeared without a trace.

RIN deputy regional coordinator Susanna Varitlova tells RFE/RL that friends and relatives have repeatedly called upon Kabardino-Balkaria's President Arsen Kanokov and other officials to provide information on Nakhushev's whereabouts, but to no avail.

"We know nothing about him," Varitlova said. "We don't know where he is. We know absolutely nothing. It is as when someone drowns."

Days after Nakhushev was reported missing, the regional prosecutor's office charged him with links to the Nalchik raids and issued a search warrant against him. At the same time, Prosecutor Yury Ketov ordered that an investigation into his disappearance be launched. The probes are being conducted by the regional FSB and the Nalchik prosecutor's office, respectively.

Some officials have told relatives and friends that they believe the civic campaigner is hiding outside Kabardino-Balkaria, possibly in Moscow, or Kazakhstan. But for Anuar Dikinov, who was hired as a lawyer by Nakhushev's family, these claims are baseless.

"This is rubbish. This is wrong. Those are just speculations that have nothing to do with reality. I wrote to the [Russian] Prosecutor-General's Office to demand that they reverse [Ketov's] illegal order to open a criminal investigation against Nakhushev," Dikinov said. "Yesterday [16 January], I lodged a complaint with the Nalchik city court to that same effect. I can't even get a copy of Ketov's order. I asked the prosecuting judge and the [regional] prosecutor's office for a copy. They both refused, although I have the right to obtain a copy as a lawyer [for Nakhushev's family]."

Many in Nalchik fear Nakhushev may have been killed.

Aleksandra Zernova is a London-based lawyer who is helping Kudayev and other former Guantanamo Bay detainees who were captured in Afghanistan and returned to Russia for lack of evidence. She is helping them prepare a lawsuit against the U.S. administration. For some people, she says, Nakhushev's death is not just mere speculation.

"All the information I have is based on what people I am in touch with in Kabardino-Balkaria. They tell me unbelievable stories of people who sit in their car and who are found later in the forest with a bullet in them. Nakhushev is not the only one who has disappeared," Zernova said. "One person I know [in Nalchik] was told -- not officially, of course -- where Nakhushev was taken and how his body was disposed of. [Local] reporters have been unofficially warned that should they investigate Nakhushev's disappearance, they would meet a similar fate and that their bodies would be dissolved in acid."

Zernova's client Kudayev was arrested nearly two weeks after the 13 October raids and sent to a pre-trial detention facility in Nalchik.

Kudayev is officially charged with participation in the unrest. Relatives claim the young man -- who, they say, because of a physical disability is not very mobile -- could not have possibly taken part in the attack.

But regional prosecutor Ketov told a 9 December press briefing he has no doubt that Kudayev is guilty: "Without going beyond what is authorized [by law] and without divulging any secret information, I can state that investigators have concrete facts showing that he was involved -- actively involved -- in the processes that took place [in Nalchik]."

On 2 December, Kudayev's relatives had released pictures they said showed the inmate was being tortured in custody. Authorities have denied the accusations.

Zernova says her client suddenly disappeared last month. On 16 January, a prison employee unofficially told her Kudayev had been transferred to a FSB detention facility in Pyatigorsk, a city in Russia's nearby Stavropol region.

"This woman [prison employee] told me, under condition of anonymity, that Kudayev had been sent there by order of [Aleksei] Sovrulin, the head of the investigating team. I called Sovrulin, but he told me he was not authorized to talk to me and comment on that topic," Zernova said.

Today, officials at the prison in Pyatigorsk refused to speak to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service. Calls to the Kabardino-Balkaria Interior Ministry remained similarly unanswered.

Kudayev's mother Fatima Tekayeva today went to Pyatigorsk in an attempt to obtain information about her son. She talked to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service upon her return to Nalchik: "I went to Pyatigorsk today to inquire about my son Rasul. I want to know where he is. But no one expressed willingness to talk to me. Other people there told me authorities are trying to isolate him. For what reasons, I can't say. No one wants to talk to me about [Rasul]. The only answer I got is: 'we're not authorized to talk to you.' That's it, short and clear."

Zernova tells RFE/RL she vainly tried to obtain confirmation from President Kanokov's office and government structures. She also says Kudayev disappeared shortly after meeting with Kanokov.

"Arsen Bashirovich [Kanokov] visited him [in prison] on 14 December. Also present was [Dmitry] Kozak, the Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District," Zernova says. "[Rasul] told them he was innocent, that he and his prison mates had been tortured and that he was still being tortured. They listened to him and pledged to look into his case. After that he disappeared. He told his mother about this meeting in a letter. In it, he also says he was the only one to complain [to Kanokov and Kozak] and that the other detainees were afraid. He says he was the only one to complain and tell [them] all the truth."

Tekayeva says prison officials a few weeks ago stopped taking delivery of the drugs her son needs for medical treatment. She also says she fears for her son's life.

Meanwhile, Kabardino-Balkaria's Supreme Court last week upheld a lower court's decision to bar three Nalchik lawyers from representing detainees arrested in the wake of the October raids. In November, the Nalchik municipal court sidelined Irina Komissarova, Inna Golitsyna, and Larisa Dorogova after they complained their clients were being tortured in custody.

The three lawyers have said that they will appeal last week's ruling before the European Court of Human Rights.

(RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service correspondent Aminat Kardanova contributed to this report)

By Victor Yasmann

Georgia's contentious relations with Russia hit a new low in the wake of the 22 January attacks on a pipeline supplying gas to Georgia. Without supplying evidence to support their claims, President Mikheil Saakashvili and other Georgian officials accused Russia of engineering the explosions as a means of triggering a political crisis in Georgia.

The twin blasts in North Ossetia -- which borders the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia that seeks union with Russia -- effectively shut down the main pipeline supply Georgia with Russian gas at a time when the region is weathering a brutal cold snap. The same day, electricity supplies to Georgia were interrupted following an explosion at a transmission tower on Russian territory.

Saakashvili wasted little time in pointing the finger at Russia, claiming the attacks "were done so that Georgia will break apart...and fall into the hands of Russia."

Georgian parliamentary speaker Nino Burdzhanadze told Russia's Ekho Moskvy radio on 23 January that the attacks were "deliberate action against Georgia," adding that "I am more than sure that major Russian forces, including special services, are unfortunately interested in destabilizing the situation."

Russia immediately dismissed the allegations, placing the blame on pro-Chechen insurgents in North Ossetia, and the Russian Foreign Ministry said Saakashvili's comments "cannot be seen as other than hysteria."

The Russian Foreign Ministry in a 22 January statement wrote off the Georgian response as "a mixture of parasitic attitude, hypocrisy...based on hopes to find Western patrons for their anti-Russian course." "If Tbilisi has made up its mind to finally spoil relations with Russia," the statement added, "it must have calculated all consequences of such a policy."

But while Russia's angles to characterize its neighbor's reaction as "hysterical," Georgia is not alone in its perception that Russia is using its wealth of natural resources to impose its will on those who rely on it for energy imports. Russia's recent gas disputes with Ukraine and Moldova, which have only temporarily been resolved, serve to provide credence to this view.

During a 22 December meeting of the Russian Security Council, President Vladimir Putin outlined his vision for the development of Russia into an "energy superpower."

As quoted by, Putin told the council that "energy is the most important force of world economic progress. It always was and will be for a long time." He noted that Russia has "competitive, natural, and technological advantages" that could place it in a leading position in the global energy sector. "In fact," he conceded, "Russia has no other area in which to claim leadership."

This would be amended by Putin's "energy imperialism" strategy, so dubbed by observers, which entails pursuing a number of regional, domestic, and global objectives. The end goal, presumably, is for Russia to use its energy surplus to expand its political and economic influence, gain the status of an "energy superpower," and in so doing regain its former status as a political superpower as well. A new federal agency, chaired by Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and includes higher-ranking federal officials, business elites, and the heads of Russia's largest oil and gas companies has been created to oversee Putin's initiative.

The diversification of Russia's energy-export market and the overhaul of the country's infrastructure for the delivery of conventional energy is a crucial aspect of the plan.

The construction of new pipelines is already under way, examples of which can be found in the North European line to Germany, a route from western Siberia to Murmansk, and the Pacific Oil Pipeline from Tayshet to Nakhodka. The latter pipeline is expected to bring Russian oil to the markets of China, Japan, and Korea -- and potentially to the United States, Mexico, Indonesia, and Australia.

But Putin said priority should be given to the expansion of Russia's nuclear-power industry, and to the development of innovative technologies such as hydrogen fuel-cells.

The idea is that such a tack will better position Russia to benefit from Asia's rising appetite for energy, through the sale of nuclear technology and expertise as well as from natural resources.

At the same time, advised the president, "one should not to lose the former market of the Soviet Union."

There have been signs of maneuvering on the part of the government in keeping with this line of thought. On 12 January, Federal Atomic Energy Agency head Sergei Kiriyenko announced in Astana that Russia is negotiating with Ukraine and Kazakhstan to restore the former nuclear-industry complex that was supervised during the Soviet era by the Ministry of Medium Machine Building (Minsredmash). "All we have on the territory of Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan is a single complex," Prime-TASS quoted Kiriyenko as saying. "We need to restore Minsredmash both for domestic goals and for opening global market."

The recent rows with Ukraine, Moldova, and currently Georgia certainly found Russia in a good bargaining position as they showed that the interruption of gas supplies -- even for only a short time -- can have a huge regional impact.

But more telling is the power Moscow wields globally through its natural resources.

Within a day of the development of the latest crisis, Russia's Gazprom announced that gas from an alternate source was being pumped into Georgia via Azerbaijan. However, by that time the disruption had already helped push the global price for oil to nearly $70 per barrel. History reveals other similar examples -- notably the three-day cutoff of Being's access to the European market via the "Druzhba" oil pipeline in the 1970s.

Thus, it is clear what geopolitical weight Russia can have in using energy as a lever if it chooses to do so. And whether the events affecting Georgia have any relation to the new strategy or not, it is clear that Russia's search for a unified vision for its future has ended.

However, before pursuing such a path in earnest Russia would be well served to realize that doing so threatens to destroy all that it gained through its economic-reform efforts.

The overwhelming corruption that complemented Russia's massive natural-resource wealth was a major factor in the country turning away from an economy so dependent on that sector in the first place.

There is little reason to believe that a turn away from reforms will not usher in a new era of corruption whose weight could sink Putin's version of a modern Russian 'energy superpower" as well.

By Claire Bigg

Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, at the Kremlin today for talks that focused largely on natural gas. Niyazov, who arrived Sunday on a rare two-day trip outside his country, was expected to push for a hike in the price of Turkmen gas exports to Russia. Moscow, in turn, was eager to secure a large share of Turkmenistan's relatively cheap and increasingly coveted gas.

MOSCOW, 23 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Putin made no secret of the fact that the reclusive Turkmen president had been invited to Moscow mainly to discuss gas issues.

Speaking to Niyazov ahead of their Kremlin talks, he called energy "the most important sphere of Russian-Turkmen cooperation" and said Russia was eager to boost cooperation in this area: "At the end of last year [we] signed an agreement on energy-resources supplies with Turkmenistan. I resolutely support your proposals to broaden our cooperation both in transport and production [of gas and oil]."

Niyazov, in turn, pledged to work closely with Russia in supplying oil and gas to customers both East and West. "Turkmenistan will steadily cooperate with Russia in this area and take part in large energy projects, cooperate jointly in the delivery and the exploitation of gas, and in the transport of Turkmen energy together with Russia, both toward the East and toward Europe -- this is in the interest of peace and security," Niyazov said.

Niyazov was expected during his visit to press his recurrent demand that Gazprom, Russia's state-controlled gas monopoly, pay more for Turkmen gas.

Gazprom currently pays $60 per 1,000 cubic meters of Turkmen gas, a sharp increase from the $32 per 1,000 cubic meters Russia was paying a few years ago. Niyazov is reportedly seeking to increase the price to between $80 to $85 per 1,000 cubic meters.

But this is still a bargain compared to the price at which Russia resells gas to its European customers. During negotiations in December, Russia was asking Ukraine to pay $230 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas -- the going rate in Western Europe.

Moscow's recent dispute with Kyiv on the price of Russian gas exports, together with Russia's gas supply shortfalls during last week's cold snap, have highlighted a tendency that analysts have long been talking about: due to its failure to develop its own gas fields, Russia is increasingly reliant on energy-rich Central Asian states.

Chris Weafer, an oil and gas analyst for Alpha Bank, said that people have woken up to the fact that there is a very tight supply situation in Russia. "There isn't a lot of spare gas," he said, "and there won't be any major new sources of gas out of Russia for at least four to five years, because Russia hasn't been developing its gas production. So for the next four or five years, whatever extra gas Europe requires is probably going to have to come from Central Asian states like Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan."

Turkmenistan, along with Central Asian neighbors Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, found itself involved in the dispute between Russia and Ukraine over the price of Russian natural-gas exports. Moscow and Kyiv temporarily resolved the matter after agreeing that a percentage of the gas Ukraine receives would come from Central Asia, particularly from Turkmenistan.

Ukraine, a key transit zone for oil and gas to Europe, was also present at the negotiation table during Niyazov's visit.

Niyazov on 22 January met with Ukraine's fuel and energy minister, Ivan Plachkov, and with the head of Ukraine's Naftohaz, Aleksei Ivchenko. Ukraine is also eager to clinch gas deals with Turkmenistan both to meet its own needs and to supply European markets.

All three participants have remained enigmatic about what agreements might have been reached at the meeting -- Ivchenko simply told reporters that Turkmenistan, Ukraine's Naftohaz, and Russia's Gazprom had reached what he called "agreements of intensified cooperation."

By Golnaz Esfandiari

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said on 25 January that Tehran welcomes Moscow's offer to have Iran's uranium enriched in Russia as a positive development. Larijani made the announcement after talks in Moscow with Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov. The two sides said on 24 January in a statement that the Iranian nuclear issue should be resolved diplomatically within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

PRAGUE, 25 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Larijani said today in Moscow that the proposal to set up a joint venture on Russian territory to enrich uranium is a good idea. But he added that Tehran believes the idea needs to be "improved" during talks scheduled for 16 February. According to earlier reports, those talks will be held in Moscow. Larijani said future negotiations will include discussion of the location of the facility and the nature of the political and technical cooperation involved.

Iran had originally said that it will only entertain propositions that "recognize the right of the Islamic Republic to carry out enrichment on its own soil." But Iranian officials said they will continue examining the Russian offer, about which talks were reportedly held last month in Tehran.

The Russian proposal, backed by the United States and the EU, is aimed at allaying concerns that Tehran may be seeking to produce nuclear weapons. Enriched uranium can be used as fuel for civilian nuclear reactors, but it can also be used to produce nuclear bombs.

Larijani said today that the Iran welcomes the involvement of other countries.

Iran's positive assessment of the Russian proposal comes a week ahead of a crucial 2 February IAEA board meeting on Iran, called by the so-called EU-3 of Germany, France, and Great Britain after Iran broke UN seals on equipment at its Natanz uranium-enrichment facility on 10 January.

The United States and EU-3 believe the UN Security Council should take up Iran's nuclear case, and they are actively trying to gain the support of Russia and China for such a move.

But, thus far they have met resistance from Beijing and Moscow, which both have economic interests in Iran.

Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior fellow for nonproliferation issues at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, tells RFE/RL that Iran is trying to persuade Russia to resist efforts to send Iran's nuclear dossier to the Security Council.

Iran is definitely trying to buy time by promoting this decision in this way," Fitzpatrick said. "I don't know whether they have made any decision that they could go along with only enriching in Russia. It seems that Russia, and also Germany, believe that the proposal is not dead. What I think Iran is trying to do is to begin with the Russian proposal but negotiate a compromise that would allow some enrichment in Iran, some research...and that part of it will be unacceptable to the West."

Vladimir Orlov is the director of the Moscow-based Center for Policy Studies in Russia and director of the European Security Program at the Geneva Center for Security Policy. He says it is not clear yet whether Iran is genuinely interested in the Russian proposal, or whether the positive assessment is a tactical move by Iran to buy time ahead of the IAEA meeting.

"I still don't know whether their interest in discussing practicalities is a sign that we really will move toward the next step of negotiations between Russia, Iran, and probably some others on how to enrich uranium outside Iranian territory but for Iran to have all legal rights for those works," Orlov said. "We should see, Iran maybe really wants to go in that direction or maybe its just trying to win some time. If it is the latter then I would say Russia's position would be as strong and firm as Russia's European partners."

On 24 January, following talks between Russian Security Council Secretary Ivanov and Larijani, Ivanov's office issued a statement saying "both sides expressed their desire to solve the issue in a diplomatic way within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency."

Despite the statement, Orlov says Russia's position is conditional and will depend on Iran's future moves and decisions.

"Russia's position is conditional upon the way Iran behaves, so nothing has been decided yet because we see quite a number of moves from Iranians in recent weeks from their decision not to continue negotiations with the EU to do what they want to do without any consultation with Europe to a more constructive approach to the Russian initiative," Orlov said.

Meanwhile, "The New York Times" on 25 January quoted unidentified diplomats as saying that the foreign ministers of the UN Security Council's five permanent members and Germany will meet in London on 30 January in an effort to forge a common position before the 2 February IAEA meeting in Vienna.