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Russia Report: March 28, 2005


28 March 2005, Volume 5, Number 12
POLITICS
CHUBAIS UNDER FIRE
By Victor Yasmann

The 17 March attempted assassination of Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais, the architect of Russia's much-maligned 1990s privatization program, rocked Russia's political elite and security community. Although Chubais is one of the most widely disliked people in Russia, such a brazen assault on one of the country's leading political figures is unheard-of, even in the notoriously violent post-Soviet Russia.

In the late evening of 17 March, police detained Vladimir Kvachkov in connection with the case. Although the Defense Ministry denied it, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 March that Kvachkov is a retired colonel in Russian military intelligence (GRU). According to the daily, Kvachkov commanded a special-forces unit in Afghanistan during the Soviet Union's war there, and RTR on 18 March identified him as an explosives expert. "Kommersant-Daily" reported that Kvachkov is suspected of organizing the attack on Chubais "on ideological grounds and based on personal enmity." Russian media on 18 March reported that Kvachkov has denied involvement in the incident.

Although the Russian media's coverage of the assassination attempt has emphasized the high level of professionalism demonstrated by Chubais's security retinue in the incident, it remains unclear whether or not Chubais was under the protection of the Kremlin's Federal Protection Service (FSO), the Russian counterpart of the U.S. Secret Service. The only report that shed light on this question was polit.ru, which claimed on 17 March claimed that Chubais did indeed have FSO protection.

The FSO is one of the most secretive and powerful of Russia's security agencies, responsible for -- among other things -- the personal security of President Vladimir Putin and senior government and administration figures. Its headquarters is located on the Kremlin grounds and it is certainly participating in the investigation of the attack on Chubais. Some analysts believe this means there is a greater chance that this crime will be successfully prosecuted, unlike other high-profile killings in the post-Soviet period.

Former President Boris Yeltsin, under whom Chubais launched his privatization program, was the first to telephone him after the incident, NTV reported on 17 March. Putin also phoned, asking Chubais to tell him personally the details of the incident. Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov called the crime "blasphemy," while Duma Security Committee Chairman Colonel General Vladimir Vasilev (Unified Russia) said those who ordered and carried out the attack will not go unpunished, RBK reported on 17 March.

As might be expected, Chubais's political enemies were quick to seize the opportunity to play up public antagonism toward him. Deputy Duma Speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii said the attack was "a signal to the pro-Western democratic forces that they should cease their activity, return their money [to the state], and move away to the West," "Novye izvestiya" reported on 17 March. Zhirinovskii added that the attack might have been organized by the Communist Party and Motherland party leader Dmitrii Rogozin. Informed of this charge, the populist Rogozin responded: "No, it was not us who organized the attack. If it had been us, we wouldn't have missed."

Most objective observers agreed that Chubais simply has so many enemies that it is impossible to speculate on who might have been behind the attack. Most analysts have focused on three possible motives -- political, economic, and the possibility that Chubais himself staged the incident.

Although Chubais has long been a major political player, he has also taken pains to keep a relatively low profile. Even when he was presiding over privatization in the mid-1990s, he was never a public politician. He has a well-known self-deprecating sense of irony and often jokes about his strongly negative image among the Russian public and journalists. Even though he has long served as an ideologue for Russia's liberal movement, he has never run for elected office. After the defeat of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) in the December 2003 Duma elections, he stepped down as party co-chairman and has kept a low political profile ever since. Just a few days before the attempt on Chubais's life, "Profil," No. 9, published a statement from him saying that the old leaders of the liberal and democratic forces should leave the political scene in order to facilitate the consolidation of the fractured right wing of Russia's political spectrum. He said that this statement "absolutely" applies to him. "No new leaders will emerge as long as we stay," Chubais said.

Our Choice leader Irina Khakamada, who is also a former SPS co-chairwoman, ruled out the possibility of a political motive for the attack, newsinfo.ru reported on 17 March. "Chubais posed no political threat, as he in fact had already announced that he has left politics," Khakamada said. Russian Financial Corporation President Andrei Nechaev, who was also one of the liberal reformers in the 1990s, also commented that the idea of political motive behind the attack is absurd. "The liberal camp is so weak and so divided that there is nothing that can be done with it," Nechaev told TV-Tsentr on 17 March. "And it is equally stupid to think that Chubais's death could consolidate it."

Deputy Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, however, found the political motive plausible and pointed his finger at Putin's nemesis, self-exiled former oligarch Boris Berezovskii. "Chubais has been reproached recently for being a roadblock in the formation of a united right flank of Russian politics. Some former oligarchs, such as those living in Israel and Britain, including Berezovskii, are insisting on this [consolidation]. They keep saying they want to shape this process as they like, but Chubais is standing in their way."

Duma Veterans Committee Chairman Army General Nikolai Kovalev (Unified Russia), a former director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), rejected any political motive. "In post-Soviet Russian, there have been almost no political murders," he told utro.ru on 17 March. "About 99.9 percent of them were linked to money, finances. That is [our] reality." Kovalev said the organizers of the attack can be found among the heads of Russia's leading energy companies. He also said that the attack on Chubais, from a professional point of view, looks more like a "warning" than a serious attempt to kill him. "The criminals used an explosive device that produced minimal fragments and they opened fire on the car of Chubais's bodyguards [after Chubais's car had already left the scene], which is senseless from a professional point of view," Kovalev said.

Kovalev also rejected the idea that Chubais or someone else staged the attack. "It is very difficult to keep the preparations for a staged terrorist attack secret," Kovalev said. Vasilev, who before being elected to the Duma was deputy interior minister, agreed that the attack was not staged. "The attack was not staged, as it was too arrogant and was carried out by people who understand only the language of violence," he told NTV on 17 March.

Polit.ru reported on 17 March that an unidentified FSB source also rejected the theory that the attack had been staged, but he speculated that it might have been a warning. "The attackers acted in a way that indicates they had no real intention of liquidating Chubais. If they had wanted to kill him, they would have," the source was quoted as saying. He added that he believes there most likely was an economic motive behind the attack. He concluded that the investigation of the incident, which will be supervised by the FSO, could spell the end of Chubais's public career.

Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov (Unified Russia) commented that the array of possible political and economic motives in the Chubais case leads him to a despairing conclusion, RIA-Novosti reported on 17 March. "In fact, it is difficult to separate one from another, and all this means that the criminal revolution of the 1990s continues today," he said.

(NOTE: On 18 March, RFE/RL's Russian Service broadcast an interview with "Izvestiya" Deputy Editor in Chief Andrei Kolesnikov, author of a sympathetic biography of Chubais, and "Moskovskii komsomolets" columnist and longtime Chubais critic Aleksandr Minkin. Minkin was the author of the first story of the so-called Writers' Affair that led directly to Chubais being fired as finance minister in 1997. The complete text of the discussion in Russian can be found at http://www.svoboda.org/programs/PR/2005/pr.032305.asp.)

CIS AFFAIRS
REGION WATCHES KYRGYZSTAN AND WAITS
By Jeremy Bransten

Georgia's Rose Revolution and Ukraine's Orange Revolution provoked strong reactions and even direct involvement from foreign governments. But when it comes to Kyrgyzstan, international reaction has been more muted and less partisan.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili provides a good example. While the Georgian leader enthusiastically backed Ukrainian demonstrators when they took to the streets of Kyiv, this time his approach has been scrupulously even-handed. Saakashvili has refrained from criticizing the Kyrgyz government. And this week, he sent a letter to President Askar Akaev, offering his services as an intermediary for constructive negotiations with the opposition.

Russia helped facilitate the transition of power during Georgia's Rose Revolution, but was heavily criticized for its anti-opposition bias in Ukraine. With Kyrgyzstan, it has limited its comments to appeals for calm.

Russia media has reported that Akaev was not granted a meeting with President Vladimir Putin when he flew to Moscow for consultations shortly after the crisis began. This indicates that, at least officially, the Kremlin does not want to be seen playing favorites.

Konstantin Zatulin, a member of the State Duma's CIS Affairs Committee, told RFE/RL that Russia should keep its distance and offer its assistance only if it benefits both sides in the conflict.

"I think Russia should refrain from direct interference, look for ways to assist political negotiations, looks for ways to encourage the use of legal means, to facilitate negotiations between the two sides and if necessary, to act as an intermediary if the opportunity arises," Zatulin said.

Several factors could be contributing to this cautious approach. Unlike in Georgia and Ukraine, demonstrators in southern Kyrgyzstan have already shown a willingness to use force, and the authorities have also shown they can respond in kind. The fact that there is no unified leadership among the opposition makes the situation potentially more volatile as well.

There is also the fact the current unrest is taking place in a setting that could easily become ethnically charged. Memories of the deadly 1990 Osh riots that pitted Kyrgyz against ethnic Uzbeks are a source of current concern. More than half a million ethnic Uzbeks live in southern Kyrgyzstan.

But Zatulin warns that Russia may be forced to abandon its hands-off approach if riots spread to the capital Bishkek and the north of the country.

"If events develop and spread to the central and northern provinces, to the capital, then I don't exclude the possibility that Russia will not be able to remain on its Mount Olympus and may have to take a more active part in events," Zatulin said.

When it comes to Kyrgyzstan's neighbors, Uzbekistan showed the quickest response, sealing its border with the country. Reactions at the diplomatic level have been more hesitant, apparently reflecting an overriding desire not to inflame tensions. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan both issued measured official statements late on 22 March, while Tajikistan announced its position on 23 March. All three countries appealed to both sides to refrain from violence and open a dialogue.

Tajik Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattorov, speaking from Dushanbe, reflected widely shared sentiments in his appeal for calm.

"These events cannot leave us indifferent. Tajikistan, which recently lived through the horrors of a civil war, has always called and continues to call for a peaceful resolution of these problems at the negotiating table, within the law and according to the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic. No political aims, no matter how noble their intentions, can justify the use of violence and illegal actions and the radical expression of political ambition. This can have extremely dangerous consequences for peace and stability, not only in brotherly Kyrgyzstan, but in the region as a whole," Sattorov said.

The deputy chairman of Tajikistan's Social Democratic Party, Shokir Hakimov, tells RFE/RL regional leaders are especially worried the Kyrgyz protests could inspire opposition movements in other parts of Central Asia.

"The difficulties that the democratization process is facing in Kyrgyzstan are the same as in Tajikistan and the whole region, so an impact [from events in Kyrgyzstan] cannot be avoided," Hakimov said.

Several pro-government deputies in Kazakhstan have already called for a law banning all political demonstrations in the wake of national elections there.

(NOTE: On 21 March, RFE/RL's Russian Service broadcast an interview with "Vremya novostei" journalist Arkadii Dubnov, who had just returned from Kyrgyzstan. The complete text of this interview in Russian can be found at http://www.svoboda.org/programs/vg/2005/vg.032105.asp.)

CIVIL SOCIETY
RUSSIAN POLICE CLEAN-UP OPERATIONS EXTEND BEYOND CHECHNYA?
By Julie A. Corwin

Allegations of police brutality against law-abiding citizens during clean-up operations are no longer confined to Chechnya and are being recorded across the Russian Federation. Following reports of a four-day rampage by police in Blagoveshchensk, Bashkortostan, in December, three more Russian cities have reported similar incidents involving police round-ups of large numbers of citizens, many of whom were allegedly beaten -- and even tortured -- while in police custody.

On 17 March, REN-TV reported that several young people wound up in a hospital following an Interior Ministry special forces' "preventive" action at a disco in the village of Rozhdesteveno in Tver Oblast on 5 February. A witness said that a group of police officers wearing masks entered the club and started beating people "indiscriminately." Some local residents believe the action was carried out in response to an earlier attempt by some young men to free an acquaintance who had been taken into custody for "hooliganism. Earlier this month, a street in downtown Krasnoyarsk was the setting for a massive round-up of teenagers, whose main offense appears to have been being suspected of planning "some kind of action." So far the only account of the incident in the Krasnoyarsk appeared in the 13 March edition of the newspaper "Gazeta."

More information has surfaced about police actions in Bezhetsk, a small industrial city also located in Tver Oblast. That city has reportedly experienced more than one incident involving abuse of dozens of citizens in the last six months. The Bezhetsk incidents came to light only on 14 March during an Ekho Moskvy interview with Kirill Kabanov, head of the National Anticorruption Committee. According to Kabanov, about two busloads of police officers from the Federal Antinarcotics Service stormed cafes and other public places late on the night of 3 March. They allegedly forced male patrons to undress in front of women. Several customers were allegedly beaten with rifle butts.

After Ekho Moskvy broke the story, Marat Khairullin, a journalist with "Novaya gazeta" and a member of the Public Council for the Investigation of Blagoveshchensk Police Raids, gave interviews to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, gazeta.ru, REN-TV, and the Regnum news agency providing more details of the "zachistki." Khairullin said that police stormed a local cafe called Charodeika and everyone there, including women, was forced to lie on the floor. Those who objected were beaten. He told REN-TV on 15 March that a police officer struck an elderly woman who cleans tables at the establishment with such force that she was thrown to the opposite end of the cafe. The men were forced to take off all of their clothing as the police looked for drugs. Those who were taken into custody told Khairullin that the men were laid out on the floor of a police office handcuffed behind their backs for several hours. The officers reportedly demanded that they admit they were selling drugs. When those in custody were finally released, they allege that their cars and apartments appeared to have been searched and several valuable items were taken. Khairullin told RFE/RL that some 12-15 people were detained, while around 50 people were allegedly assaulted.

In an interview with strana.ru on 16 March, Maksim Sidorenko, deputy director of a local market in Bezhetsk, gave a detailed account of a similar police raid that took place on 24 November 2004. He said the incident started with a small conflict with some men who came to their market trying to sell furniture. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Charodeika cafe is located inside this market, according to Regnum on 16 March. The men had tried to sell their furniture at the market on previous occasions but had left after Sidorenko explained to them the market is for clothing only and is legally prohibited from selling furniture.

This time, however, they refused to leave, and Sidorenko called the police. But instead of carting away the furniture sellers, the police allegedly rounded up market workers, including Sidorenko, along with some people who happened to be in the market at the time and forced them to lie down outside in the snow for up to 90 minutes. According to Sidorenko, police removed his clothing, hit him in the head with a rifle butt, and kicked him. At the station house, they beat him so hard that one of his ribs fractured into three pieces and pierced his lung. One officer stuck a sharp pencil in his nose and pressed his fingers into Sidorenko's eye. "They kicked and beat me with their automatic rifles, demanding that I confess that I had created a crime group with the goal of monopolizing the furniture trade in the city," Sidorenko alleges. According to strana.ru, there are five furniture stores in Bezhetsk, and Maksim is neither a director, founder, nor partial owner of any of them, nor are any of his relatives. As a result of his encounter with the police, Maksim, 33, has been registered as disabled and speaks with a stutter.

So far, the mayor of Bezhetsk denies that any incident has taken place in his city, Marat Khairullin told REN-TV. Eduard Arsenev, head of the Bezhetsk department of the Federal Antinarcotics Service's Tver directorate, told gazeta.ru in an interview published on 15 March that the service did conduct an operation in Bezhetsk that was completed on 8 March. He said that the Federal Antinarcotics Service received a tip that a group of residents there were selling drugs. Several people were detained, and criminal cases have been opened. He said during the course of the raid, the alleged drug dealers offered some resistance, which was met with force. However, no one touched "ordinary citizens," forced them to undress, or hit them with rifle butts. He added that no weapons were used and no shots were fired.

In an interview with strana.ru on 16 March, a Federal Antinarcotics Service officer in Tver who wished to remain anonymous was more forthcoming than Arsenev. "If people defy us, what do you want us to do?" the officer asked. "You see on television how the Federal Security Service [FSB] works when they conduct a raid. They also do not stand on ceremony if they meet resistance. We acted in Bezhetsk within the framework of the law. Indeed, those people we picked up have already given us depositions. They even cried, asked us to let them go because they understood that the evidence [against them] was overwhelming. Drugs and weapons were seized. How do you think that the court would have given us approvals for searches, detentions, and arrests if we did something illegally? Who would take such responsibility? This whole uproar is because someone is [trying to] take care of their fate. This is [their] best defense -- we were attacked."

Meanwhile, representatives of various human rights organizations in Moscow left on 15 March to investigate the incidents in Tver, according to gazeta.ru. On 21 March, State Duma deputies opened a reception area for citizens of Bezhetsk. Kirill Kabanov told strana.ru: "We possess the facts of the physical coercion and not simply with regard to those persons for whom a criminal case has been launched, but also concerning those persons who happened to located next to these people -- chance visitors to the cafe."

How local or national level prosecutors choose to handle this evidence is anybody's guess. Recently, two more police officers were charged with abuse of authority, but human rights workers in the Bashkortostan report that witnesses are being threatened with compromising materials and the possibility of being charged with crimes themselves.

Already, the Blagoveshchensk events have had an impact on public perception of the police in Russia. The Public Opinion Foundation conducted a survey before news of the incidents in Bezhetsk were reported and found that 41 percent of respondents are afraid of becoming victims of police violence, the foundation's website (http://www.fom.ru) reported on 17 March. Forty-six percent of young respondents said they are afraid, compared with 31 percent of the elderly. Respondents who knew about the police raids in December in Blagoveshchensk were more afraid than those who didn't; some 17 percent of respondents knew about the alleged police violence there. Fifty-six percent of those who had heard about the incident believe that similar events could take place in their regions.

(NOTE: On 23 March, RFE/RL's Russian Service broadcast a discussion of police brutality in Russia with human rights activist Aleksandr Livchak. The complete text of the interview in Russian can be found at http://www.svoboda.org/ll/soc/0305/ll.032305-2.asp.)

POLITICAL CALENDAR
24 March: President Vladimir Putin to meet in the Kremlin with representatives of the Russian Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists (RSPP)

25-26 March: President Vladimir Putin to visit Armenia

25 March: Tatarstan State Council to vote on renomination of Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev for a fourth term

27 March: Mayoral elections in Surgut and Omsk

27 March: City of Saratov to hold a referendum on whether the city's mayor should continue to be directly elected

27 March: Legislative elections in Amur Oblast and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug

April: Term of Tula Oblast Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev to expire

April: Russian Soyuz spacecraft to bring new crew to the International Space Station

4 April: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to visit Bratislava

10 April: President Vladimir Putin to visit Poland

13 April: Duma to review implementation of law on monetization of in-kind social benefits and to hear report by Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin

15 April: Duma expected to vote on second reading of amendments to the law on forming the State Duma that would introduce the proportional-representation system and eliminate the single-mandate districts

17 April: Krasnoyarsk Krai and Taimyr Autonomous Okrug to hold referendums on the question of merging

18 April: Moscow Arbitration Court to begin hearing case against Yukos regarding suspected tax arrears for 2003

May: Russia-EU summit to be held in Moscow

9 May: Commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II

30-31 May: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to visit Japan

23 June: Yukos shareholders meeting

4 July: 750th anniversary of the founding of Kaliningrad

6-8 July: G-8 summit in Scotland

August: CIS summit to be held in Kazan

September: First-ever Sino-Russian military exercises to be held on the Shandong Peninsula

2006: Russia to host a G-8 summit in St. Petersburg

1 January 2006: Date by which all political parties must conform to law on political parties, which requires at least 50,000 members and branches in one-half of all federation subjects, or either reregister as public organizations or be dissolved

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