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Security Watch: May 14, 2003

14 May 2003, Volume 4, Number 19
RUSSIA, NATO STEP UP CONTACTS. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson arrived in Moscow on 12 May for a session of the NATO-Russia Council and for talks with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, and leading Russian parliamentarians, Russian and international media reported. In a 12 May interview with "Kommersant-Daily," Robertson said the council will discuss combating terrorist threats in the Euro-Atlantic region, the possibility of conducting joint peacekeeping operations, and an agreement on mutual assistance to endangered submarine crews. Russian Army Chief of the General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin flew to Brussels on 12 May to attend a NATO meeting on European security, Interfax reported. Kvashnin is expected to brief his NATO colleagues on Russia's decision to withdraw its peacekeepers from the Balkans by 1 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2003). He told Interfax on 12 May that Russia is spending $26 million per year on peacekeeping operations in Kosova and Bosnia even though there is no longer any military justification for them. He added, however, that Russia will assist the region's police forces.

PUTIN, ROBERTSON LAUD RUSSIA-NATO COOPERATION... While receiving NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson, who is in Moscow for a session of the NATO-Russia Council, President Vladimir Putin said on 13 May he agrees with Robertson's assessment that holding the council session in Moscow is of "historic significance," and other Russian media reported. He said that the issues the session will cover -- including combating international terrorism, the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international crisis reaction, and coordinated rescue operations at sea -- are of crucial importance. "Despite differing approaches to some situations around the world, the council in general has lived up to our expectations," Putin said. Robertson added that the Moscow council session will destroy the stereotype that Russia and NATO are adversaries.

...AS NATO-RUSSIA COUNCIL TO DISCUSS MISSILE-DEFENSE AND INTELLIGENCE COOPERATION. NATO Secretary-General Robertson told ORT on 13 May that the main result of the NATO-Russia Council session might be an agreement to develop a European theater missile-defense system. Russia already has a tactical missile defense based on its S-300 surface-to-air defense system, and Europe cannot proceed with its own defense shield without Russia, Robertson said. First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska, who heads the Duma's permanent delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, said after meeting with Robertson on 13 May that NATO and Russia are discussing increased intelligence exchanges in order to combat terrorism and weapons proliferation, reported. She stressed that both sides see such exchanges as an important preemptive, rather than merely reactive, measure. She added that Robertson supports the process of standardizing NATO- and Russian-produced armaments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003). Defense Minister Ivanov said he is satisfied by NATO assurances that the Baltic states will join the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) after they join the North Atlantic alliance, reported on 14 May. "We do not want the expansion of NATO to create additional problems for Russian security, and the NATO leadership shares this position," Ivanov said.

AGENDA SET FOR POWELL'S TALKS IN MOSCOW. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will discuss the role of the United Nations and the international community in postconflict Iraq during his 14-15 May visit to Moscow, Russian news agencies reported on 12 May, citing Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko. Powell will be in Russia to prepare for the 1 June summit between U.S. President George W. Bush and President Putin in St. Petersburg. Powell, who will meet with Foreign Minister Ivanov, is also expected to discuss the situation on the Korean Peninsula. The two men will also review the entire U.S.-Russian bilateral agenda, including strategic stability, the nonproliferation regime, the dismantling of Russian weapons of mass destruction under the U.S.-sponsored Nunn-Lugar program, and joint efforts to combat drug trafficking in Afghanistan and international terrorism. They will also discuss expanding trade ties and energy-sector cooperation, Yakovenko said.

FOREIGN MINISTER OUTLINES MOSCOW'S CONCEPTION OF WORLD ORDER... Speaking at a prestigious conference in Moscow on 12 May, Foreign Minister Ivanov said that a new system of international relations should be based on the principles of "multi-polarity" and "multilateral global cooperation," Russian media reported. "Multi-polarity" recognizes the existence of multiple power centers around the world, Ivanov said, while Moscow views "multilateral cooperation" as a kind of pyramid with the United Nations Security Council at the peak of a structure supported by regional organizations and bilateral ties among countries, all standing upon a foundation of international law. Ivanov said Moscow might agree to a reorganization of the UN based on a mutual understanding of its proper role in global affairs, but the Kremlin will never agree to further diminishing the UN's role. Commenting on U.S.-Russian relations, Ivanov said that the bilateral dialogue continued unabated even during the peak of the disagreements over the handling of the Iraq crisis. "We did not act against one another, but defended differing approaches to the same problem," Ivanov said. He added that it is in the interests of both countries to find solutions to current global challenges, and this common interest will lead to a further strengthening of U.S.-Russian relations.

...AS U.S. AMBASSADOR CALLS FOR MORE EFFICIENT UNITED NATIONS... Addressing the same Moscow conference on 12 May, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow said that the UN Security Council split over Iraq proved that the council -- and the entire UN -- should be transformed, Russian and international media reported. Vershbow said that the UN must work in the 21st century, and therefore it needs fresh thinking and new attitudes toward emerging threats, as well as new tools to cope with them.

...AND URGES RUSSIA TO DISCONTINUE NUCLEAR COOPERATION WITH IRAN. During the same 12 May speech, Ambassador Vershbow said that Washington does not think Moscow should assist Iran in completing the Bushehr nuclear-power station because it could potentially be used for military purposes, RosBalt reported. Although it has been agreed that Iran will return all spent nuclear fuel to Russia, Vershbow alleged that Tehran intends instead to use it to produce weapons-grade plutonium. "We have now learned that Iran has secretly been developing its own uranium-enrichment capability with technology from sources other than Russia, which suggests a determined quest to acquire nuclear weapons," Vershbow said. The United States is concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weapons, Vershbow said, and believes that Iran and North Korea should comply fully with the existing international nonproliferation regime. In addition, Vershbow called on the international community to adopt a new and stricter agreement on the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. "We need to consider what new tools, what new forms of leverage, we can bring to bear to stop [Iran and North Korea] from acquiring nuclear weapons," Vershbow said.

RUSSIA AGAIN DENIES THAT IRAN IS SEEKING NUKES. Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov said on 6 May that there is no evidence Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons in violation of nonproliferation agreements, RBK reported on 7 May. U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton tried to persuade Russian officials during meetings in Moscow on 5 May that Tehran has a clandestine nuclear-weapons program and to back an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report criticizing Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2003). Losyukov acknowledged that there are some "uncertainties" regarding Iran's nuclear program and said Moscow will work with Tehran to "add more transparency" to the program. He denied, however, that the United States or any other country has produced evidence proving that Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapons program in defiance of international treaties. Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation is "strictly in line with IAEA norms," Losyukov insisted, according to RBK. Iranian Vice President for Atomic Energy Qolam Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi, meanwhile, told 135 IAEA members in Vienna on 6 May that Iran needs its nuclear facilities to make its own nuclear fuel and will not submit to closer inspections of those facilities, AP reported on 6 May.

IN RESPONSE TO SARS, RUSSIA RESTRICTS TRAVEL FROM CHINA... Responding to the epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Deputy Health Minister and head of the State Health Inspectorate Gennadii Onishchenko has announced restrictions on Chinese citizens entering the Russian Far East and Siberia, "Izvestiya" reported on 6 May. Shortly before Onishchenko announced the restrictions, Russian border guards temporarily stopped allowing Chinese citizens to enter Russia through the Amur River port of Blagoveshchensk, the newspaper reported. Onishchenko told Interfax on 6 May that more than 20 people in Russia have shown SARS-like symptoms to date, adding that he is particularly worried about the case of Denis Soinikov, a 25-year-old man hospitalized with such symptoms in Blagoveshchensk. Onishchenko said he has not yet received the results of Soinikov's laboratory tests. More than 500 Russian schoolchildren and students studying in China will be evacuated, Onishchenko said.

...WHILE REGIONAL AUTHORITIES TAKE THEIR OWN MEASURES. The authorities in Far Eastern regions have been taking their own preventative measures against SARS. Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev ordered his region's internal affairs directorate to stop issuing invitations to citizens of countries that have had SARS cases, Interfax reported on 6 May, citing the 7 May edition of "Izvestiya." Ishaev has also banned tourism agencies from sending children's groups to China and other Southeast Asian countries. Kamchatka Oblast Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev told "Izvestiya" he has ordered that passengers of the "Prince Dan" cruise ship, which is docked in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii, limit their contact with local residents. Prior to arriving in Russia, the cruise ship, whose passengers are mostly from the United States and Europe, made calls in Japan and South Korea. The 7 May edition of "Finansovye izvestiya" quoted Aeroflot General Director Valerii Okulov as saying the SARS epidemic has reduced the number of people flying to Southeast Asia on Aeroflot by 20-30 percent. This has forced the airline to reduce the number of flights to Hong Kong from five per week to three and to use smaller aircraft for its flights to Shanghai and Beijing, Okulov told the newspaper.

RUSSIA TAKES FURTHER MEASURES TO PREVENT SPREAD OF SARS... Transport Minister Sergei Frank said in Nizhnii Novgorod on 10 May that Russia has suspended surface-transport links and postal service with Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the rest of China as a measure to prevent the spread of SARS, RIA-Novosti reported. Russian airlines have cancelled flights to the southern provinces of China, where the largest number of SARS cases have been registered. Amur Oblast and its capital, Blagoveshchensk, have completely halted passenger and cargo traffic from China. Frank described the prophylactic measures as "adequate and reasonable" and said that only border checkpoints with "effective medical controls" will remain open along the border with China. Railways Minister Gennadii Fadeev said in Moscow on 10 May that his ministry is spending 200 million rubles ($6.67 million) per month on SARS-related sanitary measures, RIA-Novosti reported.

...AS OFFICIALS STILL CANNOT CONFIRM DIAGNOSES OF PATIENT WITH SARS-LIKE SYMPTOMS. Amur Oblast Governor Leonid Korotkov told journalists on 11 May that Denis Soinikov, a Russian citizen hospitalized in Blagoveshchensk last week with SARS-like symptoms, is in "serious, but stable" condition, ORT reported. He added that the likelihood that Soinikov will be diagnosed with SARS is high, but stressed that his laboratory tests are still being studied in Moscow. Deputy Health Minister and head of the State Health Inspectorate Gennadii Onishchenko told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 12 May that Soinikov's analyses are being studied at the Defense Ministry's Microbiology Institute in Moscow. He explained that the institute was chosen because it has "all necessary means of protecting [staff] against the disease." He added that the possibility of the disease spreading to Moscow is higher than for other Russian cities because it has direct air links with Southeast Asia. Two Moscow hospitals are preparing special facilities to handle any suspected SARS cases, Onishchenko said.

SARS COSTS ADDING UP. Russian airlines and tour operators are feeling the effects of travel restrictions imposed on China and Southeast Asia in order to prevent the SARS, "Vedomosti" reported on 12 May. Aeroflot Deputy Director Lev Koshlyakov said his company has cut its flights to China by half and is losing about $1 million per week. Anatolii Kondratev, president of the Association of Cargo Transporters, said members of his association are losing about $5 million per week because of the prophylactic measures. Irina Tyurina, a spokeswoman for the Russian Union of Tourism Operators, said the SARS scare has hit her industry harder than the Iraq war did. Since the emergence of SARS, travel to Southeast Asia has declined by 80 percent, she said, and many tour operators have indefinitely suspended some staff.

DOZENS KILLED IN CHECHNYA CAR-BOMB ATTACK. At least 30, and possibly as many as 40, people died on 12 May when a KamAZ truck loaded with explosives drove into the local administration building in the Nadterechnyi Raion in northern Chechnya. Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov immediately blamed the blast on fighters loyal to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Some 80 people died in a similar car-bomb attack on the government building in Grozny in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 30 December 2002). In Moscow, President Putin said on 12 May that such attacks will not halt the process of establishing a peaceful political settlement in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin instructed government officials to speed up the drafting of the planned power-sharing treaty between Russia and Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 31 March and 25 April 2003).

OFFICIAL PROMISES PROBE INTO POSSIBLE SECURITY LAPSES CONTRIBUTING TO CHECHNYA BOMBING... First deputy presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Yurii Korobeinikov said on 12 May that Moscow will identify and punish those responsible for organizing the 12 May car-bomb explosion on the local-administration building in the Cossack settlement of Znamenskoe in northern Chechnya that left more than 50 people dead, ORT and other Russian media reported. Korobeinikov also said that any officials found responsible for security lapses will also be punished. Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev told journalists that a Russian military truck loaded with about 1 ton of explosives and driven by three unidentified men exploded near a checkpoint at the entrance to the local FSB compound. As of midday on 13 May, the official death toll in the incident stood at 56, Reuters reported, and as many as 300 people were reported injured.

...AS CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL REPRESENTATIVE DISCLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY. Salambek Maigov, who is Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's representative in Russia, told Ekho Moskvy on 12 May that neither Maskhadov nor the Chechen resistance forces under his command played any role in the Znamenskoe car-bomb attack earlier that day, reported. Maigov also denied that radical field commander Shamil Basaev, who in February claimed responsibility for a similar car-bomb attack in late December on the Chechen government building in Grozny (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002 and 26 February 2003), currently holds any official position within the Chechen resistance. Last summer Maskhadov named Basaev to head a Defense Committee that was to coordinate the activities of the various sub-formations of the Chechen armed forces and appointed him deputy commander in chief (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2002), but Basaev resigned those positions in the wake of the Moscow theater hostage taking last October.

PUTIN SUBMITS CHECHEN AMNESTY BILL TO DUMA. President Putin submitted to the Duma's Committee on Legislation on 12 May the draft bill on an amnesty for Chechen fighters who voluntarily lay down their arms, RosBalt reported the same day. The amnesty does not extend to those Chechen militants who have perpetrated terrorist acts or committed other serious crimes (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 25 April 2003). The fate of an alternative amnesty bill drafted by Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Chechnya's deputy to the Duma, remains unclear.

MOSCOW ALLEGES LINKS BETWEEN SAUDI, CHECHEN BOMBINGS. During his meeting with NATO Secretary-General Robertson on 13 May, President Putin said there is a connection between the 12 May terrorist explosions in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which left at least 29 people dead and about 200 injured, and a car-bomb attack the same day in Znamenskoe in northern Chechnya, which left more than 50 people dead, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin said that both acts have identical fingerprints and the consequences of the two attacks are comparable. He added that the Chechnya explosion was an effort by forces both within and outside of the republic to block the road to a peaceful settlement to the conflict there. The FSB issued a statement saying that the suicide attacks in Saudi Arabia and Chechnya "are links in the chain of international terrorism and have common roots and logic," the news agency reported. RIA-Novosti on 12 May reported that among the casualties of the Znamenskoe blast were at least 10 FSB officers. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said on 13 May that peace will not come to Chechnya soon, as Chechen fighters continue to outsmart federal forces and detonate such bombs, RosBalt reported.

EXPERT SEES DRAFT MEDIA BILL AS THREAT TO PRESS FREEDOM. Mikhail Fedotov, secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists and former State Press Committee chairman under President Boris Yeltsin, told "Argumenty i fakty," No. 19, that the new law on the mass media being drafted by the Industrial Committee -- an organization that represents the owners of the country's major media outlets, including the state-controlled media -- is a threat to freedom of the press in Russia. Fedotov, who is a co-author of the current law on the mass media that was adopted in 1990, said the new draft contains several worrying provisions that "might not be dangerous under a 'good' president and a liberal media minister, but which otherwise could be used as a big stick in a political struggle." He said that the draft also strongly favors media owners over journalists, who would be reduced under it to the status of merely hired personnel. Fedotov said that the Union of Journalists wants to improve the bill to separate and define the rights of property owners and those of journalists. He said he does not believe that Russia's mass media have "been captured by information oligarchs." He said that various media outlets are controlled by different financial and industrial groups and, therefore, represent a variety of opinions. He noted as well that most of the country's media are still controlled by the state and, therefore, the most dangerous "information oligarch" is the government.

OFFICIAL: GLOBAL BANKRUPTCY SYSTEM NEEDED TO CONTAIN DEBT CRISIS. Russia will support an International Monetary Fund (IMF) initiative to create a global bankruptcy system for countries that are unable to repay their debts, Federation Council First Deputy Chairman Valerii Goreglyad said in an 8 May interview with ITAR-TASS. He noted that such a system could help protect the global economy from volatility. If the IMF is able to differentiate its relations with various debtor countries and to act creatively, then it might be able to generate a new approach to the world debt crisis, Goreglyad said. Then a new system of protective measures could emerge that would defend the global economy from shocks such as the 1998 Russian default and the 2001 financial crisis in Argentina.

RUSSIANS HOLDING MORE SAVINGS IN RUBLES. For the first time in recent years, the rate of growth of personal savings held in rubles in Russia exceeds the rate of growth of dollar-denominated savings, "Vedomosti" reported on 12 May, citing statistics for February released by the Central Bank. In February, ruble deposits grew by 5.4 percent, while dollar deposits fell by 0.6 percent. In January, by contrast, ruble deposits grew at a rate of 2.4 percent and dollar deposits increased by 7.8 percent. Banking experts see the February figures as an indication that the public is breaking the habit of holding its savings in dollars, a practice that was given a strong boost by the August 1998 default and de facto ruble devaluation.

PUTIN RECALLS LESSONS OF WORLD WAR II... Addressing a military parade on Red Square on the 9 May anniversary of the end of World War II, President Putin said that no one should forget the experience of that war, Russian media reported. He said that in the run-up to the war, the world did not immediately recognize the gravity of the threat of fascism. He said the Nazis adopted arrogant and aggressive policies in anticipation of the passivity of the international community. The Nazis came to believe they had the sole right to determine the fate of the world and to shape history, Putin said. Now, the world faces the serious, global threat of international terrorism and civilized countries must stand united against it. In contrast to most post-Soviet Victory Day speeches, Putin's address this year did not mention the contributions of the Soviet Union's World War II allies toward the defeat of Nazi Germany. After his speech, a military choir sang the newly adopted Russian national anthem, which is based on the music of the Soviet anthem, and the parade passed before the VIP tribunal erected next to the mausoleum of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin.

...AS PUBLIC REVELS IN LEGACY OF VICTORY. Eighty-three percent of Russians consider Victory Day to be an important holiday, while only 17 percent disagree, and reported on 8 May, citing a national poll by the ROMIR polling agency and the Public Opinion Foundation. In addition, 53 percent of respondents said that even now Russia could win a similar global conflict. This figure was five points higher than in a similar poll last year. Forty percent of respondents, however, said that Victory Day is primarily a day of mourning because of the extremely large number of casualties that the Soviet Union suffered during the war.

RED SQUARE SQUABBLE PITS LENIN AGAINST MCCARTNEY. An unspecified number of Duma deputies have written to former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney and to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov urging them to cancel a 24 May concert on Red Square, reported on 13 May. The deputies argue that holding the event near the mausoleum of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin and the burial sites of other Soviet luminaries including Josef Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev is "senseless and blasphemous." They said that McCartney is risking becoming "the center of a big political scandal." Among the deputies who signed the letter are Aleksei Mitrofanov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia), Sergei Reshulskii (Communist), and Nikolai Bezborodov (Russian Regions). On 18 April, 161 deputies signed another letter asking the city to move the concert to another location, but on 15 April, the Duma voted against endorsing such a resolution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2003).