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Security Watch: September 16, 2003

16 September 2003, Volume 4, Number 37
MOSCOW RATCHETS UP PRESSURE ON MINSK... Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced on 13 September that Russia will end the practice of supplying natural gas to Belarus at dramatically subsidized prices as of 1 January, RTR reported. Since 1994, Russia has sold natural gas to Minsk for $28 per 1,000 cubic meters, while Belarus has resold it to domestic consumers at prices more than double that amount, RTR said, alleging that the profits have been directed to a fund controlled by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Kasyanov also expressed concern about information that Belarusian courts have frozen some assets of the Russian firms Slavneft and Transneftprodukt. Noting that Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller recently announced the suspension of a gas-transport project with Minsk because of "insurmountable differences," Kasyanov said Gazprom's caution is understandable in the light of the actions against Slavneft and Transneftprodukt. "We will not allow either the West or the East to put us on a leash," Lukashenka told RTR on 14 September.

...AS RETALIATION ON BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT'S AMBITIONS. On 6 September, Prime Minister Kasyanov ordered the government to analyze a proposal by state-controlled Gazprom to stop selling natural gas to Belarus at the price reserved for domestic Russian consumers, "The Moscow Times" reported on 8 September. Gazprom's proposal appeared to be a response to the deadlock in its talks with Beltransgaz, the Belarusian monopoly gas carrier, over creating a joint venture to manage Belarus' oil-and-gas network. A number of observers, however, believe the proposal is actually retaliation for Lukashenka's recalcitrance over the single-currency issue. Former Belarusian Prime Minister Vyacheslau Kebich said Gazprom's proposal to end preferential pricing for Belarus was "agreed upon at the level of the Russian leadership" and evidence of a "hardening of [Russia's] foreign-policy course in relation to Belarus," reported on 8 September. Valerii Nesterov of the Troika Dialog investment bank told "The Moscow Times" that the threat to end subsidized gas for Belarus is evidence of "a major crisis of Russian and Belarus relations."

...AND CONSIDERS RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN RUBLE PLAN... First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev told reporters on 9 September that the government will consider an agreement to introduce the Russian ruble as the single currency of Russia and Belarus, RBK reported. Ulyukaev said both sides have initialed the agreement and the government is likely to approve it, but acknowledged that Belarusian President Lukashenka has a number of objections to it. Ulyukaev, however, was more upbeat about the prospects for introducing the ruble as the Russian-Belarusian currency than Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who said on 6 September that no agreement to that effect will be signed in the near future because of Minsk's insistence that Russia first adopt a constitutional act on the formation of a union state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2003).

FOREIGN MINISTRY HOPES ROAD MAP WILL SURVIVE... The Foreign Ministry reacted to the 6 September resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas by expressing the hope that the new Palestinian government will adopt a responsible course and continue to follow the road-map peace plan, which calls for establishing a Palestinian state by 2005, Interfax reported on 8 September. Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said the change in the Palestinian Authority's leadership is taking place against "a highly alarming regional background" of Palestinian terrorist attacks and harsh Israeli actions, and that among the most pressing tasks was taking decisive action against "extremists," an apparent reference to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Yakovenko also criticized calls by several Israeli cabinet ministers for the expulsion Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

...AND PROPOSES TO SEND PEACEKEEPERS FOR ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT MINISTER SAYS. Russia on 10 September condemned the Hamas terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that day and suggested that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might require international peacekeeping forces, Russian and international media reported on 10 September. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said in a statement that such acts of terrorism are "categorically unacceptable" and threatened to dash the hopes that had been raised by the road-map peace plan drawn up by Russia, the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations -- the so-called quartet. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists in Sarajevo on 10 September that the time has probably come for the international community, acting through the quartet or the UN Security Council, "to impose tough terms on the conflicting parties so they comply with all provisions of the road-map peace plan," RBK reported. Achieving that "could require an international presence in the conflict area," Ivanov said.

FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS UN RESOLUTION ON IRAQ NEEDS 'SUBSTANTIAL' REVISION... Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov said that a majority of the UN Security Council members feel the ideas contained in a U.S.-proposed resolution on Iraq need "clarification and revision," some of it "very substantial," Russian and international media reported on 8 September. Fedotov said that "in principle" a meeting of Security Council foreign ministers about the resolution "could be useful," but "a lot of work needs to be done" to bring the positions of the Security Council members closer together to ensure that such a meeting would produce results. Fedotov's comments followed those of Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who said on 5 September that while the U.S. draft needs some serious revision, it reflects principles that Russia has long held (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2003). Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said on 8 September during a visit to Budapest that he hopes an agreement on a resolution strengthening the role of the UN in Iraq will be reached in the near future, Interfax reported.

...AS UN AMBASSADOR COMPARES U.S. IN IRAQ TO THE SOVIET UNION IN AFGHANISTAN. In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 8 September, Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov called for the development of a "concrete program" or "road map" for rebuilding Iraq. Such a program, he said, would spell out a timetable for "creating a provisional government, forming a constitutional assembly, preparing a constitution," and holding elections for "a permanent government recognized by the world." He also said the situation in Iraq is getting worse each day, claiming that if the current rate of coalition troop losses in Iraq were to continue over the same length of time that Soviet forces were in Afghanistan (approximately a decade), the number of soldiers killed in action would roughly equal the 13,000 Soviet troops killed in Afghanistan. Lavrov downplayed the possibility that Russia might dispatch combat forces as part of a peacekeeping force in Iraq, but suggested that it might get involved in such activities as training Iraqi police. On 4 September, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said it is possible Russia could send peacekeeping forces to Iraq under a UN mandate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2003).

ELDER BUSH MEETS WITH PUTIN. President Vladimir Putin on 14 September received former U.S. President George Bush and his wife, Barbara, at his vacation residence in Sochi, Russian media reported. The Bushes are making a business trip to Russia, accompanied by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, and former New York City Mayor Rudolf Guliani, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 September, although the daily did not say whether any of them participated in the meeting with Putin. According to media reports, Putin and Bush held an informal discussion on a range of international topics and the upcoming summit in Washington between Putin and Bush's son, U.S. President George W. Bush.

OFFICIAL SAYS RUSSIA SHOULD PLAY LEADING ANTITERRORISM ROLE IN THE CIS. Writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 September, First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov said that Russia is playing a decisive role in combating organized crime and terrorism throughout the CIS, acting through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and other regional structures. Trubnikov criticized the United States and its partners among the former Soviet republics for "wasting the international community's resources in the struggle against terrorism." In particular, Trubnikov, who is also a former director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, expressed skepticism about the need for a U.S. initiative to create a regional antiterrorism center under GUUAM (whose members are Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova). He also criticized the expanded U.S. military presence in Central Asia, although Russia gave its consent to such expansion in 2001. Trubnikov said that this presence can only be a stabilizing factor in the region if it is strictly tied to the timetable and the goals of the antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan, Trubnikov wrote.

INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS MOSCOW 'TERRORIST NETWORK' UNCOVERED. Boris Gryzlov said on 8 September that investigators probing the 5 July suicide bombing at a rock concert in Moscow and a bomb blast outside a downtown Moscow cafe four days later have uncovered an "organized-crime group constituting a terrorist network," Interfax reported on 8 September. The rock-concert attack killed 15 people, while the blast in downtown Moscow killed a Federal Security Service bomb-disposal expert who was trying to defuse an explosive device dropped by suspected female bomber (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 10, and 11 July 2003). Gryzlov, who was on a working visit to Perm, said that practically all those involved in the network have been identified, and some have been detained, while others were still being sought.

ARCHITECT OF RUSSIAN ECONOMIC REFORM TAPPED TO HELP IRAQI ECONOMY... Yegor Gaidar, the former Yeltsin-era acting prime minister who was the architect of Russia's first post-Soviet economic-reform program, has been invited by the U.S.-led coalition authority in Iraq to help develop an economic-reform plan there, Russian and international media reported on 8 September. Gaidar, a co-founder of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) political party, told an SPS congress in Moscow that many of Iraq's current problems were "created by the collapse of a totalitarian regime that had a high level of state participation in the economy." Thus, the situation has "parallels with the histories and practices of post-socialist countries," "The Moscow Times" reported on 9 September. The U.S.-led coalition authority, he said, wants "to work out how to minimize the risks and privatize the economic system in the shortest period possible." Gaidar told the newspaper that he received the invitation on 5 September and had not yet discussed plans with U.S. administration officials. He said that "time will tell" if he will quit his work in Russia to advise the U.S.-led coalition authority in Iraq full-time.

...ELICITING CONTRASTING RESPONSES FROM FRIENDS AND FOES. Yegor Gaidar's economic reforms in Russia, which critics charge amounted to lots of "shock" and little "therapy," remain controversial, so it is no surprise that the news of his invitation to help develop Iraq's economic reforms sparked a mixed response. Yevgenii Yasin, the former Yeltsin-era economic minister and godfather of Russia's liberal economists, said the invitation is recognition of Gaidar's accomplishments, "Vedomosti" reported on 9 September. "In his time, advisers came to us because it was thought that we had no economists at that level, and now Gaidar is considered the best," Yasin said. But in an interview with posted on 8 September, Mikhail Delyagin, who stepped down last month as Prime Minister Kasyanov's economic adviser, said: "Gaidar represented American interests in Russia, and very effectively. When it is said that Gaidar's liberal reform was ineffective, that's not true: it was super-effective. You just have to take into consideration that it was carried out not in the interests of this country, but in those of another country." As a result of Gaidar's reforms, the United States was left with one less competitor, Delyagin asserted.

BRITAIN GRANTS BEREZOVSKII POLITICAL ASYLUM... Boris Berezovskii, the erstwhile Kremlin insider who went into self-imposed exile three years ago after falling out with President Vladimir Putin, has been granted political asylum in Great Britain, Russian and international media reported on 10 September. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy, Berezovskii confirmed that the British government has officially granted him political asylum. "Vremya novostei" on 11 September quoted lawyers for Berezovskii as saying he received a letter from the Home Office on 9 September informing him that his asylum request had been granted. British Home Secretary David Blunkett turned down Berezovskii's asylum request in March after the British government gave the green light to start proceedings on a Russian request to have him extradited, "The Moscow Times" reported on 11 September.

...AS LONDON COURT DROPS HIS EXTRADITION PROCEEDINGS. London's Bow Street Magistrates Court on 12 September dismissed the Russian government's extradition case against the self-exiled former oligarch Berezovskii, ruling that the case is pointless now that Berezovskii has been granted political asylum in Great Britain (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 2003), Russian media reported. In an interview with "Vremya novostei" on 12 September, Berezovskii said his new status enables him to travel freely to any country except Russia. on 12 September commented that the British court's decision only superficially appears to be a defeat for the Kremlin, which does not really desire the return of Berezovskii or that of former Media-MOST owner Vladimir Gusinskii, who was arrested in Athens on 21 August and currently faces extradition proceedings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003), which is most interested in ending their involvement in Russian politics.

AS HE SAYS HE WON CONFRONTATION WITH KREMLIN. In interviews with and Ekho Moskvy on 11 September, Berezovskii said a recent decision by the British government to grant him political asylum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 2003) was the result of Moscow's campaign against him and the activity of Russia's special services. He confirmed that the granting of political asylum does not mean that Russia's efforts to seek his extradition have come to an end, and a final decision on that matter rests with the British home secretary. He said, however, that he believes that since Home Secretary David Blunkett has approved the asylum request, he would also overrule any court decision authorizing Berezovskii's extradition. Berezovskii added that he will proceed with his plans to run in the 7 December State Duma elections, which is his right as a Russian citizen.

PUTIN SUSPENDS NORTHERN FLEET COMMANDER. President Vladimir Putin on 11 September "temporarily suspended" the commander of the Northern Fleet, Admiral Gennadii Suchkov, in connection with the investigation into the 30 August sinking of the K-159 decommissioned nuclear submarine, which took the lives on nine seamen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2003), Russian media reported. Earlier, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov accused the officers involved in the towing operation of negligence, while investigators brought an indictment on charges of violating navigation rules against second-rank Captain Sergei Zhemchuzhnyi, who was in charge of the operation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003). Other experts, however, said that Ivanov was too quick to judge and that it was the Northern Fleet command that hindered efforts by the submarine's crew to save the vessel after a leak was discovered. Suchkov took command of the fleet in 2001 after Putin dismissed his predecessor, Admiral Vyacheslav Popov, in connection with the sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine in August 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2001).

NEW AIRBORNE FORCES COMMANDER APPOINTED... President Putin on 11 September appointed the deputy commander of the Far Eastern Military District, Lieutenant General Aleksandr Kolmakov, as the new commander of Russia's Airborne Forces, RIA-Novosti and reported. The former airborne commander, Colonel General Georgii Shpak, retired this month after reaching the mandatory-retirement age of 60. Speaking with Kolmakov and Shpak in the Kremlin in the presence of Defense Minister Ivanov, Putin said the Airborne Forces must be in "a state of constant readiness and their numbers should increase." Putin said he considers them to be an important military asset. "I ask that you not forget this," Putin said. At present, the Airborne Forces comprise four divisions with 34,000 troops.

...AS FORCE REFORM SET TO PROCEED... Colonel General Shpak's retirement means that the General Staff can proceed to reform the Airborne Forces, Interfax Military News Agency reported on 11 September. Shpak was widely believed to have opposed such reforms. According to the reports, the Airborne Forces will be restructured into brigades and its total personnel will be reduced by 3,000-4,000 troops. If so, it will be the fourth reduction since 1995, when the force numbered 40,000.

DRUG TSAR: NARCOTICS ARE A GROWTH INDUSTRY... Viktor Cherkesov, chairman of the newly created State Committee on Drug Trafficking, said on 9 September that his agency estimates that 4 million Russians, or 3 percent of the population, are drug addicts, although only around 350,000 people in Russia are officially registered as addicts, Ekho Moskvy radio reported. This represents a ninefold increase over the last decade. Cherkesov said his agency has filed approximately 1,000 narcotics-related criminal cases in two months, and that its main task is to fight organized narcotics-trafficking groups, RosBalt reported on 9 September. He also said that more than 1,300 people with criminal connections have been prevented from getting jobs with his committee, thwarting an apparent attempt by organized crime to infiltrate it.

...AS UN CITES PROBLEM OF AFGHAN OPIUM. Vladimir Ibragimov, an official with the United Nations' department for combating narcotics and crime in Russia and Belarus, told "Izvestiya" on 9 September that 20-30 percent of the narcotics produced in Afghanistan winds up in Russia, with the rest going to Western Europe via Iran, Turkey, and the Balkans. Ibragimov said drugs coming from Afghanistan constitute the biggest single factor in Russia's drug problem.

PROBLEM OF COUNTERFEIT MEDICATIONS WORSENING. Speaking to journalists in Moscow on 13 September, Major General Aleksei Orlov, who heads the Interior Ministry's Main Directorate for Combating Economic Crimes, said that the market in illegal and counterfeit medicines in Russia has reached $300 million per year, reported. According to Orlov, 67 percent of such medications are produced in Russia, while 2 percent came from other CIS countries and 31 percent from other foreign countries, mainly in Southeast Asia. He said the problem is particularly acute in the market for antibiotics and heart and digestive-system medications. He said his agency has investigated 31,000 drug-related complaints and closed down 140 pharmaceutical companies.

MINISTRY ALARMED BY ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION. Interior Ministry Major General Vladimir Popkov told journalists in Moscow on 11 September that illegal immigration into Russia has become a very serious economic and criminal problem and the situation is getting worse because of inconsistencies in the laws on citizenship and on the status of foreigners that were adopted last year, Russian media reported. The number of illegal immigrants in Russia has been estimated at anywhere from 1.5 million to 15 million, and could grow to 19 million by 2010, Popkov said. Most of them are seasonal workers, students, and transit passengers whose visas have expired. Illegal immigrants are underpaying billions of rubles in taxes and are contributing to a number of criminal phenomena, he added. However, commented on 11 September that Popkov's figures are extremely unreliable.