10 January 2002, Volume
NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of "RFE/RL Security Watch" will appear on 24 January.
RUSSIAN MAIN MEDICAL EXPERT WARNS ON USING SMALLPOX BY TERRORISTS.
The chief public health official of the Russian Federation, Gennadii Onishchenko, told "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 8 January that if terrorist groups obtain possession of the smallpox virus it will equate to a death sentence for most of mankind because over 60 percent of the Earth's population has no immunity against the disease. Two decades ago, it was decided to stop worldwide vaccination against smallpox when the natural sources of the disease were liquidated. Moreover, The World Health Organization is discussing the possibility of the destruction of legal smallpox virus collections that are in Russia and the U.S. If Russia were to do so, it would disarm itself against potential possessors of illegal virus collections, i.e. terrorists, concluded Onishchenko.RUSSIAN GREENPEACE BRANCH PUBLICIZES ITS AGENDA FOR 2002.
Yevgenii Usov, the spokesman for Greenpeace Rossii, the Russian affiliate of the international ecological organization Greenpeace, told the RosBalt news agency on 4 January that "it is impossible to build up a democratic society in Russia while ignoring ecological problems." Usov also noted that in the past year the greatest achievement made by his organization was the incorporation of Lake Baikal onto the World Wildlife Fund's ecological heritage protection list, while the greatest defeat was the adoption by the Russian parliament of legislation allowing for the import of nuclear waste into the country. In 2002, Greenpeace Rossii plans to launch campaigns for a total ban of nuclear waste imports, the protection of forests, and the ratification by Russia of a convention to reduce the output of organically indestructible substances, Usov said.
DIPLOMAT'S GUILTY VERDICT ON ESPIONAGE CHARGES UPHELD.
The Russian Supreme Court rejected the appeal by Valentin Moiseev, a senior staff member of the Foreign Ministry's Asia Department, and left in force the verdict of a lower court which sentenced him in 1999 to imprisonment for espionage on behalf of South Korea, Russian television channels reported on 9 January. Moiseev was initially sentenced to 12 years, but in August 2001 the court reduced his punishment to 4 1/2 years. Moiseev has never admitted his guilt, saying that the episode for which he was convicted of espionage was in fact an open meeting with an officially accredited South Korean secret serviceman in Moscow to whom Moiseev gave the text of his own unclassified report.PUBLIC COMMITTEE FOR PASKO'S DEFENSE CREATED...
A group of human rights activists including Elena Bonner, the widow of Andrei Sakharov, the leader of the Soviet Union's democratic movement; Aleksei Simonov, the chairman of Sakharov Fund; and Sergei Grigoryants, the president of the civil rights foundation "Glasnost," have announced the creation of a public committee in defense of military journalist Grigorii Pasko, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 4 January. The committee, which includes journalists and scientists, said it will demand the release of Pasko, who was recently sentenced to four years imprisonment for "divulging state secrets" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001)....AND DEMONSTRATES ON LUBYANKA SQUARE...
The members of the committee demonstrated on Lubyanka Square in Moscow on 7 January near the headquarters of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) in defense Pasko, who was found guilty of espionage for publicizing materials on the dumping of nuclear waste by the Pacific Fleet, Western news services reported. Sergei Kovalev, a veteran of Russia's democratic movement, told the crowd of some 20 demonstrators that in backing the persecution of Pasko the FSB "is undermining the prestige of the country and the strengthening of state institutions." Kovalev called on the authorities to overturn the espionage charges against the journalist. "The case of Pasko will be won if not in Russia, then in the European Court in Strasbourg," he said....WHILE FEDERATION COUNCIL SPEAKER AGREES TO DISCUSS PASKO CASE PUBLICLY.
In an interview with NTV broadcast on 28 December, Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said he is ready to meet "very soon" with members of human rights and environmental organizations to discuss the Pasko case. Mironov said that problems relating to Russia's ecological security are very acute and should be discussed "loudly and openly." He added that in the context of ecological security he is ready to discuss "concrete steps to help Pasko."ACCUSED 'NATO COUNTRY' SPY FILES APPEAL TO RUSSIAN SUPREME COURT...
Igor Sutyagin, a researcher from the Institute of USA and Canada who is accused of espionage for "a NATO country" and whose trial has been suspended pending further investigation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001), submitted an appeal to the Russian Supreme Court on 3 January, RIA-Novosti reported. In the appeal Sutyagin states that the prosecution failed to specify in its case what exact data he allegedly handed over to foreign special services, and what particular damage it caused to Russia's national security. Moreover, Sutyagin claims that the Kaluga Oblast Court that heard the case failed to disprove his statement that all information he exchanged with his foreign colleagues was obtained from open sources. In conclusion, Sutyagin asked the Supreme Court to release him from custody until the additional investigation is completed....AS HIS LAWYERS FILE A SEPARATE APPEAL.
Sutyagin's lawyers meanwhile appealed the verdict of the Kaluga court that decided to further investigate the case, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 January. In their appeal the lawyers asked that Sutyagin be released from custody for the duration of the new investigation because the court itself found procedural and legal violations during the earlier investigation.
'SHANGHAI SIX' ADOPTS COMMUNIQUE ON SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN...
Foreign ministers from the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization published a joint statement following the completion of their extraordinary meeting in Beijing on 7 January in which they pledged to expand their role in the international antiterrorist coalition led by the United States, Interfax and RIA-Novosti reported. The members of the organization, which is made up of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, said that they will contribute on national, regional, and global levels to help prevent any terrorism, extremism, separatism, and drug trafficking that might originate from Afghanistan. At the same time, the statement opposed "any efforts to impose political order in Afghanistan from the outside." The group also called for the quick adoption of an international agreement on the prevention of acts of nuclear terrorism....WHILE RUSSIA AND CHINA APPEAL TO INDIA AND PAKISTAN TO REACH SETTLEMENT.
In a joint statement issued in Beijing on 7 January by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and his Chinese counterpart Tang Jiaxuan, the two expressed their concern over the conflict between India and Pakistan and called on them "to halt the further escalation of tension, and guarantee peace and stability in South Asia," Interfax reported. The statement also said that a political solution to the crisis between India and Pakistan would also contribute to the successful development of a postconflict settlement in Afghanistan.RUSSIAN SPECIAL ENVOY MEETS ARAFAT.
Andrei Vdovin, a special envoy of the Russian Foreign Ministry who is currently visiting the Middle East, met in Ramallah on 7 January with Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat and handed him a message from Russian President Vladimir Putin, RIA-Novosti reported. Vdovin also called on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to lift restrictions on Arafat's movements. Meanwhile in Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said Vdovin's mission is being closely coordinated with U.S. special envoy Anthony Zinni and EU and UN representatives Miguel Moratinos and Terje Larsen, who are currently visiting Israel.EXPERT SAYS RUSSIA WOULD FOLLOW SUIT IF U.S. RESUMED NUCLEAR TESTING.
Mark Urnov, the head of the Center for Political Technologies and known for his close ties with the Kremlin, said that Russia would not object if the U.S. were to resume nuclear weapons testing but continue dialogue with Russia on the reduction of strategic weapons, strana.ru reported on 8 January. He also said that reducing the countries' nuclear arsenals to the proposed level of 1,500-2,000 warheads would require an analysis of the reliability and safety of the remaining nuclear munitions. Thus, if the United States were to conduct nuclear testing, Russia would likely do the same, according to Urnov. In any event, the resumption of nuclear testing would not cause any international complications because such testing is the subject of bilateral agreements between the two counties and is not subject to consent by any third parties, he said.
GOVERNMENT MULLS INCREASE ON TAX FOR USED AUTO IMPORTS...
Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin, who heads the interagency commission for national foreign trade protection measures, said on 5 January that his commission has recommended that the government approve increased customs duties for used foreign cars, RBK news agency reported. According to Kudrin, after the measure is implemented, the price of imported automobiles seven years and older will more than double, and the price for three- to seven-year-old autos will increase by 1.5 to two times. The measure would not change the customs tax for imported autos aged three years or less. The measure is meant to support domestic carmakers, which in 2001 produced about 1 million cars with an average price of $12,000. Russian carmakers, however, are facing strong competition from imported used cars that cost about the same as new Russian models....AND REDUCES LEVY ON OIL EXPORTS BY TWO-THIRDS.
The same commission also asked the government to cut the export tax on oil from 23.4 to eight euros per ton, Kudrin said the same day. The reduction of the oil export tax is intended to compensate for the loss of revenues suffered by Russian oil companies resulting from the fall in global oil prices and the decision by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's government to cut Russia's oil quota by 150,000 barrels a day beginning this year, according to Kudrin.
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT SENDS CHRISTMAS GREETINGS...
On 6 January, President Putin conveyed his Christmas greetings to Orthodox believers and followers of other Christian denominations in Russia, Interfax reported the same day. "Orthodoxy, which occupies a special place in Russian history, continues to play a paramount role in preserving the moral pillars of social life," the presidential press service reported on 6 January. "The Russian Orthodox Church, acting closely together with members of other traditional religions and creeds, makes remarkable efforts to improve the spiritual health of our compatriots, foster patriotism, and strengthen civil peace and accord," the greeting read....AS RUSSIAN CHURCH HEAD LEADS ORTHODOX CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION.
On 6 January, Patriarch Aleksii II led the Orthodox Christmas liturgy in Moscow's Church of Christ the Savior before 3,000 believers. The liturgy was broadcast nationwide by the ORT and RTR television channels, and online by the official website of the Moscow Patriarchate (http://www.russian-orthodox-church.org.ru), RIA-Novosti reported on 6 January. Meanwhile, the number of Russians celebrating Orthodox Christmas is growing steadily, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. The agency said that in 1997 only 58 percent perceived Orthodox Christmas as a religious holiday; in 1998, 57 percent; in 1999, 62 percent; and some 67 percent in 2000.
IT'S ALL DOWNHILL FOR MOSCOW OFFICIALDOM.
Prime Minister Kasyanov and almost half of his cabinet ministers will take vacations during the first half of January, polit.ru reported on 3 January. Kasyanov, who will spend some of his vacation skiing in Slovenia, will be gone until 14 January. Deputy Prime Minister Kudrin also intends to go skiing, according to "Izvestiya" on 29 December. President Putin too is an avid skier, having spent a vacation last year skiing in Khakasia. "Argumenty i Fakty" reported last year that in addition to Kasyanov and Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo both like to spend time on the slopes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2001). During former President Boris Yeltsin's tenure, tennis became the sport of choice among Kremlin officials.RUSSIAN CHURCH OPENS PARISH IN ANTARCTICA.
Russia sees the expansion of Russian Orthodox Church services to Antarctica as a symbol of the strengthening of Russia's presence on the continent, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 4 January. With Patriarch Aleksii II's blessing, it was decided to open a church at Russia's "Bellingshausen" polar station, which is located on the Antarctic island King George I. The priest will be Valerii Lukin, a famous polar scientist, and churchgoers will primarily be made up of polar researchers.PUTIN TELEPHONES RUSSIAN EXPLORERS.
President Putin telephoned a group of Russian explorers on 8 January upon their successful trek to the South Pole to congratulate them on their achievement, RIA-Novosti reported. Artur Chilingarov, a deputy speaker of the State Duma, and a Hero of the Soviet Union who led the polar expedition, told the president during their conversation that the goal of the journey was "to stress the Russian presence in Antarctica." In the past few months, Russia has made significant political and public relations efforts to emphasize its claims on resource-rich regions of the Arctic and Antarctic.FAR EASTERN PROVINCE EMPLOYS MORE CHINESE WORKERS.
The Jewish Autonomous Oblast administration has decided to increase the number of foreign workers that it allows in its region by one-third, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 3 January. However, the number of applications for work continues to exceed the number of permits. According to the agency, authorities in the oblast's capital, Birobidzhan, have received more than 2,000 applications from foreign workers, and some 1,868 permits have been granted, mainly to Chinese citizens. The timber industry is expected to employ many of the additional foreign workers.
PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE SEARCHES OFFICES OF GAZPROM SUBSIDIARY.
Officers from the Prosecutor-General's Office searched the premises and seized documents of the petrochemical company Sibur, a subsidiary of Gazprom, in Moscow on 8 January, Russian agencies reported. Three people, including Sibur President Yakob Goldovskii and CEO Vyacheslav Sheremet, have been arrested. According to a member of the investigating team, the search came as the result of a scandal surrounding Sibur following the company's failure to make good on promissory notes worth some $120 million. However, "Kommersant-Daily" commented the same day that the company, which has estimated annual revenues of approximately $1.2 billion, is at the center of a struggle between the new and old guard within Gazprom, and that the Prosecutor-General's Office is acting as a tool in the fight against the proteges of former Gazprom President Rem Vyakhirev.'GOLDEN ADA' EMBEZZLER RELEASED FROM MOSCOW PRISON.
Andrei Kozlyonok, one of the diamond traders who was convicted last year of embezzling Russian government funds through the San Francisco-based Golden ADA front company in the early 1990's, was freed from a Moscow prison on 8 January, Russian news services reported. Kozlyonok was sentenced last year to six years in prison for his role in embezzling $187 million worth of state funds via the diamond- and gold-trading company in a high-profile trial that implicated several top officials from the Yeltsin administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2001). However, Kozlyonok's sentence was reduced in November 2001 to four years, and he was released because his time spent in pretrial detention was subtracted from the prison term.MOSCOW COURT REFUSES TO ORDER PROBE INTO THEFT OF NEARLY 6 BILLION RUBLES.
The Moscow City Court has thrown out as illegal the verdict of a lower court to further investigate the fate of 5.8 billion rubles ($160 million) that disappeared from the assets of the Central Bank, polit.ru reported on 8 January. As a result of the decision, the criminal case against Aleksandr Alekseev, the head of the Moscow branch of the Central Bank who was accused of siphoning funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2001), has been suspended. According to the news website, the Moscow court found no crime in Alekseev's actions, only negligence.RUSSIAN PRESIDENT SACKS RAILWAYS MINISTER...
By presidential decree Vladimir Putin on 3 January fired Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko, who for the last several months has been at the center of a criminal investigation into massive corruption, Russian news agencies reported. According to the presidential press service, Putin's move was initiated by Prime Minister Kasyanov, who presented the president with material related to the investigation released that day by Prosecutor-General Ustinov. Reportedly, the material clearly demonstrates that Aksenenko is to blame for tax evasion in his agency worth many millions of dollars, as well as his personal misuse of over $1 million. Gazeta.ru commented the same day that behind the affair is the fight between the pro-presidential "St. Petersburg team" and their allies in power agencies versus holdovers from former President Yeltsin's regime, one of whom was Aksenenko. The website opined that the Railways Ministry's position as the third-largest Russian natural monopoly, behind Gazprom and United Energy Systems (EES), led to a fight between the two groups for control over the ministry's enormous cash flows and assets. Remarkably, the website added, EES head Anatolii Chubais and Kasyanov were until recently two of the chief defenders of Aksenenko's "reputation."...BUT SUCCESSOR HAS FAMILY TIES TO THE OLD MINISTER.
President Putin signed a decree on 5 January appointing Gennadii Fadeev as Russia's new railways minister, Russian media reported. Fadeev is a seasoned veteran of the agency. In different stages of his career he has been the head of both the Moscow and St. Petersburg (Oktyabrskaya) railroads; first deputy minister of USSR Railways (1988-1991); and railways minister of the Russian Federation (1992 to 1996). Politically, his party affiliation is to Fatherland-All Russia. Media reports also mentioned that he is related to the dismissed Aksenenko.MVD BREAKS UP SYNDICATE FOR MAKING FALSE IDENTITY PAPERS.
An Interior Ministry spokesman announced that the office of the agency's Directorate for Combating Organized Crime has disrupted the activity of a criminal syndicate which fabricated identification papers of various Russian state and public institutions, RIA-Novosti reported on 28 December. The syndicate was operating from Makhachkala, Daghestan, and produced over 60 types of forged documents including identification cards of members of the State Duma, the Prosecutor-General's Office, as well as university diplomas and pension cards. The spokesman noted the very high quality of the false identity papers, and did not exclude their possible use by members of criminal and terrorist groups.TAX POLICE: 60 PERCENT OF RUSSIAN BUSINESS ENTITIES FAIL TO PAY TAXES.
Viktor Vasiliev, the head of the Moscow office of the Federal Tax Police Service (FSNP), told RosBalt on 8 January that 60 percent of Russian enterprises, companies, and institutions do not pay taxes or other obligatory duties, and thus constitute a "shadow segment of the national economy." In some sectors, such as automobile servicing, for example, the level of the illegal revenues exceeds 80 percent. Vasiliev told the online news agency that through research and practical experience the FSNP has found that most tax crimes are committed in the energy sector, credit and financial institutions, real estate, consumer trade, and export-import operations.RUSSIA BOASTS NEARLY 1 MILLION PRISON INMATES.
According to statistics released by the Justice Ministry, the Russian prison population in 2001 reached 980,000 people, including 744,000 convicts and 216,700 inmates whose cases were in the process of investigation, Interfax reported on 5 January. Included in this figure are 19,000 minors and 50,000 women. Russia's prison inmates work for 750 penitentiary enterprises. According to the statistics, the Russian penitentiary system also includes 660,300 people who were convicted but released on probation.
RUSSIA INKS DEAL TO SUPPLY DESTROYERS TO CHINESE NAVY.
Upon arriving in Moscow on 3 January, Zhou Wei, the head of the Procurement Bureau of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, met with Rosoboroneksport First Deputy Director Sergei Chemezov and signed a contract under which Russia will provide two new destroyers to the Chinese navy, gazeta.ru reported. The destroyers belong to the same 956E class as the two ships Russia sold to China in 1999-2000. Chemezov said the "big new contract testifies to the extent of bilateral military cooperation," but he failed to divulge how much the deal is worth.RUSSIA MODERNIZING SU-25 GROUND ATTACK PLANE.
Vladimir Babak, a spokesman for the Sukhoi aircraft company, announced on 7 January that Sukhoi is analyzing the upgrades of the first 100 Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack aircraft within the framework of modernizing the Russian air force, which is to be completed by 2008. In addition to its contract with the Russian air force, Sukhoi is modernizing nearly the same number of planes for foreign customers, according to Babak.RUSSIA ARMY TO BUY MORE ARMS, BUT HAS NO FUNDS FOR COMBAT TRAINING.
State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Andrei Nikolaev said on 7 January that Russia will spend much more this year on purchasing weapon systems and on research and development projects for the defense industry, the Military News Agency reported. He said the military budget for 2002 also includes a considerable increase in expenditures for military logistics. However, as was the case last year, the Russian army will not have enough funds for combat training. "We won't be able to ensure for our pilots the necessary number of flight hours, and most of the warships will remain anchored," he said. As for social programs, including housing, medical insurance, and transportation, Nikolaev complained that the budget will meet just "50 percent of their real needs."RUSSIAN ARMY TO BE REDUCED TO UNDER 1 MILLION IN 2002.
Nikolai Kormiltsev, the commander in chief of the Russian army's ground forces, said on 5 January that the number of military personnel will fall to under 1 million this year, Interfax reported. According to Kormiltsev, the changes will most dramatically affect the officers' corps, which has already seen a significant amount of officers leave its ranks. "Those who stay want to serve...even if it is service in the very hard conditions of the Dalnevostochnii and Sibirskii military districts," he concluded.EQUIPMENT BEING TESTED AT CHEMICAL WEAPONS LIQUIDATION SITE.
The first Russian plant for chemical weapons liquidation, which is located at the Gornii settlement of the Saratov Oblast, has begun trial tests, RIA-Novosti reported on 8 January. In addition, a sub-project, which is partly financed by the international TACIS program, will monitor the ecological situation in the territory adjacent to the installation. The plant is to be commissioned in July 2002, RIA-Novosti added.
RUSSIAN TELEVISION GOING DOWN THE TUBE?
Writing in strana.ru on 8 January, mass communications expert Aleksandr Kustarev said that Russian television is showing a clear trend of disrespect for its audience and is degrading itself. One example he sites is the habit of inviting celebrities into the studio as "experts" on various issues, even when they are completely incompetent in the subject matter they are asked to discuss. Another sign, Kustarev said, is the obsession of television directors with the idea that the level of expertise and intellectual skill of television personalities should not exceed that of the general audience. In so doing, he said, those directors are showing that they feel the general public is not worthy of hearing what it doesn't already know.