Accessibility links

Security Watch: October 15, 2002

15 October 2002, Volume 3, Number 36
PAVLOSKII FOCUSES ON IRAQI SUPPORT FOR SUICIDE BOMBERS. Writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 9 October, influential political consultant and Foundation for Effective Politics President Gleb Pavlovskii said the threat from the Iraqi regime is not limited to its development of nuclear and chemical weapons. He said Saddam Hussein's regime also actively supports a new kind of weapon of mass destruction: Islamic suicide bombers, or "shakhids," targeting the symbols and infrastructure of modern civilization. Indeed, in purely military terms, such suicide bombers can be defined as bearers of weapons of mass destruction already located in the territory to be attacked, Pavlovskii said -- the human bombs embodying a new, "cheap," and devastating element of "megaterror." While the international community has already recognized suicide bombing directed against a civilian population as a crime against humanity, Pavlovskii said, the regime in Baghdad is the only government in the Middle East that is openly endorsing, welcoming, and popularizing suicide bombers in the Arab world. Moreover, Saddam Hussein this year extended his financial support to suicide bombers, publicly announcing that he allotted $5 million for Islamic suicide bombers and their families in Israel. Bearing all this in mind, Pavlovskii said, there is no effective policy other than to challenge this threat through pre-emptive action. As far as Russia is concerned, the country is more vulnerable and open to "megaterrorism" than, say, the United States, because it has neither sufficient power nor the legitimacy to use force outside of its borders. Despite its intensive economic ties, Russia is thus interested in formulating an ultimatum for Iraq, whose irresponsible behavior has provided the basis for such a move, Pavlovskii concluded.

BLAIR PUSHES PUTIN ON IRAQ RESOLUTION... British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived in Moscow on 10 October for two days of talks with President Vladimir Putin that were expected to focus on the Iraq dispute, Russian and Western news media reported. In a pre-trip interview with the BBC, Blair said Russia has been combating Al-Qaeda since long before 11 September 2001, adding that it has the right to defend itself from "terrorism stemming from extremists operating out of Chechnya." Igor Bunin, director of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, told that Blair will likely try to entice Russia into moving closer to the U.S.-British position on Iraq. "It is possible that they will present us some sort of gift -- negotiations with the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait concerning the purchase of our technology," Bunin said. "This means that as a concession they might allow us into these weapons markets, since I don't think Kuwait would reach an agreement with Russia without the approval of the United States." Foundation for Effective Politics President Pavlovskii predicted to AP that Blair will try to convince Putin that Moscow be allowed to play a role in Iraq if Iraqi President Hussein is deposed. Meanwhile, the BBC's Russian Service reported that Moscow has drifted toward the U.S.-British position in recent days. Putin was expected to ask Blair for support for Russia's positions on Kaliningrad and Chechnya.

...AS PUTIN INSISTS ON SENDING INSPECTORS TO IRAQ. Speaking after meeting with Blair, Putin said that Russia "is not getting from its partners [the United States and Britain] reliable data on Iraq's nuclear or [other] weapons of mass destruction," reported on 11 October. "One should distinguish between concerns and objective information about the presence of such weapons," Putin said. In view of the lack of reliable information, Russia is insisting on the immediate return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq, Putin added. He rebuffed journalists asking him about a possible Russia-U.S. bargain on Iraq by saying that Blair came to Moscow "for informal talks, not for an Oriental bazaar," Russian mass media reported on 12 October.

FOREIGN MINISTRY AGAIN DEMANDS THAT GEORGIA EXTRADITE SUSPECTED MILITANTS. The Foreign Ministry addressed a note to Tbilisi demanding the immediate extradition of eight suspected Chechen militants, ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told Interfax on 10 October. Georgia sent five Chechens to Moscow one week before but suspended the extradition of eight more at the request of the European Court of Human Rights, to which the detained Chechens had appealed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 October 2002). Yakovenko said that at his talks in Chisinau on 6 October with President Vladimir Putin, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze promised that the eight Chechens will be extradited to Russia.

RUSSIAN, GEORGIAN DELEGATIONS HOLD TALKS ON BORDER COOPERATION. A Federal Security Service (FSB) delegation headed by FSB First Deputy Director Vladimir Pronichev arrived in Tbilisi on 10 October for talks with Georgian security officials on boosting bilateral cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. A Federal Border Guard Service (FPS) delegation also arrived in the Georgian capital the same day for related talks aimed at strengthening control over the Russian-Georgian border. Also on 10 October, FPS Director Colonel General Konstantin Totskii claimed that a group of Chechen militants is preparing to enter Russia from Georgian territory, ITAR-TASS reported. He said there are "definitely" still "bandits" on Georgian territory, adding that the situation on the Russian-Georgian border remains "extremely difficult and tense."

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL FOLLOWS KREMLIN FLIP-FLOPS ON GEORGIA. Just hours after the appearance of reports that Presidents Putin and Shevardnadze managed to iron out some wrinkles in relations between the two countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2002), Deputy Prosecutor-General Konstantin Chaika told reporters that his office has found nothing criminal about Shevardnadze's conduct as Soviet foreign minister in negotiating a 1990 border agreement with the United States, reported on 8 October. In September, the Federation Council asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to look into allegations of abuse of office stemming from an agreement delimiting the border between the two countries in the Bering Sea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, and 5 September 2002). Two hours after Chaika's statement, however, reports circulated that Georgia might suspend the previously promised extradition of suspected Chechen militants, and the Prosecutor-General's Office issued another statement saying the investigation into Shevardnadze's case is not yet complete and he remains "under suspicion."

HARD-LINER SAYS CONFRONTATION WITH GEORGIA COULD COST RUSSIA. Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, a former military strategist and current vice president of the Academy of Geopolitics, said any Russian military intervention in Georgia under the pretext of rebuffing international terrorism would undermine "Russia's already illusory international prestige," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 October. Only the United Nations Security Council has the authority to determinate what aggression is, he added. Russia not only will lose its "democratic face," but it will lose influence in the Caucasus and Caspian regions and will consolidate the Shevardnadze regime in Georgia. Instead of military measures against Georgia, Russia must consider strengthening its relations with separatist leaders in Abkhazia, Adjaria, and South Ossetia; developing direct business ties with separatist regions in Georgia; and activating the Russian diaspora in Georgia, Ivashov added.

NATO, RUSSIA DISCUSS MILITARY REFORM. A NATO-Russia conference on military reform opened in Rome on 10 October, ITAR-TASS reported. Russia was represented at the forum by Deputy Defense Minister Lyubov Kudelina and First Deputy Chief of the General Staff Major General Yurii Baluevskii. The conference was to discuss the personnel and equipment requirements of a modern army and the process of controlling military reform.

VIETNAMESE LEADER IN THE KREMLIN. President Putin on 10 October met with Vietnam's Communist Party chief Nong Duc Manh in Moscow, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Manh was on a five-day visit to Russia that was to include a trip to St. Petersburg. The two leaders discussed bilateral political and economic relations. After completing his Russia trip, Manh was expected to travel on to Belarus.

RUSSIA, JAPAN AGREE TO SIMPLIFY VISA REGIME. Russia and Japan announced on 8 October an agreement significantly simplifying the visa regime between the two countries, reported. Under the agreement, Russian citizens will be able to receive simplified visas for visits of less than four days to Japan, and the procedure for receiving multiple-entry business visas will likewise be simplified. In exchange, Moscow agreed to expedite the process of issuing invitations to Japanese citizens. The cost of visas in both directions will also be reduced. It was unclear when the new system will come into effect.

DUMA TO DISCUSS HARSH RESTRICTIONS FOR FOREIGNERS TO ADOPT RUSSIAN CHILDREN. The Duma's Committee for State Issues will offer a bill that would forbid the Foreign Ministry to issue entrance visas to foreigners in a number of circumstances, including for those entering Russia for the purpose of adopting Russian children, RIA-Novosti reported on 11 October. Under the bill, authorities could also deny visas to anyone who violates customs regulations, provides false information, or uses forged documents. Drug addicts, people with infectious diseases, people with criminal records in their home countries, or anyone on a Russian government list of "unwelcome foreigners" could also be denied entrance.

UKRAINE, RUSSIA MOVE FORWARD ON NATURAL-GAS COOPERATION. At a meeting on the sidelines of the CIS summit in Chisinau on 7 October, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Ukrainian Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh discussed progress on the formation of a joint natural-gas transportation consortium, ITAR-TASS and other news agencies reported. Kasyanov told reporters that Gazprom and Ukraine's Naftohaz will submit their proposals for the participation of foreign companies in the project by the end of the year, after which "the proposals will be discussed by the heads of government, and concrete decisions will be made." Kinakh hailed the bilateral agreement on strategic cooperation in the natural-gas sector signed on 7 October and said decisions about the management and financial arrangements of the consortium will be made at a later date. Under the agreement, the consortium will be based in Kyiv and registered in Ukraine. Decisions regarding the participation of foreign companies will be made jointly, and the agreement will remain in effect for at least 30 years.

DEPUTIES APPROVE GOVERNMENT'S ELECTRICITY-SECTOR REFORMS... State Duma deputies took up the controversial issue of reforming the country's electricity sector on 9 October, Russian news agencies reported. Deputies passed a government-sponsored package of six bills in their first reading; each of them collected more than 250 votes in favor, according to Included in the package were bills on electricity and the regulation of electricity and heating rates, along with amendments to the law on natural monopolies and energy supply and the Civil Code. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 10 October, prior to the bills' consideration, the government satisfied all of the demands of the Duma's centrist factions. Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Andrei Sharonov told the Duma on 9 October that the bills would liberalize the energy industry while at the same time allowing the government to retain control of the sector. If the bills are enacted in their current form, then the electrical-energy industry will make the transition to market operation by 2005, the newspaper reported.

...AND YABLOKO LEADER ISN'T HAPPY. The energy bills were opposed by the Communist and Yabloko factions. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii predicted that the new laws "will guarantee an endless rise in electricity rates," lead to the "creation of electricity oligarchs in the regions," and establish a "basis for political-corporate authoritarianism" in Russia.

PRIME MINISTER AUTHORIZES PRIVATIZATION OF SLAVNEFT. Mikhail Kasyanov signed on 10 October a directive initiating the sale the state's 74.95 percent stake in oil giant Slavneft, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The government's stake is worth an estimated $1.3 billion, and the sale is expected to be the largest privatization deal in post-Soviet Russia. The government of Belarus owns 10 percent of the company, while a 13 percent stake is held by a trust fund controlled by oil companies TNK and Sibneft and businessman Mikhail Gutseriev. The rest belongs to minority investors. "Vedomosti" named Sibneft -- which is controlled by Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich -- and Surgutneftegaz as likely potential bidders. noted that former Sibneft executive Yurii Sukhanov recently became CEO of Slavneft and argued that this gives Abramovich an inside track toward acquiring the stake.

STATE TO SLASH MANDATORY FOREIGN-CURRENCY EXCHANGE RATE. The government intends to reduce the amount of foreign-currency earnings that Russian companies are required to sell to the Central Bank from 50 percent to 30 percent, Reuters and Russian news agencies reported on 10 October. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said the decision was reached during a meeting with President Putin earlier in the week, but he did not specify when the new regulations will come into force. "Later, the Central Bank will cut it to zero. That is, it will fully abolish this obligation, but it will retain the right to impose regulatory mechanisms in certain situations," Kudrin was quoted by Reuters as saying. The Economic Development and Trade Ministry has been calling for the foreign-exchange requirement to be cut to 25 percent in 2003 and abolished in 2004, while the Central Bank recommended cutting the rate to 35 percent and not setting a time frame for abolishing it.

DOES KREMLIN HAVE ITS OWN SOFT-MONEY PROBLEM? In a column in "The Moscow Times" on 9 October and an article in "Novaya gazeta," No. 74, commentator Yuliya Latynina alleges that the Kremlin controls a multimillion-dollar "slush fund" to finance the candidates its supports in State Duma and local elections. According to Latynina, the money for the fund comes from "the oligarchs" whose tax payments "fill the official coffers" and whose gifts "keep the black budget afloat." Latynina estimates that, on average, supporting 100 pro-government State Duma deputies costs the Kremlin $20 million, while a single governor's campaign usually runs between $1.5 million and $2 million. She suggests that "the entire Russian economy is built around the black budget," while "the Russian elite is composed of those who have access to it." She concludes that the overall social and economic costs of the fund are huge, since "an oligarch who contributes a million to the Kremlin slush fund receives by way of compensation a presidential decree that brings him hundreds of millions."

CORRUPTION RESEARCHERS RANK THE REGIONS. Residents of Bashkortostan have the greatest trust in federal and regional officials, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 October, citing a poll of 5,666 citizens and 1,838 representatives of small and medium-sized businesses conducted in 40 regions. Residents of Novgorod Oblast have the least trust in federal authorities, while Saratov Oblast citizens have the least trust in regional officials. The research was headed by Georgii Satarov, president of the INDEM think tank, and Yelena Panfilova, director of the Russian department of the Center for Anticorruption Research and Initiatives of Transparency International. Satarov told reporters on 9 October that he disagrees with the cliche that, "In order to fight corruption, there must be [sufficient] political will." According to Satarov, one can battle corruption with the help of public pressure on the authorities: "The first function of our project is to help the public see this problem, become angry, and as a result turn on the pressure."

FATF REMOVES RUSSIA FROM MONEY-LAUNDERING 'BLACKLIST.' The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international body that monitors money laundering, has removed Russia from its blacklist, Russian news agencies reported on 11 October. The move comes after a long campaign by Russian officials seeking FATF recognition of the government's antimoney-laundering efforts.

CONTROVERSIAL CROWN TO BE SOLD FOR CHARITY. A replica of the Cap of Monomakh that was made by Urals jewelers for President Putin's 50th birthday (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2002) will be auctioned and the proceeds donated to children's charities, RosBalt reported on 9 October. Anatolii Klimin, president of the Russian Jewelers Association, denied reports that the valuable crown was not given to Putin because of "ironic commentaries" in the press or because officials of the National Seal and Flag Institute expressed the opinion that presenting a symbol of autocracy to the head of a democratic state would be "incorrect." However, he added that selling the copy and giving the money to charity is a "healthy and correct idea." He estimated that the jeweled crown will fetch about $50,000.

IS PUTIN A 'COUNTERREFORMER'... Considerably more than halfway through President Putin's first term in office, analysts are still pondering exactly who he is. Moscow State University historian Sergei Leonov in "Moskovskie novosti," No. 39, describes Putin as a "counterreformer," using the term to denote a leader who is primarily concerned with strengthening the state and increasing stability. Leonov compares Putin extensively to Tsar Aleksandr III, noting that both rulers came to power following a period of intensely destabilizing reforms, both outwardly promised to follow the policies of their predecessors while actually manifesting an ambiguous relationship toward those policies, both were concerned with strengthening the mechanisms of the state and resisting centrifugal forces, both intensified censorship and control over information, and both advocated patriotic ideologies and the Orthodox Church. Moreover, both leaders were viewed as anti-intellectual pragmatists; neither was extensively prepared to become the ruler of the country; and both ruled at times when Russia was in a difficult international position, a situation that pushed both toward increased integration with the West. Leonov argues that Putin is in a position to help the country end its long cycle of wavering between reformers and counterreformers by keeping his strong-state inclinations in check and, most of all, by not giving in to the temptation to seek an unconstitutional third term in 2008.

...OR A 'LIBERAL CONSERVATIVE'? In a long essay in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 7 October devoted to the occasion of Putin's 50th birthday, former "Nezavisimaya gazeta" Editor Vitalii Tretyakov describes Putin as a "liberal conservative" and stresses the crucial importance for Russia of his stepping down voluntarily in 2008. "If that happens in this way, then Putin -- by strengthening a barely begun, completely new tendency that was just born here at the end of the 20th century -- will have by that alone done something colossal for Russia, strengthening our democracy 10 times over," Tretyakov writes. He argues that Putin's driving concern has always been the "restoration of Russian greatness" on the world stage. "Of course, Putin prefers democracy to authoritarianism, but only in those cases when democracy is the most effective means of resurrecting Russia. Such is also his view of market economics," Tretyakov writes. He further argues that Putin "does not consider the people to be the main or only actor in history." Instead, he sees the people as "a more or less passive...object of historical processes."