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Security Watch: May 21, 2001

21 May 2001, Volume 2, Number 20
DOES CHERNOMYRDIN NEED DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY? Less than a week after President Vladimir Putin named Viktor Chernomyrdin to be Russian ambassador in Kyiv, Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dmitri Rogozin said on 16 May that "international provocations are being prepared against Chernomyrdin," Russian agencies reported. Rogozin said that Western "secret services" want to block the rapprochement between Russia and Ukraine and urged that people ignore whatever "kompromat" is put out. But Chernomyrdin may genuinely have something to fear from international legal proceedings against him. His name has frequently figured in corruption scandals in Russia over the last decade and thus he may be glad to have the diplomatic immunity protection his new post gives him. In any case, as Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov said immediately after Chernomyrdin's appointment, "a diplomatic passport will not do him any harm."

MOSCOW SUPPORTS UN'S ANNAN FOR SECOND TERM. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Moscow will support the re-election of Kofi Annan as UN secretary-general, reported on 16 May. Annan told Russian officials, including President Putin, that he opposes any change in the ABM Treaty.

MOSCOW DENIES ISLAND COMPROMISE WITH JAPAN. A Foreign Ministry spokesman on 14 May denied Japanese claims that Russian President Putin confidentially promised former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori at their March meeting that he is willing to return to Japan two of the four disputed Kurile Islands, Interfax reported. the spokesman indicated that, in addition, Moscow is upset that Mori released information about confidential talks.

PUTIN, VENEZUELA LEADER AGREE TO KEEP OIL PRICES HIGH. President Putin said after his meeting with visiting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that the two have agreed on the most important issue, the need to keep oil prices high, Russian and Western agencies reported on 14 May. The two also agreed to create a bilateral commission to coordinate prices in the future. Chavez said that he hopes the combined efforts of OPEC and Russia will prevent any decline in prices, "Kommersant-Daily" reported.

ZHIRINOVSKY URGES 'EASTERN BLOC' IN LIBYA. Duma Vice Chairman and LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky urged Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi to take part in a Russian-led "Eastern Bloc" to oppose the U.S. and NATO, RIA-Novosti reported on 16 May. Zhirinovsky said that the group should include "Russia, some CIS and Balkan countries, several Arab countries, and Libya."

NO END TO CHECHEN FIGHTING SEEN... Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev has told President Putin that he cannot say when the "counterterrorist operation" in the North Caucasus will be over because "a situation that deteriorated for 10 years cannot change and become a positive one all at once," the Military News agency reported on 15 May. On 27 April, "Moskovskii komsomolets" had quoted Patrushev as saying that the situation in Chechnya is "stable" and that the security services can "neutralize key rebel leaders without [significant] losses." The paper predicted that the Russian government was intending to announce on 15 May the end of its "counterterrorist operation" in Chechnya.

...AS RUSSIAN CASUALTIES MOUNT... Russian Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky told Interfax on 16 May that since 1 October 1999, 3,096 Russian servicemen have been killed and 9,187 wounded in the "counterterrorist operation" in Chechnya. Those figures are up by almost 300 and 1,100 over the last two months.

...AND FSB FEARS MORE AHEAD. FSB Director Patrushev said his agency has been directed to "neutralize" Chechen fighters but is reluctant to do so lest the agency incur higher casualties, Russian media reported. The Chechen fighters, he said, "are not worth the losses we might take."

RUSSIA HAS TO GET ON 'GLOBALIZATION EXPRESS.' In an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 May, Alekse Podberezkin, one of the leaders of the left-wing opposition in Russia, said that globalization poses risks to Russia but that the worst mistake would be "not to get on board this express." Economic nationalism is unworkable in the current situation. He said that globalization will ultimately lead to the socialization of liberalism and the liberalization of socialism.

PUTIN GIVEN PETER THE GREAT AWARD. Russian industrial managers have decided to present their annual management award, the Peter the Great award, to President Putin, RIA-Novosti reported on 16 May. Others getting the award were Central Bank chief Viktor Gerashchenko and Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev. But among candidates for the award who failed to receive enough votes were Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed and Chuvash President Nikolai Fedorov.

ALEKSII II SAYS WITHOUT THE YOUNG, RUSSIA MAY BE LOST. At a meeting of 1,500 people devoted to the organization of an all-Russian union of young people, Patriarch Aleksii II said that such an organization is absolutely necessary to develop the young and that without them "we will lose the entire country," Interfax reported on 14 May.

PUTIN MAY CREATE A RUSSIAN FBI. Dmitri Kozak, the deputy chief of the presidential administration, has presented proposals to President Putin for the creation of a new law enforcement agency, the Federal Investigative Service (FSR), RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported on 15 May. The FSR would unite under one roof all pretrial investigative functions for major crimes.

NO ANTI-MONEY-LAUNDERING SERVICE IN NEAR FUTURE. Mikhail Fradkov, the director of the Federal Tax Police, said on 14 May that he is in no hurry to create a special financial agency to combat money laundering, Interfax reported. Instead, he suggested that he plans to revamp existing analytic units to help other law enforcement agencies deal with the problem. Fradkov's approach marks a sharp departure from that of his predecessor, Vyacheslav Soltaganov, who actively sought to create a special financial intelligence unit to fight money laundering.

KREMLIN TELEPHONE RECORDINGS AN INSIDE JOB. "Argumenty i fakty" on 16 May said that the recently leaked transcripts of conversations between presidential administration officials and their visitors could only be the work of "communications professionals and insiders." Lines running into the office of presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin are protected by FAPSI and cannot be penetrated easily, if at all. The weekly speculated that this may mean that President Putin could discover in the future that his conversations had been taped, much as Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has learned.

FIRE HIGHLIGHTS SPY SATELLITE GAP. An 11 May fire at the Kaluga ground control facility that interrupted Russia's links with four "Oko" spy satellites highlighted the gaps in Russia's early warning system even though officials were able to restore the uplinks within 24 hours, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 14 May. Without these four satellites, Russia cannot effectively monitor a possible U.S. launch and thus is in a weaker position to negotiate on missile defense issues.

INTERIOR TROOPS MAY BE PUT UNDER DEFENSE MINISTRY. The Russian government is considering the transfer of troops currently under the control of the Interior Ministry to the Defense Ministry now that "civilian" Sergei Ivanov heads it, "Profil," No. 18, reported. The journal said that Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov has no objections to the plan, which would rationalize support functions while adding to the clout of the new defense minister.

MOSCOW SELLS HELICOPTERS TO INDONESIA. Aviaexport has sold 10 used MI-17 and MI-2 helicopters to the Indonesian navy, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 May. This is the first such deal between the two countries since Jakarta suspended purchases in 1997 due to its financial crisis.

BALTIC SEA PIPELINE SEEN BOOSTING OIL EXPORTS. Sergei Generalov, the former fuel and energy ministry, told ITAR-TASS on 15 May that the construction of a new Baltic sea pipeline system could allow Russia to export up to 10 percent more oil. He added that European Union countries are encouraging Russia to increase its exports.

RUSSIA SEEKS TO BE CHINA'S MAJOR ENERGY SUPPLIER. Vostokgazprom, the Gazprom affiliate in the Far East, and the three biggest Chinese oil companies have agreed to create working groups to explore prospects for developing oil and gas infrastructure in the northern and western provinces of China, Prime-TASS reported. This infrastructure would in the Russian view fall within Moscow's proposed "Western Gas Corridor," which calls for the construction of a 4,200 km pipeline to bring gas to Shanghai.

RUSSIA LAUNCHES U.S. SATELLITE. A Russian Proton rocket carried an American Panamsat communications satellite into orbit, Interfax reported on 15 May. The Boeing-made satellite is to provide telecommunications links for countries around the Indian Ocean for the next 15 years.

BEREZOVSKY OUT, ABRAMOVICH IN. The purchase of 29 percent of Aeroflot shares by Sibneft and Russian Aluminum, which are controlled by Roman Abramovich, means that Abramovich will now control approximately 30 to 40 percent of the foreign currency cash flow of the national carrier. Given that the state controls 51 percent, embattled magnate Boris Berezovsky is effectively squeezed out, "Vedomosti" reported on 14 May.

A MOSCOW NOD TO KUCHMA. The appearance of embattled Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on the popular ORT political show "Here and Now" on 14 May -- which is widely watched in Ukraine as well as in Russia -- represents a clear gesture of Russian support for Kuchma. The Ukrainian leader, for his part, praised the Russian mass media saying that they now cover developments in his country more objectively than do American outlets.

KREMLIN SEEKS TO SEIZE GUSINSKY-OWNED TV SATELLITE. The Finance Ministry has gone to the Arbitration Court to request that the Gusinsky mass media group hand over the Bonum satellite in order to cover $45 million in debts owed to the ministry, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 May.


By Paul Goble

Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that his government has failed to win the trust and support of the population of Chechnya, a striking concession that may presage either a redoubling of Moscow's military efforts there or a move to find a political settlement that would end the bloodletting.

Putin told visiting senior officials of the European Union on 17 May that "the trust of the Chechen population for the central authorities has not reached a high level." And he further conceded that "not everything had been done" to increase the likelihood that the Chechen people will adopt a positive view of Russia and the Russian authorities.

The Russian president's remarks came on top of three other developments that have undercut Moscow's claims that Chechnya is returning to normal. First, and also on 17 May, Russia's hand-picked mayor of Grozny, Bislan Gantamirov, announced that he was resigning because he could no longer continue in that position. He gave no details, but he has clashed regularly with other pro-Moscow officials there over how to deal with the continuing conflict.

Second, Moscow admitted that more than 3,000 of its troops had died in combat there since the summer of 1999. That acknowledgement called attention to just how expensive this conflict has been for Russia, and it appears to have forced the Russian authorities to reaffirm their commitment to conduct future operations in Chechnya in ways that will minimize Russian casualties.

And third, earlier this week, senior Russian officials responsible for the campaign met to discuss how to proceed and decided to change the commander on the scene. That meeting sparked speculation in the Russian media that perhaps Moscow is looking for a more diplomatic approach as a way out of the current conflict.

These developments, together with continued reports of Russian losses and the absence of reports about Russian successes against Chechen military and political leaders, appear to be reinforcing war-weariness among many Russians and contributing to a new confidence among the backers of Chechen independence.

Polls taken on the occasion of Putin's first anniversary as president showed that most Russians give him high marks for everything except his handling of the Chechen conflict. On that point, various opinion samplings show, most are unhappy and want the conflict to end, with a plurality favoring negotiations and a small but vocal minority advocating the application of more force.

Meanwhile, statements by Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and other Chechen leaders suggest that they believe their war of attrition against Russian forces is having an affect. Indeed, that has been their strategy for much of the past year.

In an interview given to a Polish newspaper, Maskhadov predicted that "Russia will not win this war. Nobody has won a war against guerilla fighters, no superpower, no regime, no army. Not in Vietnam, not in Algeria, not in Afghanistan. There will not be a victory over Chechnya either." And in the end, he said, "Russia will lose this military conflict and emerge yet more humiliated and shamed."

Putin's statement this week suggests that he is beginning to learn what the leaders of other powers involved in such wars have learned: namely, that in conflicts of this kind, the side that possesses superior military force is not guaranteed victory. Instead, the one that captures the hearts and minds of the people on the ground is more likely to emerge victorious.

If Moscow is able to win the trust of the Chechens, then the pro-independence fighters almost certainly will lose out. But if it does not, and Putin has conceded that Moscow has not done so yet, the Russian government is likely to be the loser, forced either to maintain a permanent armed presence against people who do not want to be part of the Russian state or to seek some kind of political settlement.

Putin came to power in large measure because he portrayed himself as the man who would do what was necessary to win in Chechnya. And because of that, he is certain to be especially sensitive to what is happening there.

Consequently, his acknowledgement that Moscow has as yet failed to win the most important thing in Chechnya may lead him to change policy, but it will also encourage those Chechens who now believe they are on the winning side.