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Security Watch: May 28, 2001

28 May 2001, Volume 2, Number 21
PUTIN SAYS BUSH-SCHROEDER TRANSCRIPT 'AN ANTI-RUSSIAN PROVOCATION.' President Vladimir Putin said that a purported transcript of a conversation between U.S. President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was "an anti-Russian provocation," Russian news agencies reported on 22 May. Putin said that he has "no reason to believe it," adding in colorful language that there was no basis for the main holders of Russian debt to break economic ties with Russia.

RUSSIA TO PAY DEBT TO SPAIN IN GOODS. President Putin said on 22 May that he and visiting Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar have agreed that Russia can pay part of its debt to Spain with exports, ITAR-TASS reported. But "Vedomosti" the same day noted that this could hardly be a model for Russia's other trading partners, especially large ones like Germany.

PERES SAYS U.S., RUSSIA REVERSE TRADITIONAL ROLES IN MIDDLE EAST. Following talks with President Putin, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said that Moscow and Washington have now reversed their traditional pattern of behavior in the Middle East, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 May. He said that Washington is increasingly working with the Arab countries while Moscow is expanding its ties with Israel. For his part, Putin said that the international community should project a united front in the search for peace, Russian and Western agencies reported. Meanwhile, Palestinian officials in Russia told ITAR-TASS the same day that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat arrived in Moscow on 29 May, more than a week earlier than originally scheduled.

MOSCOW TO HELP MODERNIZE SYRIAN ARMY. Senior Russian officials, including Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo, told visiting Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas that Russia stands ready to help Damascus modernize its military, reported on 23 May. Syria's military is largely equipped with aging Soviet-era weapons.

CoE's SCHWIMMER SEES SOME PROGRESS ON CHECHNYA. Walter Schwimmer, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, told Russian officials in Moscow that the Russian authorities have made some progress in improving the human rights situation in Chechnya but that they have a long way to go to meet European standards, Russian and Western agencies reported.

FM IVANOV SAYS MOSCOW NEEDS MORE OILMEN, GEOPOLITICIANS. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia will need more oilmen and geopoliticians in order to compete effectively for international energy projects, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 May. Speaking at the launch of Moscow's new International Institute of Fuel and Energy Complex, Ivanov noted that the new agency, founded on the base of MGIMO, will help fill this need. He added that the ministry has also set up another institute, the Center for Strategic Research and Geopolitics, to help produced needed cadres.

MOSCOW PROTESTS JAPANESE POACHING. The Russian Foreign Ministry has formally protested to Tokyo over the violation of Russia's territorial waters near the disputed Kurile islands, Interfax reported on 22 May. But meanwhile, a Russian patrol boat arrived in Japan to participate in a parade of ships in Tokyo bay on 26-27 May, ITAR-TASS reported.

OIL EXPORTS UP, GAS EXPORTS DOWN. During the first quarter of 2001, Russia increased its oil exports by 6.5 percent over the same period a year ago, but it exported 16.8 percent less natural gas than during the first quarter of 2000, Interfax reported on 24 May. Total petroleum exports brought in to the Russian state budget were $11.3 billion during this period.

RUSSIA TO CARRY EU ASTRONAUTS INTO SPACE. Russian space officials and the European aerospace agency signed an agreement in Paris on 22 May that calls for Russia to carry European astronauts into space several times between now and 2006, Interfax reported. The news agency did not indicate how many European space travelers there would be. But the Russian space agency Rosaviakosmos said the same day that it is negotiating with some 10 people who wish to pay for a tourist trip into orbit as did U.S. millionaire Dennis Tito.

RUSSIA, AUSTRALIA TO BUILD SPACE LAUNCH FACILITY. Moscow and Canberra have signed an agreement calling for the joint construction of a launch facility on Australia's Christmas Island, RIA-Novosti reported on 23 May. The pads, on Australian territory, will be run by Russian officials.

MOSCOW SUSPENDS LOAN DISTRIBUTIONS TO CIS COUNTRIES. Because CIS countries have a poor repayment record, the Russian government has decided not to release any further loans to them, RIA-Novosti reported on 18 May. Earlier, Moscow had planned to provide some $33 million in new loans to its 11 partners during the first three months of this year.

RUSSIA'S BANKS OPEN AFFILIATES IN CHINA. Vneshtogbank officials announced that they have opened seven branches in China near the Russian border, Interfax reported on 18 May. Rosbank and Vneshekonombank also plan to open similar outlets there, the officials said.

KRYUCHKOV WANTS YELTSIN CHARGED, TRIED. In an interview published in "Vechernyaya Moskva" on 23 May, former KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov said that he wants former Russian President Boris Yeltsin charged and tried for crimes against Russia. In other comments, Kryuchkov said that Russian President Putin, in contrast, speaks a language Kuchma understands and is building "a normal government."

KOVALEV DOUBTS HANSSEN SPIED FOR MOSCOW... Nikolai Kovalev, former head of the FSB and current deputy chairman of the Duma security committee, said he very much doubts that former FBI agent Richard Hanssen in fact spied for Moscow, "Trud" reported on 24 May. He said that even if Hanssen had, he had not done any damage to U.S. national security because the FBI undoubtedly "knew well in advance" what he was doing. Kovalev compared Hanssen with the last KGB chairman, Vadim Bakatin, who provided the U.S. with information on the KGB eavesdropping scheme at the American embassy in Moscow.

...BUT PROVIDES NEW DETAILS ON OLD SPY AFFAIR. In the same interview, Kovalev said that Soviet official Aleksandr Ogorodnik, who was accused of being a CIA agent and who died following his arrest in the late 1970s, had not committed suicide as Moscow has maintained in the past. Instead, Kovalev said that he died from a heart attack. Rumors have circulated, however, that Ogorodnik, a fiancee of a Politburo member's daughter, in fact was killed by the KGB to avoid a scandal.

FSB SAYS SPIES OPERATING UNDER HUMANITARIAN COVER IN CAUCASUS. Lieutenant General Vladimir Bezuglyi, the chief of the FSB office in North Ossetia, said that 40 of the international humanitarian assistance groups operating in the Caucasus region have "persons involved in espionage" in their ranks, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 May. Bezuglyi said that his agency had expelled five such people from Russia over the last year. At the same time, he added that the FSB is "concerned" by the presence in Georgia of agencies representing NATO which have CIA officers in their ranks.

VISA DISPUTE ABOUT ILLEGAL ARMS EXPORTS. Belgium's decision to suspend the issuance of visas was taken not because so many Russians were seeking asylum there as Brussels had claimed but because of Belgian concerns about actions by Russian and Ukrainian criminals transshipping weapons through that country, "Vremya Novostei" reported on 24 May. The arms were sent from Russia and Ukraine to Belgium and then sent on to Africa and the Balkans, the newspaper said.

A RUSSIAN-ARMENIAN MILITARY? Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian said Armenian units will unite with Russian units on Armenian territory, "Vremya novostei" reported on 23 May. But the following day, Russian agencies reported, Moscow officials denied the existence of any such plan. But officers of the two services are cooperating closely. They recently celebrated the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Soviet-era Transcaucasus Military District and used a banner brought from Georgia in the celebrations, ITAR-TASS reported.

PUTIN SEEKS EASIER PASSAGE FOR GOVERNMENT LEGISLATION. President Putin met with Duma fraction leaders before sending four of the 11 portions of his judicial reform package to the legislature, Interfax reported on 22 May. At that meeting, Putin called for closer cooperation between the executive and legislative branches, a move some officials in Moscow said would mean that laws would be passed in effect even before they were submitted.

PRIMAKOV WARNS PUTIN ABOUT HIS ENEMIES. Yevgenii Primakov, the leader of the Fatherland-All-Russia faction, said in an interview published in "Vremya MN" on 18 May that "there are influential anti-presidential groups working to weaken the president of Russia" and that law enforcement agencies should work against them even if they have not engaged in criminal activities. Primakov said he supported Putin's efforts to defend Russian national interests abroad "without increasing confrontation with anyone."

RUSSIA SEEN LOSING FOOD 'SECURITY.' Duma Agriculture Committee Chairman Vladimir Plotnikov said that Russia has lost its "food security" because it imports 40 percent of its food, Interfax reported on 18 May. Plotnikov said that anything more than 20 percent was too high and that the Russian government must devote more resources to domestic producers.

STATE ELECTRONIC MEDIA TO PAY MORE FOR BROADCASTS. The Anti-Monopoly Policy Ministry has approved a 30 percent increase in the price for broadcasting through state-owned facilities as of 1 July, RIA-Novosti reported on 24 May. The new rates, both for signals beamed from Ostankino and also for uplinks to telecommunications satellites, are explicitly not being applied to private companies.

PUTIN WANTS RESTRICTIONS ON FOREIGN OWNERSHIP OF ELECTRONIC MEDIA. According to Dmitri Kozak, the deputy chief of the presidential staff, President Putin favors placing limits on foreign ownership of national electronic mass media but does not think that there should be any restrictions on foreign shares of the print media, Russian agencies reported.

RUSSIAN ALUMINUM TO HELP CREATE SIBERIAN TV. Press Minister Mikhail Lesin and state television officials said that they have reached agreement with Leonid Drachevskii, the presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district, on the creation of a Siberian television channel, "Kommersant-Daily" reported The channel will be sponsored by Russian Aluminum which is under the control of Oleg Deripaska. He also signed the accord, the paper said.

JORDAN SETS NEW ETHICAL NORMS FOR NTV JOURNALISTS. Boris Jordan, the general director of NTV, said that he will introduce a new journalistic code of ethics for journalists working there, Interfax reported on 23 May. Involved in the production of this code will be two American journalists, one European, and three Russians.

CHUBAIS SAYS MEDIA MAGNATES SHARE BLAME WITH KREMLIN. In an interview published in "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 20, Unified Energy Systems Chairman Anatolii Chubais said that blame for the ongoing conflict between the Kremlin and media magnates Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky is shared equally by all parties. Gusinsky and Berezovsky "were offered the chance to play by the new rules of the game," Chubais said, "but they did not accept and consequently became targets." Chubais contrasted their behavior with that of former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, who was asked to resign and because he did so with minimum fuss was given another "decent position."

PIONEER ORGANIZATION REVIVED. Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov presided over the revival of another Soviet-era tradition, the Pioneer youth organization, reported on 19 May. Such an action appears to enjoy the support of both many in the population and President Putin, who repeatedly has expressed his backing for such an action.

COMMERCIALIZATION HURTING STATISTICS GATHERING. Aleksandr Surinov, the first deputy chairman of the State Statistics Committee, said in an interview published in "Vek," No. 20, that the government's failure to provide more than 25 percent of the agency's budget has not only distorted what the committee does because it now must respond to commercial interests but undermined the reliability of the data the committee does issue. He noted that one recent Committee report had asserted that the number of married women is higher than the number of married men.

GOLDEN ADA LEADERS SENTENCED. A Moscow court sentenced the leaders of the Golden ADA company to up to six years in prison for their role in a scheme that led to the illegal export of more than $180 million in gold and diamonds, ORT reported. But several officials involved have now been released because they fall under the terms of a Duma-sponsored amnesty.

$500 MILLION CORRUPTION CASE UNDER INVESTIGATION. Russian prosecutors have brought charges against Vladimir Chaplygin, the head of the Federal Food Corporation, for his role in misusing a $500 million credit for the procurement of food for the Russian army, RIA-Novosti reported on 24 May. He and several accomplices are charged with bribery and misappropriation of funds.

NEW, MORE SERIOUS CHARGES AGAINST DORENKO. Moscow prosecutors announced on 22 May that they have lodged new and more serious charges against television anchor Sergei Dorenko, who is known for his closeness to embattled media magnate Boris Berezovsky, RIA-Novosti reported. Dorenko was initially charged with hooliganism for allegedly running over a naval captain in Moscow with his motorcycle on 15 April, and has now been charged with the more serious crime of hooliganism "with the use of a weapon or of something that can be used as a weapon." If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison. Dorenko has said that the case against him is a political fabrication.

SUPREME COURT TO CONSIDER ROKHLINA CASE. A spokesman for the Russian Supreme Court said that Russia's highest court will voluntarily review the verdict in the case of Tamara Rokhlina, who was convicted in November 2000 of the murder two years earlier of her husband, General Lev Rokhlin, and sentenced to eight years in prison, Interfax reported. Her sentence has already been reduced to four years on appeal. Rokhlina's lawyer said that she continues to maintain her innocence in the case.