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Newsline - July 14, 2003

President Vladimir Putin met in the Kremlin on 11 July with representatives of the country's political elite, including Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, the leaders of the main parliamentary factions, several prominent regional leaders, and the heads of several national nongovernmental organizations, Russian media reported. Putin called for the "consolidation of society" to meet the strategic goals that he set forth in his 16 May address to the Federal Assembly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2003). Those goals include doubling Russia's gross domestic product, combating poverty, and carrying out military reform. Putin noted that various political forces have different and sometimes opposing approaches to these questions, but said that on the most crucial issues it is necessary to form "a common position." He called for the creation of a joint working group headed by presidential aide Igor Shuvalov that will develop a consolidated approach and asked those in attendance to express their views on such a group. VY

Most of the politicians who met with President Putin on 11 July avoided mentioning the legal investigations into oil giant Yukos and allegations that the Kremlin is putting pressure on oligarch and Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, but Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) President Arkadii Volskii handed Putin a letter from his organization urging the president not to do anything that would disturb the country's political stability, RTR and ORT reported on 12 and 13 July, respectively. Volskii said that in other countries crimes are investigated first and then arrests are made, but in Russia just the opposite is done. VY

Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said that his party favors finding "non-repressive methods of emerging from the oligarchic system that developed in the 1990s with Volskii's support." Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov said "the topic of reviewing privatization should be closed if we want economic growth." He said that if Russia begins anew the process of divvying up assets, then the poor will get nothing and the "hungry" oligarchs will merely seek the assets of the "sated" oligarchs, while the latter will simply take their capital abroad. Senior Communist Party member Valentin Kuptsov said his party favors reviewing the 1990s privatization process and continues to insist upon it. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii said that, politically speaking, "a drive against the oligarchs is a magnificent thing that will be applauded by millions of voters." VY

In response to Zhirinovskii's comment, President Putin said that "we cannot orient ourselves on applause," RTR reported on 11 July. "I am against arm twisting and [the use of prison] cells as far as economic crimes are concerned. They cannot solve this problem," Putin said. However, he added, the fight against such crimes must continue and be tough because such crimes infringe on the constitutional rights of Russian citizens. Putin also cited Duma Speaker Seleznev, who has said that the active lobbying by the oligarchs is hampering the Duma's ability to work. Commenting on Putin's reaction to the Yukos scandal, wrote on 11 July that Putin made it clear that if law enforcement agencies have "substantiated questions" for commercial organizations or their leaders, then the Kremlin will do nothing to stop them from getting answers. VY

Mikhail Khodorkovskii and his family have departed for the United States, where the oligarch will participate in an international business conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 July. Khodorkovskii attends the conference each year, and Yukos's management told the daily that he will return to Russia shortly. RSPP head Volskii told RTR on 12 July that he warned Khodorkovskii not to leave the country, since his departure would fuel false speculation and send the wrong signal. Volskii also said that at a recent RSPP meeting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2003), Khodorkovskii asked him "not to expose his company to an attack." That is why the RSPP letter to President Putin merely called on the president to maintain political stability and did not mention Yukos by name, he added. Volskii said he is still concerned that the Yukos affair will undermine Russia's business environment and block Western investment. He said that Great Britain's ambassador to Russia has told him that British Petroleum might back away from a proposed $6.75 billion "strategic partnership" with Russia's Alfa Group and Access/Renova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2003) if the pressure against Yukos becomes serious. VY

At the 11 July meeting with the representatives of the political elite, President Putin told RSPP head Volskii to tell Khodorkovskii not to use the Sun Valley conference as a platform for airing his grievances against the Kremlin, "Vremya-MN" reported on 12 July. The conference will be attended by the elite of the world's business community, including Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and New York City Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg. Putin reportedly said that Khodorkovskii seems to have the mistaken idea that business circles play a decisive role in U.S. politics and that he would not like the authorities there any better. According to the daily, Putin said Gates nearly lost control of Microsoft following the 2000 U.S. presidential election because he allegedly supported Democratic Party candidate and Vice President Al Gore. In reality, however, Microsoft experienced severe legal difficulties under the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, difficulties that were quickly resolved after U.S. President George W. Bush took office. VY

Alexander Vershbow told Interfax on 11 July that Moscow could help the United States to combat attacks on coalition forces in Iraq by people loyal to deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He urged Moscow to share with U.S. intelligence any information that it has about pro-Hussein groups or about the whereabouts of Hussein and his sons. Vershbow added that the United States "categorically condemns the recent terrorist acts in Moscow" and will provide Moscow any information that can prevent such acts in the future. Vershbow also said that the United States does not consider the Russian Embassy in Baghdad a diplomatic mission. He said that it is unreasonable to send a diplomatic mission to a country that has no government with which it can deal. VY

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 13 July that Ambassador Vershbow's statement implying that Russia has information about the whereabouts of deposed Iraqi President Hussein or his sons is "incorrect," RIA-Novosti reported. He said that bilateral relations have reached such a level that there are constant, reliable channels for the exchange of such information, including confidential channels. Therefore, Yakovenko said, it is wrong to appeal for such information through the mass media. In a separate statement, the Foreign Ministry expressed concern about U.S. unwillingness to guarantee the diplomatic status of the Russian Embassy in Baghdad. The United States is an occupying power is obligated to do this under international law, the statement said. VY

Igor Ivanov on 12 July arrived in the West Bank city of Ramallah as part of his Middle East mission to jump-start the "road map" peace plan in the region, Russian and Western media reported. Ivanov met on 12 July with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and told him that Moscow fully supports the new Palestinian cabinet and Abbas personally. Ivanov and Abbas discussed the process of resuming negotiations between both Israel and Syria and Israel and Lebanon. Ivanov was also expected to meet with Palestinian Autonomy President Yasser Arafat. Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky told Ekho Moskvy on 12 July that Israel does not condone Ivanov's intention to meet with Arafat. "Israel considers Arafat an obstacle on the way to peace and has decided to isolate him. Any attempts to return him to the political arena will only prolong terrorism in the Middle East," Sharansky said. VY

A second national-level politician, State Duma Deputy Petr Shelishch (Fatherland-All Russia), announced on 11 July that he will participate in the 21 September St. Petersburg gubernatorial election, joining presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Valentina Matvienko, Russian media reported. Shelishch was elected to the Duma from a single-mandate district in St. Petersburg. He was once a member of Yabloko and ran for the Duma on its party list in 1993. He is also the president of the Russian Consumers Union, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 12 July. In addition to Shelishch and Matvienko, there are 15 candidates in the race, including some local businessmen and journalists and pornographic film director Sergei Pryanishnikov, whom "Vremya novostei" described on 9 July as Russia's Larry Flynt. On 12 July, Yabloko's regional branch held a meeting to decide which candidate to support in the race, but the meeting had to be continued the next day, RosBalt reported on 12 July. JAC

Billionaire and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich has decided to sell his 50 percent stake in Russian Aluminum (Rusal), reported on 11 July, citing the BBC. According to the website, this is only the latest action by Abramovich gradually to reduce his business activities in Russia. "Gazeta" on 11 July argued that Abramovich is preparing to emigrate. However, the Kaluga-based weekly "Slivki kaluzhskoi zhizni" reported that Abramovich recently acquired complete control of a local poultry factory for $1.5 million. According to, Abramovich also acquired at the end of June shares in ICN Pharmaceuticals for $50 million. JAC

TVS workers were denied access to the Ostankino television center in Moscow on 11 July, Ekho Moskvy reported. TVS Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev said that no reason has been given for why security personnel at the center were told to bar TVS employees from entering the building. According to Kiselev, the station has no other office besides the one in Ostankino and all of its documents are there. JAC

"Vremya-MN" on 12 July discussed the law on communications that was recently signed into law by President Putin. According to the daily, the law requires that even the most remote corner of Russia be connected to at least one telephone and that every village with a population of more than 500 people should have at least one computer with an Internet connection. However, neither the sources for financing this "grandiose" project nor the entities that will implement it have been named. Rostelecom has not confirmed its participation and is refraining from comment. According to the daily, there are more than 50,000 settlements in Russia that do not have telephone connections. Comstar spokeswoman Lyudmila Starikova told the daily that "I can say only one thing: Commercial telecommunications firms will not participate in this." She continued: "Providing equipment to connect 50,000 separate population points is a very expensive pleasure, and someone should pay for it. Today it is only possible to guess who." JAC

Unified Russia's General Council decided on 10 July to exclude Ivanovo Mayor Aleksandr Groshev from the party's ranks for "activities that discredit the party," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 July. Andrei Nazarov, secretary of the party's Ivanovo branch, told the daily that the council's main grievance is that Groshev "is guilty [of creating] the crisis situation that now plagues the oblast's capital." The city has amassed considerable debts to local energy suppliers, and there is a danger that the next heating season will not begin on time. However, council member Valerii Ryazanskii told the daily that the main reason Groshev was purged was not because of his blunders managing the city's economy but because of his condemnation of Nazarov's appointment to the position of local party leader. Groshev charged that Nazarov was pushed forward by Mikhail Babich, an assistant to Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref. Babich is a former deputy governor of Ivanovo Oblast. JAC

The Justice Ministry decided on 10 July not to recognize the 14 June conference of the Liberal Russia splinter group that supports self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, "Vremya novostei" reported on 11 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 2003). At that conference, Berezovskii was elected party leader and State Duma Deputy Viktor Pokhmelkin was excluded from the group's ranks. Pokhmelkin leads the Liberal Russia party that has been registered by the Justice Ministry. In addition, the ministry denied registration to two other parties -- Viktor Anpilov's Communist Workers Party of Russia and Mikhail Toropkov's Conservative Party of Entrepreneurs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2003). JAC

Illegal immigration and illegal deforestation were the topics of discussion at a 10 July session of the coordinating council of the interregional association Siberian Accord, "Vremya-MN" reported on 11 July. According to the daily, officers from the local passport-visa service reported that arresting illegal Chinese immigrants is "easy," but "throwing them out" is practically impossible because it is nearly impossible to find money for a ticket to Harbin or Beijing in local or federal coffers. The daily also reported that according to council specialists, 2.4 million cubic meters of timber is illegally cut and sent to China each year. JAC

Unknown thieves have broken into the apartment of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Gennadii Khodyrev, Interfax reported on 13 July. The governor and his wife have not been living in the apartment since the recent birth of their child. According to an unidentified source in the oblast police department, the burglars took two wedding rings and two pictures, but other valuable items -- including home electronics and money -- were not taken. JAC

A Russian soldier posted as a sentry at the main entrance of a Russian military base in the Armenian town of Gyumri shot and killed two Armenian men and injured another as they attempted to enter the base in the early morning hours of 11 July, AP and Arminfo reported. Another person involved was not injured and fled the scene. Unlike Russian military bases elsewhere in the CIS, there have been no security incidents at Russian bases in Armenia for most of the past decade. RG

A brazen gunfight in the afternoon of 11 July between rival organized-crime groups left two dead and two wounded, AP and A1+ reported. The clash occurred in a park in Giumri, Armenia's second-largest city. Although organized crime has been growing in recent years, such outright violence has recently become an increasingly common occurrence. RG

Recently appointed EU special representative for the South Caucasus Heikki Talvitie announced in Yerevan on 11 July that he is not empowered to engage the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict-settlement process, according to the Caspian News Agency and Mediamax. The Finnish diplomat added that, if needed, he is willing to contribute to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group's mediation effort, but stressed that "the solution to the conflict should be found in the region and international organizations can only promote implementation of agreements achieved." The EU special envoy to the South Caucasus served as co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group in 1995-96 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2003). RG

Recently elected parliament Chairman Artur Baghdasarian met with Iranian Ambassador to Armenia Mohammad-Farhad Koleini on 12 July and stressed the need for broadening bilateral cooperation, IRNA reported. Baghdasarian announced that a new interparliamentary group on Armenian-Iranian relations was recently formed. Koleini called on Baghdasarian to secure approval of new legislation safeguarding Iranian investments in Armenia and promised that the Iranian government will accelerate efforts to improve regional security and cooperation. RG

Vardan Oskanian met with Ambassador Koleini on 10 July and expressed his government's hope that Iranian President Mohammad Khatami will visit Yerevan, the Caspian News Agency reported. Oskanian briefed Koleini on the status of the international mediation effort regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and reviewed plans to expand cooperation between Iran and Armenia. RG

Georgian National Security Council Secretary Tedo Japaridze and Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian signed several agreements on bilateral cooperation on 11 July in Yerevan, Arminfo and ITAR-TASS reported. According to Sarkisian, who also serves as the secretary of Armenia's Security Council, the agreements cover "a wide range of issues" and seek to "ensure regional security." Sarkisian added that "although Armenia and Georgia have different approaches to ensuring their security, we have a lot in common." He noted that both countries "have wide opportunities for cooperation and must use the entire potential of bilateral cooperation." For his part, Japaridze said the agreements will intensify direct contacts between the two security bodies and will allow Georgia and Armenian security officials "regularly to meet and exchange information." The officials also discussed developments in Turkish-Georgian and Georgian-Russian relations and the mediation process concerning the Abkhaz conflict, and reviewed prospects for restoring the railway link through Abkhazia. RG

Turkish Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu met with senior Azerbaijani officials in Baku on 10 July, according to ANS and the "Turkish Daily News." Aksu reaffirmed his government's close alliance with Azerbaijan and stressed the need for stability and security. Aksu briefed officials on Turkish measures to combat drug trafficking and to prevent the proliferations of small arms in the region. He also commended the Azerbaijani government for its commitment to combat the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and called for greater bilateral coordination in the fight against terrorism. Azerbaijan Interior Minister Ramil Usubov added that Turkey serves as the model for Azerbaijan in every area, including the modernization of the Azerbaijani Army. Commenting on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and on Turkey's relations with Armenia, Aksu sought to reassure his hosts by stating that Turkey remains unaltered in its support for Baku, adding that "the ongoing Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh is threatening peace and stability of the Caucasus." RG

The Council of Europe's so-called Ago Group, led by Piero Ercole Ago, met in Baku on 12 July with Azerbaijani parliament speaker Murtuz Aleskerov, ANS reported. Ago informed Aleskerov that the Council of Europe feels strongly that the Central Election Commission has failed to conform to the proposals presented by the Council of Europe designed to ensure that the October presidential election is free and fair. The Council of Europe officials expressed serious concern that both the Central Election Commission's chairman and deputy chairman are members of the same pro-government party and suggested that the commission's composition fails accurately to reflect political reality because it does not include a fair number of opposition members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2003). The delegation reminded senior Azerbaijani officials of their commitment to establishing a balanced National State Television and Radio Council. RG

A delegation of officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Right Organization (ODIHR), led by Nikolai Vulchanov, met with the Azerbaijani Central Election Commission on 11 July in Baku, ANS reported. The OSCE delegation began a review of the country's new Elections Code, but immediately voiced concern about the composition of the Central Election Commission, bolstering similar criticism articulated by the Council of Europe's Ago Group. RG

Revaz Adamia on 8 July accused the Russian military of engaging in the illegal trafficking of small arms, Civil Georgia reported on 12 July. Adamia claimed that the three Russian military bases in Georgia serve as "the major source of arms and weapons for various secessionist, criminal, or terrorist groups" and noted that the bases are not "under the effective control of their central command and are located in the areas with lucrative black markets for illicit arms trade." Adamia concluded that the situation at the "three bases poses a major threat to the security of Georgia." Despite a formal agreement concluded at the 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul to withdraw from Georgian territory, Russia maintains military bases in Batumi, Akhalkalaki, and Gudauta. RG

A force of approximately 80 Georgian soldiers from a U.S.-trained battalion has been dispatched to join a peacekeeping battalion currently deployed in the unrecognized breakaway Republic of South Ossetia on July 10, "The Georgian Times" and Civil Georgia reported. Since April 2002, the United States has been conducting a specialized program, known as the Train-and-Equip Program, designed to bolster the Georgian military's counterinsurgency capability. Officials of the Georgian Defense Ministry are cited as reporting that the commandos will be deployed at the checkpoints in Nikozi and Kurti and will conduct joint patrols together with the Russian and Ossetian peacekeepers currently in the area. RG

Valeri Chkheidze departed on 12 July for the United States for an official seven-day visit, according to Civil Georgia. Chkheidze is to meet with U.S. officials to review the work of the newly established Georgian Coast Guard and to discuss plans for expanded U.S. assistance. The Georgian Coast Guard was created two months ago at the recommendation of the United States. The Coast Guard operates from two divisional headquarters located at the western Georgian city of Poti and the Adjarian capital Batumi. RG

Philippo Berselli arrived in Tbilisi on 13 July to discuss expanding bilateral military cooperation, Civil Georgia reported. The visit follows a recent agreement under which the Italian Defense Ministry will provide new military equipment to Georgia. Berselli met with President Eduard Shevardnadze, Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, and parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, as well as with his Georgian counterpart, Lieutenant General David Tevzadze. RG

Parliament speaker Burdjanadze and National Security Council Secretary Japaridze held separate meetings on 12 July with a group of hunger strikers who are demanding the withdrawal of Russian peacekeeping troops from the Abkhazian conflict zone, according to Civil Georgia. Burdjanadze held a telephone conversation with President Shevardnadze immediately after the meeting and was informed that the president will convene a special session of parliament on 16 July to discuss the Abkhaz issue. The hunger strikers, members of the Veteran Warriors' Union of Abkhazia, launched a hunger strike nearly two weeks earlier. In his meeting with the protestors, Japaridze urged them to cease the hunger strike, noting concerns about their worsening health. The Georgian authorities have recently agreed to extend for an indefinite period the mandate of the Russian peacekeepers deployed in Abkhazia under the auspices of the CIS. That decision led to heated protests by leaders of the several hundred thousand ethnic Georgian refugees displaced from their homes in Abkhazia in 1992-93 and by the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government-in-exile, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 11 July 2003). After the meetings, the hunger strikers vowed to continue until Shevardnadze secures the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers. RG

Georgian police arrested five people in Tbilisi and Zugdidi on 12 July on suspicion of being members of the armed group that abducted an 11-year-old girl and demanded a ransom of $100,000, ITAR-TASS reported. The girl was kidnapped on 22 June and freed on 12 July without any ransom being paid. Police officials revealed that the five suspects might also be linked to a series of kidnappings that have occurred with increasing frequency in the country over the past few years. One of the suspects is a resident of Tbilisi and the other four are from the Russian city of Vladikavkaz. RG

National Security Committee Chairman Nurtai Dutbaev told journalists in Astana on 11 July that his agency is concerned that Uighur separatist organizations in Kazakhstan might turn to terrorism to achieve their aims, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Dutbaev asserted that some young Uighurs living in Kazakhstan are convinced that the only way to achieve their goal of an independent Uighur state in what is now the Chinese province of Xinjiang is through violence. A branch of the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Party, which is considered a terrorist organization in China, was raided by Kazakh security officers in May, according to Dutbaev. He said the group was headed by citizens of Kazakhstan. Three alleged group members were arrested, and weapons and explosives were confiscated. In recent months, Chinese security officials have warned that Uighur separatists are adopting terrorist tactics. The security chief said a number of members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan -- which is widely considered to be a terrorist organization because of its use of violence in seeking to overthrow the secular Uzbek government and its ties to the former Afghan Taliban regime and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network -- have been found living in Kazakhstan with forged documents. BB

Askar Akaev has asked NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson during his stop in Bishkek for help in securing Kyrgyzstan's borders because "the security of the country starts with the security of the border," and Interfax reported on 11 July. Akaev told a press conference that day that NATO provided help to Kyrgyzstan in 1999 and 2000 when armed militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan invaded the country, ostensibly on their way from Afghanistan and Tajikistan to Uzbekistan. Akaev was quoted as saying that he had asked Robertson for electronic monitoring equipment because such tools are safer for the population than land mines. He also told the media that in his view NATO's development of ties with Russia and China has become a key factor in ensuring security and stability in Central Asia. BB

At a meeting of the Kyrgyz government on 11 July, Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev ordered the Ministry of Emergency Situations and Ecology to begin the process of land-mine removal along Kyrgyzstan's border with Uzbekistan, and Deutsche Welle reported. Tanaev's order follows months of discussions of the land-mine problem, much of them with Uzbekistan. The Uzbek military planted the land mines along its Kyrgyz and Tajik borders after armed incursions into those countries by militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. A number of Kyrgyz and Tajik civilians, as well as livestock, have been injured or killed by the mines. Since the Uzbek authorities have been unresponsive to Kyrgyz requests that the land mines be removed, Kyrgyzstan is proceeding on its own. However, the process is hampered by Kyrgyzstan's lack of mine-removal experts. According to Tanaev, specialists in land-mine removal are being invited from Russia to train Kyrgyz military engineers in removal techniques. The Kyrgyz trainees could then not only use their skills to benefit Kyrgyzstan, but could also be deployed elsewhere in the world. BB

OSCE Chairman-in-Office and Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has suggested to Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov that Tajikistan institute a moratorium on use of the death penalty, Asia Plus-Blitz, RIA-Novosti, and reported on 11 July. Tajikistan was the last stop on de Hoop Scheffer's tour of Central Asia. Recently, the Tajik parliament restricted the use of the death penalty for men and abolished it for women (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2003). Rakhmonov's press secretary, Zafar Saidov, told journalists that Rakhmonov told de Hoop Scheffer that the OSCE has been helpful on issues such as improving the country's elections and media legislation. Rakhmonov also appreciated OSCE promises to devote more efforts and resources to its Central Asian member states. Reportedly, de Hoop Scheffer stressed terrorism, human trafficking, and drug trafficking as problems of particular interest to the Netherlands. BB

Great Britain has allocated $250,000 to fund the establishment of a Center for Land Mine Problems in Tajikistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 11 July, quoting presidential press spokesman Saidov. The funding commitment, which according to Saidov includes the possibility of future financial support as long as the problem of land mines exists in Tajikistan, gives the green light for opening the center. It is a joint project of the Tajik government and the UN Development Program, which will manage the project. One of the center's main tasks will be removal of land mines from Tajikistan, which not only has minefields planted by Uzbekistan along the border of the two countries, but also has land mines left over from the Tajik civil war in 1992-97. The center is also expected to play a major role in the implementation of Tajikistan's commitments under the 1997 Convention on Prohibition of the Use of Anti-Personnel Mines. BB

The Turkmen government signed contracts on 11 July with the Ukrainian state gas firm Naftohaz Ukrayina for the sale of 36 billion cubic meters of Turkmen natural gas and with the Russian firm Itera for the sale of up to 10 billion cubic meters of gas in 2004, RIA-Novosti reported. Both purchasers agreed to the price of $44 per 1,000 cubic meters -- the same price agreed to in the 25-year gas deal with Gazprom that was signed in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). The Ukrainian and Itera sales will bring total Turkmen natural-gas sales to more than $2 billion. However, as is usual in Turkmen gas deals, half the amounts of the latest deals will be paid in hard currency and half in goods and services. Niyazov also suggested that he and the heads of state of Russia and Ukraine should get together at the September CIS summit to discuss the construction of a new gas pipeline along the shore of the Caspian Sea to carry enough gas to meet existing and future contracts. Niyazov added, according to RIA-Novosti, that the purchasers of Turkmen gas, Gazprom and Naftohaz, should determine the route and financing of the new pipeline. BB

The banned Uzbek opposition movement Birlik (Unity) is preparing the documents necessary for registration with Uzbekistan's Justice Ministry, reported on 12 July. The movement, which lost its registration in 1993, was allowed to hold a congress, a necessary step in the registration process, in Uzbekistan in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 2003). According to the report, the U.S. State Department is closely monitoring the progress of Birlik's registration efforts. BB

Representatives of the Belarusian political opposition criticized amendments to the law on political parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2003) that came into force on 11 July, Belapan reported. The amendments permit the authorities to close down parties or organizations for failing to ensure law and order during demonstrations that result in major financial damage, infringe on the rights or legal interests of individuals, or harm the interests of the state or the public. This is an attempt to "keep parties on a short leash," Belarusian Party of Communists (PKB) leader Syarhey Kalyakin told Belapan. "This law establishes the rule of collective responsibility," Belarusian Social Democratic Party (BSDP) leader Mikalay Statkevich said. Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) Chairman Vintsuk Vyachorka said the law demonstrates that the government does not intend to pursue democratic reforms. "The government is preparing to clear the arena in the run-up to major political campaigns," Liberal Democratic Party (LDPB) leader Syarhey Haydukevich said. AM

President Leonid Kuchma and his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski attended a reconciliation ceremony in Pavlivka on 11 July to commemorate ethnic Poles murdered by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and local Ukrainians in Volhynia in 1943, Ukrainian media reported. The ceremony was preceded by a statement aimed at reconciliation that was adopted by both the Ukrainian and Polish parliaments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2003). "The Volhynia events are still awaiting a thorough historical study," Kuchma said in his address. "We must not under any circumstances allow scientific labs to be turned into a scene of competition in mutual offenses and claims," he stressed. "I am sure that historians will have enough scientific honesty and conscience to reach agreement on the interpretation of complex and sad pages of history," he added (see Polish item below). AM

The 32-member Estonian military unit that flew to the Persian Gulf last month started patrolling the streets of Al-Amiriyah, a western suburb of Baghdad near the city's international airport, on 7 July, LETA reported on 11 July. The unit was initially to serve in an area north of Baghdad, but will first serve at least one month in the Iraqi capital. The soldiers conduct foot patrols in groups of at least four soldiers, with one of their main assignments being to find and confiscate grenade launchers, mortars, and other weapons. SG

A delegation from Riga headed by Mayor Gundars Bojars began a three-day visit to Minsk on 10 July, LETA reported. The delegation included Andris Ameriks, chairman of the Riga City Council's City Development Committee and member of the Riga Free Port's board; the council's Information Department head Guntars Kukuls; and Leonids Tenis, the director of the joint-stock company Rigas Centraltirgus. The Riga and Minsk city councils signed a cooperation agreement in March 1999. Bojars held talks on 11 July with his Minsk counterpart Mikhail Pavlov about the possible construction of a Minsk terminal on the territory of the Riga Free Port, the purchase of Belarusian trolleybuses for Riga, and other issues. The delegation also visited a trolleybus-manufacturing plant and a waste-processing enterprise. SG

The congress of the Union of Lithuanian Political Prisoners and Deportees (LPKTS), held in Kaunas on 12 July, voted 348 to 117 to merge with the Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania), or TS(LK), "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 14 July. The LPKTS formally has about 40,000 members, of whom about one-third regularly pay membership fees, while the TS(LK) has 18,000 members. In the last parliamentary elections, the two unions formed a joint ticket that won nine seats, but the only LPKTS winner was its chairman, Povilas Jakucionis. Prior to the merger vote, TS (LK) Chairman Andrius Kubilius spoke of the need for right-of-center forces in Lithuania to unite. SG

"The Ukrainian nation cannot be blamed for the massacre perpetrated on the Polish population. There are no nations that are guilty," Kwasniewski said in Pavlivka, western Ukraine, at an event to commemorate the 1943 Volhynia massacre (see Ukrainian item above). "It is always specific people who bear the responsibility for crimes." Kwasniewski made a reference to UPA activities in 1943 and stressed, "No aim and no value, even one as noble as the freedom and sovereignty of a nation, can justify genocide, the butchery of civilians, violence and rape, [and] the imposition of cruel suffering on neighbors." AM

Cyril Svoboda met with U.S. administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer on 12 July and with senior Israeli leaders the following day during a major Middle Eastern diplomatic tour, CTK and Czech media reported. In Baghdad, Svoboda reopened the Czech Embassy closed on the eve of the U.S.-led military operation to unseat President Saddam Hussein, according to the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" of 14 July -- although Bremer has said there can be no foreign diplomatic missions in Iraq because there is no official Iraqi government (see Iraq item, "RFE/RL Newsline Part III"). Svoboda also discussed Iraqi reconstruction with Bremer, who said his Coalition Provisional Authority has studied Eastern European transformation and "welcomes any sort of advice from the Czech side," according to the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" of 14 July. Svoboda also visited a Czech military field hospital in Al-Basrah. AH

In talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on 13 July, Svoboda discussed economic issues including possible aircraft and truck sales to the Israeli Army, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported the next day. Israeli officials were pleased that Svoboda avoided a visit to Palestinian territory and meetings with Palestinian leaders on the same stopover, the Czech foreign minister told the daily. Svoboda said his next visit to the Middle East -- slated to include stops in Jordan, Egypt, and Palestinian territories as soon as August -- might include a meeting with Palestinian Autonomy President Yasser Arafat. Svoboda added that the separation of those visits will contribute to Middle East stability, according to CTK. AH

Transparency International's Adriana Krnacova called the cozy relationship between a number of senior Czech politicians and corporate sponsors of the 38th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival a "conflict of interest," the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 14 July. Public officials and their guests received five-star accommodations and other perquisites in the western Czech spa town during the 4-12 July event. Dominant operator Cesky Telecom "sponsored" Information Technology Minister Vladimir Mlynar, whose office regulates the telecom sector, the daily reported; and the country's dominant power utility, CEZ, footed the bill for Environment Minister Libor Ambrozek. Opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman and Senator Miroslav Topolanek and deputy speaker of the lower house Jan Kasal (Christian Democratic Union-People's Party) were guests of Philip Morris, the paper added. All of the politicians quoted by the paper denied that the sweeteners might affect their decision making. AH

Israeli President Moshe Katsav and his wife Gila arrived in Bratislava on 13 July for a three-day official visit, TASR reported the same day. The Israeli president's visit is seen as a reciprocal step after Slovak President Rudolf Schuster visited Israel in February 2000, when he expressed regret over the deportation of 72,000 Slovak Jews to concentration camps during World War II. LA

Patrik Pachinger, a former co-owner of the collapsed BMG Invest and Horizont Slovakia investment companies, has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for 36 billion crowns ($974 million) indemnification from the Slovak state, TASR reported on 13 July. According to the Slovak television news channel TA3, Pachinger alleges that the state violated his human rights after his companies collapsed in February 2002. He says the state declared his companies bankrupt for nonpayment, but police had blocked company accounts and prevented employees from entering the building. Pachinger's unlicensed companies collapsed with unpaid deposits of around 17 billion crowns, TASR reported. Pachinger has been charged, along with Jozef Majsky (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2003), with fraud and founding a criminal group in connection with the demise of BMG and Horizont. If convicted, the men could face up to 12 years in prison. LA

At a meeting of the Phare program's steering committee in Bratislava on 11 July, the European Commission approved projects worth $57 million, TASR reported. The aid -- the last tranche under the current Phare system for distributing pre-accession funding -- is intended to strengthen the country's administration and judiciary ahead of entry into the European Union in May 2004, TASR reported. LA

Hungarian Premier Peter Medgyessy and his Romanian counterpart Adrian Nastase held talks on bilateral relations in London on 13 July, MTI news agency reported. Medgyessy said afterward that it would be good to close discussions on Hungary's contentious Status Law in the interest of the Hungarian diaspora, adding that Foreign Ministry representatives will continue talks on that topic in the coming days. Medgyessy reiterated Hungary's request that it be allowed to open a consulate in the central Romanian city of Miercurea-Ciuc and said that the Romanian government is seriously considering the request. Medgyessy offered Hungarian assistance in Romanian EU-accession efforts. Nastase later told the Hungarian daily "Nepszabadsag" that it is unnecessary to reopen the issue of collective rights for ethnic minorities. Medgyessy has signaled that he would like such rights to be incorporated into the new European Constitution. The two premiers were in London for the Progressive Governance Summit. ZsM

FIDESZ Chairman Viktor Orban and Smallholder Civic Association (KPE) Chairman Turi-Kovacs Bela signed a cooperation agreement in Kerekegyhaza on 11 July that is aimed at encouraging the unification of Christian, national, and civic forces, MTI news agency reported. Orban said the agreement sets a precedent, as the FIDESZ accepts the KPE as an associated party. Turi-Kovacs said the agreement demonstrates that the two parties share the same vision for the future of the country and of smallholders. ZsM

Richard Holbrooke, who was the architect of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement for Bosnia and U.S. ambassador to the UN, told the Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" of 12 July that independence for Kosova is the only solution that will bring a stable peace to the region, dpa and RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13, 20, and 27 June 2003). He stressed that the United States "should take the lead in encouraging a solution...which will bring permanent peace to the region -- an independent state" with UN membership. "Four years have passed now since the end of the fighting, and Kosovo has developed a deep independent character with the support of the international community," Holbrooke argued. "Now it's time to pass on the next phase." PM

Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi said in Prishtina on 12 July that he disagrees with a recent suggestion by KFOR commander Lieutenant General Fabio Mini to replace international peacekeepers in Kosova with units from unspecified Balkan countries at some point in the future, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Rexhepi argued that "it would be misleading to think that forces that somehow provoked conflicts in Kosova and the region could come here on a peace mission," by which he presumably meant troops from Serbia and Montenegro. PM

The opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) re-elected Arben Xhaferi as party leader and Menduh Thaqi as his deputy in Tetovo on 12 July, dpa reported. Both men made it clear that they are prepared to support dividing Macedonia into ethnically based states if the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement has not been fully implemented by the February 2004 deadline (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 and 25 April 2003). PM

An unspecified number of ethnic Albanian intellectuals from Albania, Macedonia, and Kosova sent an open letter on 11 July to Mayor Walter Veltroni of Rome to protest plans by the Macedonian government to erect a monument there honoring Noble Peace Prize winner Mother Teresa, dpa reported. The intellectuals accused the Macedonian government of "usurping the [person] and the deeds" of Mother Teresa, who was born in Skopje in 1910 as Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. The intellectuals called on Veltroni not to participate in "this historical forgery triggered in order to collect political points." The controversial wording of the Cyrillic inscription was to read: "Macedonia honors her daughter Gonxhe Bojaxhiu -- Mother Teresa, Skopje 1910 -- Calcutta 1997." Pope John Paul II plans to beatify Mother Teresa on 19 October. UB

The government body coordinating the campaign to disarm the civilian population decided on 11 July that the planned weapons collection will take place between 1 October and 15 November, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Gezim Ostreni, who is a former military commander of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) and now heads the coordinating committee, said there will be no extension of the deadline to hand in illegally held arms. Immediately after the expiration of the 15 November deadline, stricter legal regulations and more severe punishment for illegal arms possession will come into force. "The operation must not have a political character, that is, one [ethnic] group [must not] use the state to disarm the other," Ostreni cautioned, referring to the unsuccessful disarmament of UCK rebels in the fall of 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 27 September and 21 December 2001 and 29 May 2003). The problem is compounded by the fact that Macedonia, like much of the Balkans, has a deeply rooted gun culture. UB

A bomb went off near the Palace of Justice in Belgrade in the early hours of 13 July, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Property damage was reported, but there were apparently no injuries. Rasim Ljajic, who is Serbia and Montenegro's minister for human and minority rights, said the explosion proves that the battle against organized crime has yet to be won (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 May 2003). PM

Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said in Belgrade on 11 July that an investigation has been launched into the 1997 privatization of Serbian Telecom, which he called "the robbery of the century," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic sold 80 percent of the company's shares to Italian Telecom and 20 percent to Greek interests in an apparent effort to fund his 1997 election campaign for the Yugoslav presidency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2001 and 17 June 2002). The Italian buyers reportedly paid at least part of the purchase price into dummy companies run by Milosevic out of Cyprus. The Serbian government bought back the Italians' shares in early 2003. PM

On 12 July, the Serbian government finalized a bill on campaign financing that it will send to the parliament shortly, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The bill calls on the government to spend 0.15 percent of its budget to fund political parties, although it is not clear which parties will qualify for the money. Parties will not be allowed to accept donations from anonymous donors, religious bodies, or firms dealing in gambling. Donations from abroad are also banned, although it is not clear if this includes members of the Serbian diaspora, who often feel slighted by the Belgrade authorities. PM

Montenegrin State Prosecutor Bozidar Vukcevic announced in Podgorica on 12 July that he will soon leave office because he has completed 40 years of government employment and qualifies for a pension, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Observers suggested that his real reason for resigning before his current term expires is continued pressure stemming from his deputy Zoran Piperovic's alleged involvement in a human-trafficking scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2002 and 28 January and 2 June 2003). PM

Speaking at a memorial gathering for up to 8,000 mainly Muslim males killed by Serbian forces near Srebrenica in 1995, Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic said on 11 July, "I came here because I regard it to be my moral duty," Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2003). He is the highest-ranking official of the Republika Srpska ever to attend a Srebrenica memorial event. "It is important that Srebrenica is no longer a taboo. We need to draw a lesson for the future from this," he added. Mikerevic noted that his government will eventually publish a new report on the massacre, but he did not say that its controversial 2002 report was wrong (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 September 2002). Critics charge that the previous report is at best a whitewash of the massacre. PM

Dragan Covic, who is the Croatian member of the Bosnian Presidency and a leader of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), said in Mostar on 12 July that Croats should heed the call recently made by Pope John Paul II and return to their homes in the Republika Srpska, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). Covic added that the HDZ will help provide legal and material assistance to those wanting to go home. The HDZ was long associated with a policy of encouraging Croats to resettle in ethnically compact areas contiguous to Croatia. PM

In Rijeka on 12 July, officials of the Croatian government and the World Bank signed an agreement for the bank to provide Croatia with a $155 million loan to improve the port and infrastructure of Rijeka, Hina reported. The port, which was known before 1945 as Fiume, was developed by Hungary in the decades before World War I as that country's main outlet to the sea. In Zagreb on 11 July, the government and the German firm Walter Bau signed an agreement calling for the Germans to build a highway linking Zagreb with the Slovenian border and the highway to Maribor. The German firm will complete the work by 2006 at a cost of almost $300 million in return for the right to all concessions along the highway for 28 years. PM

Premier Adrian Nastase said on 11 July during his weekly videoconference with prefects that "a few interest groups" of company owners and trade unions are blocking reform efforts, Mediafax reported. He said these groups "could compromise" the government's efforts to achieve the status of a functioning market economy. Nastase said that the nation must decide "if we want to maintain a paternalist economy, in which everyone with a problem comes to the government for help, or if we want a functioning market economy, in which we accept defaulting as part of the rules of the game and profit as [an] essential objective." Nastase's ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) last week declared as one of its primary objectives achieving the status of a functioning market economy by the end of this year, a move that is intended to speed up EU-accession talks. ZsM

Prime Minister Nastase also said the government earmarked 880 billion lei (some $27 million) to pay out insurance claims to drought-stricken farmers, Romanian Radio reported. The government will also subsidize wheat seed for planting next year's crop this fall and will grant 2 million lei per hectare to farmers who own fewer than five hectares of land. He also announced that the government will spend 300 billion lei to repair the country's irrigation network. Speaking at the PSD's National Council meeting last week, Nastase announced a set of social-aid measures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2003). Several trade unions have expressed skepticism over the announcement, while opposition Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu has claimed the government does not have the resources to provide the pledged aid, which reportedly amounts to approximately 40 trillion lei. ZsM

During Popular Action's congress on 12-13 July, former President Emil Constantinescu was confirmed as the party's leader, Romanian media reported. The party's program is based on the concept of "popular capitalism, [being] active in producing goods, and fair in distributing benefits to society." The party described itself as one "defending democracy and pluralism" from "the suffocating domination of a single hegemonic party," by which it presumably meant the PSD. Constantinescu said Popular Action is ready to cooperate with all Romanian parties with the exception of the PSD and the extremist Greater Romania Party. Constantinescu launched AP last March as a center-right civic movement and it became a party last month. ZsM

The Bucharest Appeals Court on 11 July ruled in favor of Valentin Ceausescu, the son of executed dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, in his lawsuit against the National Museum of Arts for the restitution of personal property that was seized during the 1989 uprising, Antena 1 Television reported. Ceausescu's three children, Zoe, Valentin, and Nicu, were arrested in December 1989 and charged with undermining Romania's economy. Many of their personal possessions were subsequently confiscated and donated to Romania's National Museum of Art. In January 1996, all three were cleared of the charges and Zoe's seized properties, including jewelry, paintings, and books, were returned in 2001. Valentin appealed a lower court's decision that denied his 1996 request for the restitution of paintings and other art objects that were seized. The worth of that property is estimated at approximately 2 billion lei (more than $60,000). The museum can appeal the decision. ZsM

EU Ambassador to Romania Jonathan Scheele on 11 July said civil society plays a crucial role in any country's sustainable development, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Scheele made the comments during a conference on the role of NGOs in the European integration process. He added that NGOs from EU candidate countries must play an active role in supporting and promoting European values. Scheele also said NGOs should serve as an "interface" between the government and the public and be examples of transparency and efficiency. On 11 July, the European Integration Ministry announced that Romania is to receive 265.5 million euros ($235 million) under the European Commission's Phare program in 2003, Mediafax reported. ZsM

Moldova's parliament on 12 July passed in its first reading a bill that would amend the constitution to grant the Gagauz-Yeri Autonomous Republic the right to legislative initiation and self-determination, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The bill was proposed by the majority Party of Moldovan Communists parliamentary faction. The Gagauz-Yeri region in southern Moldova obtained autonomy when a special law was adopted by parliament in 1994. Until now, the right to initiate legislation was only granted to the state's central authorities. Opposition parties voted against the bill. Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca said the bill is discriminatory. Parliament will vote on the bill in its second and final reading later this month. ZsM

Speaking upon her departure to Rome on 13 July, European Affairs Minister Meglena Kuneva said she feels "uncomfortable" when she faces EU officials seeking explanations for Bulgaria's delay in implementing constitutional reforms pertaining to the judiciary, reported. Kuneva's statement came just days after visiting EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said in Sofia on 10 July that Bulgaria's efforts to become a full EU member in 2007 could be placed in jeopardy if the country fails to deliver on the necessary legal reforms. Stanimir Ilchev, who heads the governing National Movement Simeon's II parliamentary group, said the constitution could be amended before the 27 September deadline set by Kuneva, "Standart" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 9 July 2003). UB

The National Executive Council of the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) on 11 July officially withdrew its support for Plamen Oresharski as its candidate in Sofia's 26 October mayoral elections, reported. The party leadership cited Oresharski's 10 July meeting with controversial businessman Vasil Bozhkov as the reason for its decision. "We live in times when society is haunted by suspicions of [shady] deals between politicians and business," SDS Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova said, bnn reported. "As a leader I cannot allow such a suspicion to fall on the SDS." Oresharski and his campaign manager Petar Stoyanovich resigned their posts as deputy SDS chairmen in response to the decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2003). UB

If the world's suit-wearing, bottom-line-watching, boardroom-dwelling optimists could condense all their hopes and dreams for Russia into a single word, that word would almost certainly be Yukos. From its early adoption of international accounting standards to its introduction of independent board members to its glossy annual reports holding forth in unaccented English on corporate governance and environmental awareness, Russia's premier privately-owned oil company has forged an image as the standard-bearer of Western ways in the once Wild East. It doesn't hurt that it rakes in scads of swag to boot, of course. Enough, in fact, to make Chairman and top shareholder Mikhail Khodorkovskii Russia's richest man, and a respectable No. 26 on the "Forbes" 2003 list of the world's wealthiest people, with a personal fortune estimated at a cool $8 billion.

And Yukos has been on a roll this year, gearing up for a merger with fellow Russian oil major Sibneft that will make YukosSibneft the fourth-largest oil producer in the world, and second only to ExxonMobil in oil and gas reserves. With Khodorkovskii at the helm, YukosSibneft will be the first Russian company to join the global elite of multibillion-dollar megacorporations.

But Yukos hit an unexpected, man-made bump in the road recently. On 2 July, representatives of the prosecutor's office roused billionaire Platon Lebedev (No. 427 on the "Forbes" "World's Richest People" list with $1 billion) from a hospital bed, hauling him in to face fraud charges concerning a 1994 fertilizer-plant privatization. A longtime associate of Khodorkovskii, Lebedev is the chairman of the holding company that controls 61 percent of Yukos. Other cases, some of them predating the Lebedev arrest, involved more obscure figures. Aleksei Pichugin, head of a security department at Yukos, was arrested on 21 June on charges of organizing a double murder in 2002. Ramil Burganov, a former Yukos executive, has been sought since January 2002 for embezzlement. Finally, prosecutors announced on 3 July that they are investigating a Yukos connection in two attempts on the life of oilman Yevgenii Rybin in 1998 and 1999, "Vremya novostei" reported the next day.

The charges against Lebedev go back to the distant days and dark dealings of 1994, when Lebedev headed Khodorkovskii's Menatep Bank and Russia's future billionaires were busy privatizing the onetime fiefdom of the Communist Party. According to summaries published in "The Moscow Times" on 4 July and "Kommersant-Daily" on 7 July, a firm called Volna -- allegedly linked to Lebedev -- bought a 20 percent stake in fertilizer producer Apatit in 1994. Volna paid $225,000 and pledged to invest $280 million. In 1996, the regional government successfully sued Volna for reneging on its investment promise. The firm did not return the shares, however, claiming a third party had already bought them. The dispute finally ended in a 2002 voluntary settlement that saw Volna shell out $16 million to make amends. The new charges ignore the previous settlement and up the ante, claiming damages to the state of $283 million.

The flurry of legal activity set off a firestorm of speculation over the causes and timing of the campaign, seen everywhere as directed primarily against Yukos CEO Khodorkovskii. Khodorkovskii's numerous fans in the West found themselves in a bit of a bind, their desire to defend the forward-thinking oilman brought face to face with their distaste for the milieu in which he made his first millions. A 4 July editorial in the "Financial Times" nicely captured the ambivalence, moving from the merely ambiguous -- "Beneath the calm created under President Vladimir Putin lie risks that those who deal with Russia ignore at their peril" -- to close with the positively Delphic -- "History teaches that most very wealthy families clean their fortunes, as the robber-baron dynasties did in the [United States]. But the process takes years and cannot be rushed."

Russian observers generally focused on the increasingly popular topic of warring factions in the Kremlin. Khodorkovskii himself suggested as much in a 5 July interview with Tomsk's TV-2 television station: "We're dealing with a power struggle between various wings of Vladimir Putin's entourage." Though Khodorkovskii, fresh from a trip to the prosecutor's office the previous day to answer questions about the Lebedev case, maintained a tactful silence on specifics, others were quick to fill in the blanks. The Kremlin struggle is widely seen as pitting the Yeltsin-era oligarchs and their political allies against the "St. Petersburg secret policemen"(not all of whom hail from Petersburg or the secret police) who rode into Moscow on President Putin's coattails. The oligarchs, of whom Khodorkovskii is a prime example, have more money and moxie; the policemen have better access to the repressive mechanisms of the state.

Aleksandr Privalov presented a thumbnail sketch of how Yukos fits into the conflict between the "old Kremlin" and "new Kremlin" wings of the presidential administration in "Ekspert," No. 25. In going after Yukos, Privalov explained, the "new Kremlin" wing does not want money "from Yukos or from those who are supposed to draw conclusions about their own behavior from Khodorkovskii's misfortunes. They have money. They want Yukos and its ilk to stop financing the other side. They want to pull the plug on the opposing wing of the presidential administration. And they chose Yukos as their whipping boy because it's the richest and most ambitious."

In his Tomsk TV-2 interview, Khodorkovskii consistently downplayed his company's political influence, claiming that "in Russia, economic structures have never had the political power and influence that such structures have had, for example, in the United States." When asked whether Yukos's growing economic muscle had set alarm bells ringing, Russia's richest man was dismissive: "I think that it's not the economic power as such. It's just one of the factors in tomorrow's, or today's struggle for tomorrow's power. In this struggle, we're not one of the subjects, but one of the objects: chair, table, Yukos."

The larger problem, of course, is that while we may have a clear picture of the objects -- be they chairs, tables, or multibillion-dollar oil companies -- we must often make do with foggy guesses about the subjects. The gist of the Yukos affair, which could easily fade away like so many scandals before it, is precisely this problem of visible objects and invisible subjects.

Much of the optimism about Yukos arises from how much people know about the company. Last week's outburst of prosecutorial zeal comes as a reminder that a great deal remains unknown -- about the not-so-distant past of Russia's business elite and about the forces that may greatly influence that elite's not-so-far-off future.

Jalalabad, Nangarhar Province, security official Haji Ibrar said two of his men were injured in "fresh fighting" that erupted on 12 July between "the Afghan border patrol and the Pakistani military" along the Afghan-Pakistani border, the Pakistani English-language daily "Dawn" reported the next day. "There was light-weapons fire on both sides," Ibrar said. Sporadic armed clashes have been occurring along the Afghan-Pakistani border in the Mohmand tribal areas since the beginning of July. Afghan officials have accused Pakistani militias of violating Afghan territory, while Pakistan has denied those charges and claimed that its antiterrorism operations are being conducted on its side of the border. The Afghanistan-Pakistan border has never officially been recognized by Afghanistan, and sections of it -- including those where fighting has recently taken place -- are not properly demarcated (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 July 2003). AT

General Mohammad Mostafa, in describing the 12 July fighting, said the next day that his forces drove the Pakistanis from the village of Yaqubi Kandaw and captured border posts they had set up inside Afghanistan, AP reported. "All kinds of weapons were used. Neither side hesitated to use whatever weapons [it] wanted,'' Mostafa said. Afghan commander Haji Abdul Zaher Qader on 12 July said both sides used artillery, RFE/RL reported. Pakistan's Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said that "there is no truth" to Mostafa's allegations, AP reported. Ahmed said his government's forces remain within Pakistan's territory and that the country respects its border with Afghanistan. Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said on July 12 that Pakistani forces had indeed shelled and crossed into Afghan territory, but added that the incursions were minor, RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2003). AT

Afghan forces on 13 July discovered 300 rocket-propelled grenades, dozens of antitank mines, and 20 AK-47 assault rifles in Spin Boldak, a city near the Afghan-Pakistani border in Kandahar Province, Reuters reported. A commander who spoke on condition of anonymity said the arms belong to a group of fighters loyal to the ousted Taliban regime led by Hafez Abdul Rahman. The commander said the pro-Taliban militia guarding the weapons escaped (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July 2003). AT

An explosion on 12 July caused minor damage to the office of the German Society for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) in Jalalabad, Nangarhar Province, dpa reported on 13 July. Earlier reports indicated that the city's UNICEF office had been bombed. The GTZ's office in Kandahar was damaged by an explosive device on 30 May, although no casualties or damage was reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2003). Attacks on nonmilitary organizations such as GTZ follow a recent trend in Afghanistan in which unarmed aid workers or their assistants have been specifically targeted (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May 2003). The new tactics seem designed to scare aid groups into leaving the country, thus plunging it into further chaos that the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and disenchanted Afghan opposition groups could take advantage of in rallying support and cite as evidence of the failure of the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan. AT

Thirty soldiers from the United Kingdom arrived on 13 July in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan Television reported. The troops are part of a 60-member British force that will form a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) unit that is to be deployed in the city. The PRT in Mazar-e Sharif is the first such unit to be led by a country other than the United States, which heads three PRTs in Gardayz, Bamyan, and Konduz provinces. Germany and New Zealand reportedly will assume leadership of PRTs in the future. PRTs are part of a U.S. program that is intended to facilitate reconstruction projects in areas outside Kabul by providing security in the absence of international peacekeeping forces (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January 2003). AT

Allah-Dad Nuri, the head of the recently established Afghanistan Cricket Federation (ACF), said on 14 July that he hopes Afghans "pick up the bat and put down the gun," Reuters reported. Nuri, who is in India seeking support for the ACF, added that "at least 30,000 [Afghans] are familiar with cricket," but he wants that number to increase. Nuri said if the ACF is provided with "proper facilities, proper equipment, and coaching," the Afghan side "can even beat some of the weaker teams that played in this year's World Cup." Cricket was never very popular in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, but millions of Afghans who sought refuge or lived in Pakistan for the past two decades as a result of that war have made the game popular among young Afghans. AT

All U.S.-based satellite broadcasts to Iran are being jammed from Cuba, according to an 11 July MSNBC report that cited U.S. government officials and satellite operators. The jamming of Persian-language satellite-television broadcasts intensified on 6 July, when VOA Television began broadcasting a new program to Iran. The broadcasts of Los Angeles-based Persian-language satellite-television stations, such as Pars TV, Channel 1 TV, NITV, and Azadi TV, were also jammed and could not be received in Iran. A source cited by MSNBC said the source of the jamming is 32 kilometers outside of Havana. Cuba's main signal-intelligence facility, at Bejucal, is about the same distance from Havana. BS

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Secretary-General Robert Menard said in a 12 July statement that "we hold the Iranian authorities responsible for the death of [Canadian photojournalist] Zahra Kazemi." Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry official Mohammad-Hussein Khoshvaqt announced earlier the same day that Kazemi died of a cerebral hemorrhage on the evening of 11 July, IRNA reported. Kazemi was detained on 23 June for taking photographs outside Evin Prison, and she was later hospitalized. She was not given access to an independent physician, and Canadian diplomats were only allowed to view her through a window. Her son asserted that she had been severely beaten (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2003). Menard said on 12 July that the Iranian authorities failed to provide Kazemi with adequate medical care. BS

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami called on the ministries of Intelligence and Security, of Interior, of Islamic Culture and Guidance, and of Justice to launch an investigation into Zahra Kazemi's death, IRNA reported on 13 July. RFE/RL on 13 July quoted Tanya Churchmuch, the head of RSF's Canadian branch, as saying: "The fact that the Iranian government says it wants to lead its own investigation, perhaps we can see that as a slight, slight step in the right direction, but for us at Reporters Without Borders, it's far from being sufficient. It would be like having a prisoner being held by Montreal police who dies in custody and having the Montreal police investigate. It's not the right way to do things. You need somebody that's independent, outside, that's not involved with what happened to do the investigation." BS

Tehran has rejected U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's assertion that Iran has moved some of its border posts into Iraqi territory, Fars News Agency reported. In a 9 July appearance before the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, Rumsfeld described "recent reports of Iranians moving some of their border posts along about a 25-kilometer stretch several kilometers inside of Iraq," Reuters reported. Such an action, Rumsfeld added, is "obviously not being respectful of Iraq's sovereignty." "Certainly that is behavior that is not acceptable and they should be staying on their side of the border," Rumsfeld said. Iranian Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs Ali Asqar Ahmadi on 10 July rejected Rumsfeld's claim. "Such statements are aimed at exporting American problems," he said. "Such problems are caused by the difficulties America is experiencing in running Iraq, as well as by the White House rulers' impotence as demonstrated by their failure to establish order and tranquility in Iraq," according to Fars News Agency. Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh told reporters in Tehran on 11 July that Iran has not moved its border posts and said such accusations are connected with the inability of occupation forces to restore security and stability in Iraq, Iran's Sahar television reported on 11 July. BS

Hojat Sharifi, a former member of the Office for Strengthening Unity (OSU) student organization, was detained on 12 July, ILNA reported the next day. A group of student activists met on 13 July with the family of Said Razavi-Faqih, an activist in the Allameh faction of the OSU, ILNA reported. Razavi-Faqih's wife expressed concern about her husband's health and said she has not heard from him since he was detained on 10 July. BS

Ali Talai, an official from the Tehran Governorate-General's political-security affairs directorate, said on 12 July that 250 people were arrested on 9 July -- which is 18 Tir according to the Iranian calendar -- the anniversary of the day in 1999 when Iranian security forces and vigilantes stormed the Tehran University campus, ISNA reported. More than 80 of these people have been released, he said, and more detainees will be released soon. This would seem to contradict a 10 July statement by Tehran Governorate-General's political-security affairs directorate official Ebrahim Rezai-Babadi, who described the involvement of a few dozen people in limited disturbances on 9 July (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 July 2003). BS

The U.S.-backed Governing Council of Iraq held its inaugural meeting in Baghdad on 13 July, international news agencies reported. The 25-member council, which will wield executive and legislative powers in an interim phase before a new government is formed, is seen as the first step toward democratic Iraqi self-rule in the wake of the U.S.-led operation to oust former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "The establishment of this council is an expression of the national Iraqi will in the wake of the collapse of the former oppressive and dictatorial regime, thanks to the struggle and brave sacrifices of our people and the intervention of the international coalition forces," Al-Jazeera quoted a 13 July statement by council members as saying. "The building of Iraq shall remain among the first priorities of the good Iraqi people. It will require the participation of all Iraqis from all political and social trends who are willing to help accomplish this historic task," it noted. The Governing Council issued its first resolution at the 13 July meeting, canceling all official holidays associated with the deposed leadership and the defunct Ba'ath Party, and named 9 April as an official holiday marking the fall of the Hussein regime. Council members include 13 Shi'ite Muslims, five Sunni Muslims, five Kurds, one Assyrian Christian, and one Turkoman representative. There are three women on the council. Sixteen of the 25 members are Iraqis from the diaspora and autonomous Kurdish areas. KR

During a 13 July press conference by members of the Governing Council, Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) scoffed at a reporter's suggestion that the council's role will be limited, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. "The council enjoys a relatively [large] number of powers," he said. "These include appointing ministers, supervising ministries, [approving] the budget, security, reestablishing the armed forces, and appointing heads of diplomatic missions abroad. Except for one or two things, the council almost enjoys all government powers." Regarding U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer's power to veto council decisions, former Iraqi Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi told the press, "We do not expect vetoes because the administration...stressed that it will fulfill all the demands of the Governing Council. If there is going to be any differences of opinion,... such differences can be settled through discussion." KR

The council members openly criticized the Arab League, Arab states, and their satellite networks during the 13 July press conference for their apparent support for the deposed Hussein regime, Al-Jazeera reported. Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum told reporters that Arab satellite channels "betrayed [Iraqis] and did not stand by us," adding, "These channels are awaiting Saddam's return." Nasir al-Chadirji, secretary-general of the Movement of National Democrats, added: "I have an appeal for Al-Jazeera and other Arab satellite channels. I tell them: Enough incitement for the Iraqi people to carry out acts of violence against the coalition troops." Meanwhile, Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i criticized the Arab League for not supporting the Iraqi people, saying, "We wished that the Arab League had taken a stand towards the crimes of the Hussein regime," adding, "The Arab League's stand toward the Iraqi people should demonstrate more sympathy and understanding." He called on the Arab League to recognize the Governing Council. Regarding Arab states, Ahmad Chalabi from the Iraqi National Congress (INC) told reporters: "We ask them to understand that the Saddam regime is finished, and that they should deal with the Iraqi people:...Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians, Shi'a, and Sunnis.... They should help us in all fields." KR

A group identifying itself as the Armed Islamic Movement of the Al-Qaeda Organization-Al-Fallujah Branch, issued an audio statement dated 10 July to Al-Arabiyah Television claiming responsibility for attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq, the satellite channel reported on 13 July. The speaker in the tape claims that the deposed Hussein regime and defunct Ba'ath Party have not had a role in attacks on U.S. forces. "I urge Muslims and the people of Iraq not to believe what the deposed ruler [Saddam Hussein] has said [in recently released audiotapes].... None of his followers carried out any jihad operation as he claims. They were [carried out] by the...patience of our mujahedin brothers," the speaker claims. "The end of the United States will be at the hand of Islam," he adds. Meanwhile, London's "The Sunday Times" reported on 13 July that sources close to a "nascent anti-American resistance movement in Baghdad" have warned participants in the Iraqi Governing Council against "collaborating" with coalition forces. "Otherwise they too will become targets of resistance attacks similar to those being conducted against the Americans," one source told the weekly. Groups deemed "illegitimate" will be given an unspecified period of time in which to "repent" or face elimination, the source added. KR

Members of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division and Task Force Ironhorse launched Operation Ivy Serpent on 12 July, according to a 13 July press release issued on the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website ( The operation is aimed at "neutralizing paramilitary, Ba'ath Party loyalists and other subversive elements within Iraq," the statement said. "Operation Ivy Serpent is a preemptive strike that aggressively focuses on non-compliant forces and former regime leaders who are planning attacks against coalition forces" it added. The operation is centered around Highway 1 between the cities of Bayji, Huwayiah, and Samarra, CENTCOM reported. According to a second press release, dated 13 July, 80 people "who are members of the Ba'ath Party, Fedayeen, Regime Death Squad or other subversive elements" were detained in the raids. Three "former regime loyalist leaders" were detained in one raid near Ba'qubah, northeast of Baghdad. KR

Sharif Ali bin al-Husayn, cousin of King Faysal II, the Iraqi king assassinated in a coup led by Abd al-Karim Qasim on 14 July 1958, is marking the day with a memorial at his party's headquarters in Baghdad, according to an announcement issued by the Constitutional Monarchy Movement (CMM) in "Al-Ra'y al-Amm" on 12 July. Sharif Ali's CMM has refused to join the fledgling Iraqi Governing Council on grounds that it was appointed by U.S. administrator Bremer rather than elected, and because Bremer holds veto power over council decisions. Al-Husayn told Al-Jazeera on 13 July that the council will not achieve the Iraqi people's goal of an independent government. "Of course we will support this council," he said. "But based on weeks of continuous negotiations and dialogue with the occupation forces,... there has not been any sign that they will give any additional powers to any council at this time." He told the BBC the same day that de-Ba'athification was a mistake in Iraq because he claims it "dissolved entirely the [Iraqi] national institutions." KR

Alexander Vershbow told Interfax on 11 July that Moscow could help the United States to combat attacks on coalition forces in Iraq by people loyal to Saddam Hussein. He urged Moscow to share with U.S. intelligence any information that it has about pro-Hussein groups or the whereabouts of Hussein and his sons. Vershbow also said that the United States does not consider the Russian Embassy in Baghdad a diplomatic mission. He said that it is unreasonable to send a diplomatic mission to a country that has no government with which it can deal. VY

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 13 July that Ambassador Vershbow's statement implying that Russia has information about the whereabouts of Hussein or his sons is "incorrect," RIA-Novosti reported. He said that bilateral relations have reached such a level that there are constant, reliable channels for the exchange of such information, including confidential channels. Therefore, Yakovenko said, it is wrong to appeal for such information through the mass media. In a separate statement, the Foreign Ministry expressed concern about U.S. unwillingness to guarantee the diplomatic status of the Russian Embassy in Baghdad. The United States as an occupying power is obligated to do this under international law, the statement said. VY