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Newsline - September 15, 2004

Speaking to journalists on 14 September, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said that the 2005 budget will allocate an extra 158.4 billion rubles ($5.1 billion) for measures to combat terrorism, and other Russian media reported. Some 50 billion rubles will go to the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Foreign Intelligence Service for equipment and the training of antiterrorism specialists. The Defense Ministry will get 107 billion rubles for rearmament programs and increasing the number of contract servicemen. The remaining 1.4 billion rubles will go toward new security measures in the subway systems in Moscow and other cities. "Today's terrorism is elevated to a new level and to fight it one needs new funds," Kudrin said. "One should combat terrorism not emotionally, but professionally. We shall be engaged in fighting this evil for a long time," he added. VY

Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov said at a press conference in Moscow on 13 September that Russia will draft a national mobilization plan for fighting international terrorism, RIA-Novosti reported. Russia has a mobilization plan in the case of conventional war and now should draft a similar document for the war against terrorism, Ivanov said. "Russia is in a state of war with terrorism," he said. "The plan, whose name will be specified, will include all measures to be taken at all levels, from the president to local authorities." Adoption of such a mobilization plan will require serious legislative amendments. "This is not a campaign or a month of vigilance. It is a long-term plan," he added. VY

Russian security services have been trying to locate about 20 women allegedly recently trained by extremist Islamist underground cells to commit suicide terrorist attacks, "Vremya novostei" reported on 13 September and "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 15 September. The FSB obtained information about potential suicidal bombers after the arrest in Chechnya at the beginning of September of Luisa Magomadova and Medni Musaeva, who are suspected of belonging to the network. The two Chechen women had been sought in Rostov-na-Donu as suspected suicide bombers, but were found in Chechnya after their pictures had been posted all over Rostov-na-Donu, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 10 September "The special services are not concealing that currently in our country there are several, so to speak, live bombs ready to explode," "Rossiiskaya gazeta" wrote. VY

State Duma Constitutional Legislation Committee Chairman Vladimir Pligin (Unified Russia) said on 15 September that President Vladimir Putin's proposal to eliminate gubernatorial elections in favor of a system in which regional parliaments confirm a presidentially selected nominee does not violate the Russian Constitution, ITAR-TASS reported. In an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 15 September, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov agreed, saying that that the constitution will not have to be amended. He added that the earliest the law introducing the new selection system could come into force would be the beginning of next year. "Kommersant-Daily" had reported the previous day that implementing the proposal would require reexamining the constitution. The daily cited State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent), who recalled that the Constitutional Court ruled in January 1996 that the Altai Krai legislature's election of the head of the krai ran counter to the constitution. However, Vladimir Tumanov, who headed the Constitutional Court in 1996, said the constitution allows various approaches to the election of regional heads. He said that the constitution does not directly determine how local elections should be held and the 1996 ruling could be set aside in the interests of national security. JAC

Russia's regional governors continued to praise President Putin's proposal to cancel regional gubernatorial elections in favor of a system of appointing regional executives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 2004). St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko said on 14 September that she supports the new system, because she believes that it will "improve the controllability of the state," ITAR-TASS reported. She added that today "a random person can come to power and there is no mechanism to recall him" if the voters erred in having misjudged the situation and succumbed to populism. Ryazan Governor Georgii Shpak's aide Anatolii Igumnov called Putin's initiative "absolutely correct," saying that currently "many photogenic" people can become governor, reported. "They can speak well, but they cannot do anything," he said. Yaroslavl Oblast Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn noted that under the current electoral system, heads of executive bodies can be "pushed around" by voters during decision making, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC

Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel said that he doesn't "see any threat to democracy" in President Putin's reform proposals. According to, Rossel believes that governors will become essentially the president's envoys to the regions, and the continuance of the current system of presidential envoys would not make sense. According to Rossel, Tatarstan Republic President Mintimer Shaimiev suggested to Putin during the meeting on 13 September that all layers of federal bureaucracy between the governors and the president should be eliminated. Speaking on 15 September, Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov agreed, noting, "If the president recommends the governor, why [would] presidential envoys be needed, who duplicate their functions?" JAC

Yabloko party leader Grigorii Yavlinskii on 14 September called Putin's proposal to eliminate the gubernatorial elections "short-sighted," because it will "alienate the governors from the citizens," Radio Mayak reported. He noted that "already the president's role in determining who will become governor of a specific region is exceptionally great." He concluded that "generally speaking, it looks like a proposal designed simply to distract attention from the discussion of terrorism, because this discussion is not directly linked with the struggle against terrorism." A local human rights center in Ryazan Oblast, Vybor sovesti, sounded a similar theme, announcing that it opposes Putin's suggested reforms, because "this initiative has no relationship to the struggle against terrorism, and appears to be the next step in the dismantling of democracy and federalism in Russia," reported on 15 September. JAC

President Putin on 14 September agreed to allow Gazprom to acquire state-owned oil giant Rosneft in a deal that will boost the government's share in Gazprom to a controlling stake, Russian media reported. The government currently directly controls 38 percent of Gazprom, and the company will trade 10.7 percent of its shares for Rosneft, making the deal worth about $5.6 billion, "The Moscow Times" reported on 15 September. The deal should be completed some time next year. At the same time, Putin agreed to lift the longstanding restriction on foreign ownership of Gazprom shares, a move that Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller said, "will be a real locomotive for the whole Russian stock market." Miller also said that Gazprom does not intend to purchase any Yukos assets if they are put up for sale, ITAR-TASS reported. Gazprom shares rose by 14 percent on 14 September in response to news of the Rosneft acquisition, the news agency reported. Ekho Moskvy reported on 15 September that Rosneft will be renamed Gazpromneft and that Rosneft President Sergei Bogdanchikov will head the new company. RC

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov on 14 September hailed the impending acquisition of Rosneft by Gazprom, Interfax reported. "We will soon receive a large company that in the future will be turned into a transnational company of global significance," Fradkov said. Ian Hague, president of the Firebird Fund investment house, told "The Moscow Times" that this "is a breakthrough event." "They are buying the loyalty of the foreign-investor community as they create what looks like a political dictatorship," Hague said. "And it is working." Alfa Bank strategist Chris Weafer told the daily: "On the political side we've had the reactivation of some of the Soviet infrastructure. Now we have the appearance of a new state oil and gas giant. They are building Russia's version of [Saudi Arabia's] Aramco." Institute of Globalization President Mikhail Delyagin, who served as economic adviser to former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, said he doubts the new energy giant can be managed efficiently. "The important thing is that we are returning to a situation where a considerable part of Russia's oil sector will be brought under state control," Delyagin told Radio Mayak on 14 September. "The problem is that in the Russian state today there is no hope that this company will be run efficiently and will serve the interests of Russia rather than certain oligarchic structures." RC

About 23 percent of the energy-resource-development licenses currently in private hands are not being actively used, Natural Resources Minister Yurii Trutnev said on 15 September, RosBalt and other Russian media reported. Trutnev said that more than 16,000 licenses were issued in the 1990s, but many license holders have failed to explore and develop their deposits. He said that resource exploitation can be improved both by new exploration and by more effective development of known deposits. He accused some companies of using "dead" licenses to inflate their capitalization. "We will fight against any violations with the strongest measures," Trutnev said. "If license agreements are violated, we will resort to rescinding the licenses." Trutnev also lamented the "monopolization" of many natural-resources markets, saying that regional "spheres of influence" have emerged that are suppressing competition. He said that major players frequently enter into cartel agreements on bidding for licenses, allowing them in effect to dictate conditions to the government and causing the state millions of dollars in damages. He said his ministry is working on legislative initiatives aimed at "de-monopolizing the market." RC

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on 15 September rejected criticism from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell of President Putin's proposed reforms designed to bolster the fight against terrorism, RIA-Novosti reported. Powell told Reuters on 14 September that the U.S. government is seriously concerned by the reform proposals, saying that Russia's democratic transition should not be set back by the need to combat terrorism. Lavrov rejected the criticism, saying that "the administrative and legislative reforms and all the processes going on in Russia are an internal matter for our country." "After all, we don't criticize such 'deviations' from democratic norms as the indirect election of the president of the United States," Lavrov added, reported on 15 September. RC

A public committee comprising relatives of the victims of the hostage crisis in Beslan has been set up to monitor the investigation into the handling of the incident, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 September. The commission was set up during a meeting between victims' relatives and North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov, and its main objective will be to make sure that officials who were responsible for the incident will be named and punished, the news agency reported. Dzasokhov pledged to support the work of the committee and to inform it about the status of the investigation into the hostage taking. He said that he considers it his duty "to stand by everybody who lost loved ones." RC

Former KGB Chairman and Army General Vladimir Kryuchkov on 14 September presented his new book, "Personality And Power," TV-Tsentr and other Russian media reported. Kryuchkov was KGB chairman from 1988 until August 1991, and he was a leading figure in the August 1991 coup attempt against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. The new book presents portraits of political leaders from Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to President Putin. Kryuchkov calls Putin "President Hope," in contrast to Gorbachev and former President Boris Yeltsin. RC

NTV reported that Kryuchkov commented at the presentation that "not everything depends on the special services." "Much depends on the systems, the overall order in society," he said. "I think that even if we strengthen the special services by a factor of 20, but let everything else remain the same, then nothing much will change." Commenting on the recent hostage taking in Beslan, Kryuchkov said: "Three vehicles drove through Beslan right up to School No. 1. And not a single citizen reported that some sort of column was moving. There wasn't a single report. This means that we do not have support from society, from the population. And if we do not get this support in the near future, then I think that all our efforts will be in vain." RC

In order to preclude further terrorist acts in the North Caucasus, Russia has imposed restrictions on the passage of people and motor vehicles from Azerbaijan and Georgia to the Russian Federation, effective 15 September, Interfax and reported on 14 and 15 September, respectively, quoting Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko. All bus routes to Russia operated by Azerbaijani and Georgian companies have been suspended, as has all passenger-vehicle transport between Russia and Georgia. Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Metin Mirza declined to comment on the restrictions, reported. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava told Interfax on 14 September he considers those restrictions, together with the suspension of flights by indebted Georgian air companies to Russia, to be politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 2004). LF

Speaking in London on 14 September, Aslan Maskhadov's representative Akhmed Zakaev called on the international community to pressure the Russian leadership to begin talks with the moderate Chechen resistance on a political solution to the Chechen conflict, according to Reuters on 14 September and "The Guardian" and the "Financial Times" on 15 September. Zakaev argued that President Putin's policy has not only failed to stabilize Chechnya but made the situation there worse, according to the "Financial Times." He further branded Moscow's linking of Maskhadov with radical field commander Shamil Basaev a deliberate attempt to misinform international public opinion, and said Basaev should not participate in talks on resolving the conflict. Zakaev said that if there is no change in Moscow's Chechen policy, he fears "more Beslans will be inevitable." LF

Exiled former Russian Security Council Secretary Boris Berezovskii endorsed Zakaev's call for dialogue, "The Guardian" reported on 15 September. Berezovskii conceded that Maskhadov does not currently fully control all Chechen fighters, but predicted that "if Putin says he's willing to have talks, Maskhadov will regain" that control. LF

The Our Azerbaijan bloc that comprises the opposition Musavat Party and 22 other political parties and organizations has accused the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) of "indifference" to "illegalities" during the trials of opposition activists accused of instigating or participating in violent clashes with police in Baku in the wake of the disputed 15 October presidential election, Turan reported on 14 September. The bloc appealed to international human rights organizations to insist that the ongoing trials be fair and just, and not to continue to support what it termed "a criminal regime." Testifying on 14 September during the ongoing trial of seven prominent opposition activists, Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Secretary-General Sardar Djalaloglu said that as a result of the beatings and torture to which he was subjected during the preliminary investigation he now has difficulty in walking, reported on 15 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 13 May, 30 June, 13 July, and 16 August 2004). LF

Russian military helicopters overflew the Kodori Gorge in western Georgia during the early morning of 13 and 14 September, Caucasus Press reported, quoting Kodori Governor Emzar Kvitsiani. Interfax quoted Kvitsiani as saying the helicopters (reports differ as to whether there were four or six of them) came from Russian territory, while according to Caucasus Press he said they came from Abkhazia. Georgian Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze, who traveled on 14 September to Kodori, said he does not exclude the possibility that Russian troops landed in the gorge, Caucasus Press reported. That would seem unlikely, however, as Caucasus Press reported on 13 September that the first snow has already fallen in Kodori. Therefore any troops moving in the region would leave clear tracks. On 13 September Kvitsiani's press spokesman rejected as "absurd" a report in the 11 September issue of "Moskovskii komsomolets" claiming that Achimez Gochiyaev, wanted for his alleged role in apartment-building bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities in 1999, has settled in Kodori, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Defense Minister Baramidze met late on 14 September with Major General Marat Kulakhmetov, who after a delay of several months has finally taken over from controversial Major General Svyatoslav Nabdzorov as commander of the Russian-Georgian-Ossetian peacekeeping force deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2003 and 4 June 2004). The two men discussed joint exercises scheduled for 15 September. Baramidze also complained that the South Ossetian side has deployed more armor in the conflict zone than is permitted. A South Ossetian government official told Interfax on 14 September that Georgia has deployed Interior Ministry troops and heavy armor to a Georgian village on the internal border with South Ossetia, but an Interior Ministry spokesman in Tbilisi denied that allegation, explaining that Interior Ministry forces that participated in a military parade in Kareli Raion on 13 September have since returned to their bases. But Colonel Gennadii Dzuba of the Russian Defense Ministry press service told Caucasus Press on 14 September that the Georgian military parade has exacerbated the situation in the conflict zone. LF

Heads of state and government from the member states of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) met in Dushanbe on 14 September for the group's eighth summit, agencies reported. The two main results of the meeting were a commitment to create a free-trade zone among member states by 2015 and a decision to create a fund for Afghan reconstruction. ECO members also agreed on the importance of coordinating the actions of tax officials, customs services, and antidrug structures, Tajik radio reported. A final declaration affirmed the ECO's resolve to support modernization, growth, development, and economic integration in the region, Avesta reported. ECO Secretary-General Askhat Orazbai said that Iran sponsored the initiative to create an Afghan reconstruction fund and that Pakistan has already pledged to give the fund $5 million, RIA-Novosti reported. The summit elected Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov to chair the ECO. Member states are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. DK

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami told the summit, "Today, the world and the region are encountering worrisome processes as a result of the unilateral use of force, while relations between states and regions are taking shape on a new basis," Avesta reported. IRNA quoted Khatami as saying: "We have to prevent the evildoers from achieving their goals, those who use the campaign against terrorism as a tool for unequal fights with nations. They have forgotten one of the most important forms of terrorism -- state terrorism -- in their repetition of boring slogans and their resort to the most horrible kinds of violence and suppression under the pretext of the fight against terrorism." DK

Police arrested six participants in an unauthorized demonstration organized by the opposition bloc of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan on 14 September in Almaty, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Gathering outside the state-owned Khabar TV agency, demonstrators asked for an hour of free airtime to compensate for what they described as biased coverage in the lead-up to the 19 September parliamentary elections. Information Minister Altynbek Sarsenbaev, who is also co-chairman of the moderate opposition party Ak Zhol, told Channel 31: "I support their principles that they should be granted equal access to media. I support them in their assertion that state TV channels are granting them unequal access.... Yet I cannot support their demand [for free airtime], as it runs counter to election law." DK

Darigha Nazarbaeva, the daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbaev and the head of the pro-presidential Asar party, told a group of foreign journalists in a 14 September interview that she has no presidential ambitions, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. On the subject of the 2006 presidential elections, she said, "As a pro-presidential party, we will support the incumbent president." Asked why she formed Asar when the pro-presidential Otan party already exists, Nazarbaeva replied: "They are quite conservative. They do not feel that they are in a competitive environment.... I think that where there is no competition, there will be a morass sooner or later," Khabar TV reported. DK

Police are growing increasingly concerned over the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir in southern Kazakhstan, Channel 31 reported on 14 September. Hizb ut-Tahrir, which advocates the reestablishment of the caliphate and the imposition of Islamic law throughout Central Asia, is not officially registered in Kazakhstan, although it is not expressly illegal. The report quoted police and religious authorities as saying that Hizb ut-Tahrir is stepping up its recruiting activities in southern Kazakhstan and should be restricted. Five members of Hizb ut-Tahrir have been arrested in the area this year, they said. A Hizb ut-Tahrir member told Channel 31 that he is ready to give up his life for the organization, but he denied that it has been involved in any violence. DK

Imangali Tasmagambetov, head of the Kazakh presidential administration, said on 14 September that 99 percent of the 7,000-kilometer Kazakh-Russian border has been delimited, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. He said that the remaining questions concern "only a few population centers." Kazakh President Nazarbaev and Russian President Vladimir Putin have said that they intend to finish delimiting the border by the end of the year. DK

Last week the opposition Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) sent letters to the Central Election Commission(TsVK), the Belarusian State Television and Radio Company, the state-run newspaper "Sovetskaya Belorussiya," the Justice Ministry, and the Information Ministry requesting that, in accordance with Belarus's Election Code, they ensure equal rights for campaigning both for and against the presidential referendum scheduled for 17 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 2004), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 14 September. BNF leader Vintsuk Vyachorka told RFE/RL that his party has not received any replies to the letters. Meanwhile, the state-controlled media have launched a massive campaign urging Belarusians to say "yes" to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's plans to lift the constitutional two-term limit on the presidency and run for a third term in 20O6. TsVK Secretary Mikalay Lazavik told RFE/RL that he sees nothing wrong with a one-sided referendum campaign in Belarus. "The state, through its highest institution of authority, has initiated the referendum and is now defending its point of view," Lazavik noted. JM

Yuriy Klochkovskyy, a representative of opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko in the Central Election Commission, has demanded a probe into who collected signatures in Russia in support of the presidential bid of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the "Ukrayinska pravda" ( website reported on 14 September. Ukrainian media reported on 13 September that more than 560,000 Ukrainian citizens living in Russia signed Yanukovych's presidential candidate signature lists. "If the instructions [to collect signatures for Yanukovych] were passed via the embassy and consulates of the Ukrainian state [in Russia], it was a violation of Ukrainian legislation and those signatures are not valid," Klochkovskyy said. "If this was done with the help of Russian power bodies and Russian citizens, who are forbidden to take part in the elections of the Ukrainian president, this [would provoke] even more questions." JM

Deputy Interior Ministry Mykhaylo Korniyenko told journalists on 14 September that his ministry has not confirmed the Prosecutor-General's Office claim that Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze was being shadowed by police officers at the time of his disappearance on 16 September 2000, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Korniyenko said all officers who worked in the ministry in 2000 and could be involved in the alleged shadowing denied that such surveillance took place. "What is more, the documents that could give evidence to that [shadowing] were destroyed in 2001," Korniyenko said, adding that some of the documents relating to the Gongadze case were destroyed per procedure and some due to "official negligence." In June "The Independent" published an article by RFE/RL correspondent Askold Krushelnycky based on leaks of information from an official inquiry into the slaying of Gongadze. The leaks suggested that Gongadze was shadowed by police officers before his disappearance. JM

Serbian President Boris Tadic told his Hungarian counterpart Ferenc Madl in Belgrade on 14 September that the Serbian authorities take seriously the recent incidents directed against Vojvodina's Hungarian minority, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 10, and 14 September 2004). "I am particularly sensitive to all cases of violation of human and minority rights. I asked for an analysis to be made of all events in Vojvodina and insisted on a full legal and police investigation," Tadic said. He added that "everyone is responsible in their state for preserving European values and democratic principles." Madl said that he appreciated Tadic's remarks. Later, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said that new tensions or conflicts in the region are in nobody's interest. In recent weeks, several Serbian officials and commentators dismissed the incidents as the work of drunks, or blamed politicians in Vojvodina or Hungary for exploiting the incidents for political gain. PM

Bosnian Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic said in Banja Luka on 14 September that Bosnia-Herzegovina has an international image problem because of the continuing presence of foreign Islamic mujahedin fighters who arrived during the 1992-95 conflict, Onasa news agency reported. He noted that the recent indictment for war crimes of former mujahedin member Abduladhim Maktouf gives credence to long-standing speculation about the continuing role of the mujahedin in the Croat-Muslim Federation. Ivanic, who is a Serb, said that the international community's High Representative Paddy Ashdown should now exercise his "responsibility" regarding unnamed officials in the federation over the mujahedin issue, arguing that Ashdown has always been tough in firing Bosnian Serb officials in response to controversies or scandals. Ivanic warned that the high representative's failure to act will lead Serbs to conclude that they are the victims of a double standard (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May, 22 July, and 14 September 2004). PM

A spokesman for NATO-led SFOR peacekeepers said in Sarajevo on 14 September that plans for transferring peacekeeping responsibility to the EU are proceeding well, adding that the EU mission will be operational in December, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March and 16 July 2004). The EU mission will be headed by U.K. General David Leakey, while a smaller NATO mission will continue under a U.S. general. A meeting dealing with the transition recently took place in Neum on the Adriatic. PM

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that old pesticides may pose a serious risk for poor countries, including Macedonia, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported on 14 September. According to an FAO press release, Macedonia has about 10,000 tons of aging chemicals, compared to 19,500 tons in Ukraine and 15,000 tons in Poland (see "Obsolete pesticides are left over from [earlier] pest-control campaigns. Stockpiles have accumulated because a number of products have been banned for health or environmental reasons, but were never removed and disposed of," the press release states. Mark Davis, who heads the FAO's pesticide-control project, told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters that the situation in Macedonia is extremely serious. He added that some of the chemicals are extremely volatile. They can cause acute intoxication and also bear long-term risks, especially for children. The FAO offered to help the countries in question remove the chemicals, but also called on donor countries to provide more funds for the program. UB

Standard & Poor's (S&P) rating agency announced in a 14 September press release that it has revised its outlook on Romania's long-term debt to BB+ from BB. At the same time, the long- and short-term local currency debt ratings were raised to BBB- and A-3, from BB+ and B, respectively. S&P credit analyst Moritz Kraemer said the upgrade "reflects the country's significant progress in reforming its state-owned enterprise sector, together with EU membership prospects." The analyst added, "Romania's recent progress in structural reforms should lead to lasting improvements in public sector finances." The release said "improved macroeconomic stability and microeconomic reform have increased the probability that Romania will become a member of the EU by the official target date of 2007." The release notes, however, that the ratings are still relatively low due to "institutional weaknesses, external imbalances, and low levels of economic prosperity." ZsM

During an extraordinary government meeting on 13 September, Moldovan Information and Security Service (SIS) Director Ion Ursu warned that Moldova could face terrorist activity, including the possibility of "[organized] provocations from abroad," Flux reported. The cabinet discussed recent reports of massive theft of armaments from army warehouses. Looters took 200 grenades, 31 grenade launchers, and ammunition from a warehouse in Bulboaca. Ursu said the theft coincided with the build-up of tension in Transdniester. The SIS has already arrested five people involved in the heist and recovered 100 grenades and some ammunition. The cabinet decided to set up a commission to record all arms and munitions in the country. ZsM

Transdniester security official Oleg Gudimo rejected Moldovan Premier Vasile Tarlev's accusations that the weapons used by the Beslan hostage takers were manufactured in Transdniestrian factories, the BBC's website reported on 14 September, citing a report by the Tiraspol official Olvia-Press agency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2004). Gudimo said he was shocked, adding he didn't believe it was a mistake, but "a crime, a libel willingly served to the press, [and] for this some will have to be punished when the time comes." He didn't elaborate on how Tarlev is going to be punished. ZsM

Addressing members of the government and the heads of the 89 Russian federation subjects on 13 September, President Vladimir Putin admitted that the Kremlin's North Caucasus policy requires "radical modernization," Interfax reported. To that end, Putin decreed the creation of a new government commission, to be headed by presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak, who will serve simultaneously as presidential envoy to the South Russia Federal District.

The new commission will be tasked with ameliorating what Putin termed the "desolate" economic situation in the region and eliminating unemployment and other adverse social conditions conducive to the spread of radical Islam.

Putin's belated diagnosis of the ills that beset the North Caucasus is not new; nor is the idea of creating a government commission to improve the situation. In December 1998, Putin's predecessor Boris Yeltsin issued a decree on the creation of precisely such a commission that would implement a unified policy to improve socioeconomic conditions in the region. Like Putin, Yeltsin named to head that commission a man with absolutely no experience of the North Caucasus, First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov. Yeltsin did, however, name two experts as Gustov's deputies: former Nationalities Ministers Ramazan Abdulatipov (an ethnic Avar from Daghestan), and Vyacheslav Mikhailov, whose focus on interethnic relations dated back to the 1980s when he served as a functionary of the relevant department of the CPSU Central Committee.

As it turned out, the Gustov commission accomplished very little: most crucially, it proved unable to anticipate and powerless to avert the erosion of authority in Chechnya in the first six months of 1999 that paved the way for radical field commander Shamil Basaev's August incursion into Daghestan which, in turn, served as the catalyst for the second Chechen war.

This is not to deny that numerous senior Russian political figures had long been aware of the threat of a new Chechen crisis. Commenting in September 1997 in an interview with then Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin published in "Granitsa Rossii," Igor Rotar concluded that Moscow still had not reached a decision on how to resolve low-level conflicts in the North Caucasus. Ethnographer Valerii Tishkov (a third former nationalities minister) wrote in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 January 1998 that "Russia has no adequate, thought-through scientific policy in the region, only a desire to suppress, finagle or ignore the problems that are ripe [for solution]."

Addressing the Russian State Duma in January 1999, Abdulatipov blamed the deteriorating situation in the North Caucasus on the governments of Sergei Kirienko and Yevgenii Primakov, alleging that "no one took any interest in the Caucasus between May and October 1998," and that as a result, the "considerable efforts" undertaken in late 1997 and early 1998 to implement specific development programs for the region came to nothing. Former Perm Oblast legislature Chairman Yevgenii Sapiro, a non-specialist, headed the Ministry for Nationality Affairs and Federal Relations from May-July 1998.

One factor that may have hindered the drafting and systematic implementation of either a long-term comprehensive North Caucasus policy or, for that matter, a Russia-wide nationalities policy, has been the frequent changes in status of the ministry responsible for nationalities policy. The Ministry of Nationality and Regional Policy was created in 1994, its status upgraded from that of a State Committee, and former Krasnodar Krai Governor Nikolai Yegorov was appointed minister.

Yegorov was succeeded in July 1995 by Vyacheslav Mikhailov. In 1996, the ministry was renamed the Ministry for Nationality Affairs and Federal Relations. Two years later, in May 1998, Sapiro replaced Mikhailov as minister. Then in September 1998, the ministry was split into two components, the Ministry for Nationality Policy (headed by Abdulatipov) and the Ministry for Regional Policy (headed by Valerii Kirpichnikov, formerly the president on the Union of Russian Cities). Less than a year later, in July 1999, the move was reversed and the two ministries were again amalgamated; Mikhailov was reappointed as minister, but was dismissed in January 2000 and replaced by former Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Aleksandr Blokhin.

In July 2000, the Federal Migration Agency was abolished, and its functions subsumed into a new combined Ministry for Federation Affairs, Nationality and Migration Policy. Finally, in October 2001, Putin abolished that megaministry but named Vladimir Zorin as minister without portfolio responsible for nationalities affairs. On 13 September 2004, Putin announced the creation of a new Ministry for Nationalities Policy, which is to be headed by yet another non-specialist, former St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, who since March of this year has served as presidential envoy to the South Russia Federal District.

It is not clear whether, and if so to what extent, Putin intended the institution of the seven envoys to the federal districts to substitute for or complement the work of the federal Nationalities Ministry. In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 20 October 2000, presidential envoy to the South Russia Federal District Viktor Kazantsev, a former Russian military commander in the North Caucasus who subsequently wrote his academic dissertation on regional conflicts and how they should be resolved, focussed primarily on the need to strengthen economic cooperation between the North Caucasus republics and other regions of Russia. At the same time, he stressed that faced with a specific problem "we ask the center not for money, but to take concrete action," given that so much cash transferred to the regions is embezzled.

Commenting in October 2001 on the demise of the Ministry for Federation Affairs, Nationality and Migration Policy, "Vremya MN" suggested the rationale for that decision was to enhance the Kremlin's control over regional policy. According to the daily, "The liquidation of the ministry is explained by the fact that with the appearance of the institute of the [presidential envoys to the federal districts] and the beginning of the verticalization of federal power, all problems of federal construction fall in the sphere of competence of the presidential administration."

Human-rights activists in Afghanistan have praised the removal of warlord Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, AFP reported on 14 September. "The human-rights commission welcomes the recent administration change in Herat Province," Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission spokesman Nader Ahmed Nadery said. "We believe these changes will improve the human-rights situation in the province." Activists had accused Ismail Khan of infringing on women's rights and hampering the media. "The previous administration did not have a good record in providing a convincing environment for the civilians to freely practice their rights," Nadery said. But Ismail Khan remains popular in Herat, where he was considered a hero by some for his role as a guerrilla fighter against Soviet forces in the 1980s. Ismail Khan's supporters sacked Nadery's office and burned it during street violence that broke out on 11 September, when Karzai removed Ismail Khan. Karzai replaced Ismail Khan with Sayyed Mohammad Khairkhwa, who took office on 13 September. He had previously been ambassador to Ukraine. MR

Khairkhwa called on aid agencies to return to the western Afghan city, AFP reported on 14 September. Roughly 60 aid workers from the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations fled the city when violent demonstrations erupted in reaction to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai removed warlord Ismail Khan. "Today I met with the UN staff, they complained about what happened [to their offices]," said Khairkhwa, who spoke to AFP by telephone. "I assured them that it will not be repeated again, we will do anything that we can to ensure their safety." Khairkhwa said aid workers are urgently needed in Herat. "They will leave for a few days -- I hope they will come back very soon," Khairkhwa said. "I'm very sorry and sad over what happened to the United Nations and nongovernmental offices here in Herat." MR

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) halted operations in western Afghanistan on 12 September after a weekend of street violence in Herat, Xinhua reported on 14 September. "The UNHCR is now reviewing the situation on a daily basis, and hopes to resume its work in Herat soon," UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told reporters in Geneva. UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers voiced concern, saying daily convoys of Afghan refugees returning to the area from Iran need aid. "This suspension comes at the worst possible time for Afghanistan, when increasing numbers of refugees are coming back to their homeland, and just a few weeks ahead of an election that will shape the future of the country," Lubbers said. The UNHCR compound in Herat was destroyed during demonstrations against the removal of Governor Ismail Khan. The UNHCR is in talks with the new governor of Herat on how to ensure the safe return of UN workers, who fled the area. MR

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai has freed the former Taliban minister for the prevention of vice and the promotion of virtue, Mawlavi Qalamuddin, dpa reported on 14 September. Afghan Supreme Court spokesman Wahid Muzhda said Karzai ordered Qalamuddin's release after repeated appeals from residents of Logar Province in the southeastern part of the country. Afghan authorities arrested Qalamuddin last year in Kabul and invited people to file charges against him with the Supreme Court. "No one approached the court to complain about Qalamuddin. On the contrary, lots of people frequently requested his release," Muzhda said. Qalamuddin's ministry enforced the Taliban's draconian Islamic edicts, which included a ban on girls attending school, compulsory prayer five times a day, and mandatory beards for men. The ministry also was responsible for smashing televisions and musical instruments, which the Taliban deemed illegal on religious grounds. On 11 September, Karzai also freed roughly 700 Taliban fighters from a Kabul jail, including more than 300 Pakistanis. MR

Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali and Iranian Ambassador to Afghanistan Mohammad Reza Bahrami signed an agreement on cooperation in police affairs on 13 September, Afghan Radio Kelid reported on 14 September. Under the agreement, Iran will erect and equip 25 border posts, train 180 Afghan police officers in Iran, and donate 125 motorcycles to the Afghan police. BS

Iran is no "more than 12 to 48 months from acquiring a nuclear bomb, lacks for nothing technologically or materially to produce it, and seems dead set on securing an option to do so," according to a draft report from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC) released on 13 September ( The study -- which is partly funded by the U.S. Defense Department and includes input from leading experts on Iran, the Middle East, and proliferation issues -- warns that after Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapon, regional proliferation could increase, Iran might manipulate oil prices upward, and it could increase its support for terrorist organizations. BS

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said on 14 September that there is no firm evidence that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear-weapons capability, but it is not clear if its activities are entirely peaceful, Reuters reported. "Have we seen any proof of a weapons program? Have we seen undeclared (uranium) enrichment?...Obviously until today there is none of that," el-Baradei said. "But are we in a position to say that everything is peaceful? Obviously we are not at this stage," he added. Nor was el-Baradei confident that the IAEA's investigation of the Iranian nuclear program would be complete by November. The IAEA Board of Governors is meeting in Vienna this week, and a draft resolution backed by Europe would set a November deadline for Iran to suspend its enrichment activities and reassure the IAEA about its nuclear program, while the U.S. wants a "trigger mechanism" that would lead to UN Security Council sanctions. BS

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 14 September called for the immediate release of three Iranian journalists -- Hanif Mazrui, Babak Ghafuri-Azar, and Shahram Rafizadeh -- and referred to their "unfair detention," according to the RSF website ( The journalists are connected with, which is run from the Netherlands by exiled journalist Sina Motallebi. RSF expressed concern that they have been transferred to a "special wing" of Evin prison that is reputedly a place of torture and to which only intelligence service interrogators commanded by Judge Said Mortazavi have access. RSF also noted that Said Motallebi, the father of Sina Motallebi, has been arrested in an effort to gag his son. It added, "We call on the Iranian judicial authorities to halt this vile blackmail." Said Motallebi was arrested on 8 September, and the authorities reportedly threatened to make him "another Purzand" -- a reference to the 75-year-old Siamak Purzand, who has been imprisoned since 30 March 2003. BS

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami told reporters at Mehrabad Airport on 14 September that his trip to Armenia, Belarus, and Tajikistan went well, IRNA reported the next day. He referred to the signing of agreements in all three countries but admitted that bilateral trade with Tajikistan could be better. Khatami said, "Iran's trade exchanges with Tajikistan have been increased during recent years by three times but [some potential still exists] for the further promotion of ties." The Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) summit took place in Dushanbe on 14 September, and Khatami cited the approval of Iranian proposals on reforming the organization's decision-making process and on establishing a free-trade zone. Khatami said the zone would be set up by 2015. The Iranian president said he met with his counterparts from Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, as well as the Turkish and Pakistani prime ministers. BS

Iranian naval forces commander Admiral Abbas Mohtaj said during a 14 September ceremony at the Imam Khomeini Naval University in Noshahr that an unnamed enemy is waging a "war of nerves" against Iran, IRNA reported. Mohtaj said the enemy is trying to damage Iranians' self-confidence via "widespread propaganda on the Internet." Under these circumstances, Mohtaj advised, naval personnel should uphold their values, trust in God, and be confident. "Training the souls of military forces should be given precedence more than training their skills," Mohtaj added. BS

The bodies of three decapitated men were found on 15 September near Al-Dujayl, some 60 kilometers northwest of Baghdad, Al-Jazeera reported. Iraqi police sources told the satellite news channel that the bodies were placed in plastic bags, with the heads tied to their backs. Police also said that tattoos were seen on the bodies that appeared to be written in Turkish and Arabic. The Kurdish, Persian, and Afghan languages all use Arabic script with slight variations. The news agency said that no documents were found with the corpses, which were discovered by a group of Iraqi National Guards during a patrol. U.S. officials said that the bodies appeared to be Arabs. KR

Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir addressed North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders on 14 September in Brussels and called on the organization to play a greater role in establishing security in the country ahead of January elections, AFP reported the same day. "We want to have a secure and safe environment so that Iraqis can cast their votes without being intimidated or in fear," al-Yawir later told reporters. Al-Yawir said that NATO officials gave "a lot of words of support," but he was looking for concrete assistance. NATO's current commitment to Iraq is limited to training Iraqi security forces. NATO ambassadors are expected to discuss possibilities for expanding the organization's role in Iraq on 15 September, AFP reported. KR

United Nations Special Representative to Iraq Ashraf Qazi delivered Secretary-General Kofi Annan's latest report to the Security Council on 14 September, saying that the cycle of violence in Iraq is obstructing the rebuilding process there, the UN News Center ( reported the same day. Qazi said that the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) remains committed to supporting the electoral process in Iraq but cautioned, "The extent and scale of UNAMI activity in this regard will necessarily be determined by prevailing circumstances, including the security environment." The report notes that international staff in Iraq are "operating at the outer limit of acceptable and prudent risk," forcing a limited UN presence on the ground. UNAMI is currently based within the U.S.-controlled "green zone" in Baghdad. Reuters reported on 14 September that the UN's Baghdad-based international staff is limited to 35 people. UN Spokesman Fred Eckhard has said that about 200 international staff members would be returned to Iraq, but not until the security situation improves, Reuters reported. KR

The Paris Club of creditor countries failed to reach a consensus on Iraq's debt during a 14 September meeting in the French capital, AFP reported. Iraqi and U.S. officials had called for at least an 80 percent debt write-off, but French and German officials have remained unwilling to write-off more than 50 percent of the debt. Iraq owes some $21 billion to the Paris Club creditor countries and holds about $120 billion in total debt. "It is true that no consensus was reached today within the Paris Club on the exact share of the cancellation which could be agreed for Iraq," a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said, and added: "There is nevertheless a consensus on the fact that the Iraqi debt is unsustainable and that this country therefore must benefit from the approach decided by the G-8 in Evian in 2003." That approach called for offering countries that are not considered heavily-indebted poor countries tailor-made debt rescheduling that might include the cancellation of some debt. KR

Ten Iraqis were killed in clashes between U.S. troops and Iraqi militants in Al-Ramadi on 15 September, Al-Jazeera reported. The satellite news channel reported that another 22 Iraqis were reportedly injured in the fighting, while Al-Arabiyah television said that six people were wounded. The fighting comes one day after local tribal leaders met with Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim al-Ja'fari. The leaders demanded in the meeting that multinational forces withdraw from Al-Ramadi and be replaced by Iraqi police and National Guard units. The leaders also demanded an end to raids on homes and the release of prisoners detained in Iraq, Al-Diyar television reported. KR