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Newsline - March 8, 2005

Sergei Baburin, Duma deputy speaker and deputy head of the Motherland faction, told on 4 March that he is "absolutely convinced that the West has already made a decision to unleash a new Cold War against Russia," but this decision is very "short-sighted." If the United States tries to sink the Russian Federation, they are making a strategic mistake and, instead of "tranquillity" and "obedience" in Eurasia, they will get a "black hole," Baburin said. "And no one has ever won a battle with a black hole." Baburin said he thinks it is unlikely that Russia could disintegrate in a similar way to the Soviet Union, despite the fact that the USSR was stronger. "If weapons explode inside a tank, you should not blame its armor, but the situation inside the tank. But this is what happened with the USSR," Baburin noted. "I hope that Russia will avoid the mistakes made with the demise of the Soviet Union." VY

In the same interview, Baburin said that, during the February U.S.-Russia summit in Bratislava, both sides dropped from the agenda the issue of tightening nuclear arms controls and a proposal that would have given the United States "unprecedented access to Russian nuclear facilities." According to Baburin, both sides discussed such an accord during preliminary talks and a draft of a possible agreement briefly appeared on the Russian presidential administration's website ( The Kremlin press office has said that the release of the text was due to a "computer error" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2005), but Baburin speculated that it was an intentional leak. "I believe that the United States will soon raise this issue again," Baburin said. "I must say, without being diplomatic: If Putin makes concessions on this issue, it will be the end of his political career." VY

Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said on 7 March that he regrets the decision of Estonian President Arnold Ruutel and his Lithuanian counterpart Valdas Adamkus to decline a Kremlin invitation to take part in events to be held in Moscow in May to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, Interfax and reported. Both Baltic presidents said that it would be more fitting to mark the 9 May celebrations at home with their own people, Reuters reported on 7 March. Margelov told Ekho Moskvy on 7 March that Ruutel and Adamkus have lost the opportunity to turn a new page in relations with Russia, as Moscow wanted to sign on 9 May border treaties with Estonia and Lithuania. Margelov added that he hopes the actions of the Lithuanian and Estonian presidents will not prevent the signing of these treaties. Duma International Relations Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) said the presidents' refusal will acerbate their relations with Russia, but "will not mar the atmosphere of celebration," Interfax reported on 7 March. VY

Marking the anniversary of the death of Josef Stalin on 5 March, radical weekly "Zavtra," No. 9, wrote that in the last few years a "spontaneous rehabilitation of Stalin has occurred in almost all aspects of his activities that have been criticized in recent decades by liberals." On 5 March, the state-run news agency RIA-Novosti published a selection of pictures on its website (, titled "Stalin: A Leader And A Man." Observers have also noted that the shelves of Russian bookshops are filled with new books sympathetic to Stalin and reevaluating his role in history. According to a recent poll, 47 percent of respondents said that Stalin played a "positive role" in Russian history (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2005).VY

Leonid Nevzlin, who owns the largest individual shares package in Menatep, the financial arm of Yukos, said in an interview with the weekly "Vlast," No. 9, that he blames Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii and Anatolii Chubais, the Unified Energy Systems head and one of the leaders of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), for the disintegration of the "right-democratic opposition." "In Russia, there is not, and never has been, a liberal, democratic opposition that is ready to support, say, rich people," Nevzlin said. "The only opposition existing in Russia is the left-wing opposition," he said, adding that he is ready to support financially the leaders of Committee-2008, Garri Kasparov and Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent), but not the old leadership of Yabloko and SPS. He also said that he backs former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov as the potential leader of a liberal coalition, "Vlast" reported. "Vlast" is owned by self-exiled former oligarch Boris Berezovskii, who has already pledged his support for Kasyanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2005). Nevzlin lives in Israel and reportedly controls assets belonging to former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii. VY

Israeli police investigating suspected corruption at the Israeli-based Bank Hapoalim are looking into the role of Russian oligarchs in alleged money laundering, "Haaretz,", and other media reported on 7 March. According to, police arrested 25 bank staff on 6 March, many of whom have since been released. Police reportedly said they had "serious suspicions" about 45 other people, some of whom are Russian migrants. Among the Russians suspected in the money laundering, police named Nevzlin and Arkadii Gaidamak, a Russian-born multimillionaire with Israeli, French, Canadian, and Angolan citizenship, reported. Gaidamak owns a bank in Moscow, the name of which has not been made public. The police also said they would like to question Russian-Israeli businessman Vladimir Gusinskii, who is a part owner of Hapoalim. Amnon Perelman, one of Gusinskii's business partners, said "we will fully cooperate with the investigation," reported. VY

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 March published a roundtable discussion of President Vladimir Putin's declining popularity rating (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2005). A recent Public Opinion foundation poll found that Putin's approval rating has fallen to 42 percent, the lowest level since his popularity began being measured in 1999. Center for Political Technologies Deputy Director Aleksei Makarkin told the daily, "I am convinced that the talk about the president's indifference to his own ratings is totally unfounded." Merkator Group head Dmitrii Oreshkin said that "no matter what he does, an effect of the people getting tired of the president has set in." Oreshkin said that the stable centrist element in society that has served as Putin's base is being eroded because the threat from the Communist Party has receded. RC

Oreshkin told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 March that the Kremlin would like "to repeal election campaigns" in general. "It would be possible to intimidate the country, to let out the controlled riff-raff who would unleash street terror against people from the Caucasus or the intelligentsia so that society would be frightened and would demand a return to stability," Oreshkin said. "This is the worst variant, but it is entirely possible that it might be implemented." Makarkin said that the authorities could choose instead to amend the constitution to end presidential elections. Independent analyst Andrei Piontkovskii told Ekho Moskvy on 25 February that the political elite is no longer as afraid of Putin as it was previously because of "a whole series of failures that have followed one after another since last fall." "Putin is no longer viewed as a leader no one can argue with," Piontkovskii said. RC

Grigorii Tomchin, a member of the political council of the SPS who was named as the Chita Oblast legislature's representative in the Federation Council on 16 December 2004, still has not been confirmed by fellow senators, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 March. The daily noted that such confirmation is normally a mere formality, but in Tomchin's case the upper chamber has repeatedly refused to put the question on its agenda. Chita Oblast legislature Chairman Anatolii Romanov told the daily that he has discussed the matter with Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, but "I did not get a reasonable answer from him." Some unnamed sources told the daily that some figures within the Kremlin oppose Tomchin because he is viewed as too closely associated with Unified Energy Systems head Chubais. A source within the Federation Council's Rules Commission told "Kommersant-Daily" that the documentation on Tomchin is stuck within the council's leadership and has not been forwarded to the commission yet. Roman Ampleev, head of the Chita Oblast branch of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), told the daily, "our oblast is quiet and gray, so it should be represented in the Federation Council by Lyudmila Putina." RC

RTR television presenter Nikolai Svanidze told "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 3 March that "the situation today, both in politics and economics, is very complex" and that journalists must be guided by the principle "do no harm." "I am observing the narrowing of the informational field with great concern," Svanidze said. "I am seeing an incursion into the economic and social spheres by people from structures that are entirely foreign to these spheres." Apparently, Svanidze was referring to the growing influence of representatives of the secret services in Russian society. "I am seeing the apathy of the intelligentsia and the weakening of the liberal flank of our politics. All this disturbs me very much," he said. RC

Khazret Sovmen, president of the Republic of Adygeya, met in Maikop on 5 March with members of the executive committee of the International Cherkess Association, which is campaigning to prevent the merger of the republic with Krasnodar Krai, according to AdygeaNatPress as quoted by on 7 March. Sovmen was quoted as repeating his earlier opposition to any moves that negatively impact on the political situation in the region, and as terming the proposed merger "regressive" and a threat to interethnic relations in an "explosive" region. On 5 March, the International Cherkess Association drafted an appeal to the Russian leadership, circulated by on 7 March, asking that the existing law on Russian citizenship be amended to enable Cherkess, Adygs, and Kabardians living outside Russia to acquire Russian citizenship after living in Russia for one year, and without forfeiting their existing citizenship, which would facilitate their settlement in their ancestral homeland. The appeal also requested that Moscow clarify its position with regard to the creation of a mega-region comprising Krasnodar Krai and Adygeya. LF

Konstantin Krivorotov, who heads the group of experts from the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office tasked with investigating the Beslan hostage-taking, told ITAR-TASS on 4 March that the hostage-takers used explosives manufactured by Al-Qaeda emissary Abu Dzeit at a secret location in Ingushetia. Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel similarly said the same day in Vladikavkaz that Abu Dzeit advised Ruslan Khuchbarov, the leader of the Beslan hostage-takers, and that he served as "a key link" between Al-Qaeda and Chechen resistance leaders Aslan Maskhadov and Shamil Basaev, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 5 March. Abu Dzeit was reportedly killed in a shoot-out in Ingushetia on 16 February. LF

Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Abid Sharifov, who is also chairman of the State Committee for Emergency Situations, told a 7 March seminar organized by the French Embassy in Baku that Azerbaijan is vulnerable to earthquakes, landslides, and flooding, AFP, Caucasus Press, and reported. He explained that the entire country is part of a seismically active zone, while 50 percent of its territory is threatened by floods. Sharifov later told journalists that Azerbaijan cannot at present afford to create a separate ministry to deal with emergency situations, reported. LF

Sharifov told the same 7 March seminar that Azerbaijan's infrastructure, including the Baku-Novorossiisk and the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipelines, is vulnerable to attack by "Armenian terrorists," reported. Sharifov said that President Ilham Aliyev has issued a decree establishing a special security service to protect oil pipelines and drilling platforms. Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov similarly told journalists last week that he cannot rule out the possibility of terrorist attacks anywhere in Azerbaijan, and that, in light of that anticipated danger, law enforcement agencies have been placed on heightened alert, according to as quoted by on 1 March. LF

Farda Asadov, who is the head of the Soros Foundation's Baku office, told a press conference in the Azerbaijani capital on 4 March that there is no truth to media reports and speculation that the foundation has provided funding to Azerbaijani opposition parties, reported on 5 March. Asadov said that in 2004 the foundation provided $2.8 million in funding for programs to develop civil society in Azerbaijan, and for the education and information sectors. Pro-government parliament deputies recently accused British Petroleum of funding Azerbaijani opposition parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2005). LF

The Georgian parliament bureau sent back to the government on 7 March a draft bill on relocating the Constitutional Court from Tbilisi to Kutaisi, Georgia's second-largest city, Caucasus Press reported. Parliament deputy speaker Mikheil Machavariani tasked the government's parliamentary secretary, Gia Khuroshvili, with amending the draft to provide convincing arguments in favor of the proposed relocation and an estimate of the costs involved. Addressing the parliament's judicial commission on 16 February, Constitutional Court Deputy Chairman Djoni Khetsuriani admitted that many qualified legal staff would refuse to relocate to Kutaisi and it would be difficult to replace them, Caucasus Press reported. Khetsuriani also noted that repeated trips to Kutaisi by government officials to testify to the court would entail considerable additional expense. LF

Roza Otunbaeva, co-chair of the Ata-Jurt bloc, and Ishengul Boljurova, one of the leaders of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, told a news conference in Bishkek on 7 March that Kyrgyzstan's opposition wants to call an emergency session of parliament to address the political crisis in the country, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Boljurova and Otunbaeva said that in light of fraud allegations and protests in the wake of 27 February parliamentary elections, the current parliament's powers should be extended, presidential elections held within the next three months, and new parliamentary elections held after that. Otunbaeva said that the Forum of Political Forces, an umbrella group that brings together five opposition blocs, is capable of ruling the country, but any transfer of power should take place within the framework of the constitution. Orozbek Duisheev, a deputy in the Jogorku Kenesh (lower chamber of parliament), told RFE/RL that 20 of 70 deputies have already come out in favor of an emergency session and their numbers are growing. The support of two-thirds of legislators will be needed to hold the session. DK

Protests continued in Jalal-Abad, Osh, and Naryn provinces on 7 March in the interim between 27 February parliamentary elections and 13 March runoffs, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In Jalal-Abad, a crowd of 1,500-2,000 people demonstrated in front of the provincial administration and called for the resignation of President Askar Akaev, reported. A counterdemonstration with 1,000 supporters of President Akaev also took place in Jalal-Abad, RFE/RL reported. A group of approximately 150 demonstrators continued to occupy the administration on 7 March. In central Naryn, 500-600 supporters of disqualified parliamentary candidate Ishenbai Kadyrbekov demonstrated, while another 1,000 of Kadyrbekov's supporters blocked the Bishkek-Torurgart road, reported. A district election commission removed Kadyrbekov from the race on 5 March, and the Central Election Commission upheld the decision on 7 March, RFE/RL reported. In the Uzgen district of Osh Province, 1,000 protestors took over the district administration in the course of a protest against election fraud. Demonstrations also took place in Karakol (Issyk-Kul Province) and the Karakulja District of Osh Province. DK

Presidential spokesman Abdil Segizbaev told journalists on 7 March that there are no grounds at present for declaring a state of emergency in Kyrgyzstan, RIA-Novosti reported. Segizbaev said that the opposition's attempt to provoke a crisis will prove unsuccessful. "They'll realize that their demonstrations and illegal actions achieve nothing and influence no one, and they'll disperse on their own," he said. Segizbaev blamed the protests on candidates who either lost in the first round of parliamentary elections on 27 February or who advanced to the second round but have no chance of winning, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. He called the opposition's initiative to hold an emergency session of parliament unlawful. DK

Lieutenant-General Yevgenii Yurev, commander of Russia's 5th Air and Air Defense Army, announced on 7 March that Russia will lengthen the runway at its base in Kant, Kyrgyzstan and deploy more aircraft to the base, Interfax reported. "After the runway reconstruction, which will take place in the course of 2005, a large amount of modern equipment will be delivered to the base," he said. Yurev made a similar statement in October 2004, announcing that base staff would be increased to 1,000 by the end of the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2004). But a recent appeal from personnel at the base to Russia's government and Defense Ministry complained of understaffing and a lack of sufficient financing, Interfax-AVN reported on 22 February 2005. The letter stated: "Instead of 1,200 servicemen, who were to have facilitated operation of the air base, the unit now employs 120 people, including volunteers and conscripts." DK

The four Tajik political parties that are calling for the annulment of the results of 27 February parliamentary elections in Dushanbe are concerned that the Central Election Commission has failed to review their complaints, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 7 March. The Communist Party, Democratic Party, Islamic Renaissance Party, and Social-Democratic Party have submitted an 85-page report on election violations in Dushanbe, and Social-Democratic Party leader Rahmatullo Zoirov said that the CEC has failed to review it in the stipulated three-day time period. But Mirzob Kabirov, deputy head of the CEC, suggested that with 27 February elections over, the CEC is no longer bound by that requirement. Tajikistan's official Khovar news agency reported on 7 March that the local election commission in Dushanbe dismissed the opposition parties' claims as groundless; the election commission also stated that it has not yet received any complaints from political parties. A spokesman for the Islamic Renaissance Party said that if the parties' demand for repeat elections in Dushanbe is not met, they will take their case to the Supreme Court, RFE/RL reported. DK

Twenty members of Tajikistan's Communist Party have signed a statement criticizing party leader Shodi Shabdolov for his condemnation of election violations and suggestions that the Communist Party might leave the Public Council, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 7 March. The statement stressed that not all Communist Party members support Shabdolov's position. DK

Saparmurat Niyazov has signed a decree stripping Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov of the post of deputy prime minister, reported on 7 March. The decree stated that Meredov was removed from the position for "insufficient performance [of his duties]." Interfax reported on 7 March that the president criticized the Foreign Ministry for inadequate "thoroughness and adherence to principle in resolving the tasks it faces." The Turkmen opposition site Gundogar reported on 4 March, citing Deutsche Welle, that Niyazov recently threatened Meredov with criminal prosecution for delays in the establishment of a UN center for threat prevention in Ashgabat. DK

Belarusian Television reported on 7 March that the country has recently found itself "in the grip of snowfall." Many areas of the country, notably the capital as well as the Minsk and Mahilyou Oblasts, were reportedly covered with a 50-centimeter layer of snow, which hampers traffic on many thoroughfares and highways. Some 18,000 people from municipal services have been employed to clean out public roads. International Women's Day on 8 March is a state holiday. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka decreed that this year, 7 March should also be a day off for Belarusians. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko said in Kyiv on 7 March that Europe without Ukraine will not be "complete" or "comfortable," dpa reported. Yushchenko was speaking with foreign correspondents on the eve of his two-day trip to Germany. "We are not going to try and force Europe to accept us," Yushchenko noted. "What we are going to do is make Europe ask us to join." Asked about practical reasons why Europeans should support Ukraine's EU membership bid, Yushchenko said Ukraine offers new markets and resources as well as cheap and productive labor that Europe badly needs. "This must be interesting [to foreign businessmen]," Yushchenko added. He was more circumspect as regards Ukraine's integration with NATO. "NATO has been heavily propagandized by the previous government," Yushchenko said. "As a result Ukrainians are very poorly informed about NATO; according to one survey only 2 percent of Ukrainians have a clear idea of what NATO is." JM

Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj announced his resignation on 8 March, after the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal indicted him for war crimes, AFP reported. An unnamed member of Haradinaj's cabinet had earlier told the news agency that Haradinaj will surrender to the tribunal voluntarily. Details of the indictment have yet to made public, but Haradinaj is expected to be charged with war crimes he allegedly committed during the 1998-99 Kosova conflict. Haradinaj was a senior commander in the Kosovar Liberation Army (UCK). Media have speculated that the tribunal might indict Haradinaj ever since his election as prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 1 December 2004 and 16 February 2005). UB

A spokeswoman for the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping forces told Reuters on 8 March that an additional 500 British troops were flown into Kosova the previous night. "There have been indications the security situation is not as good as we want it to be," the spokeswoman said. Already on 6 March, 600 additional German troops had arrived in Kosova, reportedly in connection with a regular NATO exercise (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 7 March 2005). The UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) warned non-essential UN personnel to stay off the streets, Reuters reported. There were widespread fears that Haradinaj's indictment could spark large-scale street protests. UB

Indicted former Serbian Chief of General Staff General Momcilo Perisic arrived at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague on 7 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Immediately after his arrival, ICTY prosecutors published the indictment against Perisic, thus ending speculation about the charges leveled against him. The ICTY prosecutors charge Perisic with war crimes and crimes against humanity on 13 counts, citing -- among other things -- Perisic's command responsibility for the 1995 massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, for the siege and shelling of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo (1993-95) and the shelling of the Croatian capital Zagreb on 2 and 3 May 1995. Perisic headed the general staff of the Yugoslav army (VJ) between 1993 and 1998. Later, he became a lawmaker in the Serbian parliament and also served as a deputy prime minister in the cabinet of late Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. He resigned in March 2002 after he was arrested by Serbian military police together with a U.S. diplomat in a Belgrade restaurant. Perisic was subsequently charged with espionage on behalf of the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 26 March, 1 October, and 27 December 2002 and 3 March 2005). Perisic surrendered voluntarily to the ICTY. UB

ICTY chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte told Reuters in The Hague on 7 March that Serbia and Montenegro is not cooperating with the tribunal because it has failed to arrest major war crimes indictees, such as former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic or Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. "Mladic is for sure in Serbia," Del Ponte said. "And I read this morning in the press about photos of Mladic distributed in Belgrade, and I think this is another evidence that he is there." The EU has warned Serbia and Montenegro to improve its cooperation with the ICTY if it wants to receive a green light for talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. "With voluntary surrender it is not possible to make an evaluation about cooperation from Serbia and Montenegro, because by voluntary surrender you have nothing else to do but to facilitate the transfer of the accused, so that is not cooperation," Del Ponte said. "Cooperation is location and arrest of fugitives." Del Ponte also stressed that it is vital to arrest Mladic and Karadzic this year, because the tribunal's mandate is to end soon. In 2008, all trials must be finalized, and all appeals cases wrapped up by 2010 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February and 3 March 2005). UB

Del Ponte also told Reuters that the Croatian authorities are not doing enough to arrest former Croatian General Ante Gotovina. "We know [the Croatian authorities] are not doing all they can. We proved that," she said. "They are not ready to arrest him probably because of political motivation." The EU demands that Croatia fully cooperate with the ICTY or otherwise face a delay in the start of the membership talks scheduled for 17 March. Meanwhile, Peter Semneby, who heads the OSCE mission to Croatia, criticized both the EU and Croatia over its tough stance on the Gotovina arrest, London's "The Guardian" reported on 7 March. "Both the EU and Croatia have painted themselves into a corner," the daily quoted Semneby as saying. "There is no good way out, just choices between bad and worse." (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 22 February and 2 and 7 March 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 January 2005). UB

Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami arrived in the Croatian capital Zagreb on 7 March for a one-day official visit, during which he met with his Croatian counterpart Stipe Mesic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The talks focused on economic cooperation between Croatia and Iran. Croatia seeks to return to the Iranian markets where it was active during the 1970s and 1980s, now offering its expertise in ship-building and metallurgy, at the same time showing interest in Iran's gas and oil reserves. Khatami and Mesic also discussed Iran's nuclear program as well as the overall situation in the Middle East. Khatami's next stop on his Balkan tour will be Sarajevo. UB

Stressing the country's excellent relations with its neighbors and its bid for NATO and EU membership, Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski said in a speech at Skopje university on 7 March that the ongoing dispute with Greece over Macedonia's name and the future status of Kosova are the country's key foreign policy issues, MIA news agency reported. Under Greek pressure, Macedonia is recognized by the UN under the name the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) rather than under its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 18 February 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 June 2003 and 12 November 2004). The president hinted that Macedonia will not make further concessions to Greece. Crvenkovski also said the future status of Kosova is a matter that must be resolved between Belgrade and Prishtina. He said that for Macedonia, it is important that the rule of law is implemented in Kosova, adding that security in Kosova does not yet exist because there are no guarantees for human rights and liberties. UB

The Albanian government has decided to deploy an additional 50 troops to Iraq, reinforcing the current 70-strong Albanian contingent stationed in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the "Southeast European Times" reported on 7 March. The reinforcement will take effect during a regular rotation of troops in April. The government considers the strength of 120 troops as being optimal to fulfill the mission according to NATO standards. Elsewhere, Albanian Defense Minister Pandeli Majko visited NATO headquarters in Brussels on 7 March, where he met with Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, according to the "Southeast European Times." UB

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on 7 March that Moldova's parliamentary elections largely met democratic standards, but added that the poll had shortcomings that should be eliminated in the future, international news agencies reported. The OSCE's 500-member election-monitoring team said it did not document serious abuses on voting day, "The New York Times" reported on 8 March. But observers said the poll was marred by the misuse of state resources on behalf of the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), with overtly pro-government coverage on state television. According to Kimmo Kiljunen, chief of the OSCE observer mission, there were significant efforts "to prevent the election from unfolding in a fully free and competitive manner," "The New York Times" reported on 8 March. BW

The United States also noted what it called "negative trends" in the elections, while agreeing with the OSCE's general assessment that they broadly met international standards, international news agencies reported on 7 March. The U.S. State Department said the same day that the poll generally complied with most international standards, though "it fell short of meeting some that are central to a genuinely competitive election process," AFP reported. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States regrets "that the preliminary assessment confirms negative trends first seen in 2003's local elections, including issues of access to the media." Boucher added that U.S. officials had spoken with Moldovan officials about such problems in the run-up to the 6 March poll. "We saw, I'd say, some late progress in addressing some of these issues but still our concerns over the course of the lead-in to the election did, we think, impinge upon the outcome," Boucher said. BW

In the aftermath of the OSCE's assessment, Moldova's two main opposition parties have abandoned plans to protest the election results, Reuters reported on 8 March. Instead, the Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD) and the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) will boycott the country's upcoming presidential vote to try to force new polls. "We are not going to urge people to go into the street to protest. We will find another way," BMD leader Serafim Urechean said, according to Reuters. "We will not participate in parliament's vote for the president. That will trigger an early parliamentary election," he added. The ruling PCM won 46.1 percent of the vote in the 6 March election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2005). The PCM is expected to hold 56 seats in the 101-member parliament -- enough to form a government, but short of the 61 seats necessary to reelect incumbent President Vladimir Voronin. Moldova's constitution stipulates that if parliament fails to elect a president in two ballots, it is dissolved and a new parliamentary election must take place within 45 days. BW

Voronin blamed his party's weak showing on an "information war" conducted by Russia against Moldova, and on Moscow's refusal to remove 1,200 troops from the separatist Transdniester region, Reuters reported on 8 March. Once a Russian ally, Voronin now says Moscow is trying to destabilize Moldova. In an interview published in "Le Figaro" on 8 March, Voronin said he plans to press a resolution to the conflict in Transdniester in which the region is granted autonomy and Moldova works with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to prevent cross-border smuggling. "It is clear that without Ukraine's support we will achieve nothing," Voronin told "Le Figaro," according to Reuters. BW

Vladimir Antyufeev, the state security minister of Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region, said ballots were illegally stuffed in rural districts during parliamentary elections, Interfax reported on 7 March. "Official voter turnout was 7 percent as of 11:00 a.m. on March 6. It increased to 31.2 percent by 2:45 p.m. and to 48.5 percent by 4:45 p.m. Obviously, additional ballot papers were illegally tossed in, mostly in rural areas where it's impossible to check figures," Antyufeev said, adding that he doubts that overall voter turnout was 60 percent. "According to our sources, not more than 36 percent of the voters have cast their ballots in the elections," he said. BW

Aslan Maskhadov supplied extensive answers on 4 March to questions submitted two weeks earlier via the Internet by RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service. The Russian text of the interview was also posted on 4 March on the pro-Maskhadov website

Asked about the rationale for the unilateral cease-fire he declared in January in a bid to persuade Moscow to agree to unconditional talks on ending the war in Chechnya, Maskhadov said he believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been "profoundly misinformed" about the situation in Chechnya by the Russian security services, top Russian generals, his aides, and what Maskhadov refers to as the "puppet" pro-Moscow regime installed in Grozny.

Maskhadov said he thinks that as a result, Putin's understanding of the situation in Chechnya "is far from reality." He acknowledged that "there is a well-established practice in the army of reporting what your superior wants to hear from you," and that Russian intelligence probably operates according to a similar practice. In a disparaging reference to pro-Moscow Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, for whom Putin apparently has considerable respect, Maskhadov asked rhetorically "What reliable information can a traitor who has only completed two years of high-school education provide?"

Maskhadov went on to say that he believes a 30-minute face-to-face "honest dialogue" with Putin would be sufficient to explain to the Russian president what the Chechens want, and thus to end the war. He added that the Chechens for their part have no idea what Russia wants from Chechnya. Maskhadov proposed taking as a basis for the proposed talks the twin issues of security guarantees for the Chechen people and a Chechen commitment to respect Russia's regional and defense interests in the North Caucasus.

Asked whether the cease-fire he proclaimed in January was observed, Maskhadov said "I do not think there are detachments on Chechen territory that would ignore my orders, or in Ingushetia, Daghestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria.... All military detachments on the territory of Chechnya and neighboring republics are subordinate to the leadership of the Chechen resistance." That assertion is an implicit rejection of Russian officials' claims that most fighters in the North Caucasus, including the militants operating in republics bordering on Chechnya, take their orders not from Maskhadov but from radical field commander Shamil Basaev.

Maskhadov added, however, that he issued a caveat to field commanders that despite the unilateral cease-fire they were free to resort to force to protect themselves, which they did when surrounded in the suburbs of Grozny on 21 February. On that occasion, the Chechen fighters escaped but the Russian forces sustained numerous casualties entering a mined building -- casualties that could, Maskhadov argued, have been avoided if "the politicians had enough sense to comprehend one thing -- that this conflict cannot be solved by force."

Maskhadov went on to discuss the geographical expansion of hostilities since the second Chechen war began in the fall of 1999. He disclosed that on the eve of hostilities he appealed to the leaders of all North Caucasus republics, convinced that if they presented a united antiwar front Moscow would not dare to launch a new incursion, but only former Krasnodar Krai Governor Nikolai Kondratenko and "respected" Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev promised their support. Maskhadov said he waited in vain for three hours in Aushev's office for Putin -- then Russian prime minister -- to arrive for talks, but Putin telephoned and said that President Boris Yeltsin had ordered him not to come. Maskhadov said he believes that was merely an excuse on Putin's part, and that Yeltsin himself did not want a second war.

Maskhadov went on to say that "already at the beginning of this war it was clear that it was impossible to confine it within the limits of Chechnya. The same sort of punitive operations that were launched in Chechnya also began in Ingushetia, Daghestan, North Ossetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria. It was the Federal Security Service that inflicted the war on those republics," not Osama bin Laden or Al-Qaeda. Maskhadov said he is certain that "bin Laden couldn't even find Chechnya on a map."

In that context, Maskhadov claimed that "we were constrained to broaden the front of military resistance. On my orders, additional sectors were established: Ingush, Kabardino-Balkar, Daghestan, etc. Amirs [commanders] of these fronts were appointed, and they are all subordinate to the military leadership of the Chechen resistance."

This is the first time that Maskhadov has claimed any personal responsibility for military operations beyond the borders of Chechnya; in earlier interviews and addresses to the Chechen people, for example in June 2003, he explicitly ordered his subordinates not to engage in hostilities elsewhere in the Russian Federation.

Maskhadov further defined as the objective of the ongoing armed resistance "saving our people from arbitrary Russian reprisals and barbarity," and he added that "we shall consider we have achieved that goal when we deprive Russia of the right to continue killing Chechens with impunity." Maskhadov said that the Chechen side is ready to sit at the negotiating table together with "any international experts" and discuss with Russia the optimum model for future bilateral relations. In this context, he pointed to the contradiction between Russian officials' claims, on the one hand, that Chechnya is "an internal domestic Russian problem," and, on the other hand, those officials' allegations of external involvement in the form of Al-Qaeda.

Invited by RFE/RL to speculate about Putin's motives for beginning the war, Maskhadov replied that it is not clear whether Moscow's priority is to defend Russia's territorial integrity or to defend Russia's regional and defense interests. He pointed out that Chechnya is a relatively small republic encompassing only 17,000 square kilometers, and that "while Russia has been at war with Chechnya, the Chinese have occupied the whole of Primorskii Krai and Trans-Baikal."

Maskhadov denied that his January cease-fire offer was prompted by the abduction of his relatives. Asked how the situation will develop if peace talks do not take place in the near future, Maskhadov said, "the war will continue.... Chechen mujahedin will resist to the end in this struggle, and the flame of this conflagration will spread to the entire North Caucasus." And in seeming contrast to his earlier prohibition on terrorist acts outside Chechnya and directed against the Russian civilian population, Maskhadov continued: " The people of Russia will experience constant fear of possible retribution by suicide bombers in revenge for the evil deeds of the [Federal Security Service] and the federal forces in Chechnya."

Maskhadov did, however, admit the possibility that "when the interests of Western states and those of Russia collide in the Caucasus, when the leaders of those Western states comprehend the level of danger to the entire civilized world that emanates from Russia, then they will line up and beg us Chechens to agree to end the war."

Asked about the West's role, Maskhadov said the West is sitting it out, playing with Putin and trying to achieve its own global strategic objectives, and that the Russian leadership for its part is taking advantage of Western forebearance to "continue to commit monstrous crimes on Chechen territory."

Maskhadov dismissed as "risible" the proposed roundtable on Chechnya to be convened by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's (PACE) rapporteur for Chechnya, Swiss parliamentarian Andreas Gross. That event is scheduled for later this month, but the venue remains unclear. The Council of Europe originally proposed Strasbourg, but over the past week several members of the pro-Moscow Chechen government have insisted that it should be held in Grozny. The interlocutors are Russian and pro-Moscow Chechen officials; Gross tried to include Maskhadov's representatives, but his envoy Umar Khanbiev declined to attend. Khanbiev told the information agency Daymohk on 2 March that Maskhadov has ordered the Chechen Foreign Ministry to consider "freezing" all contacts with PACE.

Maskhadov contemptuously dismissed the various pro-Moscow Chechen "bandit formations" running loose in Chechnya as "traitors" to the Chechen cause, adding that this phenomenon dates back to the 1994-96 Chechen war when mavericks such as Ruslan Labazanov, Umar Avturkhanov and Bislan Gantamirov headed such bands. The difference, according to Maskhadov, is that those commanders "had brains," the inference being that Ramzan Kadyrov does not.

Maskhadov admitted that occasional clashes occurred in 1994-96 between such bands and the resistance forces (of which he at that time was commander in chief), and that he personally participated in such clashes, but that they were never protracted. He said that "history should teach us" that Chechens should never fight among themselves, and he went on to claim that "there is a clear understanding -- and I mean today -- how a Chechen from one side or the other should behave during a forced clash. Not a single self-respecting Chechen policeman...would ever refuse help to the mujahedin," because those Chechen police know how the war will end, and that "tomorrow we shall have to live together."

Maskhadov implied that Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev was the "godfather" of the pro-Moscow Chechen police force and that Patrushev created that force in the hope of triggering a civil war in Chechnya -- but to no avail.

A large demonstration took place in the center of Kandahar city on 7 March, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. "The aim of our gathering and demonstration today is to raise our voice against the lack of security in the city of Kandahar and the province," an unidentified protester said. Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) estimated the number of protesters at thousands and in several reports from the scene on 7 March reported that up to 100 people were injured during the clashes between demonstrators and Afghan security forces. Some of the demonstrators were chanting slogans against the United States and in support of the ousted Taliban regime. An eyewitness told AIP that the police took control of the situation and the rally ended. AT

In a statement issued on 7 March in Kabul, the Afghan Interior Ministry said that it has dispatched a "high-ranking" delegation to Kandahar to "to investigate the cause of demonstrations and the recent increase in criminal activities" in Kandahar Province. According the statement, the 7 March protests in Kandahar city were over "concerns of security issues and child kidnapping." The government also intends to send another delegation to Kandahar to "take any necessary measures to ensure that local residents have faith in their law enforcement officials." The personal security situation in Kandahar Province has recently deteriorated. According to a BBC report on 7 March, one child is kidnapped per week in Kandahar, and there are fears that the actual number of kidnappings is higher as many parents do not report the disappearance of their children, fearing reprisals. It was the lack of personal security that propelled the Taliban into the Afghan political scene in Kandahar in 1994. AT

Some 500 to 1,000 residents of Mazar-e Sharif staged a protest on 7 March, calling for the removal of Balkh Governor Ata Mohammad Nur, Sada-ye Jawan radio reported. Mazar-e Sharif is the administrative capital of Balkh. The demonstrators passed by the office of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and shouted "inefficient governor, resignation, resignation." The protesters alleged that Nur and his commanders have illegally seized land from people and a number of Mazar-e Sharif residents have been killed, apparently by the security forces. The protesters also singled out the head of the community section of Balkh health department, Sayyed Habib, and demanded his resignation as well. In a 7 March report, the AIP estimated the number of demonstrators at 1,000. Nur, a former warlord, was appointed as governor of Balkh in August 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2004). AT

Afghan security forces have discovered a sizable number of arms and ammunition in Ghorband District of Parwan Province, Kabul daily "Erada" reported on 7 March. An unidentified Defense Ministry official said that "some 20 truckloads" of weapons and ammunitions will be transferred to Kabul and the rest of the weapons will be destroyed on site. According to a Parwan security official, the weapons belong to renegade former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. AT

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said at a news conference in Blomberg, Germany, on 7 March that he is hopeful that Britain, France, and Germany, with support from the United States, can persuade Iran not to make nuclear fuel, Reuters reported. Iran wants to make its own fuel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2005), which could be used to make bombs. The United States has favored a tough stance with Tehran, but Schroeder said its support now is giving Europe "sufficient persuasive power" to bring Iran "to a positive attitude," Reuters reported. Talks are currently "deadlocked on the issue of [uranium] enrichment," Reuters quoted an anonymous Western diplomat in Vienna as saying on 7 March. Separately, an unidentified Iranian diplomat hiding in an unknown location has reportedly claimed that Iran will seek to divert spent nuclear fuel from a power plant it is building to make bombs from 2006, Radio Farda stated on 7 March, citing "Der Stern." Iran allegedly plans to divert the fuel from the southern Bushehr plant, once it starts working. VS

Students in Isfahan, central Iran, disrupted a campaign speech by Mustafa Mo'in, a hopeful in the presidential election set for June, and forced him to give up and leave, Radio Farda reported on 7 March. Mo'in, a former higher education minister, is favored by the Participation Front and Organization of the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin, two reformist groups. Members of the Islamic Association of Isfahan Universities and Medical Faculties, an umbrella student group, reportedly sang and shouted slogans against Mo'in as he spoke, and waved placards denouncing the now stagnant reforms initiated in 1997 by President Mohammad Khatami. The placards displayed calls for a referendum instead on Iran's form of government, a recent demand made by some Iranians (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 March 2005). The student group had issued two previous statements telling Mo'in not to come, stating in one that the presidential elections will be "neither genuine nor free" but a means of "ridiculing the intelligence" of Iranians, Radio Farda reported. Prospective electoral candidates must be approved by the Guardians Council, a vetting and supervisory body, before they can run for public office. VS

President Khatami met with Croatia's President Stipe Mesic on 7 March, on the first part of a trip that is to take him to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Venezuela, news agencies reported. Khatami is heading a high-ranking Iranian delegation for two days, and the two states signed accords on economic, scientific and cultural cooperation in Zagreb, AFP reported on 7 March. The presidents later spoke to the press. Mesic expressed support for Europe's nuclear negotiations with Iran, and said he believed Iran is negotiating "in good faith," IRNA reported. Khatami commented on Balkan and Middle East affairs, hoping for stability in the Middle East "based on justice" and satisfaction of the demands of the "oppressed and forgotten" Palestinians. He said that January elections in Iraq showed "political growth," and expressed hope that foreign troops will leave, and the United Nations and international community will help pacify and rebuild Iraq. Separately, Iraq has re-opened its border to Iranian pilgrims, who may enter through Mehran at the frontier, reported on 7 March, citing an unidentified deputy governor of the western Ilam Province. The border was shut for Iraq's general election. VS

The Iraqi Communist Party's secretary and chairman of the commission charged with handling settlement claims for Iraqis displaced or resettled to Kirkuk, Hamid Majid Musa, said on 7 March that the commission will begin its work soon, Kurdistan Satellite Television reported on the same day. "Regrettably, the commission has not started its duties yet, although the official framework has been put in place," Musa said, adding: "In accordance with the decree on its founding, the body would be composed of ministers from the federal government and the Kurdistan regional government. We are now in the process of change. The issue of establishing the central and Kurdistan regional governments has to be completed before the members could be appointed." Some Iraqis have criticized the interim government for not addressing their claims. Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law established by the Coalition Provisional Authority calls on the transitional government to "act expeditiously to take steps to remedy the injustice caused by the previous regime's practices in altering the demographic character of certain regions, including Kirkuk." KR

A 2004 DVD made by soldiers from the Florida National Guard titled "Ramadi Madness" depicts soldiers kicking a seriously injured prisoner in the face and making the arm of a corpse appear to wave, Reuters reported on 7 March. The video was made public on 7 March in Army documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under a court order through the Freedom of Information Act. Sections of the DVD carry such titles as "Those Crafty Little Bastards," and "Another Day, Another Mission, Another Scumbag." The soldiers who purportedly made the DVD were stationed in Al-Ramadi before returning home a year ago, Reuters reported. The Florida newspaper "The Palm Beach Post" obtained the video and posted excerpts from it on its website on 7 March. KR

The Pentagon was apparently aware of the video but reportedly said it thought the video had been destroyed. Soldiers depicted in the video will not face criminal charges, the news agency cited the Pentagon as saying. Documents showed that the army viewed the actions as "inappropriate," but not criminal. "It didn't rise to the level of criminal abuse, according to the investigations," Pentagon army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy Martin said. "Clearly, the soldiers probably exercised poor judgment...and I'm sure that they were admonished by their command for their actions," he added. ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer said of the DVD: "Clearly there's some stuff in this video that's inappropriate but not criminal. But then there's quite a lot of other stuff in here that does seem to be criminal." KR

A U.S. military judge refused at a 7 March hearing in Fort Hood, Texas to dismiss charges against Specialist Sabrina Harman related to her alleged role in prisoner abuse in the Abu Ghurayb prison scandal, Reuters reported on the same day. Harman has been charged with five counts of maltreatment of prisoners. Her attorneys asked judge Colonel James Pohl to dismiss three of the five charges on grounds that the prisoners in some of the photographs were hooded and therefore did not feel the pain and suffering the charges require for prosecution. Harman was seen smiling in one of the photographs, giving the thumbs-up next to the body of a prisoner who died in custody. She was also seen in a photograph with fellow soldier Private Charles Graner standing behind naked prisoners stacked in a human pyramid. Harman's trial date has been set for 12 May at Fort Hood. KR

UN envoy to Iraq Ashraf Qazi began his sixth week of talks with various political groups on 7 March to encourage wider participation in the transitional government, UN News Center reported on the same day ( Qazi held separate meetings with Muslim Scholars Association head Harith al-Dari and Iraqi Islamic Party leader Muhsin Abd al-Hamid. Both Sunni groups boycotted the 30 January elections. Qazi has also reportedly discussed ways in which the UN can contribute to the political process in Iraq, the website noted. The international organization is facilitating the talks in implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1546 that calls on the UN to promote national dialogue and consensus building on the drafting of a national constitution. KR