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Newsline - March 22, 2005

The Foreign Ministry on 21 March posted on its official website ( a statement about the recent unrest in Kyrgyzstan in which it expressed concern about the actions of the Kyrgyz opposition, which "provoked disturbances in southern Kyrgyzstan." The statement urged the protestors to remain within the framework of the Kyrgyz Constitution and to maintain a "constructive dialogue" with the administration of President Askar Akaev, despite the opposition's claims that officials falsified the country's recent elections in a bid to usurp power. The ministry also appealed to foreign observers in the country, including those from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to be responsible in their statements and not to give "destructive elements" justifications for unlawful actions. VY

National Strategy Institute Director Stanislav Belkovskii said on 21 March that the campaign of civil disobedience in Kyrgyzstan, in the wake of the popular revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, means that Russia should immediately disband the CIS, TV-Tsentr reported on 21 March. Otherwise, Moscow risks losing its last bits of influence and allies in the region. "The CIS was created as funeral service for the Soviet Union and its functions have been completed," Belkovskii said. "Now it is dead itself." Belkovskii said that the CIS was always a Russia-centered alliance and that Moscow failed to propose to CIS members any "future project" or attractive development model. He noted that Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova have already formed GUUAM and each are pursuing alternative paths. Belkovskii concluded that the only Moscow can do now is to propose a new alliance to Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan in order to keep these countries as "friends of Russia." VY

Belkovskii also said that "Kremlin bureaucrats" does not have a unified position on the developments in Kyrgyzstan or a mechanism through which it can influence the situation there, TV-Tsentr reported on 21 March. "They failed in Ukraine and Moldova and they are afraid of repeating their mistakes," Belkovskii said. He also said that events in Georgia, Ukraine, and now Kyrgyzstan show that direct disobedience is a more powerful weapon against corrupt regimes than parliamentary opposition. But he added that the nature and possible consequences of the situation in Kyrgyzstan are different from those in the other countries. In Kyrgyzstan, he said, there is real interethnic and tribal conflict that could split the country into northern and southern parts. "If Russia considers Kyrgyzstan a long-term strategic partner, I think the Kremlin should take the side of [Kyrgyz] President Askar Akaev," Belkovskii said. VY

The Foreign Ministry on 21 March expressed "outrage" at a proposal by the Warsaw City Council to name a city street after Dzhokar Dudaev, the first president of the Chechen Republic, who was killed by federal forces in 1996, Russian and international media reported. "It is difficult to see this decision as anything but an assault on the memory of Russia victims of terrorist attacks in Moscow and other cities and as support for international terrorism," the ministry's statement said, according to RosBalt. The ministry's statement called Dudaev a "leader of nationalist extremists" and said Warsaw's action could harm bilateral relations. Earlier this month, Moscow issued a statement saying that Polish regrets over the 8 March killing of Chechen resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov were "perverse" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2005). Ekho Moskvy noted on 21 March that under Dudaev, Grozny and Warsaw became sister cities. VY

Politika foundation President Vyacheslav Nikonov said on ORT on 20 March that the 17 March assassination attempt against Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais was organized by former oligarchs who were pushed abroad by President Vladimir Putin. "Chubais is an outstanding and powerful member of the right wing of the political spectrum that supports President Putin," Nikonov said. "In this capacity, he hinders the consolidation of liberal forces on an anti-Putin platform. And this is exactly what those [former] Russian oligarchs who are out of favor and living abroad want to do." Motherland Duma Deputy Gennadii Gudkov said that leading Menatep shareholder Leonid Nevzlin, who lives in Israel and has been financing Putin's political opponents, was behind the attempted murder of Chubais, ORT reported. "The Prosecutor-General's Office is seeking him on murder charges, and it is likely that Nevzlin, who has accused Chubais of ruining the right opposition, tried to use this means to stop Chubais or to harass him," Gudkov said. ORT reported that an unnamed representative of the prosecutor's office joked that investigators suspect at least 140 million Russian citizens in the Chubais case. VY

Leonid Nevzlin told "The New York Times" on 21 March that the accusations against him are part of Kremlin effort to intimidate him. He said the Kremlin has fabricated the accusations against him and his colleagues and that it is using "unlawful methods" and "taking hostages" among former Yukos managers. Tycoon Boris Berezovskii said in London that Kremlin officials "hate me and they hate Chubais." "The only difference between us is that I am on the wanted list and he is not," ORT quoted Berezovskii as saying on 20 March. VY

Vladimir Levin, the defense lawyer for retired military intelligence (GRU) Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov, who was arrested on 17 March on suspicion of involvement in the Chubais incident, said on 21 March that Kvachkov is refusing to assist in the investigation and has dismissed all accusations against him as "absurd," reported. GRU Colonel Vladimir Sinelnikov, a friend of Kvachkov's, said that the actions that investigators ascribed to Kvachkov are "contrary to what he taught his own trainees," NTV reported on 21 March. "Why would anyone use a Kalashnikov to shoot at armored cars?" he asked. VY

In a column in "Gazeta" on 21 March, Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie Moscow Center wrote that the attempted assassination of Unified Energy Systems head Chubais "creates the impression that instability has returned to Russian political life." He wrote that what happened can be taken as a "signal to the political class that even high-level politicians, state bureaucrats, and businesspeople cannot consider themselves safe." Ryabov asserted that former colleagues and scholars in the state power structures are trying to maintain their distance from Chubais, whose present and future does not appear as certain as before. Ryabov continued that "some political forces, having lost faith in being able to get what they want by official means, are starting to work things out among themselves in the style of today's numerous television crime shows." JAC

Federal Security Service spokesman Colonel Sergei Ignatchenko said on 18 March that the FSB denies publications in some Western mass media alleging that Russian security services have provided protection for Bosnian Serbs who are being sought by the International War Crime Tribunal in the Hague, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2005). International media reports have charged that Russia provided assistance to Bosnian generals Gojko Jankovic, Vinko Pandurevic, Vujadin Popovic, and Vlastimir Djordjevic, but Ignatchenko dismissed the reports as "lies and provocations." "Kommersant-Daily" journalist Gennadii Sysoev, who specializes on the former Yugoslavia, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that some wanted Serbian commanders might have found shelter in Russia. "But they don't necessarily enjoy support from Russian officials," he said. "They might have backing from the influential Serbian business community in Moscow and from Russian nationalists." VY

Legislative elections were held in Vladimir, Voronezh, and Ryazan oblasts on 20 March, and the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party lost ground in two of three regions in comparison with the December 2003 State Duma elections, Boris Makarenko of the Center for Political Technologies told Ekho Moskvy on 21 March. Makarenko said that the Motherland party did fairly well, but "I would not concur with the excessive optimism of party leader Dmitrii Rogozin." In all three regions, one half of the respective chamber's legislators were elected by party lists and the remainder from single-mandate districts. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 21 March, an unusually high number of candidates competed for each legislative seat. In Voronezh Oblast, there were 141 candidates competing in the 28 single-mandate districts, and 13 political parties competed for the legislature's 28 party-list seats. JAC

Ryazan Oblast's elections on 20 March were overshadowed by oblast Governor Vladimir Shpak's announcement on 18 March that he is switching from the Motherland party to Unified Russia, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 March. "You know which party our president supports," Shpak said. "We should work in unison." He then called on voters to come to the polls and make the right decision. According to the daily, Shpak's announcement upset local Motherland party leaders and the leadership of the For Ryazan Krai bloc, which consisted of the Agrarian Party and the People's Party. Earlier, Shpak had his support to the bloc, but they said they "never felt it." According to preliminary results, Unified Russia got 22.2 percent of the vote in the oblast; the Communist Party garnered 15.2 percent; Motherland, 13.0 percent; the Social Defense and Justice Bloc, 10.8 percent; For Ryazan Krai, 10.1 percent; the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), 8.43 percent; and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), 5.5 percent, the oblast election commission's website reported on 21 March. Twelve percent voted "against all" candidates. JAC

According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 March, the battle between Unified Russia and Motherland in the Voronezh Oblast was particularly fierce. Motherland was reportedly planning a public rally for the day of the vote, 20 March, to protest campaign violations. Local journalists asked Voronezh Oblast Governor Vladimir Kulakov, a supporter of Unified Russia, if he was afraid of "an Orange Revolution," to which he replied, "I am not Kuchma and I won't allow it." In an interview with a local newspaper, Kulakov was asked whether he would use "administrative resources" during the election campaign for Unified Russia, and he responded "Absolutely. I'm interested in a duma with which I can work fruitfully." Unified Russia won 29.1 percent of the vote; Motherland, 21.0 percent; the Communist Party, 13.7 percent; "against all," 11.9 percent; the For Justice bloc, 6.4 percent; and the LDPR, 6.0 percent, according to the oblast election commission's website on 21 March. JAC

In Vladimir Oblast, Unified Russia performed better than in Ryazan and Voronezh oblast, "Kommersant-Daily" concluded on 21 March. Local observers blame the Communist Party's poor performance in the oblast on its failure to continue organizing protests against the monetization of in-kind benefits. Several national party leaders, including Communist Party head Gennadii Zyuganov, Yabloko head Grigorii Yavlinskii, and LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii, traveled to the oblast during the campaign. The Motherland party was not able to compete in the race because the local election commission cancelled its registration after several candidates withdrew from its list (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2005). According to the oblast election commission's website, Unified Russia got 20.53 percent of the vote; the Communist Party, 20.33 percent; "against all," 17.9 percent; the Party of Pensioners, 10.21 percent; the Russian Party of Life, 9.97 percent; the LDPR, 8.22 percent; and the Agrarian Party, 6.54 percent. JAC

Prosecutors in Bashkortostan have charged two more police officers with exceeding the authority of their office during a 4-day police operation in Blagoveshchensk in December, reported on 21 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2005). Nine police officers have now been charged; one is in custody and the rest are out on bail. Marat Khairullin, a reporter for "Novaya gazeta" who has been following the case closely, told the website that residents of Blagoveshchensk are afraid and are being threatened with compromising materials and possible criminal charges. JAC

News of another alleged police clean-up operation in Tver Oblast has surfaced, REN-TV reported on 17 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2005). According to the network, several young people wound up in a hospital following an Interior Ministry special forces' "preventive" action at a disco in the village of Rozhdesteveno on 5 February. A witness said that a group of police officers wearing masks entered the club and started beating people "indiscriminately." Some local residents believe the action was in response to an earlier attempt by some young men to free an acquaintance who had been taken into custody for "hooliganism." JAC

A Moscow court will consider on 31 March a lawsuit to move the animated U.S. television series "The Simpsons" to a later time slot, reported on 21 March. Igor Smykov, who brought the suit, charged that the series advocates "violence, cruelty, drug addiction, and homosexuality." The case has been in the courts for three years, according to the website. On 18 March, State Duma Deputy Yelena Afanaseva (LDPR) issued an appeal to the Culture and Mass Communications Ministry asking why "Russian television shows the putrid American animated series 'The Simpsons,' which damages the demographic situation the Russian Federation?," reported. According to Afanaseva, "the danger of [these] shows is that an antagonism between children and parents takes root, which naturally impacts on demographic control." First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unified Russia) told "Izvestiya" on 21 March that there are cartoons "that somehow assist the educational process and there are others that are purely moronic." "There is a danger for the process of raising children," she said. JAC

A senior investigator from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Bryan Paarmann, told reporters on 21 March that "the FBI appreciates the professionalism and active cooperation of the Armenian authorities" in the ongoing investigation of an arms-smuggling case, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Mediamax reported. The case involves an alleged plot to smuggle Soviet-era military weapons to buyers in the United States that first came to light after the arrest of 18 suspects, including two Armenians, during an undercover operation in the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 March 2005). Another three suspects were detained by Armenian security officials after allegedly being linked to the plot. Paarmann, who is leading the investigation in Armenia, added that "the Armenian authorities are actively cooperating in the investigation and have made several arrests in connection with this case to ensure that no weapons are illegally exported from Armenia," according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. RG

In a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans on 21 March, Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian praised the expansion of military ties between Armenia and the United States, Mediamax reported. Sarkisian said "Armenia's cooperation with the European command of the U.S. armed forces and NATO is confidently moving forward." Sarkisian met with Evans to prepare for the upcoming visit to Armenia of General Charles Wald, the deputy commander of U.S. forces in Europe. Wald was last in Armenia in April 2004 to discuss expanding bilateral military relations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2004). RG

A Georgian rapid-response unit detained four CIS peacekeepers on 21 March near the unofficial border between Abkhazia and Georgia, Rustavi-2 television reported. The armed peacekeepers were held after reportedly entering a private residence in the village of Ganmukhuri in the Zugdidi District. The peacekeepers, who were reportedly found to be intoxicated, initially told the Georgian police that they were "searching for a lost horse," but later admitted that they were lost. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Nikolai Baranov confirmed that the peacekeepers were detained after wandering from their assigned location in the Gali District, Interfax reported. The four soldiers were later turned over to a detachment of CIS peacekeepers sent to the village to take custody of the detainees. RG

Opposition forces controlled the southern Kyrgyz cities of Jalal-Abad and Osh on 21 March, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In both cities, protestors demanding the resignation of President Askar Akaev controlled government buildings and local airports. Thousands-strong opposition rallies took place in both cities, where tensions have run particularly high after an abortive attempt by police to reestablish control of provincial administrative offices on 20 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2005) spurred outraged protestors to retake the offices. Anvar Artykov, the "popular head" of Osh Province selected by the opposition at a 19 March rally, met with Osh police officials on 21 March, and a police source told that local police will obey the pro-opposition "people's power." The Kabar official news agency reported on 21 March that protestors decided not to storm the provincial state-run television station Osh-3000 when producers agreed to broadcast opposition statements. Artykov said demonstrators might yet take over the station unless it reports objectively on events in the region, reported. DK

President Akaev has asked the heads of the Central Election Commission and the Supreme Court to review the results of recent parliamentary elections in districts where results elicited a "sharp reaction in society," reported on 21 March, citing the presidential press office. While complaining that individuals unhappy with the election outcome are attempting to pressure the authorities, Akaev stressed that all election-related complaints must be fully investigated and clarified. The country's opposition, which gained only about 10 percent of parliament's 75 seats in the 27 February elections and the 13 March runoffs, has alleged fraud amid increasingly boisterous antigovernment demonstrations in southern Kyrgyzstan. Citing anonymous Kremlin sources, Russia's "Vremya novostei" suggested on 22 March that the president, who had hitherto dismissed the possibility of reviewing election results, softened his position after a secret visit to Moscow on 20 March. Kyrgyz officials have denied that Akaev traveled to Moscow. DK

Bolot Januzakov, deputy head of the presidential administration, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 21 March that President Akaev and Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev are ready to hold talks with the opposition, but only under certain conditions. "Of course, the president and prime minister...are ready [for talks]," Januzakov said. "But in order to hold negotiations, there should be certain conditions. When people are breaking things, setting fires, what kind of talks can be held? These actions must be stopped first; then it will be possible to hold talks." Also on 21 March, Kurmanbek Bakiev, head of the opposition People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, told journalists that the opposition would only hold talks with Akaev, because "no one but [the president] is empowered to resolve these issues," reported. But Roza Otunbaeva, co-chairwoman of the opposition bloc Ata-Jurt, told RFE/RL on 21 March, "We have not set the goal [of meeting with Akaev]." Otunbaeva added, "We have only one political demand: the resignation of the president." DK

Tajikistan has tightened control of its border with Kyrgyzstan in light of the unstable situation in nearby regions of the neighboring country, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 March. A spokesman for the Tajik Border Protection Committee told the news agency that it has stepped up patrols in mountainous regions along the Tajik-Kyrgyz border. The spokesman added that the measures are intended to "avert attempts of possible infiltration across the border of political and armed extremists to the eastern Murgab and Jirgital districts of Tajikistan, where a large diaspora of ethnic Kyrgyz lives." DK

Russian border guards recently stopped a drug courier with more than 45 kilograms of narcotics along the Tajik-Afghan border, RIA-Novosti reported on 21 March. Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), which controls the Russian contingent along the Tajik-Afghan border, said in a statement that the bulk of the bust, 37 kilograms, was heroin. DK

Opposition activists in Minsk demonstrated for the ninth consecutive day on 21 March, demanding the release of people they believe to have been jailed for political reasons, Belapan News reported. More than 50 activists of the Perspektiva association staged a 30-minute unauthorized demonstration against the imprisonment of opposition politician Mikhail Marynich and the leaders of a protest by market vendors, Valery Levanewski, Alyaksandr Vasilyew, and Anatol Shumchanka. They also demanded the release of opposition leaders Dzmitry Dashkevich and Artur Finkevich, who were each sentenced to 15 days in jail on 15 March for their attempt to stage an unauthorized demonstration. RK

A group of neo-Nazi youths said they plan to march through the center of Minsk to mark the first anniversary of the slaying of one of their members in Homyel, Belapan reports. The youths have threatened to stage a rally in front of the Prosecutor-General's Office and to deliver a petition urging Prosecutor-General Pyotr Miklashevich to step up a probe into the killing, according to a statement posted on a pro-Nazi website. Neo-Nazi groups have accused Arab students of killing 18-year-old Alyaksandr Paplyowkin and have chided investigators over what they describe as a failure to bring the perpetrators to justice. Yury Hlushakow, a member of the Homyel City Council, said the Arab students killed the youth while defending themselves. RK

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko arrived in Ashgabat on 22 March for two days of talks with Turkmen President Sapurmurat Niazov, Interfax reported. The main topic of discussion will be continued Turkmen supplies of natural gas to Ukraine. Ukraine is heavily dependent on Turkmen gas and imports 36 billion cubic meters annually. In January, Turkmenistan raised the price of gas by 32 percent and now charges $58 per thousand cubic meters. The current purchasing contract with Turkmenneftegaz ends in December 2006. As of January 2007 Ukraine will need to buy Turkmen gas from Gazeksport, a subsidiary of Russia's Gazprom, which signed a 25-year contract to purchase most of Turkmenistan's gas production. Yushchenko is also scheduled to discuss arms sales to Turkmenistan and will attend Norouz celebrations. RK

Prosecutors in Zhytomyr Oblast have ended their investigation into election rigging during the presidential election in 2004 and indicted eight individuals, whose trials are either over or still in progress, UNIAN reported on 22 March. One man was convicted of voting 11 times for Viktor Yanukovych using absentee ballots and fined 1,000 hryvnia ($189). In another instance, the court tried the head of a regional election commission who allegedly falsified the vote count and declared that Yanukovych had won in the district, when in fact the winner was Viktor Yushchenko. The defendant was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison, which was later commuted to one year of probation. RK

High Representative Paddy Ashdown on 21 March temporarily suspended the selling of state property, according to a press release by Ashdown's office. Ashdown argued that recently adopted state and entity legislation makes it easier to sell property used by the Defense Ministry. "A sell-off at this stage could render the work of the Commission for State Property, when it is established, meaningless, as there is a danger that by the time the commission began its work there would be very little property left to consider," Ashdown's office said. At present, state property may be sold without reference to the commission, thus opening the possibility for abuse. UB

The Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) issued a statement on 21 March supporting Dragan Covic, who is the Croatian member of the joint Bosnian presidency and a leading member of the HDZ, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The United States and the European Union demand that Covic resign. The Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is the country's supreme court, has indicted Covic for corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 21 March 2005). UB

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in Brussels on 21 March that the full cooperation of Bosnia and Serbia and Montenegro with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is a precondition for those countries' further European integration, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Rehn said after a meeting with visiting Serbian President Boris Tadic that if Serbia and Montenegro wants to get a positive assessment in the feasibility study for future EU membership, it must extradite two indicted former generals, Sreten Lukic and Nebojsa Pavkovic, by the end of the month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February and 15 March 2005). The feasibility study will be finalized by 31 March, Rehn said. After a meeting with Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic, Rehn said the preconditions for talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Bosnia are that country's full cooperation with the ICTY and reform of the police. UB

The ICTY postponed on 21 March the first hearing of Johan Tarculovski, a former police officer and former presidential bodyguard, MIA news agency reported. Tarculovski had asked the tribunal to postpone the first hearing by one month. Macedonian authorities extradited Tarculovski on 16 March. The ICTY has indicted Tarculovski and former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski for war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with the killing of 10 ethnic Albanians in the village of Ljuboten on 12 August 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 15 and 17 March 2005). UB

Macedonia's Supreme Court ordered on 20 March a repeat of the vote in six polling stations in three districts of the capital, Skopje, the private A1 TV reported. During 13 March local elections, irregularities -- mainly ballot-box stuffing -- were registered in a number of districts throughout the country. The court has yet to decide whether the vote has to be repeated in other districts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 15, 16, and 18 March 2005 and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2005). UB

Former Moldovan Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat has refused to answer investigators' questions until he is released from pretrial detention, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 March. "Pasat said in court he would testify only after the sanctions against him have been changed. He is prepared to testify and produce data proving that the sale of the MiG-29 planes in 1997 benefited Moldova," said his lawyer, Gheorghe Amihalachioaie. On 18 March, prosecutors filed charges against Pasat for abuse of power connected to the 1997 sale of 21 MiG-29 fighter jets to the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2005). On the same day, a court in Chisinau prolonged Pasat's pretrial detention for an additional 30 days. BW

Anatolii Chubais, CEO of the Russian electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems, said he plans to hire U.S. lawyers to defend Pasat, who works as an adviser for the company, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 March. "Moldovan lawyers have already been hired, and foreign barristers, including Americans, will be shortly invited to defend him," Chubais said the same day. "Any fair court is bound to rule Pasat innocent. Our stand is immutable: There are no reasons for Valeriu Pasat's arrest, and I believe this measure of restriction is excessive." BW

The office of Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has asked Russia's state-controlled ORT television station to allow it to air a response to what it calls a biased story about compensation to World War II veterans, BASA reported on 21 March. The story, aired on 16 and 17 March, claimed that Voronin ordered state compensation for Moldovan veterans from both sides in World War II. The Russian Foreign Ministry and several politicians seized on the issue to criticize Voronin's pro-Western government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2005). "The First Channel [ORT] does not know at all the realities in Moldova, World War II history, or Soviet history. People who were in either the Soviet Army or the Romanian Army during that war have been granted equal rights under a Moldovan law dating to 1993," a statement released by Voronin's office reads. "This law excludes, however, those who were convicted of crimes against humanity or peace or of genocide." BW

The European Union has called for a resumption of efforts to settle the dispute over Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 March. The European Union "counts on the resumption of the quest for ways to settle the Dniester problem" and "hopes that the new Moldovan government will resume a dialogue for the purpose of finding a solution to the Dniester problem," Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's external relations commissioner, said the same day while on an official visit to Moscow. "We hope that the contacts will be resumed, and steps will be taken for finding a political settlement," she said. Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has called on the EU and the United States to take a more active role in settling the dispute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2005). BW

Moldovan and Transdniestrian officials exchanged harsh recriminations on the eve of a high-level meeting between the two sides, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 March. The Moldovan government accused Transdniestrian leaders of "preparing a large-scale armed destabilization" to counteract the "reinvigoration of Moldova's partnership with Ukraine, Romania, and the European Union in the Dniester peace process." Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov said that such a destabilization would benefit Chisinau, as it would discredit Russian peacekeepers in the region. Vasile Sova, Moldova's minister of country reintegration, and Valery Litskai, foreign minister of the self-proclaimed Dniester Republic, are scheduled to meet on 22 March at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's mission in Chisinau to discuss reducing tensions. BW

Gas will be on Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's mind on 22 March when he arrives in Ashgabad to meet with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. Steady supplies of Turkmen gas are critical for Ukraine as it seeks to reform its energy sector, while diversifying its energy supplies. Yushchenko is hoping to cut a deal that will insure that the pipelines remain full.

Ukraine's present contract with Turkmenistan for gas expires by the end of 2006. Beginning in January 2007, most Turkmen gas will go to Russia's Gazprom. The Russian energy company has signed a 25-year contract with Ashgabad that allows it to purchase the majority of Turkmenistan's gas production. Ukraine will then be forced to purchase from Gazprom the 36 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas it needs annually.

In January, Ashgabad unexpectedly raised the price of gas by 32 percent to $58 per thousand cubic meters. Ukraine almost immediately agreed to pay. Gazprom, however, decided not to buy gas at the higher price and does not seem to be in a hurry to negotiate with Niyazov. This situation places Ukraine in a slightly favorable position in the coming negotiations with Turkmenneftegaz, the state oil and gas company.

The new Ukrainian gas strategy seems to be a multifaceted one. Oleksiy Ivchenko, the new head of Ukraine's oil and gas monopoly Naftohaz Ukrayiny, has put forth a proposal to create a Ukrainian-German-Polish group to sell non-Russian gas to the European Union. The group is exploring the possibility of purchasing Turkmen and Kazakh gas for resale to the EU and thus break Gazprom's monopoly on sales to Europe from the former Soviet Union. The major drawback of this plan is that presently all Central Asian gas is carried in the Central Asia Center trunk pipeline, which goes through Russia to Ukraine and then to the EU.

The German energy giant E.ON is said to be involved in discussions with this group, RIA Novosti reported on 11 March. During his visit to Germany in March, Yushchenko met with E.ON executives along with the head of Ruhrgas, Germany's largest gas company.

Soon after Yushchenko's visit, Deutsche Bank announced a 2 billion euro ($2.6 billion) credit line for Naftohaz, Interfax reported on 9 March. The credit line is to last for five years and the first tranche of $350 million is expected in April.

Another facet of Ukraine's strategy is to expand the number of participants in the consortium that manages the Ukrainian trunk pipeline. This pipeline delivers 80 percent of Russian gas to the EU. The consortium presently consists of Ukraine and Russia, which both hold 50 percent of the shares. The Ukrainian side has proposed to expand the consortium's membership and allow all EU members, as well as Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, to join.

Ukraine is also exploring the possibility of buying Iranian gas. In an interview with the Ukrainian weekly "Zerkalo Tyzhnya" on 19-25 March, Ivchenko mentioned that there was room for Iran to join the pipeline consortium. Yushchenko has announced his intention of visiting Iran in the first half of the year. One possible topic of discussion in Tehran could be a feasibility study, prepared by the Kyiv-based VNIPI Transgaz Institute, for a 550-kilometer gas pipeline from Iran to Armenia to the Georgian port of Supsa then under the Black Sea to the Crimean town of Feodosia. The cost of the project has been estimated at $5 billion with the capacity to deliver 60 billion cubic meters of gas a year, of which 10 billion would remain in Ukraine.

Also up for discussion is the question of who will be the "operator" of Turkmen gas to Ukraine. Ivchenko told "Zerkalo Tyzhnya" that the present arrangement with the RosUkrEnergo company is not in Ukraine's interests. If Ukraine ends its contract with RosUkrEnergo, it will push Russia's Gazprom out of a very profitable venture. Gazprom is a major shareholder in RosUkrEnergo and, as such, stands to lose millions of dollars. RosUkrEnergo took over the "operator" contract from a Hungarian-registered company, Eural Trans Gas, in January.

The new Ukrainian government is also likely to investigate some of the murkier dealings from the era of former President Leonid Kuchma. On 3 March, Interfax reported that Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko announced that the former senior management of Naftohaz will be investigated by the Ukrainian authorities for "gray schemes" in the transport of Turkmen gas to Ukraine.

Afghanistan's deputy interior minister, Lieutenant General Mohammad Daud, has called for continued international support for his country's efforts against its flourishing drug trade, the "Financial Times" reported 22 March. "This is not just a national problem, it is an international one," said Daud, who spoke during a visit to London. "Our message is clear. We can see the poverty of our farmers and the responsibility there is to provide them with additional crops and finance." Daud said Afghanistan will see a reduction of between 30 and 90 percent in the amount of land used for growing poppies in the coming months. He also said 2004's opium crop in Afghanistan totaled 4,200 tons, the biggest harvest since the Taliban was swept from power in late 2001. About 90 percent of the heroin in Britain originates in Afghanistan. MR

Thousands of Afghans marked the country's new year with dancing and kite flying around Kabul, AFP reported 22 March. Afghan President Hamid Karzai sounded a somber note amid the celebrations, however, saying in an address that Afghanistan still faces many problems. "It is up to us to rebuild Afghanistan with our hard work," said Karzai. Celebrations for the Afghan new year, or Norouz, went on throughout Kabul. Packed vehicles ferried droves of visitors to the tomb of Afghan King Nadir Khan. Families picnicked amid loud music drumming from cars in an scene unthinkable in the city during Taliban rule. "When I see all this enthusiasm and joy, a newly elected government, and a rainy winter after years of drought, it makes me think the dark night is over and we are at the dawn of a new age," said Saeed Rahim, an Afghan who is in the country for the first time following 10 years in exile. MR

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN's World Food Program have begun moving into flood-stricken areas in western Afghanistan, AFP reported 21 March. "We sent 25 metric tons of food to Farah from Herat last week, which should cover the needs of 5,000 people for two weeks," said Maarten Roest of the World Food Program. He said distribution will start 22 March. The UNHCR has also been handing out plastic sheeting, sleeping mats, soap, and other supplies. U.S. military helicopters have been ferrying UN relief supplies. Afghan officials said floods have so far killed 115 people in Uruzgan Province and 76 in the western province of Farah. Afghan Interior Ministry officials said heavy snowmelt has also caused widespread damage in the provinces of Balkh, Jawzjan, Panjshir, Laghman, and Nimroz. MR

Afghanistan plans to open the country's first post-Taliban military academy on 23 March, dpa reported 22 March. Sitting on the outskirts of Kabul, the academy's campus dates back to the 1920s, when Afghanistan used the site for military training during the rule of King Nadir Shah. "From now on, all military educational institutions will operate under the supervision of this academy," said General Zahir Azemi, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry. The United States is the chief underwriter for the academy, which hopes initially to train 150 Afghan National Army officers. The United States and coalition allies in Afghanistan want to see Afghan forces eventually assume responsibility for security in the country, which remains troubled by an insurgency. Currently, the Afghan National Army numbers about 25,000 troops, many of whom are poorly trained and illiterate. U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan hope to raise the number of troops serving in the Afghan army to 70,000 in the next two years. MR

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told thousands of people in the courtyard of the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad on 21 March, "The coming year is named the Year of National Solidarity and Public Participation, because the country's strategic needs demand public participation in various arenas," state television reported. He described participation in the June presidential election as a "national obligation." Khamenei said, "The country needs a capable and strong manager." He said this manager will eliminate obstacles and show the people what has been done to improve their quality of life over the last 20 years. He added, "May God Almighty help and direct you, the Iranian nation, to vote for a competent man who is courageous, sincere, sympathetic with the people, enthusiastic, a believer in the aspirations and values of the revolution, a believer in the people's power, and a believer in the people's rights." BS

A nuclear scientist and physics professor at Karachi University, Qadir Hussein, claims he provided Iran with a uranium centrifuge, Karachi's Urdu-language "Jasarat" daily reported on 20 March. Hussein claimed he first met with the Iranian consul-general on 19 January 1985. Hussein claimed that on 30 January 1987, he met with two Iranian nuclear experts, one of whom had an American doctoral degree, and he later received $400,000 for providing the formula for making weapons-grade uranium. To date, a network connected with the father of the Pakistani bomb, Abdul Qadir Khan, has been credited with supplying much of the initial know-how for the Iranian nuclear program. Hussein, however, claimed that A.Q. Khan has been wrongly accused. Hussein also said that he conveyed all this information to the White House. None of this information has been independently confirmed. BS

Ali Azarvash, secretary of the Poultry Breeding Guilds Association of Iran, announced that his industry is second only to automobile manufacturing in importance, "Etemad" reported on 17 March. He said Iran is 100 percent self-sufficient in chicken meat and egg production, and this year 30,000 tons of excess chicken meat were placed in storage. Azarvash said Iranian poultry farmers' costs are 40 to 50 percent higher than those of foreign poultry farmers. He added that chicken breeders do not receive state subsidies. BS

In the last month, the "Christian Science Monitor" reported on 22 March, approximately 230 members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) have returned to Iran from Iraq. The "Christian Science Monitor" reports that they are disillusioned with the cult-like MKO, which both Iran and the U.S. State Department list as a terrorist organization, and they also face hostility from the Iraqi government. For these reasons, some MKO members have taken advantage of Iran's offer of amnesty. MKO members still in Iraq are confined to a facility called Camp Ashraf, where they are under "protective custody" by the U.S. military. The "Los Angeles Times" reported on 19 March that MKO personnel it interviewed in Camp Ashraf seemed contented, although husbands, wives, and children are separated, and contact with other family members is rare. The newspaper says that residents of the camp appeared to have been indoctrinated, that "pictures of [MKO leaders] Mariam and Masood Rajavi are everywhere in the camp, and members refer to Mariam's sayings and ideas in a manner that evokes Maoist China." BS

Jordanian Foreign Minister Hani al-Mulqi told Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television on 21 March that Iran has something to do with the recent rupture in Baghdad-Amman relations. "Actually, I sense Iran's involvement," he said. He added that his country wants good relations with Iran, but "no matter what Iran does, it will not be able to harm Jordan." Iraq and Jordan recalled their envoys on 20 March after criticism that Jordan should try harder to prevent the infiltration of suicide bombers. On 20 March, Jordan's Prince Faisal Bin Al Hussein cabled Norouz greetings to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the official Jordanian Petra-JNA news agency reported. BS

Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a call on 20 March for political groups to agree on the formation of a transitional government, "The New York Times" reported on 22 March. Shi'ite leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim told reporters in Al-Najaf on 20 March, following a meeting with the ayatollah, that al-Sistani felt "discontent" over the delay in convening the government. Al-Sistani "has affirmed the principles he believes in, which are national unity, giving rights to the Iraqi people, and not marginalizing the rights of others," al-Hakim told reporters. Both Shi'ite and Kurdish negotiators have said they expect a deal to be reached by the end of the month. The transitional government will be responsible for drafting a permanent Iraqi constitution by August; the draft will then be voted on in a nationwide referendum in October, with elections coming by the end of the year. KR

Independent National Bloc member Salam al-Maliki has accused the United States and Iraq's neighboring countries of inciting political groups against each other in an effort to delay agreement on the transitional government, London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 21 March. He added that the purpose of the "incitement" is to "exclude the Islamists from power in Iraq." Al-Maliki also called the Kurds "opportunists" and criticized Kurdish leaders for taking a break in negotiations to return to Kurdistan to celebrate the Novruz holiday. Al-Maliki's bloc is on the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) list. Shi'ite Political Council member Asad al-Fili took a similar position vis-a-vis the Kurds, telling the daily that the UIA does not have the power alone to accept or reject Kurdish demands and that Sunni Arab opinion must be weighed before a decision is made. Al-Fili also accused interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi of "seeking to impede any agreement between the parliamentary blocs" in an attempt to retain his seat in the transitional government. Meanwhile, Kurdistan Democratic Party member Arif Tayfur blamed the UIA's "inclination to monopolize the government" as the reason for the delay in reaching an agreement. KR

The Jordanian government returned its charge d'affaires, Dilmay Haddad, to Iraq on 22 March, two days after calling him back to Amman amid mounting protests for the closure of the country's embassy in Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2005). Jordanian Foreign Minister Hani al-Mulqi told Al-Arabiyah television on 22 March that there is no crisis between Jordan and Iraq. Large protests were held across Iraq for nearly a week against the Jordanian government after an Amman-based daily printed an allegedly fabricated report claiming a Jordanian family celebrated their son's martyrdom in a suicide bombing in Al-Hillah. Al-Mulqi told Al-Arabiyah: "There were demonstrations for six consecutive days, which threatened the security of the embassy, and there was fear for the life of the charge d'affaires there. We recalled him for consultations on the best options and places where he could live until this matter ends." Meanwhile, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari told the satellite news channel that the recall of Iraq's ambassador to Amman on 20 March did not come as a reaction to Jordan's recall. He also claimed that there is no crisis, saying: "There is a feeling of bitterness and disrespect, more than anything else, due to what took place." KR

Only 13 of 22 leaders representing Arab League member states, including Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir, were on hand at the opening of the annual Arab Summit on 22 March in Algiers, international media reported. Iraq is low on the summit's agenda. The draft summit agenda published in the Algerian press on 20 March calls for reiterating Arab support for Iraq, and insisting on the need to preserve Iraq's Arab identity. Members are not expected to address the growing dispute between Iraq and Jordan, AFP reported on 22 March. KR