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Newsline - May 6, 2005

A U.S. federal grand jury in Pittsburgh indicted former Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov and his American partner Mark Kaushansky on 5 May on charges of conspiracy to embezzle $9 million in stolen U.S. government funds intended for improving the security of Russia's nuclear installations, AP and other international media reported. Adamov was arrested in Switzerland on 3 May on a U.S. warrant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2005) and is also accused of fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion. If found guilty, Adamov could face up to 60 years in prison and $1.75 million in fines. Timofei Gridnev, Adamov's lawyer, said a final decision about Adamov's voluntary extradition to the United States has not been made yet. The first hearing of Adamov's case in a Swiss court is scheduled for 9 May. Meanwhile, an anonymous source in the presidential administration said that the Kremlin is deeply concerned by Adamov's arrest, "Vedomosti" reported on 5 May. "It is obvious that for the first time not just an ex-minister, but a bearer of all the state's nuclear secrets has been arrested. The Americans could try to force Adamov to testify to nonexistent legal violations in the cooperation between Russia and Iran," "Vedomosti" quoted the Kremlin source as saying. VY

State Duma Deputy General Nikolai Kovalev (Unified Russia), a former director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the chairman of the Duma's Veterans Committee, who in 2001 initiated an investigation of Adamov on corruption allegations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2005), said on 5 May that Moscow should demand his quick repatriation, and his activity should be investigated in Russia, RTR reported. Adamov knows nuclear secrets and confidential information about Russia's transfer of nuclear technology to China, India, and Iran, he said. Kovalev added that he is afraid U.S. officials will try to force Adamov to cooperate in exchange for a lighter sentence. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) said on 5 May that Adamov "irritated" the U.S. government because "he always persistently defended Russian interests in bilateral cooperation." Motherland party leader Dmitrii Rogozin said that Russia "must decisively demand Adamov's quickest repatriation" so that he can face trial at home. VY

Duma Defense Committee Deputy Chairman Aleksei Arbatov (Yabloko), who also directs the International Security Center of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, told TV-Tsentr on 5 May that Adamov's arrest might be inspired by opponents of U.S.-Russian nuclear-security cooperation. Both sides have put much work into the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program in recent years and there is even more to be done, he said. Arbatov added that the United States is planning to spend another $10 billion to support Russian nuclear safety, while the European Union is to provide a further $10 billion. But in the United States there are elements that are against giving this money to Russia and they could be behind this incident, he said. Meanwhile, Konstantin Simonov, the director of the Center for Political Forecasting, said on 5 May that Adamov's arrest is an episode in U.S.-Russian competition in nuclear security control and an effort to show that the Russian nuclear sector is controlled by dishonest people, RIA-Novosti reported. VY

Colonel General Nikolai Solovtsov, commander of the Strategic Missiles Forces (VSN), said on 5 May that Russia will not allow foreign inspectors at VSN installations, RIA-Novosti reported. "In terms of control over nuclear warheads and storage, our position is that we do not provide access to them. I think it is not likely to happen in the near future," he said. Solovtsov added the according to the strategic-force-reduction program, Russia is eliminating a VSN division and will continue doing so. He said Russian defense contractors are developing a program to extend the service life of the strategic missile force by a factor of two or greater, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that the force's maintenance and service program enables it to keep 95 percent of its force ready for launch on any given day. Solovtsov also said that former Atomic Energy Minister Adamov had no access to VSN secrets. VY

In an interview with German television channels ZDF and ARD, President Vladimir Putin said on 5 May that the term "occupation" is not appropriate for Soviet control over the Baltic states and Eastern Europe after 1945, and he called for an end to speculation on the topic. Putin said that the Baltic states first gained their independence as a result of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk that Bolshevik Russia and Germany concluded in February 1918, according to a transcript of the interview published on "Later, in 1939, Russia and Germany decided differently: Germany agreed that this part of Europe should return to the influence of the Soviet Union," he said. "In fact, the Baltic countries were pawns in big world politics and this, of course, is the tragedy of these peoples," Putin added. As for condemnation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Putin said that "the highest representative body of the Soviet Union condemned it in 1989.... Should we do it every day, every year?" In another interview with the German daily "Bild" published on 5 May, Putin said he is against comparing Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler "I can't understand you equating Stalin and Hitler. It goes without saying that Stalin was a tyrant, whom many call a criminal. But he wasn't a Nazi. And it was not Soviet troops that first crossed the border, but the other way around," Putin said. VY

The FSB has opened at its headquarters on Lubyanka Square a museum devoted to the Soviet wartime military counterintelligence service SMERSH (an acronym from the Russian phrase "death to spies"), RTR reported on 6 May. Speaking at the opening ceremony, SMERSH veteran Major General Leonid Ivanov said he and his group in May 1945 took part in the identification of Adolf Hitler's corpse, as well as the personal belongings and documents of other leaders of Nazi Germany. Analysts noted that SMERSH was also responsible for repression and mass deportations in the occupied countries of Central and Eastern Europe. SMERSH was directly subordinate to Stalin, who during World War II was also defense minister. VY

As part of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, Moscow's State Historical Museum is holding an exhibition of war-era artifacts connected with the 24 June 1945 Victory Parade in Red Square, "The Moscow Times" reported on 6 May. The exhibition includes the greatcoat that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin wore while reviewing the parade and captured Nazi flags and standards that were thrown down in front of the mausoleum of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin during the celebration. The exhibition also includes the original act of German capitulation, which exhibition curator Natalya Chevtaikina told the daily is only being shown for the second time ever. It also includes the Soviet flag that was raised by Soviet forces over the Reichstag building in Berlin on 9 May 1945, although that flag was not part of the original Victory Parade because the unit that raised it refused to turn it over to any other units, Chevtaikina said. The exhibition continues until 31 July. RC

The city of Moscow will rename the Izmailovo Park metro station to the Partizanskaya (Partisan) station as part of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, RIA-Novosti reported on 6 May. RC

President Putin told German journalists on 6 May that the Kremlin did not interfere in last year's presidential election in Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reported. "We did nothing that can be qualified as direct interference into the affairs of the republic," Putin said. "Give me at least one example of when I campaigned for one of the candidates." He said that Moscow "intensified contacts with the acting authorities [in Ukraine] mostly upon their own initiative," adding that Moscow's only goal in such situations is "not to allow using unlawful methods in the political struggle in the post-Soviet space." Putin said that he is "worried about destabilization" in the region, adding, "look what happened in Kyrgyzstan." During the campaign, Putin met several times with then Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his favored successor, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. On 8 December, just days before the final vote, State Duma Speaker and Kremlin insider Boris Gryzlov said, "Only the victory of the pro-Russian candidate [Yanukovych]...can save the country from collapse" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2004). RC

In the same 6 May interview with German journalists, President Putin said the government will not allow the restoration of "oligarchic control" over the media or civil society, ITAR-TASS reported. "It is absolutely impossible to return to the past," Putin said. "The government has a duty to support business, develop the mass media, create an independent economic basis for them, and build up a multiparty system and civil society." Putin added that there remain forces in Russian society that have "formed the habit of stealing billions of rubles...and using the mass media or institutions of civil society in the petty interests of their groupings." He added that only a free press and a vibrant civil society can "help control efficiently the huge bureaucratic government machinery." RC

Russia's so-called stabilization fund reached 858 billion rubles ($28.6 billion) as of 1 May, Prime-TASS reported on 5 May, citing the Finance Ministry. The fund grew by a record 89.5 million rubles in April, not counting Januarys, when the government remits its budget surplus to the fund. The ministry forecasts that the fund will contain 1.223 trillion rubles by the end of the year. RC

An unnamed source within the Moscow city administration told ITAR-TASS on 5 May that all large new restaurants built in the city will have to conform to strict new security requirements. "Next to the main entrance there must be a security post behind bulletproof glass, a metal detector, and closed-circuit video system," the source was quoted as saying. In addition, car parking will not be allowed within 50 meters of the building and parking lots must be guarded. RC

A rail link between Moscow and Sheremetevo International Airport will begin operation sometime in early 2007, Transportation Minister Yurii Levitan said on 5 May, according to ITAR-TASS. Levitan said that the design of the line, which will cost an estimated $100 million, will be ready toward the end of this year and that the government will likely seek outside investors to participate in the project. He added that the Moscow city authorities also plan to build a rail link between Sheremetevo and the new Moskva City high-rise business center. RC

Kamchatka Oblast Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev and Koryak Autonomous Okrug Governor Oleg Kozhemyako on 5 May signed a protocol on merging their two subjects of the federation, ITAR-TASS reported. The speakers of both regions' legislatures also signed the documents, the news agency reported. Officials said that the proposed merger would allow the two regions to pursue a common economic-development policy and "considerably enhance the gross regional product and increase the volume of industrial production," according to an unnamed Kamchatka Oblast official. Referendums on the proposed merger could be scheduled for October, the news agency reported. RC

Russian and Chechen spokesmen claimed on 5 May to have thwarted multiple acts of terrorism in the North Caucasus intended to coincide with the 9 May celebration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, Russian media reported. Major General Ilya Shabalkin, who is spokesman for the Russian forces based in the North Caucasus, said a KamAZ truck loaded with 1.2 tons of TNT was intercepted near Grozny, and two men driving it were detained for questioning. Shabalkin said that attack was planned by Chechen field commanders Shamil Basaev and Doku Umarov, together with Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, slain Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's designated successor. Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov said his men closed in on two women suicide bombers in the village of Sernovodsk who, Alkhanov claimed, were planning to stage an attack in Grozny on the anniversary. The women blew themselves up to avoid capture; two more militants and one police officer were killed in that operation. In Moscow, Russian FSB spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko said his agency has identified and neutralized a group of Chechen militants based in Ingushetia who planned to stage terrorist attacks across the North Caucasus using toxic and poisonous substances, including cyanide, Interfax reported. LF

The Republic of Ingushetia's Interior Ministry issued a statement on 6 May rejecting as "a provocation" and "slander" torture allegations made two days earlier during an interview with Ekho Moskvy by Ingushetian parliamentary deputy Musa Ozdoev, reported. Ozdoev claimed that while he was held at the ministry's pretrial isolator in Nazran on the night of 30 April-1 May, he spoke to detainees who had been subjected to "unspeakable" tortures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2005). The press release claimed the ministry's activities are "open and transparent" and categorically denied that its personnel resort to "illegal methods of interrogation." Ozdoev told that he will campaign for the creation of an independent commission to investigate the situation at the facility and question those detained there. LF

The Armenian Central Bank issued a statement on 5 May advising citizens not to "panic" over a sudden fall in value of the Armenian dram vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The dram has risen by at least 25 percent against the dollar since early 2004, but on 5 May it lost 10 percent of its value, falling from 441 to the dollar to 490 to the dollar before stabilizing at 460 to the dollar. Central Bank Chairman Tigran Sarkisian said on 5 May the fluctuations are "hard to explain," but the statement released by the Central Bank later that day attributed them to the "fuss" engendered by persistent speculation that the Armenian authorities have intervened to manipulate the exchange rate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2004 and 20 April and 3 May 2005) . LF

Ambassador Heikki Talvitie, who is the EU's special envoy for the South Caucasus, met in Yerevan on 4 May with parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and on 5 May with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, Noyan Tapan reported. Oskanian told journalists at a joint press conference on 5 May that they discussed EU-Armenian cooperation within the framework of the EU European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict, and Armenian-Turkish relations. Talvitie said the latter issue will be on the agenda for Turkey's EU accession talks. Interfax on 5 May quoted Talvitie as saying that an action plan detaining Armenian cooperation with the EU within the ENP will be drafted towards the end of this year. LF

A grave containing the remains of eight bodies has been discovered near a house in the west Georgian village of Etsera belonging to the infamous Aprasidze clan, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported on 5 May. The head of the clan and two of his sons were killed during a special operation by Georgian police one year ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2004). Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabaishvili said some of the victims had been shot in the head. He said DNA tests will be carried out to establish their identities. Police suspect the victims might include Levan Kaladze, brother of a famous Georgian soccer player, and other people abducted in recent years. LF

Sergei Utkin, a lawyer representing the independent Kazakh newspaper "Respublika," told a news conference on 5 May in Almaty that the Ministry of Culture, Information, and Sports has ordered the closure of the newspaper, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Galina Dyrdina, the newspaper's deputy editor in chief, commented, "We believe that this order, these actions by the Information Ministry, are absolutely illegal and we will appeal these actions in court. We will definitely lodge an appeal," RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. In a statement made public on the newspaper's website ( on 5 May, the editors announced that they received an order the previous day from the ministry "liquidating" the newspaper; they noted that only a court has the authority to issue such an order. Nevertheless, the editors explained that they decided to halt the distribution of the weekly's print run pending further actions. The newspaper, which has frequently published materials critical of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, has a long history of clashes with the Kazakh authorities. DK

Mukhtar Kul-Mukhammed, a spokesman for President Nazarbaev, announced on 5 May that the president has ordered the Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate the circumstances of an attack on opposition leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbai in Shymkent on 2 May, Kazinform reported. Kul-Mukhammed said that Nazarbaev asked law-enforcement agencies to "conduct a thorough investigation and take necessary measures to punish the guilty parties in strict accordance with Kazakh law." Tuyakbai appealed to Nazarbaev after the attack to ensure an investigation into the attack, which eyewitnesses allege was carried out by young men who threatened to kill Tuyakbai "for Nazarbaev" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 May 2005). DK

Ulan Sarbanov, the head of Kyrgyzstan's National Bank, told a news conference in Bishkek on 5 May that the investigation into businesses allegedly controlled by former President Askar Akaev and his associates should not harm honest businesses, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Sarbanov said that as a special commission examines more than 100 businesses that may have links to Akaev, "normal, honest business should not suffer," Kabar reported. Sarbanov stressed that accounts and transactions should be frozen only by court decision. Sarbanov noted that the ongoing investigation recently revealed that 36 million soms ($877,000) were transferred illegally from the Kyrgyz Agricultural Finance Corporation in 2004 to the reserves of former President Akaev and former Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev, RFE/RL reported. DK

Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev told in an interview on 5 May that "political Russia" is ready for the idea of introducing dual Kyrgyz-Russian citizenship as recently proposed by acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2005). But Kosachev stressed that the logistics of implementing dual citizenship will depend on future negotiations and subsequent legal agreements between the two countries. Kosachev also stated that Russia needs labor resources from abroad, noting that the integration of workers from former Soviet countries is eased by common linguistic and cultural factors. DK

TURKMEN 'COMMUNIST PARTY' REPORTEDLY CALLS FOR 9 MAY DEMONSTRATION published on 6 May an 18-point appeal from an organization calling itself the Communist Party of Turkmenistan and urging citizens to hold demonstrations in Turkmenistan on 9 May to demand the removal of President Saparmurat Niyazov. The Russian human rights organization Memorial received the statement from an anonymous source in Turkmenistan who said that the appeal has been distributed in leaflet form within Turkmenistan. Other points in the appeal called for a court to try Niyazov on charges of treason and genocide. There is at present no officially registered Communist Party in Turkmenistan, and the document's provenance and veracity could not be independently confirmed. DK

A source in the Moldovan presidential administration told Interfax on 5 May that Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has received a statement from Uzbek President Islam Karimov announcing Uzbekistan's withdrawal from GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Moldova). As quoted by the news agency, the statement explained that Uzbekistan chose to end its membership because "emphasis has [lately] been placed on the ideological and military-political elements of cooperation within GUUAM, the resolution of frozen conflicts, the formation of military blocs, and revision of existing security systems." Karimov chose not to attend a 22 April GUUAM summit in Moldova. Uzbekistan joined GUUAM in 1999 but suspended its participation in the organization's activities in June 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2002). DK

Five Ukrainians jailed by the Belarusian authorities for their participation in an unauthorized opposition demonstration in Minsk on 26 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2005) face deportation and a five-year ban on reentering the country, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. The embassy added that it is preparing, jointly with a lawyer from an international human rights association, a complaint against the Belarusian Interior Ministry's deportation and entry ban order. One of the five Ukrainians, Oleksiy Panasyuk, who was sentenced to nine days in jail, was reportedly released on 5 May after serving his term and deported to Ukraine. Three of his colleagues were sentenced to 10 days each, and another to 15 days. JM

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 5 May signed into law a bill declaring an amnesty on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the USSR's victory over Nazi Germany, Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press service. More than 13,500 people will be eligible for amnesty under the bill, primarily war veterans, seniors, women, the disabled, and minors. The bill also applies to those sentenced to up to six years in prison who have served one-third of their terms, and those convicted of embezzlement provided they have served one-third of their terms and paid compensation. Convicts with a record of good behavior will have their sentences reduced by one year. JM

The Democratic Initiatives Fund and the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology found in a poll conducted among 2,045 adult Ukrainians on 14-24 April that 76 percent want the Russian language to be granted official status in Ukraine, Interfax reported on 5 May. Regarding the languages spoken at work, the poll found that 32 percent of respondents speak Russian, 31 percent speak Ukrainian, and 22 percent use both languages. According to the poll, 76 percent of Ukrainians support their country's independence, which is the same percentage as registered in the referendum on 1 December 1991. JM

The Democratic Initiatives Fund and the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology also found in the 14-24 April poll that eight parties could exceed the 3 percent voting barrier to qualify for parliamentary seats if an election were held "next Sunday," Interfax reported on 5 May. Those parties are: The Party of Regions led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych (13.3 percent backing); the Fatherland Party led by Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko (10.7 percent); the Our Ukraine People's Union led by Roman Bezsmertnyy (10.8 percent); the Our Ukraine Party headed by Viktor Pynzenyk (8.3 percent); the Socialist Party chaired by Oleksandr Moroz (7.4 percent); the Communist Party of Petro Symonenko (6.5 percent); and the Progressive Socialist Party headed by Nataliya Vitrenko (4.2 percent). The Social Democratic Party-united of Viktor Medvedchuk fell just short of the parliamentary threshold with 2.7 percent in the poll. JM

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry has put Volodymyr Scherban, former governor of Sumy Oblast, on an international wanted list following a relevant decision by regional prosecutors, Interfax reported on 5 May. The previous day, Ukrainian media reported that Kyiv placed Ihor Bakay, former head of the presidential property-management department, on Interpol's wanted list (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2005). JM

Representatives from Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia met in Skopje on 5 May to resume talks on the division of the financial assets of the former Yugoslavia among its successor states, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported. The ongoing talks will focus on the division of the remaining gold reserves in French and Swiss banks worth some $85 million, as well as some $220 million deposited in 13 foreign commercial banks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April, 5 November, and 4 December 2001). It is also expected that an expert commission will be formed to investigate the disappearance of former Yugoslavia's currency reserves worth about $600 million, which the National Bank of Yugoslavia had deposited abroad. UB

Serbian Colonel Cedomir Brankovic said in Nis on 5 May after returning from Bulgaria that he had not previously heard anything about a Croatian Interpol arrest warrant for him, on the basis of which the Bulgarian authorities briefly detained him, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2005). He added that he will not go to Croatia voluntarily if he is indicted there, since he does not expect he could get a fair trial in that country. PM

Police authorities in Niksic said on 5 May that they will not take any special security precautions for the funeral on 7 May of Jovanka Karadzic, the mother of leading war crimes indictee Radovan Karadzic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. An unnamed police officer said that he and his colleagues have no information that the fugitive former Bosnian Serb leader is in Montenegro or that he plans to attend the funeral. Jelena Karadzic died on 5 May at the age of 83. She and her son were particularly close, and she was an outspoken defender of him. "I'd rather Radovan put a bullet in his own head than hand himself over to The Hague," she told reporters in 2001, according to Reuters. "God will judge him, not The Hague. And what I know of my son is that he wouldn't squash an ant." Some observers suggested that Serbian hard-liners might turn out in force for the funeral, which could turn into a political demonstration. PM

Kosova's elected government and the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) appealed in Prishtina on 5 May for funds to help reconstruct the Roma Mahala in Mitrovica, which was one of the largest and oldest Romany neighborhoods in former Yugoslavia, Reuters reported. After the 1998-99 conflict, ethnic Albanians destroyed the district in revenge for what they said was Romany collaboration with Serbian forces against the Albanian majority. Since then, some of the 7,000 Roma have been living in makeshift camps on Serbian-controlled territory or near the local Trepca mine, where sanitation is poor and the dangers of lead poisoning great. The Red Cross has warned of a "medical tragedy" if the 800 Roma still in that area are not moved away from the mine soon. On 5 May, Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi told foreign diplomats and potential donors that "this is not a political or refugee problem, but a humanitarian problem." PM

On 5 May, the Hague-based war crimes tribunal sentenced Kosovar Albanian Beqa Beqaj to four months imprisonment for attempting to intimidate a witness at the trial of Fatmir Limaj, Haradin Bala, and Isak Musliu, who were members of the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), Reuters reported. This is the first time the tribunal has sentenced someone on charges of intimidating a witness, the news agency added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 23 November 2004). PM

The Prosecutor-General's Office has brought formal charges against former Moldovan Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat, who is currently an adviser to Russia's Unified Energy Systems, Infotag and dpa reported on 5 May. Pasat is accused, among other things, of abuse of office over the 1997 sale of 21 MiG-29 fighter jets to the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2005). Pasat, who has been held in a detention center in Chisinau since 15 March, was hospitalized on 4 May, FLUX reported. Pasat's lawyer, Gheorghe Amihalachioae, said his client's health condition is "quite serious." JM

One of the most paradoxical results of World War II is the fact that Russia and Japan still have not signed a peace treaty ending the conflict. That is even more ironic considering that the two countries never engaged in the kind of bloody and devastating warfare that characterized the conflict between the Soviet Union and Germany, with which Russia now enjoys stable, even friendly relations.

The reason for the strained relations between Russia and Japan is the well-known conflict over the four Southern Kurile Islands -- Habomai, Shikotan, Kunashi, and Iturup -- which were occupied by Soviet forces in the closing days of the war. Both countries consider these islands in the Sea of Okhotsk to be their territory. The issue of their status remains a hot-button issue with the publics in both countries.

The four islands were first mentioned in official Russian-Japanese relations in the Semod Treaty, which was signed in February 1855. Under the accord, the Southern Kuriles were declared part of Japan. In May 1875, the two countries signed another treaty that gave Russia control of Sakhalin Island in exchange for Russia renouncing claims to all 18 islands in the Kurile chain. Following the Russo-Japanese War, which ended in a decisive defeat for Russia, the two countries signed the Portsmouth Treaty, in which Russia pledged to renounce forever its claims to the Southern Kuriles. The Japanese, incidentally, have never considered the four islands to be part of the Kurile chain, but instead view them as associated with Japan's Hokkaido Island.

In April 1941, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin negotiated a treaty with imperial Japan on mutual neutrality in the fighting in Asia. That agreement alleviated Moscow's concerns about a possible second front in the Far East in the event of war with Germany. The war broke out when Germany attacked the Soviet Union just two months later. The treaty also untied Japan's hands and in December 1941, a Japanese fleet based near the Kuriles attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, drawing the United States into the war.

At the Yalta conference in February 1945, Stalin agreed that the Soviet Union would join the Allies in the war against Japan in exchange for eventual Soviet control of the southern part of Sakhalin Island and of the Kuriles. During the conference, Stalin did not reassert old claims that the territories belonged to Russia, but spoke of them openly as trophies and as compensation for Russia's humiliating defeat during the Russo-Japanese War.

In his address to the Soviet Union on the day that Japan surrendered, 2 September 1945, Stalin said: "The defeat of Russian forces in 1904 left a painful memory in the conscience of our people and a black stain on [on the reputation of] our country. For 40 years, we, the people of the older generation, have waited for this day, and now this day has come. It means that southern Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands will become part of the Soviet Union."

Until his death in 1953, Stalin stifled any talk of returning the disputed islands to Japan, repeating often that "the Soviet Union is a big country, but we have no extra land." In February 1946, the Soviet Union formally incorporated the southern Kuriles into its national territory. In September 1951, the Soviet Union declined to sign the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which the other Allies signed with Japan. Under that treaty, Japan agreed to renounce its claims to what it considered the Kurile Islands. However, the four disputed islands were not mentioned in the document because, as noted above, Japan believes they belong to the Hokkaido Island group.

However, a new chapter in bilateral relations was opened in October 1956, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev signed a joint declaration that reestablished diplomatic relations between the two countries and postulated that following the signing of peace treaty, two of the disputed islands -- Shikotan and Habomai -- would be transferred to Japan. But at the peak of the Cold War in January 1960, the Soviet Union backed away from this declaration and said that there were no remaining territorial issues between the two countries.

This remained the status quo until August 1991, when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev again acknowledged the dispute over the Southern Kuriles and the necessity of resolving it. Russian President Boris Yeltsin visited Japan in October 1993 and in April 1998, speaking on both trips of the possibility of a quick solution "based on historical and legal facts." He predicted that a peace treaty would be completed by 2000.

The latest contretemps surrounding the Kurile question came on 11 November 2004, when Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told NTV that Russia, as the successor to the Soviet Union, recognizes the 1956 agreement and Moscow's obligation to transfer the two islands to Tokyo. "But with this we should put a period to the territorial problem," Lavrov said. The following day, President Vladimir Putin added enigmatically that Russia "is ready to fulfill its obligations, but only to the extent that the other party is also willing to fulfill its obligations," RTR reported. "But, as we all know, we have not yet reached a mutual understanding of what these obligations are," Putin added.

According to Japanese media, Tokyo's position on the disputed islands has remained consistent throughout the entire period. According to the website, Japan considers the islands historically and geographically part of Japan's northern territories, which were occupied by Soviet forces during World War II. Japan does not recognize agreements made at the Yalta Conference, to which it was not a party, and does not believe that agreements adopted by the Allies during the war can be considered part of the legal foundation for a peace treaty.

On 22 February, Japan's parliament adopted a resolution that called on the government to intensify its efforts to return the four islands and "other northern territories" to Japan, reported. Asked what the unnamed "other northern territories" referred to, an unnamed source in the Japanese legislature said the term was adopted in order to reach a consensus among all factions, including the Communists, which are calling for Japanese control over all 18 major Kurile islands.

On 20 April, after a long delay, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, announced that he will attend the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe in Moscow on 9 May, the Kyodo news agency reported. However, he added that while he is in Moscow, he will raise the unsettled issue of the islands once again.

Clearly, three generations of postwar Japanese have become so committed to the idea that the "occupied northern territories" must be returned that no Japanese government can ignore this sentiment. Russian nationalist author Maksim Kalashnikov described the feelings of Japanese patriots in his 2004 book "The Wrath of Ork": "We should understand the Japanese, who still consider that the Russians betrayed them during World War II. They honestly did not attack us when Hitler's troops were near Moscow, allowing Stalin to redeploy fresh troops from the Far East. And they did not attack us in 1942, when Nazi troops were near the Volga and the Caucasus. Nonetheless, we attacked them in August 1945, we captured their islands and now, having devastated our own land, we are unwilling to return land which is not ours. So what kind of allies can we look like after all that?"

Passions over the issue are equally inflamed on the Russian side, as most polls show that an overwhelming majority of Russian oppose returning any of the islands. During the legislative elections in Sakhalin Oblast in October 2004, a bloc called Our Motherland Sakhalin and the Kuriles, which is affiliated with the nationalist Motherland party, made a strong showing with 19.9 percent of the vote. The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party came in second with 17.72 percent, while the Communists polled third with 15.87 percent. Like the bloc, both these parties categorically reject all proposals to return the disputed islands to Japan.

Moscow's position regarding the islands is supported by China and South Korea, both of which have their own territorial disputes with Japan. In recent years, Moscow has begun using its energy-export policies to compel China and Japan to compete for closer relations with Russia. The main tool for this strategy was the route of a new strategic oil pipeline from eastern Siberia (Irkutsk Oblast) to the Far East.

Until last year, Moscow seemed to prefer a route from Angarsk to the Chinese city of Datsin. However, following the October 2004 arrest of Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, who had lobbied this option and who advocated the construction of a private, Yukos-owned pipeline, the Kremlin decided that the pipeline would bypass China and run to the Russian port of Nakhodka, from which most of the oil would be exported to Japan, South Korea, and global markets. Moscow offered China some compensation in the form of increased rail exports.

But in January, a consortium of Chinese banks offered state-owned Rosneft a $6 billion loan to purchase Yukos's main production subsidiary, Yuganskneftegaz. Shortly thereafter, Moscow decided to construct a branch of the pipeline to Datsin, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 April and reported on 28 April.

Despite Moscow's decision to build the main pipeline along the route preferred by Tokyo, there seems to be no movement on the issue of the disputed islands, which remain the epicenter of bilateral relations. This problem, shaped by Stalin 60 years ago, seems to remain as intractable as ever.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Nuhman Atefi said that nine soldiers were killed and three others were wounded in a 4 May attack on Afghan National Army (ANA) forces by the neo-Taliban in Shah Wali Kot District of southern Kandahar Province, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 5 May. On 5 May, ANA forces launched a counterattack on Shah Wali Kot, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Commander of Kandahar Military Corps No. 205 Major General Mohammad Moslem said that one militant was killed and two captured while two ANA soldiers suffered injuries in the "massive anti-Taliban operation." The loss represents the single worst loss of life for the nascent ANA. AT

General Mohammad Moslem said on 5 May that ANA and coalition forces have killed 24 and captured 14 neo-Taliban militiamen in the Daichopan district of Zabul Province, east of Kandahar, AIP reported. The captured neo-Taliban reportedly include a commander identified as "Momen." U.S. military spokesman Colonel James Yonts put the death toll at 44, AP reported on 5 May. According to Yonts, those killed were a "mix of Taliban and anti-coalition militants" who were well armed and did not flee but rather "stood and fought." Ali Khail, a spokesman for the Zabul governor, said that documents found on the dead militants identified two as Chechens and one as a Pakistani. Six U.S. soldiers and five Afghan policemen were injured during the operation, Yonts said. AT

Speaking for the militant neo-Taliban, Mufti Latifullah Hakimi said on 5 May that those killed in Daichopan were civilians, AIP reported. "The Taliban are not foolish enough to hide in villages after carrying out their attacks," Hakimi claimed. They return to the "mountain bases" after carrying out their operations, he added. In a separate interview, however, Hakimi said that only five neo-Talibans were killed in the Zabul clashes, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 5 May. AT

Neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi said on 5 May that the militia has killed the deputy head of the Khas Oruzgan district in Oruzgan Province, AIP reported. The official, identified as Mirza Mohammad, was reportedly killed on 4 May. Khas Oruzgan security commander Rozi Khan told AIP that Hakimi's claim is "baseless." AT

Hamid Karzai has called on more than 800 representatives from around Afghanistan to come to Kabul to debate a strategic partnership with the United States, including the possibility of establishment of permanent military bases in Afghanistan, AFP reported on 5 May. According to Karzai spokesman Khaliq Ahmad, the meeting is scheduled for 8 May. Some of the representatives, many of whom were members of the Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) that adopted the country's constitution in January 2004, said they are unaware of the gathering's agenda, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 5 May. A Loya Jirga representative, Abdul Hafiz Mansur, said that he has been invited to Kabul but not given an agenda for the meeting. The issue of U.S. bases "might be one of the issues for discussion, because the government has not invited representatives officially via the radio and television," Mansur speculated. The issue of a permanent U.S. military presence in Afghanistan has been in the news for some time, and there is speculation that Karzai wants to hear from leading Afghans on the issue before his scheduled visit to the United States later in May, when he is expected to discuss the matter. AT

Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said on 5 May in Tehran that the individuals mainly responsible for the mid-April unrest in the southwestern city of Ahvaz are "Iranians and are mainly affiliated to terrorist groups," Fars News Agency reported. Yunesi said the purported ringleader -- identified previously as "Al-Ahwazi" -- is a secessionist and insists on calling the body of water between Iran and Saudi Arabia something other than the "Persian Gulf." Yunesi said initial arrests have been made and more are forthcoming. "They are currently in one of the Western countries under the protection of the spying services, and with their help they provoke the people to cause disturbances and encourage separatism," Yunesi said. According to ISNA, Yunesi also said the culprits' actions reveal their affiliation with the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO). He did not explain this assertion further, but the MKO was sponsored by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who also sponsored anti-Iranian Arab and Baluchi secessionist organizations. BS

Interest in former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf appears to be on the increase as the date for prospective candidates to register for Iran's 17 June presidential election approaches. While some observers have criticized him for signing a 1999 letter threatening the president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2005), others are praising him. Masud Dehnamaki, an activist in the hard-line Hizbullah organization, said he admires Qalibaf's sincerity in acknowledging that he signed the letter, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 5 May. A report in the 5 May "Mardom Salari," on the other hand, criticizes Qalibaf and former state-broadcasting chief and presidential candidate Ali Larijani for their silence about their activities in the past. The ultraconservative weekly "Ya Lisarat al-Hussein" on 4 May quoted Qalibaf as criticizing candidates who say they would reestablish relations with the United States. Foreign policy mismanagement is behind Iran's problems, he said, not the absence of relations with the United States. BS

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said that the country's security forces are treating some detainees in the same way as those at Abu Ghurayb in Iraq, Radio Farda reported on 5 May. Shahrudi also lashed out against unauthorized police actions, such as arbitrary arrests, said judges must conduct interrogations, and added that confessions secured without a judge being present are inadmissible. He also spoke out against the enforcement of veiling standards for women, saying harsh actions such as detention open the country to foreign criticism. Shahrudi's criticism of the police might be part of a conservative effort to discredit former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who is running for president. It also could be connected with the partial easing of the social climate that sometimes precedes elections. Alternatively, Hashemi-Shahrudi might be trying to distance himself from government behavior that is resented by much of the public. BS

Several oil companies, including Norsk Hydro and Total, have received a request from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for information on any commissions they might have paid while doing business in Iran, AP reported on 4 May, quoting an anonymous "person familiar with the inquiry." The letter to the companies reportedly states: "We want to know if you have paid commissions on contracts to the Iranian government.... [T]he object of this inquiry is to help you to improve your disclosures" in SEC filings. Total and Norsk Hydro officials acknowledged receipt of the letter but did not divulge its contents. BS

Iraqi media on 5 May confirmed a 4 May report by RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) that said Ibrahim al-Ja'fari has settled on appointments for the posts of oil and electricity ministers. The posts have remained vacant since al-Ja'fari named his cabinet on 28 April (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 2 May 2005) as political groups wrangled over the appointments. RFI reported on 4 May that Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum will serve as oil minister. Bahr al-Ulum, a Shi'ite Iraqi, previously filled the position under the Iraqi Governing Council. Abd al-Muhsin Shalash will serve as electricity minister. Shalash, also a Shi'ite, is head of the Iraqi Free Society Party. Al-Ja'fari met with his cabinet on 5 May, KUNA reported. The meeting focused on security matters and the state budget, according to a government statement. KR

A suicide car bomber targeted a minibus transporting Iraqi policemen to work in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on 6 May, killing at least seven policemen and wounding several others, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, police in Baghdad reported the discovery of 14 bodies in the northern area of the capital, the news agency reported. All of the victims had been shot, some execution style. Police said they were alerted to the bodies after a tip from a resident who observed a man digging graves. It is unclear whether police apprehended the man. KR

Abd al-Karim al-Anzi, minister for national security affairs, told London's "Al-Hayat" that Iraq has become a center for terrorism and drug-trafficking networks, the daily reported on 5 May. "Most drug-trafficking rings in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran are trying to operate in the Iraqi arena, which has become a gateway for transporting these narcotics to neighboring states," he said. A ministerial security committee that includes his ministry, along with the Interior and Defense ministries and intelligence services, "will assume the supervision of the security process in combating terrorism, drugs, and organized crime." Al-Anzi told "Al-Hayat" that al-Ja'fari's government will work to improve intelligence gathering and raise the level of coordination between the Interior and Defense ministries and intelligence services. KR

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) continued to wrangle over legalities relating to the appointment of a president for the Kurdistan region this week, Kurdish media reported on 4 and 5 May. Independent Kurdish politician Mahmud Uthman called on the parties to convene the parliament, elected more than three months ago, in the absence of an agreement, "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported. Both parties agree that KDP head Mas'ud Barzani will fill the presidential post, but neither side can agree on the procedure to appoint him. The rift has prompted the KDP to lash out at the PUK, accusing it of creating a crisis. Procedural options include a KDP draft recommendation; a PUK recommendation written in response to the KDP draft; and a proposal offered up by other Kurdish parties. A fourth option would be to follow the Transitional Administrative Law laid out by the Coalition Provisional Authority, which says that conditions in the Kurdish region should not be changed until a new Iraqi constitution is ratified, "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 5 May. KR

The commander of the Iraqi Military Academy said that corruption is widespread at police and army recruiting centers, "Al-Zaman" reported on 4 May. Major Muwaffaq Khayun said officials are demanding bribes in order to process applications, adding that bribery is so prevalent that it has become part of normal procedures for these officials. "Applicants are usually ripped off and made to pay $200 to have the applications processed," he said. Applicants have complained of being "used and exploited" by the officials. Khayun said that the Defense Ministry has been alerted to the problem. KR