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Newsline - August 9, 2005

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 8 August expressed regret over the beating by unknown assailants of Polish Embassy staffer Andrzej Uriadko in Moscow on 7 August. "The Russian Foreign Ministry is conveying its profound sympathy to the Polish embassy official and views the attack as a regrettable incident," the ministry said in a press release. Uriadko was reportedly attacked after he responded in Polish to questions by the assailants. He was hospitalized following the attack, which took place not far from the Polish Embassy. The Foreign Ministry has pledged to step up security measures near the embassy. Polish Consul General Tomasz Klimanski earlier expressed concern over incident, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Klimanski also downplayed speculation that the attack might have been in retaliation for the recent attack on children of Russian Embassy employees in a Warsaw park (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005). VY

Yurii Chernyshov, head of the Altai School of Political Research, told journalists in Moscow on 8 August that it would be difficult to say that Altai Krai Governor Mikhail Yevdokimov's death was due to "chance," and reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2005). Chernyshov said that in the past year Yevdokimov's situation became precarious after the local legislature twice held votes of no confidence in him. Chernyshov also speculated that while President Vladimir Putin did not want to push Yevdokimov out for fear that doing so would be seen as a precedent for other regions, he did quietly back Yevdokimov's first deputy Mikhail Kozlov, who was named acting governor following Yevdokimov's death. Chernyshov likened Yevdokimov's death to that of Vladimir Bavarin, the former mayor of Altai Krai provincial capital Barnaul, who died in an automobile accident two years ago. Chernyshov noted that the death of Bavarin, who had ambitions to be governor, was never investigated. The Russian Prosecutor General's Office on 8 August announced it has opened an investigation into Yevdokimov's death. President Putin arrived in Barnaul on 9 August to take part in Yevdokimov's wake, RTR reported. "Yevdokimov was a man who was beloved and whom hundreds of thousands of Russians trusted," Putin said. VY

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, whom Putin has asked to head the investigation into the recent rescue of a Russian mini-submarine, said during a press conference in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii on 8 August that the actions of top navy commanders during the crisis will be thoroughly reviewed, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported the next day. The journalists noted that the commander of the Russian Navy, Fleet Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov, was not present at the press conference despite being in the city, according to "Rossiiskaya gazeta." "Komsomolskaya pravda," meanwhile, speculated that the incident regarding the AS-28 submarine could cost Kuroedov his position. Following the disastrous sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine in 2000, Kuroedov managed to maintain his position despite submitting his resignation to President Putin. However, the daily commented, the Kremlin would be unlikely to do the same if the situation presents itself again. However, the daily added, Kuroedov's resignation would do little to help turn around the decaying and underfunded navy. Interfax on 8 August quoted an unidentified source as saying that Kuroedov will be retired on 5 September, when he turns 61. VY

Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said during an 8 August cabinet meeting that his ministry is proposing what he described as "sort of an amnesty for individual incomes" in an effort to spur the repatriation of capital from overseas, RBK and other Russian media reported. Under the plan, as of 1 January 2006 those who report previously unclaimed individual income will be allowed to pay a flat 13 percent tax on condition that the money be transferred to a Russian bank. The amnesty will only be offered for a six-month period and only for income earned in Russia. Kudrin said that the Committee for Financial Monitoring would investigate the origin of the claimed income to ensure that money launderers do not benefit from the program. President Putin first proposed such a financial amnesty during his address to the nation in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005).VY

Some Duma deputies have expressed wariness about the potential involvement of financial intelligence in the program, as it could render the entire program ineffective, reported on 8 August. "Only the crazy would return money to the country under such conditions," quoted Duma Budget Committee Deputy Chairman Andrei Makarov (Unified Russia) as saying. Duma Banking Committee Chairman Vladislav Reznik (Unified Russia) said that the entire program seems to be unworkable due to the proposed involvement of the Committee for Financial Monitoring. Duma Deputy Speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii said: "If we really want to see some money returned to Russia, we should not even mention the word 'probe.'" VY

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov has signed a government directive establishing new rules for compensating family members of those who have died while serving in the armed forces or law-enforcement agencies, Interfax and RIA-Novosti reported on 8 August. Survivors of those who died either during their military service or at some point after completing at least 20 years in the military will receive compensation worth 60 percent of the cost of their housing and communal services (such as utilities). Relatives of those who died in the line of duty while working for various law-enforcement bodies will also qualify for the compensation. However, those eligible will receive the compensation only after they have paid for their housing and communal services in full. The monetization of social benefits is unpopular in Russia, which had long granted such benefits in the form of free housing, utilities payments, or use of public transportation. LB

National Strategy Institute Director Stanislav Belkovskii said on 8 August that the Kremlin is preparing to initiate a "left turn in its policy" in order to counter the leftist opposition, reported. Belkovskii said that the Kremlin will make a case for the necessity of tapping into the federal government's Stabilization Fund in order to provide social services to citizens. Belkovskii said that another facet of the Kremlin's "New Left policy" is the creation of new patriotic organizations "to fight oligarchy and bureaucracy." He predicted that, in addition to the pro-Putin movement "Nashi," the Kremlin will create a patriotic organization headed by renowned filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov. VY

Valerii Shantsev took the oath of office as governor of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast on 8 August, soon after the region's Legislative Assembly unanimously confirmed his nomination during a special session, Russian media reported. The same day, outgoing Governor Gennadii Khodyrev's term expired. Khodyrev attended the session and congratulated Shantsev on his confirmation, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 August, but LUKoil Vice President Vadim Vorobev was one of six legislators who did not show up for the confirmation vote. Sergei Kirienko, presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District, put forward Vorobev and Shantsev as candidates for the governor's post in a document to President Putin on 2 August. Later this week, Shantsev, who has never lived in Nizhnii Novgorod and only visited the region three times before his confirmation, will give up the office of deputy mayor of Moscow, which he has held since 1996. Russian commentators have widely predicted that Shantsev's move to Nizhnii Novgorod will weaken Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's position (see End Note below). LB

Federal Tax Service head Anatolii Serdyukov told journalists on 5 August that following the investigation of the Yukos oil company, "practically all oil companies have adjusted their figures for paying taxes and started to pay significantly greater sums," ITAR-TASS reported. He added that overall tax collections in 2004 were significantly greater than the previous year and that tax collections during the first half of 2005 were some 238 billion rubles ($8.4 billion) greater than expected. Profit taxes, value-added taxes, and taxes on extracting fossil fuels made up the bulk of the tax collections, Serdyukov said. LB

Russian authorities have confirmed the presence of bird flu virus in five regions of the Russian Federation, although the extremely dangerous H5N1 strain, which can kill humans, has been confirmed only in Novosibirsk Oblast, Reuters reported on 5 August. After several days of conflicting reports about the cause of wildfowl deaths in Omsk Oblast, bird flu was conclusively identified there on 4 August, reported the next day, citing the "Omskaya guberniya" news portal. Interfax reported on 5 August that both wild and domestic birds have died of flu virus in two Kurgan Oblast raions. Several days earlier, the virus was found in Altai Krai and Tyumen Oblast. Meanwhile, an unidentified representative of the Agriculture Ministry told Prime-TASS on 8 August that import bans on Russian poultry will have a negligible impact on the sector, because very little poultry processed in Russia and virtually none from Siberian regions is exported. According to Prime-TASS, European Union countries, along with Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Hong Kong, have banned poultry imports from Russia and Kazakhstan (see Kazakh story below). LB

The Central Election Commission (TsIK) has sent a letter to the Moscow City Duma and the Moscow Election Commission calling for three amendments to a law adopted last month, RIA-Novosti reported on 8 August. The letter warned that as currently written, the new election law could put the legitimacy of the next city legislature in doubt. Elections to the Moscow City Duma are scheduled for this December. The first change advocated by the TsIK is to lower the new threshold for winning seats in the legislature from 10 percent to 7 percent. The letter noted that a 10 percent barrier -- which exists only in Moscow and the republics of Kalmykia and Daghestan -- is likely to keep more parties from being represented in the chamber. Second, the TsIK objects to a provision lowering the minimum turnout required for valid elections from 25 percent to 20 percent. According to the TsIK, such a low turnout requirement violates the federal law on basic guarantees of voters' rights. Third, the TsIK recommended restoring the "against all" line to the ballot in Moscow, saying that abolishing that option will reduce incentives for some citizens to vote. LB

The Federation Council's Committee on Social Policy has asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to impose a moratorium on all adoptions of Russian orphans by foreigners, Interfax reported on 8 August. Committee Chairwoman Valentina Petrenko told the news agency that the senators were prompted to do so by the "numerous" killings of children in adopted families. She asserted that 13 Russian children have been killed by their adoptive parents in the United States alone, some by beatings and some by starvation. The chairwoman of the State Duma's committee on women, family, and youth, Yekaterina Lakhova, recently called for a moratorium on adoptions by citizens of some foreign countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2005). LB

Konstantin Remchukov, who recently purchased the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta," told Ekho Moskvy radio on 8 August that he plans to retain the newspaper's general director, Rustam Narzikulov, and Editor in Chief Tatyana Koshkareva. Narzikulov and Koshkareva have run the newspaper since 2001, when the previous owner, Boris Berezovskii, fired Vitalii Tretyakov, who had edited "Nezavisimaya gazeta" since its creation in 1990. Remchukov said he will search for new leadership at the daily only if Narzikulov and Koshkareva decline his offer. He also praised the newspaper's current journalists, but said he plans to hire additional writers. Remchukov explained that he sees "Nezavisimaya gazeta" occupying a market niche for "quality interpretation and analysis," rather than competing with major news agencies and Internet news sources. Technically, Remchukov's wife, Yelena Remchukova, is the owner of the newspaper, because Remchukov's position as adviser in the Economic Development and Trade Ministry restricts his outside business activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2005). However, Remchukova has not spoken publicly about the daily and appears unlikely to play an active management role. In contrast, Remchukov speaks freely in interviews about his reasons for buying the newspaper -- "just business," he claims, not politics -- and his plans. LB

On 6 August, 8 August, and again on 9 August, several hundred activists and supporters of pro-government parties and NGOs gathered outside the Baku headquarters of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) to protest that party's alleged collusion with Ruslan Bashirli, leader of the opposition movement Yeni Fikir, who was detained last week and charged with plotting to overthrow the country's leadership, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 8 August 2005). The picketers chanted derogatory slogans and tussled at intervals with AHCP members. Police reportedly observed the standoff but declined to intervene. Turan on 8 August quoted AHCP Supreme Council member Fuad Gahramanli as expressing the fear that the authorities are preparing to take control of the building and evict the AHCP from its offices. The Union of Editors issued a statement on 8 August appealing to the authorities to intervene to restore "normal conditions" for the work of the newspapers "Azadlyg" and "Bizim yol" and the news agency Turan, which occupy offices in the same building, reported on 9 August. The union also issued a similar appeal to the international community to ask the Azerbaijani authorities to guarantee the free functioning of the press. LF

On 8 August, Bashirli's lawyer Elchin Gambarov told journalists that he has met with his client in detention, reported on 9 August. Gambarov said Bashirli told him that he was being pressured to give testimony implicating AHCP Chairman Ali Kerimli in return for his release from detention, but refused to do so. Yeni Fikir Deputy Chairman Said Nuriev told the same press conference on 8 August that the Georgian television station Rustavi-2 reported that Georgian police have begun interrogating the people with whom Bashirli met on his trip to Tbilisi in late July, reported. Nuriev said the people in question are Georgians who are related to Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov. Meanwhile, in Tbilisi, President Mikheil Saakashvli's spokesman Gela Charkviani has denied the claim -- reportedly attributed to Bashirli by the APA news agency -- that Saakashvili plans to meet with AHCP Chairman Kerimli to advise him how to "stage a revolution" in Azerbaijan, Caucasus Press reported on 9 August. According to the Georgian state chancellery, there have been no contacts between Kerimli and the Georgian leadership. LF

The 8 August "RFE/RL Newsline" item titled, "Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General Denies Charges Against Youth Activist Politically Motivated" was incorrect in claiming that Prosecutor General Zakir Garalov did not explain how Azerbaijani television was able to acquire video footage that reportedly shows Bashirli drinking cognac in Tbilisi in the company of two men who are identified as Armenian special services agents."

Meeting in Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, in late July, representatives of political parties and NGOs from North Ossetia and from the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia adopted an appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin to effect the merger of the two republics into a single entity, reported on 9 August, citing They also adopted a formal decision on the unification of political parties in the two republics. Meanwhile, the Coordinating Council that unites 15 organizations representing the Russian, Armenian, Greek, Polish, and Jewish communities in Abkhazia has addressed an appeal to President Putin and to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov to recognize the Republic of Abkhazia as an independent state, Caucasus Press reported on 8 August. The appeal noted that the Russian Federation, as the successor state to the USSR, should honor decisions made in accordance with Soviet legislation, including the April 1990 law regulating the procedure for seceding from the USSR. LF

A joint inspection by 41 railroad experts from Georgia, Abkhazia and Russia of the railroad linking Russia with Georgia and Armenia via Abkhazia has been postponed indefinitely for "technical reasons," Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava told Caucasus Press on 9 August. In accordance with an agreement reached during talks last month, the experts were due to meet in Abkhazia on 9 August to begin assessing the extent of the repairs required to the infrastructure of the railroad between Psou on the Russian-Abkhaz border and Zugdidi in western Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2005). That process was to have lasted until 1 October. Russian experts have estimated the cost of repairs at $150 million. Irakli Alasania, chairman of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile, told Caucasus Press on 8 August that no decision has yet been made on the political expediency of resuming rail traffic. LF

Mikhail Mindzaev, interior minister of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, repeated in an 7 August interview with his claim of 27 July of a Georgian connection with the Beslan hostage taking of September 2004. Georgian officials immediately dismissed that claim as unfounded (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2005). Mindzaev told that he has evidence that radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev, who subsequently claimed to have masterminded the hostage taking, visited Tbilisi three weeks before, and Chechen President and resistance commander Aslan Maskhadov two weeks before the hostage taking. Mindzaev said both men held meetings "at the relevant level," but declined to divulge with whom. Maskhadov at the time denied any link to the Beslan hostage taking and unequivocally condemned it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2004). LF

Kazakh officials have confirmed that avian flu was the cause of poultry deaths in Pavlodar Province, but identified a different cause in a similar case in East Kazakhstan Province, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported on 8 August. In East Kazakhstan Province, where 364 chickens recently died (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2005), a veterinary official told Interfax that "tests confirmed pasteurellosis, not the preliminary diagnosis of bird flu." But in Pavlodar Province, where the first reported cases of bird flu-related poultry deaths occurred (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 August 2005), the Emergency Situations Ministry confirmed that bird flu contracted through contact with wild birds was the culprit, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan joined neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in banning the import of poultry and poultry products from Kazakhstan, UzA reported on 8 August. DK

Deputy Foreign Minister Taalai Kydyrov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 8 August that Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden have offered to accept Uzbek citizens currently held in detention in Osh. But Astrid van Genderen Stort, a spokeswoman for the UN Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCR) in Geneva, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that the three countries offered to accept 11 of the 15 Uzbeks weeks ago. "Sweden, Netherlands, and Finland have come forward to accept these 11, and this was already weeks ago when the whole [larger Uzbek refugee] group was still in Kyrgyzstan," she said. "We are still negotiating and talking on a daily basis with the Kyrgyz authorities and asking for the release of all the 15 that are of concern to us." However, three of the 15 Uzbeks who have not received asylum-seeker status may yet be returned to Uzbekistan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The 15 Uzbeks, part of a group of several hundred people who fled Uzbekistan after violence in Andijon on 13 May, were detained at the request of Uzbek authorities, who accuse them of committing crimes. A group of 439 other Uzbek refugees was airlifted to Romania on 29 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2005). DK

According to figures provided by Turkmenistan's Oil and Gas Ministry, the country produced 37.3 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 5.7 million tons of oil in the first seven months of 2005, reported on 8 August. The numbers indicate a 5.9 percent year-on-year increase in gas production and a 1.7 percent jump in oil production. For all of 2005, Turkmenistan has contracted to sell Ukraine 36 billion cubic meters of gas, Russia 5 billion, and Iran 7.5 billion. DK

Belarusian border guards on 8 August denied entry to four Polish members of the European Parliament -- European Parliament Deputy Speaker Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, and deputies Bogdan Klich, Barbara Kudrycka, and Boguslaw Sonik, Polish and international media reported. The four were traveling to Belarus accompanied by the mayor of Bialystok, a city in northeastern Poland with a substantial ethnic Belarusian population, and a journalist. "I think it's time for the European Union to take very serious steps regarding the situation in Belarus, because the fact that European Parliament representatives were not let into Belarus should be considered as a no-confidence vote from the Belarusian authorities toward the whole European Union, and not only Poland," Saryusz-Wolski commented. Jacques Nancy, spokesman for the European Parliament president, told journalists later the same day that the four Polish parliamentarians were not an official delegation of the European Parliament. They intended to meet with the beleaguered leadership of the Union of Poles of Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2005). JM

Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka on 8 August decided to earmark 950,000 zlotys ($290,000) for the Polish nongovernmental organizations planning to create an independent Belarusian-language radio, Polish media reported quoting official sources. Last week the Polish Foreign Ministry confirmed that Warsaw has been conducting negotiations with Brussels and Washington on financing a radio station for Belarus that would broadcast from Polish territory. JM

The Prosecutor-General's Office said in a statement on 8 August that it has concluded its investigation into the slaying of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. Three former police officers, Valeriy Kostenko, Mykola Protasov, and Oleksandr Popovych, are suspected of murdering Gongadze in 2000. JM

Ukraine has cancelled visa formalities for Czech citizens who visit Ukraine for a maximum of 90 days, CTK reported on 8 August, quoting the Czech Foreign Ministry. Czechs, like all other EU citizens, were previously allowed to enter Ukraine without visas between 1 May and 30 September but had needed a visa in order to visit at any other time of the year. JM

Argentine federal police arrested Milan Lukic in Buenos Aires on 8 August and will bring him before a federal judge soon, international and regional media reported. The international war crimes tribunal has indicted him for his role in the abduction, torture, and killing of Muslims in eastern Bosnia during the 1992-95 conflict when he belonged to a paramilitary group called the White Eagles. In addition, a Serbian court sentenced him in absentia recently to 20 years in prison for his role in abducting from a bus and killing 16 Sandzak Muslims in 1992 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2005). In one reported incident, Lukic and his men barricaded 72 civilians, mainly women and children, in a house near Visegrad in 1992 and burned it down. One woman escaped through a window and told her story to a Bosnian NGO, which brought it to the attention of the tribunal. At the time of his arrest, Lukic was living in an affluent district of the Argentine capital, claiming to be a South African businessman. Argentine police said his documents were forged. PM

Rasim Ljajic, who chairs Serbia and Montenegro's National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, said in Belgrade on 8 August that Lukic will most likely be sent to The Hague from Argentina, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Ljajic added that Lukic's arrest was the result of "intensive" operations by the Serbian security services. On 9 August, the Republika Srpska Interior Ministry said in a statement that the arrest was the result of its own "intensive" activity, the private Beta news agency reported. Argentine police officials said in Buenos Aires that they acted on the basis of an Interpol arrest warrant issued by the tribunal, the RFE/RL broadcast noted. PM

Serbian Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic said in Belgrade on 8 August that there was no political deal involved in the government's recent decision to drop criminal charges against Marko Milosevic, the son of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2005). Stojkovic called unfounded suggestions made by his predecessor, Vladan Batic, and several media commentators that a deal was done to ensure the continuing parliamentary support for the government by Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). An SPS spokesman also denied that any bargain was involved, as did a spokesman for Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and his Democratic Party of Serbia. PM

Oliver Ivanovic, who is a leader of the Serbian Lists for Kosovo and Metohija, said in Prishtina on 8 August that any decentralization plan for Kosova must divide the province "into at least 70 districts," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added that the Serbs want the plan to be completed by 2006, when local elections are slated to be held. The decentralization plan put forward by Kosova's government recently ran into opposition from Serbs living in the pilot project community of Gracanica, who called for some neighboring Serbian communities to be included in the Gracanica district's boundaries. Some ethnic Albanian opposition political leaders also objected to the plan, saying that it amounts to an ethnically based partition of Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003). PM

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has signed a decree setting up a commission to work out a Moldova-NATO partnership plan by March 2006, Infotag reported on 8 August. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan will chair the commission. JM

Valerii Shantsev took the oath of office as governor of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast on 8 August, ending nearly a decade of service as vice mayor of Moscow. The ceremony took place soon after the region's legislature unanimously confirmed Shantsev's nomination at a special session. There was no time to waste; on the same day, the term of outgoing Governor Gennadii Khodyrev expired.

Intense speculation has surrounded the governor's post in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast since March, when Khodyrev asked President Vladimir Putin for an early vote of confidence in his leadership. The regional parliament has since twice voted to ask Khodyrev to step down and not seek another term. A majority of deputies in the chamber, including some two dozen members of the Unified Russia party, vowed last month that they would refuse to confirm Khodyrev if Putin nominated him for another term.

Although Khodyrev had supporters within the presidential administration, some well-known local figures were also rumored to be under consideration for the job, including Federation Council member Yevgenii Bushmin and Yevgenii Lyulin, the speaker of the regional parliament and a protege of presidential envoy for the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko. Under Russian law, Putin was supposed to have nominated a candidate five weeks before Khodyrev's term expired, but that deadline passed without any decision by the president.

Shantsev's name first emerged as a candidate for the governorship a week ago, along with that of another Muscovite, LUKoil Vice President Vadim Vorobev. Although Kirienko backed Vorobev, according to "Vremya novostei" of 3 August, Putin chose Shantsev.

At first glance, it was a strange choice. Shantsev has never lived in Nizhnii Novgorod. A Moscow resident since 1966, he joined the city government in 1994 and was elected vice mayor of Moscow in 1996. He became nationally known shortly before the June 1996 election, when he was burned by a remote-controlled bomb in an assassination attempt.

Shantsev has not tried to pretend that he is well-versed in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast's political or economic affairs. In fact, after Putin nominated him on 3 August, Shantsev flew to the region's capital, Nizhnii Novgorod, and told local journalists that it was just his third visit to the city. The previous two trips were not related to governance; according to Shantsev, he once visited friends and once attended a hockey match, Channel 1 television reported on 3 August. (Shantsev was commercial director of the Moscow-based Dinamo hockey team in 1991-94.) Shantsev admitted that he has a "weak point" in that he does not know local conditions in Nizhnii Novgorod well, but promised to get up to speed quickly, TV-Center reported on 3 August. He also told journalists that he intends to appoint local cadres to his administration.

Shantsev once openly expressed ambitions to succeed Yurii Luzhkov as mayor of Moscow, but he appears to be ready to work in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast for a long time. He announced on 4 August that he will need 10 years, or two full terms as governor, to solve the oblast's problems, Ekho Moskvy reported. quoted Shantsev as saying on 3 August that regions with economic resources comparable to Nizhnii Novgorod's have standards of living that are "1 1/2 times higher than in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, [and] we must understand the reasons for this."

The new governor will have plenty of work to do. Nizhnii Novgorod was considered to be at the vanguard of Russian economic reform in the 1990s, but it has languished more recently, with incomes and wages below the national average. However, the region is a major industrial center, containing several important defense-industry facilities. Russia's leading nuclear-weapons research facility, Arzamas-16, is located in the oblast city of Sarov.

Shantsev has already promised to "develop the real sector of the economy and reduce bureaucratic barriers" in order to solve the problem of low average wages, which he described as the main problem facing the oblast, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 August. Given Shantsev's background, greater participation in the local economy by Moscow-based businesses will likely be an integral part of this plan.

Boris Nemtsov, who was governor of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast from late 1991 until early 1997 and is now a member of the Union of Rightists Forces (SPS) political council, expressed high hopes for Shantsev, not only because of his extensive managerial experience and "deep knowledge of the corridors of power in the capital," but because "he will succeed in attracting much more investment into the Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast's economy," reported on 3 August.

Some people have taken a more negative view of this possible development. According to RTR state television on 3 August, local businesspeople have already expressed concern that they will not be able to compete with the influx of corporate money from Moscow that Shantsev is likely to bring to Nizhnii Novgorod. Aleksandr Prudnik, a senior associate at the Nizhnii Novgorod branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Sociology Institute, predicted that Shantsev's arrival would turn Nizhnii Novgorod into an "affiliate" of Moscow-based businesses, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 3 August. While such businesses have controlled the "the main economic levers" in the region "de facto" for some time, they would now be able to do so "de jure," Prudnik added, making the region "strictly accountable to the Kremlin."

If members of the local political elite share such worries, they have kept them to themselves. After meeting with Shantsev during his visit to Nizhnii Novgorod on 3 and 4 August, influential politicians had nothing but praise for the man from Moscow. Legislature speaker Lyulin emerged from his meeting saying he would recommend that lawmakers confirm Shantsev as governor. Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Vadim Bulavinov and the rectors of local institutes of higher education also expressed a high opinion of Shantsev after meeting with him, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 August. Shantsev scored points with the regional political council of Unified Russia on 4 August, when he promised to assist that party in municipal elections scheduled for October.

Kirienko also joined the chorus supporting Shantsev, even though Putin passed over other candidates he had reportedly backed for the governor's post. Kirienko described Shantsev as "one of the most effective managers," who has a "brilliant organizational apparatus," REN-TV reported on 3 August. The next day, Kirienko termed Shantsev a "high-level professional" and asserted that "the president's choice is right, perhaps even ideal," according to on 7 August.

Those words are ironic, in light of Shantsev's close association with Luzhkov, whom Kirienko sharply criticized during his own unsuccessful campaign for Moscow mayor in 1999. In fact, an unnamed source close to Kirienko has already predicted that relations between the presidential envoy and the new governor will be difficult. "Kommersant-Daily" of 3 August quoted the source as saying that Shantsev is unlikely to have forgotten Kirienko's "aggressive campaign" against Luzhkov in 1999.

Kirienko's positive take on Shantsev may stem from the expectation that his arrival in Nizhnii Novgorod will severely weaken Luzhkov's grip on Moscow. This angle has dominated much of the political commentary about Putin's choice of Shantsev in the Moscow-based press. Shantsev has not only been the mayor's longtime right-hand man, but he was also viewed as a possible successor to Luzhkov, who has said he will not seek another term when his current term ends in December 2007.

"Vremya novostei" on 3 August interpreted Shantsev's nomination as a "strong warning" to Luzhkov, who has tangled with federal government ministers recently. The precedent of nominating someone from outside the region suggests that Putin might tap a St. Petersburg native, such as presidential envoy to the Central Federal District Georgii Poltavchenko, to replace Luzhkov.

For this reason, "Kommersant-Daily" suggested on 3 August that moving Shantsev to Nizhnii Novgorod marks "the end of the Luzhkov era" and will prove more significant for Moscow than for Nizhnii Novgorod itself. Similar analysis has appeared in "Izvestiya," "Novye izvestiya" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta": Putin is said to have killed two birds with one stone, strengthening the Kremlin's hand in the capital as well as in Nizhnii Novgorod.

The policy implications of Shantsev's departure from Moscow could also be substantial. Sergei Mitrokhin, the leader of the Yabloko party's Moscow branch, issued an open letter to Shantsev on 4 August urging him not to accept the job in Nizhnii Novgorod, reported. Mitrokhin's letter warned that vacating the post of vice mayor would incur "negative consequences for Moscow," since Shantsev symbolizes the continuity of Luzhkov's policy of strengthening the city's social-benefits system. Mitrokhin expressed concern that if someone from outside the capital is picked to replace Luzhkov in 2007, the new mayor might carry out federal policies of abolishing certain social benefits and forcing people to pay the full costs of education and health care.

For his part, Luzhkov has put on a brave face. His administration had no immediate comment on Shantsev's nomination. But the mayor told Channel One television on 7 August that Shantsev's nomination was discussed with him and that he supported it. He also predicted that Shantsev will do better than previous leaders in dealing with the economic and social problems of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast.

Outgoing Governor Khodyrev's future has yet to be determined. RIA-Novosti reported on 3 August that he has already turned down offers of two jobs: assistant to Kirienko (probably not a serious offer, given that Kirienko was a patron of Khodyrev's bitter rival, Lyulin), and member of the Federation Council.

Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao on 8 August said that three Afghan refugee camps will be relocated or their inhabitants repatriated between 15 August and 1 September, Associated Press of Pakistan reported. Pakistan has already announced its decision to move Afghan refugees living in a camp near Islamabad and other camps in tribal areas of Pakistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2005). Sherpao said the other camps slated for closure are in Kurram and Bajour tribal agencies close to the border with Afghanistan. If the Afghan refugees in these three camps do not repatriate to their country, "or voluntarily shift to other camps within the deadline we shall have no other choice than to shift them," Sherpao threatened. Over one million Afghan refugees are estimated to still be living in more than 100 camps throughout Pakistan while one and half million Afghan are living in Pakistani towns, the Islamabad daily "The News" noted on 8 August. The timing of the decision by Pakistan to send the refugees to Afghanistan so close to the crucial 18 September election, has been questioned by observers. AT

Armed men who have been linked with the neo-Taliban are suspected in the killing of a medical doctor in the Andar District of Ghani Province on 8 August, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. Ghani security chief Abdul Rahman Sarjang said two militiamen were wounded and captured in the attack. The slain doctor, identified as Mohammad Hashem, was reportedly targeted because he was a senior member of the former communist regime in Afghanistan, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 8 August. AT

One of Canada's top military officers, Major General Andrew Leslie, warned on 7 August that his country's troops might be serving for two decades in Afghanistan, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported on 8 August. "Afghanistan is a 20-year venture," Leslie added. Leslie prepared Canadians for casualties in Afghanistan, saying every time "you kill an angry young man overseas, you're creating 15 more who will come after you." Canada, which has maintained troops with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, in July also took command of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in southern Kandahar Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2005). Warning that Kandahar is still a hotbed for terrorists, Leslie said Canadian troops might soon be engaged in combat, "The Toronto Star," reported on 8 August. AT

Kabul-based private Tolu Television has expanded its broadcasts to Kandahar city, a press statement from Tolu on 8 August indicated. With the addition of Kandahar, Tolu can reach 13 million Afghans in Kabul, Herat, and Mazar-e Sharif. Tolu is also available via satellite and can be viewed in other parts of Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, India, and much of Central Asia and the Persian Gulf states, the statement added. Tolu began broadcasting in Kabul in October. Tolu's programs have been criticized by the Afghan clergy, especially Chief Justice Malawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 8 August. To these charges Tolu's owner, Sa'd Mohseni, claimed that 80 percent of the people with access to television regularly watch his station. AT

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors arrived at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) on 8 August to remove the seals and to install surveillance cameras after Tehran's announcement that it will resume work there, RFE/RL reported. Raw uranium is processed into uranium hexafluoride (UF6) at the Isfahan facility. UF6 is a gas that is used in centrifuges to make enriched uranium. Work at the Isfahan UCF was suspended in November 2004. According to the Iranian agency ISNA, activities at the facility resumed in the presence of the inspectors and Mohammad Saidi, the deputy international affairs chief at Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. Saidi said the inspectors' removal of the seals should be completed by 9 August. Saidi told state television that there are no plans to resume activities at the facility in Natanz; that is where UF6 is enriched in centrifuges. He said this will be a subject of discussion in future meetings with European Union representatives. BS

Supreme National Security Council public affairs chief Ali Aqamohammadi said on 8 August that Ali Larijani's appointment as Supreme National Security Council secretary will come "soon," IRNA reported. He added that the current secretary, Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, will stay on in the government as the supreme leader's representative to the council. Larijani is currently the supreme leader's representative to the council. Meanwhile, speculation on President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's 21 cabinet choices is continuing. Mohsen Kuhkan, a hard-line legislator, said on 8 August that the president has not submitted his list to the legislature yet, IRNA reported. BS

Former President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami has been elected as secretary-general of Iran's relatively liberal clerical party, the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez). Making the announcement on 8 August, central council member Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi said the choice was made on 7 August, IRNA reported. Former Secretary-General Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi resigned after the June 2005 presidential election, and he intends to establish a new political party. Another central council member, Seyyed Mohammad Razavi, told Fars News Agency before the voting on 7 August that if Khatami does not accept the post it will be offered to Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Musavi-Khoeni. BS

President Bashar al-Assad concluded his two-day visit to Iran on 8 August, IRNA and state television reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2005). On the second day of the trip, al-Assad met Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani, and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Hashemi-Rafsanjani stressed the importance of continuing cooperation between Iran, Syria, and Hizballah in Lebanon. Shamkhani and the Syrian visitor discussed cooperation in the defense arena, and Shamkhani also touched on what IRNA referred to as "Syria's resistance to the Zionist regime." He added that "regional cooperation is the best strategy for dealing with the expansionism of Zionists and the ultraregional powers." Kharrazi told his guest, "Current developments in Lebanon and particularly vigilance and solidarity of the Lebanese nation and different groups in the face of ups and downs and parliamentary elections are indicative of new political achievements by the Lebanese Islamic Resistance," IRNA reported. Al-Assad also met with former President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami. BS

At least 10 Iraqi policemen were killed on 9 August in five separate attacks, according to the Interior Ministry, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. A police captain and his driver were killed by insurgents in the Al-Durah neighborhood in southern Baghdad; an officer from the Interior Ministry's Major Crime Unit was shot dead in his car in another attack in nearby Al-Zafaraniya. Insurgents also shot dead four policemen on patrol along a major highway in eastern Baghdad. Two other police officers were killed in a separate incident in eastern Baghdad, while one policeman was shot and three others wounded in northern Baghdad. All of the attacks took place between 7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m., the ministry confirmed. KR

The UN-appointed Independent Inquiry Committee said in its third quarterly report to the UN Security Council on 8 August that Benon Sevan, the former head of the UN Oil-for-Food Program, received nearly $150,000 in illicit cash payments from an oil trader ( The proceeds came from the African Middle East Petroleum Company's (AMEP) sale of some 7.3 million barrels of Iraqi oil, purchased under the Oil-for-Food Program. The cash was deposited into a Swiss bank account controlled by Sevan and his friend and go-between with AMEP, Fred Nadler. The committee found that about $257,500 in cash withdrawals were made from the account between late 1998 and late 2001, when either Sevan or Nadler were in Geneva. The withdrawals were followed by a total of $147,184 in cash deposits into a bank account in New York held by Sevan and his wife. Sevan resigned from his post on 7 August; Committee chairman Paul Volcker asked UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to waive immunity from criminal prosecution for Sevan, who is from Cyprus. KR

Meanwhile, a U.S. federal prosecutor filed criminal charges against former UN procurement official Alexander Yakovlev, for attempting to solicit bribes from a Swiss company bidding for a contract in the Oil-for-Food Program, international media reported on 9 August. Yakovlev, a Russian citizen, received more than $950,000 in illicit payments from contractors doing business with the UN outside the Oil-for-Food Program. He pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and money laundering, said a U.S. attorney in New York. Yakovlev could face up to 60 years in prison. UN Secretary-General Annan waived Yakovlev's immunity from criminal prosecution on 8 August, the UN News Center reported the same day ( KR

Munir Haddad, a judge sitting on the Iraqi Special Tribunal, told Al-Arabiyah television in an 8 August interview that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's first trial -- in connection with the Al-Dujayl incident -- will begin within 45 days. Haddad added that other cases against Hussein and former regime members will begin soon, including the case of the exiling of 600,000 Fayli Kurds and genocide of between 9,000 and 12,000 Fayli men in Nuqrat Al-Salman. Haddad has handled the investigation into that case and told Al-Arabiyah that former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan appears responsible for the Fayli genocide. Hussein has also been charged in the case and he told Haddad that the charge is a "political one." Haddad added that no former regime member has accepted responsibility for their alleged crimes. He noted that Hussein and others will be tried according to law number 1 of 2003 issued by the U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer, adding that the National Assembly recently passed a new law that legitimizes the work of the Supreme Criminal Tribunal. KR