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Newsline - January 4, 2006

Gazprom and Ukraine announced on 4 January that they have reached a compromise deal on natural gas prices, Russian and international news agencies reported the same day. Under a complicated arrangement, Gazprom will sell gas to an intermediary, RosUkrEnergo, for $230 per 1,000 cubic meters. RosUkrEnergo, which is a joint venture between Gazprom and Austria's Raiffeisen Investment, will in turn sell gas to Ukraine at $95 per 1,000 cubic meters. Russia will also pay higher rates to ship gas via pipelines across Ukrainian territory. According to the agreement, the new rate will be $1.60 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers, an increase from the $1.09 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers Russia had been paying. The deal ends a tense standoff that saw Gazprom shut off Ukraine's gas supplies on 1 January, affecting supplies to Western Europe. BW

Oleksiy Ivchenko, the head of Ukraine's state gas company Naftohaz Ukrayiny, praised the compromise deal between Ukraine and Gazprom on 4 January, saying it benefitS both parties, Interfax reported. "We are satisfied with the outcome of our negotiations. We reached mutually beneficial and therefore mutually acceptable agreements, which will allow us to fully meet Ukraine's gas needs, on the one hand, and ensure the transit of Russian gas intended for Europe, on the other hand," Ivchenko said in Moscow after talks with Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller. "Consequently, I believe that we are switching to market principles, which will allow us to meet our companies' needs," Ivchenko added. Miller said that "the agreements will provide additional security guarantees to gas exports to Europe and act as a sound foundation for further cooperation between Russia and Ukraine in the gas sector based on market principles." BW

Dmitrii Rogozin, the leader of the nationalist Motherland party, sent a letter to senior Russian officials on 3 January asking them to place the issue of the Black Sea port of Sevastopol on the agenda with Ukraine, Interfax reported the next day. Sevastopol, which is on Ukrainian territory, hosts Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "Russia has every legal ground not to pay Ukraine any rent" on the Russian Black Sea Fleet deployed in Sevastopol, Rogozin said. "Sevastopol remains a Russian city from a legal standpoint," he added. "We insist on a revision of an increasingly dubious section of the underlying treaty ratified in 1997 that deals with Sevastopol rent payments," he said. BW

Sergei Ivanov told on 2 January that there is no justification for recent discussions in Ukraine about raising the rent that Russia pays for using facilities in Sevastopol for the Black Sea Fleet. Ivanov argued that the current rent agreement is valid until 2017 and that Ukraine in general and Sevastopol in particular have made money on it. In response to a question about the problem of a lack of housing for officers and their families, Ivanov said that housing for military personnel is the army's most serious problem and can only be resolved over time and with strong support from the state budget. Ivanov was more optimistic about the modernization of the military, saying that much progress has been made recently. PM

Prominent Russian politician Grigorii Yavlinskii told RFE/RL's Russian Service on 3 January that President Vladimir Putin has "created an antagonism between Russia and Ukraine" in order to "unite the people around the government." The leader of the liberal Yabloko party stressed that "the principal mistake of...Putin's current policy is [to forget] that Russia's [prospects] in the 21st century are good only if it becomes integrated into European structures and generally redirects itself towards Europe." Yavlinskii added that he is "not talking about Brussels, but about European civilization in its entirety. Right now, instead of helping Ukraine move along and moving along with it, Russia is uselessly trying to not let her do so, and is itself trying to pursue some sort of 'third way' [in political development]. In reality, there is no 'third way'; there is only the Third World" as an alternative. Yavlinskii noted that the pro-Putin Unified Russia party distributed leaflets in the recent Moscow election with the slogan that "the citizens are the government's best helpers." He stressed that "everything the Russian propaganda machine during the past month has been an attempt to persuade its citizens to regard a people with whom they are very close, with whom they have lived for centuries, as their enemy, in order to consolidate them around the powers-that-be." PM

Yavlinskii told RFE/RL's Russian Service on 3 January that the government "campaign" against Ukraine is aimed at diverting attention from important issues involving the state-run gas monopoly Gazprom itself. He argued "the campaign is not over, but I think part of it [involves displaying] irritation with Ukraine and talk of Ukrainians stealing gas, instead of [addressing] corruption in Russia and [the issue of] where Gazprom's money is really going. Indeed, it is a means of diverting attention, which will have a significant impact for at least some time. In any case, [the authorities] have succeeded so far because they have all possible instruments of propaganda at their disposal." PM

On 1 January, Russia assumed the rotating presidency of the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrial countries, to which it was admitted in an effort to promote free market reforms in the 1990s and help ensure the safety of the former Soviet Union's biological, chemical, and nuclear stockpiles, reported. President Putin reportedly intends to use the upcoming G-8 summit in St. Petersburg to focus attention on energy security in an effort to parlay its oil and gas reserves into political power and influence. International media noted on 3 January that Russia's behavior in the dispute with Ukraine over gas prices has prompted some countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary to take steps to reduce their dependency on Russian energy supplies. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" stressed that Moscow's use of gas as a political weapon serves as a warning to Germany against relying too much on Russian energy suppliers, noting that the old argument that Russian deliveries have always been reliable no longer stands. The German daily also questioned the wisdom of the North European Gas Pipeline (NEGP) project in light of Moscow's apparent willingness to manipulate energy deliveries for political purposes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2005). PM

In his New Year address to the Armenian people, broadcast on 31 December by Armenian Public Television and posted by Groong, Robert Kocharian noted that Armenia will increase social expenditures, including public-sector salaries and pensions, as of 1 January 2006. He said the funds allocated to Armenia under the U.S. Millennium Challenge Account program will be used to minimize the gap between living standards in Yerevan and those in rural areas, and he predicted that 2006 will become "a turning point for the development of rural communities" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2005). In a television interview on 28 December, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian warned that further tranches of the $235.65 million to be disbursed from Millennium Challenge Account over the next five years will be contingent on the progress of democratization in Armenia, specifically on ensuring that the parliamentary and presidential elections due in 2007 and 2008 respectively are deemed free and fair, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 29 December. LF

President Kocharian further affirmed in his New Year address that Armenia will continue to pursue a balanced foreign policy in 2006, according to Armenian Public Television as cited by Groong. As priorities he singled out relations with Russia and France, Armenia's new cooperation program with the EU, and expanding cooperation with Iran, especially in the energy sector. LF

In an address on the occasion of the Day of Solidarity with Azerbaijanis of the World, which is celebrated on 31 December, Ilham Aliyev appealed to his co-ethnics to "disclose in a timely fashion the plans and provocations of Armenian propaganda and to make a more decisive effort to curtail attempts to falsify our history and cultural heritage," reported on 30 December. Aliyev also spoke at some length in his address of the need to strengthen ties with ethnic Azerbaijanis abroad and turn such communities into an organized force capable of playing a more effective role in the political and economic life of the countries in which they live. By far the largest Azerbaijani community outside Azerbaijan is that in neighboring Iran. LF

Former presidential administration official Akif Muradverdiev is suffering from high blood pressure, reported on 30 December quoting Muradverdiev's lawyer Rashad Mirmekhtizade, who met with him the previous day. Muradverdiev was arrested in late October on charges of plotting a coup d'etat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2005) and has since been held in the National Security Ministry's pretrial investigation prison. Former Health Minister Ali Insanov, detained on similar charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 24 October 2005), is suffering from severe back pains and risks losing the use of his legs unless he receives expert medical attention soon, quoted Insanov's lawyer Togrul Babaev as telling APA news agency on 31 December. Former Economic Development Minister Farkhad Aliyev's lawyer Adil Ismailov similarly told APA news agency on 30 December that his client urgently needs to undergo a medical examination, reported on 31 December. Aliyev, who is being held in pretrial detention on the same charges, has twice suffered a sharp fall in blood pressure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 29 December 2005). LF

Azerbaijan embarked on 1 January on a redenomination of its currency, the manat, reported on 3 January. One new manat is the equivalent of 5,000 old manats; one new manat is worth $0.9186 at the current exchange rate. New 1-, 5-, 10-, 20-, 50- and 100-manat banknotes will be issued, together with 1-, 3-, 5-, 10-, 20- and 50-gyapik coins (1 manat = 100 gyapiks). Both the new and the old banknotes will be accepted as legal tender in 2006, after which old banknotes may be exchanged for their redenominated equivalent. LF

Azerbaijani Deputy Interior Minister Major General Vilayat Eyvazov and his Daghestani counterpart Abiddin Karchikaev oversaw a search operation from 19-23 December in districts on both sides of Azerbaijan's northern border with the Russian Federation, reported on 31 December. Four wanted criminals were apprehended and quantities of arms and ammunition confiscated. LF

Relations between Russia and Georgia must be "normalized" before any date can be set for signing the treaty on bilateral relations that has been in the making for the past several years, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigorii Karasin announced on 3 January, Caucasus Press reported. Unfortunately, Karasin continued, the Georgian authorities' current "anti-Russian campaign" precludes the signing of the treaty at the present time. He added that there is no link between the framework treaty and the agreement reached in May 2005 on the closure of Russia's two remaining military bases in Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005). Also on 3 January, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze dubbed Karasin's statement "surprising" in light of what Antadze termed Tbilisi's recent statements of desire to improve bilateral relations, Caucasus Press reported. Antadze said Georgia does not seek to sign the framework treaty at any cost. On 4 January, Kote Gabashvili, who chairs the Georgian parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, told Caucasus Press that the primary obstacle to signing the framework treaty is not Georgia's anti-Russian policy, but "the anti-Georgian policy pursued by Moscow." LF

In a statement released on 28 December, the Georgian Foreign Ministry protested the claim made the previous day in Moscow by Minister for Special Assignments Boris Chochiev that the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia has enough weaponry outside the immediate conflict zone to counter a Georgian attack, Civil Georgia reported on 29 December. The Georgian statement claimed that such an accumulation of armaments violates previous agreements on the demilitarization of the conflict zone. South Ossetian Interior Minister Mikhail Mindzaev rejected on 30 December Georgian demands for "demilitarization," which he claimed are intended to destroy the unrecognized republic's defense potential. Chochiev on 29 December said Tskhinvali will ask the OSCE to arm two South Ossetian battalions, to be deployed exclusively for defensive purposes, as OSCE member states already provide weaponry to Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava told journalists in Tbilisi on 3 January that Georgia proposes holding the next meeting of the four-party Joint Control Commission tasked with monitoring the security situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone on 18-20 January in Tbilisi, Caucasus Press reported. But he reaffirmed Georgia's rejection of Russia's proposal to establish a special working group to draft over the next three-four months a detailed plan for resolving the conflict based on proposals Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili unveiled in 2004-2005. Khaindrava argued that any working group should focus exclusively on the issue of South Ossetia's future status within Georgia, as all sides agree on the need for the demilitarization and reconstruction of the conflict zone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2005). LF

Sergei Bagapsh dismissed on 28 December as "essentially irresponsible" the 23 December call by the opposition Forum of National Unity of Abkhazia (FNEA) to suspend the privatization of major enterprises, ApsnyPress reported. The FNEA statement accused the unrecognized republic's leadership of selling off property at random at "dumping prices" to the detriment of national security interests, and proposed a moratorium on further privatizations pending the adoption of the appropriate legislation, according to ApsnyPress on 23 December. Bagapsh said on 28 December that a list will shortly be published of enterprises scheduled for privatization, and that a tender will be declared in each case, although he conceded that in some instances there may only be one interested buyer. He said all issues related to privatization should be the subject of an open discussion within the government and parliament, and he denied that unspecified concerns have been sold off to Georgian buyers. He described the FNEA, which challenged the Abkhaz leadership's polices at its founding congress three months ago (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 17 October 2005), as people who for years occupied positions of power but failed to accomplish anything for the benefit of Abkhazia, ApsnyPress reported. LF

The Tbilisi City Court suspended on 3 January for an indefinite period the ongoing trial of Vladimir Arutiunian, who is charged with the murder of a police officer and with throwing a hand grenade at the podium in Tbilisi from which U.S. President George W. Bush and his Georgian counterpart Saakashvili addressed the Georgian people in May 2005, Caucasus Press reported. Arutiunian had reportedly had a major disagreement with his defense lawyer, who was scheduled to make her concluding speech on 3 January. The prosecution has demanded life imprisonment for Arutiunian, who has admitted throwing the hand grenade. Arutiunian also said in court that he prefers to remain in jail as long as Saakashvili remains president. LF

The lower house of the Kazakh parliament adopted legislation on 28 December that will amnesty about 14,000 prisoners, AP reported. Although the bill must still be adopted by the upper house of parliament and signed by President Nursultan Nazarbaev, the amnesty will free a significant proportion of the country's old, young, and female convicts. The Kazakh government first proposed the amnesty on 16 December to coincide with the country's independence day. RG

The details of a 23 December presidential decree on anticorruption issued by President Nazarbaev were released on 29 December in Dushanbe, Asia-Plus and Interfax reported. According to the terms of the decree, which sets forth a series of measures for 2006-10, the cabinet is required to present an action plan for the implementation of the anticorruption program and to submit a status report on its progress twice a year. RG

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev extended on 30 December the country's moratorium on the death penalty, ITAR-TASS reported. According to a presidential spokesman, the government is preparing draft legislation that would permanently ban capital punishment and impose lengthy prison sentences or life imprisonment instead. Kyrgyzstan first introduced a moratorium on the death penalty in December 1998, which has been consistently extended by presidential decree every year. RG

Speaking to reporters in Bishkek, Ismail Isakov stated on 30 December that the U.S. military base in the country "continues to play an important role from the point of view of security in the Central Asian region," Interfax reported. He added that since the base is essential for "countering terrorism and maintaining stability in Afghanistan," the duration of the U.S. presence in Kyrgyzstan will depend on the course of those operations. Commenting on the "different purposes" of the Russian air base in Kyrgyzstan, Isakov noted that it was established under the CIS Collective Security Treaty as "a key and long-term element of the regional security system." RG

Two former Kyrgyz officials were arrested on 30 December in Moscow in a joint operation by Kyrgyz and Russian security forces, AKIpress reported. The former officials, wanted on charges of corruption and embezzlement of state funds, include the former head of the Kyrgyz Penal Department, Vladimir Nosov, and the former chief of the National Agency for Information Resources and Technology, Yurii Lysogorov. According to an announcement in Bishkek by the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry's Main Directorate for Criminal Investigation, the two fugitives were able to obtain Russian citizenship since their flight from the country in the wake of the ouster of former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev. Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General Kambaraly Kongantiev recently announced that the Kyrgyz authorities have also formally requested Russian assistance in apprehending and extraditing Aidar Akaev, the son of the former Kyrgyz president, and former Kyrgyz Defense Minister Esen Topoev, on corruption charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2005). RG

The United States launched on 2 January a massive airlift operation to provide winter supplies to Tajik border guards, Asia-Plus reported. The estimated $3 million worth of supplies and equipment includes food, winter clothing, medical supplies, tents, and other needed supplies. The airlift is to last several weeks and will deliver much-needed supplies directly to Tajik border guard posts. The operation is part of a broader U.S. aid package for Tajik border guards. RG

U.S. Embassy officials held a ceremony on 30 December in Dushanbe to present Tajik Border Guard Colonel Nilobek Subadurov with the first installment of new equipment for border security and export controls, Asia-Plus reported. The equipment is part of $750,000 in assistance to Tajik border guards stemming from the U.S. Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) Program. The modern equipment includes computer systems, night-vision gear, radiation pagers, generators, and radio-frequency scanners. A second installment of $450,000 worth of summer and winter uniforms is to be delivered to Tajikistan in early spring. The EXBS Program has delivered over $7.5 million in equipment and training to Tajikistan since 2002. RG

On an official weeklong visit to Tehran, the chairman of Tajikistan's lower chamber of parliament, Saidullo Khairulloyev, told reporters on 30 December that Tajikistan is actively seeking to expand bilateral relations with Iran, Asia-Plus reported. As the head of an official Tajik parliamentary delegation, Khairulloyev added that the prospect of bilateral political, economic, and cultural relations is "very bright" and suggested that "trilateral unity" between Iran, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan would only "contribute to lasting peace in the entire region." The Tajik delegation met with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki, and parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel. RG

A regional official of Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), Qalandar Sadriddinov, claimed on 29 December that his party has garnered significant support and has greatly expanded its membership, Asia-Plus reported. As head of the IRP in the southern Khatlon Province, Sadriddinov stated that party membership has grown to 9,000 in his province alone, with over 1,000 new members joining in 2005. In a published interview, he also claimed that his party's popularity has soared since the February parliamentary elections. IRP leader Said Abdullo Nuri recently announced that the party will present a candidate in the country's November 2006 presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2005). Khatlon Province, along Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan, was the scene of heavy fighting during the Tajik civil war. Eight years later, the region's economy has not recovered and unemployment and poverty remain high. RG

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov confirmed on 3 January that Turkmenistan has agreed to deliver low-cost supplies of natural gas to Ukraine, Asia-Plus and ITAR-TASS reported. The agreement, reached in a telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, calls for the supply of 40 billion cubic meters of gas to Ukraine at a price of $50 per 1,000 cubic meters for 2006. Niyazov's confirmation of the agreement follows several days of confusion and contradictory media reports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 29 December 2005). RG

The head of Tajikistan's Tojikgaz state-owned gas company, Huseyn Aliev, announced on 3 January in Dushanbe that Uzbekistan has drastically increased the price it charges Tajikistan for natural gas, ITAR-TASS reported. The price rise, of nearly one-third, results in an immediate increase from $42 to $55 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas. As Tajikistan normally imports 95 percent of its natural gas from Uzbekistan, it will be especially vulnerable to the increase, seemingly modeled after Russia's sudden price increase for gas supplies to Ukraine. In late 2005, Uzbek officials warned of plans to increase gas prices for all users, including Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, citing increased extraction and transport costs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2005). RG

Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 31 December that the different prices Russia charges his country and Ukraine for gas are reasonable given the circumstances, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 January. "Russian-Belarusian friendship is not the reason for inexpensive gas supplies at $46.68 per 1,000 cubic meters," Lukashenka said, adding that Belarus charges Russia considerably less to transport gas across its territory. "If Ukraine sets the world price for transit of Russia's gas via its territory, the supply price should [also] meet world standards," he said. The Belarusian president added that Ukraine's decision to seek NATO membership means that joint defense systems with Russia "will be ruined," a development that "will inflict multi-billion-dollar losses on Russia." BW

Taiwan on 3 January closed its representative office in Belarus to protest Minsk's opposition to the island's bid to join the United Nations, dpa reported the same day. "The Foreign Ministry has decided to close down its mission in Belarus effective Tuesday [3 January] after overall evaluation on the need to keep it there," Taiwanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Michel Lu said. Taiwan set up the representative office in 1996 to establish closer relations with Belarus but Minsk failed to set up a similar office in Taiwan, he added. Lu added that Belarus's support of China in opposing Taipei's bids to join the United Nations and the World Health Organization were also factors in deciding to close the office. BW

According to a 4 January report in the Lithuanian newspaper "Lietuvos rytas," former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko laundered money through Lithuanian banks, Interfax-Ukraine reported. The "Lietuvos rytas" article cited data from the FBI and the Lithuanian Financial Crime Investigation Service. "Lazarenko included Hermis bank, which was prosperous then, in his schemes of money laundering in 1998 and transferred $30 million, gained illegally, to the bank's accounts," the report stated. In late 1999, according to the report, the funds were transferred to SEB Vilniaus bankas, which bought out Hermis bank. "This money is in an account of this bank to this day," the report stated. Lazarenko was arrested in the United States in February 1999 for money laundering. He was found guilty on 14 charges related to money laundering and fraud, each carrying a term of imprisonment of 20 years. BW

Ukraine's Central Election Commission on 3 January refused to register Lazarenko as a candidate in the country's March parliamentary elections, Interfax-Ukraine reported the same day. The CEC said that it could not register Lazarenko because he had not lived in Ukraine for five years prior to election day, as required by law. It marked the second time the commission has refused to register Lazarenko as a candidate. The former prime minister's party list, Lazarenko's Bloc, was registered on 27 December 2005, but the commission at that time also refused to register Lazarenko himself as a candidate. BW

Bosnian Serb war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic was drawing an army general's pension in Serbia until November 2005, Reuters reported on 3 January citing Serbian government sources. A Serbian investigation revealed that when Mladic went into hiding in 2002 he authorized his wife, son, and two army officers to pick up the money. Serbia and Montenegro's defense minister, Zoran Stankovic, said the facts about Mladic's pension were revealed during a check of payments to over 52,000 army pensioners in which the ministry established that 65 people were receiving pensions illegally. "There were illegalities with the payment of Mladic's pension and his son was immediately asked to resolve the problems regarding the payment. Until that is resolved the pension will not be paid out," Stankovic said. Human Rights Minister Rasim Ljajic characterized it as "a great oversight." BW

Serbia and Montenegro's foreign minister, Vuk Draskovic, said on 3 January that officials from the ousted regime of Slobodan Milosevic are hindering Belgrade's ability to apprehend Mladic and Bosnian Serb wartime leader and war crimes fugitive Radovan Karadzic, B92 and FoNet reported the same day. Draskovic said documents that the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia requested about the two fugitives are in Milosevic's possession. "These fugitives of international law" are eagerly awaiting the return to power of Milosevic's allies, Draskovic said. "Then they will be able to stop hiding and can address Serbia from television studios and hold meetings, albeit in an isolated, internationally-punished Serbia," Draskovic added. BW

The Hungarian gas company MOL announced on 3 January that it will cut supplies to Serbia by half due to the ongoing gas conflict between Russia and Ukraine, B92 reported the same day. Serbian Gas Director Milos Tomic said Belgrade is receiving 50 percent less gas than usual from MOL. But while deliveries to larger Serbian companies have been cut, Serbian citizens have not yet been affected. "Serbian Gas works under the Energy Law as far as the import and export of gas is concerned, and by those regulations the first priority is heating for citizens, schools, health facilities, and food producers. Everyone else, who will not be able to sustain its work with the amount of natural gas we have, or other fuel sources, will be shut down. The situation is very serious," Tomic said. Tomic added that Serbian Gas signed an agreement with Gazprom for all of 2006 and it will be extremely difficult to find alternative gas from another source. BW

Serbia's Interior Ministry has issued an arrest warrant for British citizen Patrick Harpur, executive director of the Mobtel mobile telephone company, Beta, B92, and AKI reported on 2 January. Harpur is accused of unlawfully signing an agreement with the Mobikos telecommunications company in Kosova. The Serbian government also stripped Mobtel of its license to work in Serbia. "If he is currently located on the territory of Serbia, Harpur will be found and taken into custody so that the police can question him regarding the signing of the agreement with Mobikos," an Interior Ministry statement said. Harpur insisted he did nothing unlawful. "Mobtel received a license to make deals on the entire territory of Serbia and, by all international regulations, Kosova is a territory of Serbia, unless the Serbian government believes otherwise," Harpur said. AKI reported that Mobtel is owned by Bogoljub Karic, a telecommunications tycoon who made his fortune under former Serbian President Milosevic. Mobikos, according to AKI, is owned by Kosova-based businessman Ekrem Luka, who is reputed to have financed the Kosova Liberation Army. BW

Unidentified individuals threw an explosive device at the Albanian embassy in Belgrade, causing minor damage, AP reported on 3 January citing police. The device was thrown at the embassy late on 2 January, damaging the building's facade. The incident comes before United Nations-brokered talks on the final status of Kosova. Albania supports independence for Kosova, which Serbia opposes. Diplomatic relations between Serbia and Albania were severed during the 1999 war in Kosova, but were reestablished following Milosevic's ouster in October 2000. BW

Milo Djukanovic vowed on 30 December that his government will proceed with an independence referendum regardless of whether opposition decides to boycott the vote, B92 reported the same day. "The government was able to independently, without the presence of the European Union, organize a referendum because it had the necessary security and democratic environment to do so, but on the demand of the opposition, we agreed on the presence of the EU, since this is a historical process which needs a higher level of agreement," Djukanovic said. "The government is very interested in reaching an agreement with the opposition regarding the conditions for announcing the referendum," he added. BW

Moldova's government announced on 2 January that Russia has turned off its gas supplies due to the lack of a new contract with Gazprom, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "The price of $160 per 1,000 cubic meters announced by Gazprom is not a market price, so Moldova will continue talks with Russian supplies," Voronin said. Moldova had been purchasing natural gas from Gazprom at $80 per 1,000 cubic meters. The president added that he hopes Chisinau will be able to negotiate a reduced price because Moldova pays for its gas supplies on time and because Gazprom owns a controlling interests in the Russian-Moldovan joint venture Moldovagaz. The presidential press service also announced that the government was setting up a crisis headquarters to handle the situation. BW

Kaliningrad Oblast, the Russian exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, is once again at the center of major controversies just six months after Russian President Vladimir Putin attended a ceremony to commemorate the 750th anniversary of the founding of Koenigsburg (the region's original name) and the 60th anniversary of the annexation of that German territory by the Soviet Union.

The first of these controversies involves an appeal by newly appointed Kaliningrad Governor Georgii Boos for ethnic Russians living in Latvia and Estonia to move to Kaliningrad. Boos announced that Kaliningrad is ready to take in, and to provide jobs and housing for, up to 5 million people, including several hundred thousand ethnic Russians from Latvia and Estonia. Writing in "Novyi region" on 22 December, one Russian journalist termed that offer "an Anschluss in reverse." Even though few Russians have responded to that appeal, it has generated widespread suspicion and concern about Moscow's precise intentions with regard to both Kaliningrad and the Baltic states.

Because of Boos's close ties with Putin and Modest Kolerov -- the Kremlin official responsible for relations with ethnic Russians living abroad -- many observers have taken this appeal seriously, even though it is far from clear just what Moscow intends and whether the Russian government can provide the necessary funding to make good on Boos's promises.

Many in Estonia and Latvia viewed Boos's call as little more than yet another effort by Moscow to ethnicize politics in those two countries and thus involve European institutions in the supervision of the processes whereby the ethnic Russian residents of those two countries who lack formal citizenship can obtain it.

But it is not only ethnic Estonians and ethnic Latvians who have reacted cautiously to Boos's offer. Tatyana Favorskaya, the vice president of the Russian Community of Latvia, told "Noviy region" that the situation in Kaliningrad is far from attractive and that ethnic Russians from Latvia would need firm guarantees before deciding to leave Latvia and resettle in Kaliningrad.

At present, she noted, 12.7 percent of Kaliningrad's workforce is unemployed, a situation that suggests that many of the 40,000 ethnic Russians from Latvia who Moscow said could move there in the first group would likely find themselves without work, let alone housing and other amenities. According to Favorskaya, no more than 10 percent of Latvia's ethnic Russian are currently interested in leaving and moving to the Russian Federation, and she implied that even among that small group, few would be interested in going to the depressed area of Kaliningrad.

Favorskaya is not alone in her skepticism about this project. Vladimir Nikitin, the deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs and Work with Compatriots Abroad, was even more dismissive. He told "Noviy region" he is certain that this latest in a long line of such ideas would remain "on paper."

The second controversy arises from problems within the region itself: problems so severe that many ethnic Russians are furious with the local authorities, the region's Russian writers are forced to publish in Estonia rather than in their home, and local officials have been forced to seek outside assistance for the completion of a church under construction for the last nine years.

Ethnic Russians in Kaliningrad have been angered by Moscow's decisions in 2005 to play up the region's German heritage at the expense of what they see as its Russian connections. Decisions to rename the local university after native son Immanuel Kant and to erect statues to medieval German knights have upset many Russian nationalists.

They have also been angered by Moscow's failure to exert more pressure on Lithuania regarding transit arrangements or to provide more assistance for rebuilding the region's economy, cleaning its ravaged environment, and treating the large number of HIV/AIDS cases and other diseases.

Recently, however, ethnic Russians in Kaliningrad have been outraged by two other developments which they construe as demonstrating just how little Moscow appears to think of them, whatever Russian leaders at the center or in the oblast choose to say in public.

On 28 December, the "Russkaya liniya" website ( reported that members of the Kaliningrad Writers' Union lack the most basic institutions for their work. They do not have their own room to hold meetings in and they are forced to publish their work in a Russian-language journal published in Tallinn because there is not one issued in their home city. Indeed, "Russkaya liniya" said, the status of Russian writers in Kaliningrad is like that of Russian writers in "an alien land."

Only a few days earlier, on 23 December, Interfax reported that Governor Boos was forced to seek foreign investors to help finish a Russian Orthodox Cathedral there because neither Moscow nor Kaliningrad has enough money to complete the job.

Finally, Svetlana Chervonnaya, a professor at Torun University in Poland, told a conference organized by the Akademia Baltica in Flensburg, Germany, at the end of November that the European Union must not agree to any special relationship with Kaliningrad because that region represents a new "Trojan horse of the new Soviets" pointed at the heart of Europe. Chervonnaya added that the Russian Federation should apologize for seizing this territory from Germany and either return it to Berlin's control or, failing that, divide the region among Poland, Lithuania, and other regional powers (

Several other participants at the Flensburg meeting echoed Chervonnaya's views. Among them was Latvian politician Juris Dobelis who, from the Russian point of view, added insult to injury by pointedly referring to Boos's call for ethnic Russians to move from the Baltic states to Kaliningrad.

"Boos is calling!" Dobelis said. "True, he is calling not for a [genuine] return home but to a temporary home, since Koenigsburg all the same has not been Russian territory from time immemorial. Instead, if we look back into history, this is the territory of the Balts."

Such statements, the "Russkaya liniya" website suggested, call attention to "the recent activization" of European and especially German foundations in "our" Kaliningrad region. "Something is clearly going on," the Russian nationalist website continued, but the question remains open as to "precisely what."

Any transfer of sovereignty regarding Kaliningrad in the foreseeable future is, of course, even less likely than the arrival of large numbers of ethnic Russians from Latvia but, despite that, this third controversy will almost certainly continue to fester -- inflaming attitudes on all sides of the debate and making any discussion of the region's future more difficult.

(Paul Goble is the former publisher of "RFE/RL Newsline" and a longtime Soviet nationalities expert with the U.S. government. He is currently a research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia.)

Deputy Interior Minister for counternarcotics General Mohammad Daud said on 2 January that Afghanistan will cut the area used to cultivate opium poppies by 40 percent in 2006, AFP reported. "Our aim for the future, for 2006, is to further reduce poppy cultivation," Daud told reporters in Kabul. He also dismissed a warning given last month by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime that opium production in Afghanistan could rise in 2006 after falling somewhat in 2005. "We don't agree with that UN report," Daud said, adding that the Interior Ministry will launch a "public awareness" campaign involving provincial officials, farmers, and tribal and religious leaders. After that, the ministry plans to send 1,300 troops on a poppy-eradication campaign starting on 20 January. MR

Daud also said on 2 January in Kabul that efforts by foreign governments to stem the country's drug trade have been unimpressive, AP reported on 3 January. "In 2005 we were not satisfied and the farmers were not satisfied," he said, calling on governments to take additional action. He also warned that neo-Taliban militants have been forcing farmers to plant opium poppies to help fund the insurgency. CP

The Interior Ministry on 2 January ordered all foreign embassies and international organizations to remove barriers around their compounds within a week, AP reported. Interior Ministry spokesman Yusuf Stanezai said only the presidential palace is exempt from the order. Concrete barriers are scattered all over Kabul to protect buildings from attacks, and some organizations have blocked whole streets with security barriers, snarling traffic. The government order said that "blocking the footpaths, streets and roads is illegal." Concern about insurgent attacks in Kabul remains high. "It is not the UN's wish to have these barricades and things in place. However, as part of security provisions for doing our work here, they have been necessary in the past," UN spokesman Adrian Edwards said. Edwards said UN officials plan to talk to Afghan authorities before removing any barriers. MR

A suspected neo-Taliban insurgent staged a suicide attack with a car bomb in Kandahar on 2 January, inuring three people and killing himself, AP reported. The bomber struck a U.S. military convoy, injuring one U.S. soldier. A U.S. military spokesman in Kabul said the soldier was only slightly hurt. Kandahar Governor Asadullah Khalid said a woman and a child were hurt in the attack and taken to a local hospital. The attack follows vows by neo-Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah to step up suicide attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. Dadullah said neo-Taliban insurgents have more than 200 fighters willing to undertake suicide attacks in Afghanistan. MR

Suspected neo-Taliban militants have been distributing so-called night letters in southern Afghanistan threatening to kill teachers and other government workers, the Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 3 January. Suspected militants circulated the threatening letters in the provincial capitals of Lashkargah and Nad Ali and across the districts of Marja, Khanashin, Garmser, and Deshu, according to the agency. One letter found in Lashkargah warned teachers and students to avoid schools set up with international funds. "If you want to be safe in the world and in the life hereafter, then don't go to the centers set up by infidels," said the anonymous letter. "Teachers' salaries are financed by non-believers. Unless you stop getting wages from them, you will be counted among the American puppets." The letters also said anyone known to be working with the government would be killed. MR

Suspected neo-Taliban militants killed an aid worker on 2 January as he was praying in a mosque in southern Helmand Province, AP reported on 3 January. The victim, an employee for a Bangladeshi aid group working to provide clean water to the area, was shot by two gunmen who then escaped on a motorcycle, according to Helmand Province Deputy Governor Haji Maihudin. Maihudin said police have arrested eight suspects. MR

Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in writing on 3 January of its intention to resume unspecified nuclear research work on 9 January, AP and Reuters reported the same day, citing remarks made on state television by Mohammad Saidi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. An unnamed Western diplomat at the Vienna-based IAEA told Reuters on 3 January that IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei has informed IAEA board members of this, and will ask Iran to clarify the nature of its intended research. Saidi said research will be "on the technology of nuclear fuel," has "no relation to the production of nuclear fuel," and will be "under [IAEA] supervision," ISNA reported on 3 January. The West wants Iran to abandon fuel production for its contested nuclear program. Saidi said that "no decision has been made yet on" fuel production, but that the suspension of research for over two years has greatly harmed the country and its researchers. He said a recent Russian proposal that Iran enrich uranium in partnership with it on Russian territory "has numerous ambiguities and flaws," which he hopes a Russian delegation will clarify on a visit to Iran scheduled for 7-8 January, ISNA reported. VS

Referring to ongoing talks with the EU on Iran's nuclear program, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi told reporters in Tehran on 3 January that "research has nothing to do with [uranium] enrichment [or] production of nuclear fuel, and I stress that also not one of the subjects of negotiation," IRNA reported. He said Iran will consider Russia's enrichment "idea," but "bear in mind that examining the proposal is not the same as accepting it," ISNA reported. "We will talk with" the Russian delegation arriving on 7 January "to see what the plan is that they have in mind, which we have not yet received." If, he said, it is "that enrichment should only be in Russia, we have already said such a plan is not acceptable." Asked if Iran takes seriously the possibility of Israeli strikes against Iranian nuclear installations, Assefi said Iran considers related statements as a "war of the Israelis know they are sitting in a glass house, and anyone sitting in a glass house does not throw stones at others," ISNA reported. VS

In comments published on 3 January in the "Aftab-i Yazd" daily, Iranian legislators have expressed distrust of Russia and its recent proposal to transfer uranium enrichment to Russia as an ostensible safeguard measure. Mohammad Nabi Rudaki, deputy chairman of parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said enrichment will have to take place in Iran, given the country's intention to build several power plants. Fuel production "has turned into a national wish" and a "red line," for Iran, he said. Boinzahra representative Qodratollah Alikhani told the daily, "We do not take a very optimistic view of the Russian proposal, and prefer negotiating with the Europeans." The plan, he said, is a proposal that "Bush and the Americans support. Generally if the Europeans make a deal, they tend to honor their pledges more than Russia. History has shown that we have not been able to work with the Russians, and Russia abandons us at the halfway point." Bushehr representative Shokrollah Atarzadeh said Russia "has not dealt with us in a straight and transparent manner." He said, "We should expand the scope of our relations" with the EU, and seek relations with "all countries with technology." VS

"Thousands" of Tehran bus drivers and sympathizers gathered in a Tehran stadium to hear Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf speak, but also to call for the release of a bus-drivers' syndicate representative and labor activist, Mansur Osanlu, who was arrested for his labor activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 29 December 2005), Radio Farda reported on 3 January, citing union activist Ibrahim Madadi. Madadi told Radio Farda that the crowd also called for the right to form a representative trade union, which he said is recognized by Article 26 of Iran's constitution. He said syndicate representatives have talked with the Tehran judiciary and asked them to allow Osanlu's wife and child to visit him for 25 minutes in Tehran's Evin Prison. He also expressed concern over Osanlu's health, observing that he has an ailing heart and unspecified eye problems; the judiciary has asked to see medical papers to prove this, he added. VS

Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani met with Saudi Arabia's ambassador in Tehran, Usama bin Ahmad al-Sanusi, on 3 January, telling him Middle Eastern states should avoid discord that would open the way for foreign intervention in the region, ISNA reported the same day. "Some of the recent positions the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council has taken against Iran" regarding islands claimed by Iran and the United Arab Emirates are "removed from the truth," ISNA quoted Rafsanjani as saying (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 December 2005). "The Persian Gulf has always been a target of the greed of the great powers, for its immense energy reserves and strategic position," and regional states have a duty "with unity and by avoiding mention of divisive issues, to prevent the opportunism of such powers," he said. Iran and Saudi Arabia have a duty to help Iraqis "take over their own destiny, and create security and [Iraq's] political and economic progress," while Lebanon and Syria "need the help of Islamic states," he added without elaborating. VS

Sunni Arab leaders from the Iraqi Accordance Front have reached a tentative agreement with Kurdish leaders for the formation of a coalition government, international media reported on 3 January. The move comes weeks after Sunni Arab leaders contested the results of the parliamentary elections, claiming fraud robbed them of votes. The announcement left the other Sunni Arab parties that had joined the Maram movement (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 29 December 2005) to protest the election results crying foul. Salih al-Mutlaq said on 2 January that the Accordance Front "violated" its agreement to not hold private talks with the Shi'ite and Kurdish coalitions, reported on 3 January. The deal, if finalized, could potentially leave Maram members, including former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, out in the cold. Shi'ite leaders have been reluctant to bring Allawi into the talks; his Iraqi National List appears to have won about 25 seats in the new Council of Representatives. Meanwhile, Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi said that the negotiations to form a government could take four months, unless the competing lists can reach consensus on a coalition, AP reported on 3 January. KR

An international observer team charged with reviewing the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission's vote counting arrived in Baghdad on 3 January, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. The monitors, sent by the International Mission for Iraqi Elections (IMIE) include two Arab League representatives, one executive member of the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians, and an unidentified European academic, according to the mission's website ( There is no word as to how long the review process will take. KR

Mahdi al-Hafiz, a member of former Prime Minister Allawi's Iraqi National List, told Al-Sharqiyah television in a 3 January interview that the list has prepared a file containing "evidence" of election fraud that it will present to the IMIE in Baghdad. Al-Hafiz welcomed the arrival of the observer group, telling the news channel: "All political parties should understand the importance of the legality of the intervention of international monitors. It is equally important for those parties to present all evidence...even if they were conflicting, of what occurred in the election." Meanwhile, Iraqi Accordance Front member Abd Mutlaq al-Juburi said on 1 January that the front will accept the ruling of the IMIE, Al-Sharqiyah reported the same day. KR

A suicide bomber attacked a funeral for a slain bodyguard from the United Iraqi Alliance on 4 January in Al-Miqdadiyah, in the Diyala Governorate, killing at least 36 and wounding 40 others, international media reported. According to Iraqi media reports, insurgents attacked the funeral at a local cemetery with mortars before a suicide bomber standing among the crowd of mourners blew himself up. Meanwhile, in Baghdad a car bomb detonated in a Shi'ite neighborhood, killing three, Reuters reported. Also, police in the capital said on 3 January that insurgents had kidnapped the sister of Interior Minister Bayan Jabr; the minister's brother was kidnapped in October and held for 24 hours (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 4 November 2005). And Al-Arabiyah television reported on 4 January that 19 fuel trucks were ambushed in Baghdad; though no further details were reported. KR

U.S. forces bombed an Iraqi home in Bayji on 2 January after a military drone showed suspected insurgents entering the home, reported on 3 January. "An unmanned aerial vehicle...observed the would-be attackers as they dug a hole following the common pattern of a roadside bomb emplacement. The individuals were assessed as posing a threat to Iraqi civilians and coalition forces and the location of the three men was relayed to close air support pilots. The individuals left the road site and were followed from the air to a nearby building. Coalition forces employed precision guided munitions on the structure," the press release stated. Iraqi officials said that the bombing killed a family of 12, including women and children. Western media reports put the number of dead at between nine and 12. Bayji police Colonel Sufyan Mustafa told Reuters that the dead did not include any suspected insurgents. The head of the house was severely injured in the bombing and had to have all four limbs amputated, reported. U.S. Lieutenant Barry Johnson said that insurgents routinely attempt to use civilians as shields in Iraq, AP reported on 4 January. KR

Sudan closed its embassy in Baghdad and withdrew its diplomats from Iraq on 31 December to secure the release of five embassy workers kidnapped by Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda-affiliated organization on 29 December, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on 1 January. Al-Zarqawi's group said in a 30 December Internet statement that it would kill the hostages unless Sudan severed all diplomatic ties with Iraq. The embassy workers were released on 31 December, hours after the announcement of the embassy's closure, and subsequently flown to Jordan. KR

Iraq was the most dangerous place for journalists in 2005, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) announced on 3 January. Twenty-two journalists were killed in Iraq last year; 70 percent of the deaths were "targeted killings," the group said on its website ( "Iraqi journalists bore the brunt of these attacks as it became increasingly hazardous for foreign reporters and photojournalists to work in the field. American freelancer Steven Vincent was the only foreign journalist to be killed in Iraq in 2005; five foreigners died there a year earlier," the CPJ noted. Forty-seven journalists were killed worldwide in 2005, compared with 57 killed in 2004. Iraq is also the deadliest conflict for the media in the CPJ's 24-year history, the organization said, noting that 60 journalists have been killed on duty in Iraq since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003, while 58 journalists were killed in the Algerian conflict from 1993-96. KR