RUSSIA DECRIES SPEECH BY U.S. VICE PRESIDENT
A speech by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney criticizing Moscow has triggered a bitter backlash in Russia, whose leaders have accused Washington of starting a new Cold War, Reuters reported on May 5. In a speech in Vilnius, Lithuania, on May 4, Cheney accused Moscow of backsliding on democracy and of using its energy resources for blackmail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2006). Within hours, the Kremlin responded by calling Cheney's comments "completely incomprehensible." Deputy Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Cheney's speech was "full of a subjective evaluation of us and of the processes that are going on in Russia. The remarks...are completely incomprehensible for us." The daily "Kommersant " on May 5 compared Cheney's comments to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's famed 1946 "Iron Curtain" speech. In a long commentary, the official government-run daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" wrote that Russia is "being asked to deny ourselves and take orders from those who know better and will decide everything for us." BW
MOSCOW MAYOR SAYS RUSSIA SHOULD PROTECT BELARUS FROM THE WEST
Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov suggested on May 5 that Russia protect Belarus from Western pressure, Interfax reported. "The Cold War is over and we have relaxed. However, the West has not," Luzhkov said at a meeting with World War II veterans. "They said that Belarus is a problem country" similar to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and North Korea, Luzhkov said, referring to the United States and European Union's opposition to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. "We Russians should protect Belarusians. We should say, 'We will not allow Belarus to be spoken of that way,'" Luzhkov said. BW
COURT RULES THAT PRISON OFFICIALS IMPROPERLY DISCIPLINED FORMER YUKOS CEO
An Eastern Siberian district court ruled on May 4 that prison officials acted improperly in reprimanding jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Khodorkovsky, who is serving an eight-year sentence in a Siberian prison colony, was disciplined in December for leaving his workspace without permission from a supervisor. Khodorkovsky's lawyers argued that the former tycoon, who was working in a clothing factory in the prison colony, was looking for a mechanic to get his sewing machine fixed. It was the second time the court ruled in Khodorkovsky's favor in the case. Prison officials have disciplined Khodorkovsky twice since the December reprimand, for allegedly possessing banned documents and for eating in the wrong place, and he has been placed in solitary confinement. BW
RUSSIA CALLS FOR 'CONSTRUCTIVE' HANDLING OF DIPLOMATS WHO VIOLATE TRAFFIC LAWS
The Foreign Ministry has called for traffic violations by diplomats to be settled in a constructive and nonconfrontational manner, RIA-Novosti reported on May 4. The appeal came after Ilya Morozov, the attache at Russia's permanent mission to the United Nations, was asked to leave the United States following a traffic accident. Morozov allegedly hit a traffic police officer while driving on a section of a road that was closed for repairs. "Russia seeks to resolve such incidents in constructive cooperation, avoiding any speculation and unnecessary fuss around them," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said. "Our Interior Ministry bodies have registered several traffic violations by U.S. diplomats," he said, adding that in Moscow alone 25 serious traffic offenses by diplomats have been reported in the past two years. BW
RUSSIA BANS POPULAR GEORGIAN MINERAL WATER
Russia announced on May 5, citing health and safety concerns, a ban on imports of the popular Georgian mineral water Borjomi, Russian and international news agencies reported. The move marks the latest in a series of trade disputes between Russia and its Western-leaning neighbors. "Analyses have shown that 56 inspected shipments of Borjomi mineral water...do not correspond to safety requirements," Russia's top public health official, Gennady Onishchenko, wrote in a letter. "I therefore revoke from May 7...Borjomi mineral water safety certificates until the reasons and conditions that have caused the above-mentioned irregularities are eliminated." Borjomi is one of the most popular brands of mineral water sold in Russia. In March, Russia banned wine imports from Georgia and Moldova, similarly citing health concerns (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2006). BW
POLICE IN MOSCOW OBLAST ARREST ONE SUSPECT IN MAYOR'S MURDER
Police said on May 5 that they have detained one of the three men allegedly responsible for the assassination of the mayor of the town of Dzerzhinsky in Moscow Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported. Dzerzhinsky Mayor Viktor Dorkin was shot 16 times and killed on the night of March 31 in the courtyard of his apartment building as he was returning from the local television studio (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 3, 2006). "One of the perpetrators of the crime has been detained," regional prosecutor Sergei Vasilyev said on May 5. "His name is Sergei Bulavin, a 31-year-old resident of the region, with a criminal conviction," Vasilyev added. He said that investigators believe that at least three people were involved in the killing and that police are searching for the other two. BW
ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER URGES EU TO WARN AZERBAIJAN
Speaking on May 4 in Vilnius at a conference of leaders of Black Sea and Baltic states, Vartan Oskanian warned Azerbaijani leaders not to fall prey to the delusion that sky-rocketing oil prices will enable them to upgrade their armed forces and win back control over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) in a new war if they fail to secure an advantageous settlement at the negotiating table, an RFE/RL correspondent in Vilnius reported (see also End Note below). Oskanian urged the EU to make it clear to Azerbaijan that the military option is unacceptable. LF
NATO PA HEAD PROPOSES TALKS ON KARABAKH
During a visit to Baku earlier this week, NATO Parliamentary Assembly head Pierre Lellouche extended an invitation to the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia, Ilham Aliyev and Robert Kocharian, to visit Paris for talks on ways to resolve the Karabakh conflict, zerkalo.az reported on May 5, quoting Trend news agency. Aliyev has reportedly accepted that invitation. In December 2004, Lellouche and former Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio unveiled a draft plan for resolving the Karabakh conflict that would give Armenia temporary jurisdiction over the unrecognized NKR in exchange for a withdrawal from Armenian-occupied territory; Karabakh's final status would be decided in a referendum 10-15 years later. LF
AZERBAIJAN HOSTS ECO SUMMIT
The ninth summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) -- which comprises Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- took place in Baku on May 5. In his opening speech, Azerbaijani President Aliyev stressed that international terrorism and unresolved conflicts constitute an obstacle to expanding cooperation between regional states, day.az reported. He also said that the imminent commissioning of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil and of the South Caucasus gas-export pipeline will strengthen security and stability in the region. Aliyev met on May 4 with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmedinejad to discuss bilateral relations and cooperation in the energy sphere, zerkalo.az reported on May 5. A press release stressed the "shared historic roots" of the Iranian and Azerbaijani peoples and the "friendly ties" between them. Aliyev also met on May 4 with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who expressed interest in Azerbaijan's Caspian energy projects. LF
NEW ANTICORRUPTION COUNCIL CREATED IN AZERBAIJAN
More than 20 political parties (mostly small ones) and NGOs announced on May 4 the formation of a new Coordination Council that will target corruption, day.az and zerkalo.az reported on May 4 and 5, respectively. Founding members noted that official anticorruption measures, including legislation and the creation of special commissions, have had only limited effect, and hope to mobilize society to fight for the abolition of monopolies, cronyism, and other manifestations of corruption. They also propose that any foreign businessperson who is found to have violated Azerbaijani law be declared persona non grata. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH U.S. VICE PRESIDENT
Mikheil Saakashvili met with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in Vilnius on May 4 on the sidelines of a conference of leaders of Baltic and Black Sea states, rustavi2.com reported. In his address to that gathering, Saakashvili reiterated that Georgia is considering leaving the Commonwealth of Independent States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2006). He added that the experience of Lithuania (which did not join the CIS following the collapse of the USSR in December 1991) proves that Georgia could survive without being a member of that body. LF
SOUTH OSSETIAN LEADER SLAMS GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER'S COMMENTS
Eduard Kokoity, who is president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, said on May 4 that Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili's May 1 pledge to either bring South Ossetia back under Tbilisi's control by January 1, 2007, or resign undermines ongoing efforts to resolve the South Ossetian conflict, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava has likewise criticized Okruashvili's self-imposed deadline as unrealistic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2006). LF
EU COMMISSIONER DISCUSSES ENERGY COOPERATION WITH KAZAKH OFFICIALS
A delegation led by EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs arrived in Astana on May 4 to meet with senior Kazakh officials to discuss energy cooperation, RFE/RL and ITAR-TASS reported. Meeting with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Baktykozha Izmukhambetov, Piebalgs expressed interest in Kazakh uranium, noting that the EU is interested in increasing its purchases beyond its current 3 percent share of Kazakh uranium exports. He also stressed the need for Kazakhstan to sign an agreement with the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) governing the use of nuclear power. Piebalgs also affirmed Brussels' support for a new trans-Caspian gas pipeline running from Kazakhstan's Tengiz oil field through Baku and Tbilisi and on to the Turkish Black Sea port of Erzerum, Interfax reported. The visit to Kazakhstan is the first by an EU energy commissioner and reflects the EU's strategic drive to increase energy security and diversify energy supplies to counter its structural dependence on Russian imports. RG
KAZAKH, TAJIK PRESIDENTS CONCLUDE NEW BILATERAL AGREEMENTS
President Nazarbaev and Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov met in Astana on May 4 and concluded six new agreements on bilateral cooperation, RFE/RL and Khabar TV reported. The agreements include expanded measures for bilateral cooperation in the agriculture, energy, and industrial sectors, as well as on the protection of migrant labor. Although increasing annually, bilateral trade remains limited, totaling just $167.5 million in 2005. Nazarbaev praised Tajikistan as a "close friend and ally" in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking. Rakhmonov is on a two-day state visit to Kazakhstan and is seeking to encourage Kazakh investment in Tajikistan, currently estimated at $100 million, according to Asia-Plus. RG
VISITING DUTCH FOREIGN MINISTER ENDORSES KAZAKH BID FOR OSCE CHAIR
Speaking after meeting with Kazakh President Nazarbaev in Astana, Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot endorsed on May 4 the Kazakh bid to assume the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009, Interfax reported. Bot commented that "Kazakhstan's chances to chair the OSCE are high" and stressed the significance for the OSCE of having a Central Asian state in the chairmanship. He also noted the need for Kazakhstan to deepen democratic reforms and improve the human-rights situation prior to assuming the position, however. The visit is linked to Dutch interest in increasing investments in the Kazakh energy, financial, and agricultural sectors. Bilateral trade has also been steadily increasing, from $644 million in 2004 to over $1 billion last year. RG
KAZAKH MILITARY TO RECEIVE NAVAL VESSELS FROM SOUTH KOREA
An unnamed Kazakh Defense Ministry official announced on May 4 that South Korea has donated three vessels to the Kazakh navy, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The vessels, currently stationed at the Turkish port of Pendik, are 150-ton coast-guard patrol boats that will be used to police the Kazakh sector of the Caspian. The vessels are scheduled to arrive on May 10. South Korea has also trained Kazakh naval crews in preparation for their assignments aboard the new craft. RG
KAZAKH PREMIER ENDORSES NEW NATIONAL TECHNOLOGY PLAN
Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov signed a series of decrees on May 4 approving measures initiating a new national strategic plan in the technology field, according to "Kazakhstan Today." The plan includes the establishment of a new biotechnology center and an "action plan" of initiatives related to alternative energy, information technology, and environmental science. RG
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT ISSUES DECREE TO EASE PRESSURE ON OPPOSITION AND MEDIA
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev signed a decree on May 4 calling for the formulation of new laws to ease pressure on the country's political opposition and media, Kyrgyz TV reported. The decree instructs the Kyrgyz government to draft legislation, in coordination with the leaders of all political parties and representatives of the media and civil society, aimed at easing "pressure on journalists and the media by state bodies" and ensuring citizens' rights of free speech. RG
INVESTIGATION OF FORMER KYRGYZ PREMIER CLOSED
Opposition Kyrgyz parliamentarian and former Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov announced on May 4 that "all criminal cases" targeting former Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev have been closed, AKIpress and Interfax reported. Beknazarov criticized Prosecutor-General Kambaraly Kongantiev for halting the corruption investigation involving Tanaev due to "his poor health" and for allowing Tanaev to leave the country for Russia. Tanaev was arrested in September while attempting to leave Kyrgyzstan, reportedly in violation of the terms of his release following his preliminary interrogation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 24 and September 7, 2005). RG
LEADER OF KYRGYZ YOUTH MOVEMENT RESIGNS
Alisher Mamasaliev, the coordinator of the Kyrgyz KelKel youth movement, announced his resignation from the organization on May 3, Kyrgyz Public TV reported. Mamasaliev said the move is necessary to distance the group from his future plans to form a new political party. He noted that the KelKel group's charter prohibits it from directly engaging in political activities. RG
TAJIK ISLAMIC PARTY ACCUSES SECURITY FORCES OF MURDER
A leader of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRP) accused the Tajik Interior Ministry on May 4 of murdering one of the party's activists, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Speaking in Dushanbe, Vahedkhon Quassidinov said IRP member Sadullo Marufov was arrested on May 3 and detained for questioning at a police station in the northern Tajik town of Isfara, the Avesta website reported. Quassidinov then accused security forces of pushing Marufov to his death from the third floor of the police station and claimed that the findings of an autopsy revealed that Marufov was violently assaulted prior to the fall. Tajik Interior Ministry officials confirmed to RFE/RL's Tajik Service that an unnamed IRP member had died after falling from the third floor of the police station but refused to describe it as a killing. Deputy Interior Minister Abdurahim Qahhorov announced that an official team has been dispatched to Isfara to conduct a thorough investigation. RG
DIRECTOR OF TAJIK ORPHANAGE SENTENCED TO PRISON TERM
The director of a Tajik orphanage was sentenced on May 4 to a 15-year prison sentence for negligence in connection with a deadly fire at the facility, ITAR-TASS reported. Sadullo Yatimov, the director of the Chorbog (Four Gardens) orphanage in Dushanbe, was sentenced by a district court in Dushanbe in a criminal case involving the deaths of 13 children in a fire in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 9, 2006). Eight other defendants, including the orphanage custodian, two nurses, and an officer of the firefighting service, received jail terms ranging from two to 12 years. The court ruling also criticized the Labor and Social Security Ministry for failing to enforce fire-code violations in the orphanage. RG
UZBEKISTAN CLOSES ANOTHER NGO
An Uzbek court issued an order on May 4 calling for the closure of the local offices of Counterpart International, a nongovernmental group funded in part by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), according to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. The Justice Ministry accused the organization of "breaking" a number of unspecified laws, according to Interfax. In a statement released on May 3, Counterpart International defended its work, reporting that it has delivered nearly $80 million in medical and humanitarian aid during its work in Uzbekistan. The group rejected accusations that it violated Uzbek laws. Over the past six months, Uzbek authorities have closed down a number of nongovernmental organizations, including the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Freedom House, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's (RFE/RL) Tashkent bureau, and, last month, a public-service project operated by the American Bar Association, an independent association of lawyers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 21, April 20 and 28, 2006). RG
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION GRAFFITI ARTIST GOES ON TRIAL AS SUPPORTERS ARE JAILED
A district court in Minsk on May 4 opened the trial of youth activist Artur Finkevich, who has been accused of damaging state property with antigovernmental graffiti in Minsk earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 4, 2006), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Initially Finkevich was charged with malicious hooliganism, but prosecutors later brought a heavier charge of large-scale property damage, which entails a sentence of seven to 12 years in prison. Five supporters of Finkevich -- Alyaksey Kazulin, Alyaksandr Reznikau, Yury Talstoy, Andrey Ihnatchyk, and Nadzeya Batura -- were each sentenced to five days in jail by the same court on May 4, immediately after they staged a picket outside the court building. Finkevich's trial was postponed until May 10. The trial of another opposition youth activist, Mikita Sasim, which opened the same day in Baranavichy, was adjourned until May 11. Sasim has been accused of dodging military service. JM
ANOTHER BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER JAILED FOR CHORNOBYL RALLY
A district court in Minsk on May 4 sentenced Viktar Ivashkevich, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF), to 15 days in jail in connection with an opposition demonstration that was held in Minsk on April 26 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, 2006), Belapan reported. Ivashkevich had filed a request with the city authorities to hold the demonstration and therefore was deemed its official organizer. Although the demonstration was approved, authorities subsequently declared it illegal, explaining that it was staged later than allowed, and that the opposition should not have held a rally in front of the National Academy of Sciences, as that place had been designated only as the gathering point for a subsequent march. Ivashkevich thus became the sixth opposition leader jailed in connection with the April 26 rally. Last week, courts in Minsk jailed Alyaksandr Milinkevich, the united opposition forces' candidate in country's March presidential election; BNF Chairman Vintsuk Vyachorka; trade-union leader Alyaksandr Bukhvostau; Syarhey Kalyakin, leader of the Belarusian Party of Communists; and youth leader Zmitser Dashkevich. JM
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION CALLS ON EUROPE TO ADOPT ACTION PLAN
Four representatives of the Belarusian opposition addressed the attending leaders of countries from the Baltic, Black Sea, and Caucasus regions at the conference "Common Vision For A Common Neighborhood" in Vilnius on May 4. They appealled to Europe to place the Belarus issue high on its agenda, map out a strategy regarding the ruling regime in Minsk, and adopt an action plan. The speakers were Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the opposition United Civic Party; Iryna Kazulin and Ina Kuley, the wives of jailed opposition leaders Alyaksandr Kazulin and Alyaksandr Milinkevich, respectively; and Iryna Krasouskaya, the widow of businessman Anatol Krasouski, who disappeared in 1999. Later the same day, the four handed a letter to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in which they appealed for the situation in Belarus to be discussed during the G-8 summit scheduled to take place in St. Petersburg, Russia, in July. Speaking in Vilnius on May 4, Cheney stressed that "there is no place in Europe" for regimes similar to that of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. JM
UKRAINE MULLS LEAVING CIS
Ukrainian presidential adviser Kostyantyn Tymoshenko told journalists in Kyiv on May 5 that the Presidential Secretariat is considering Ukraine's withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), UNIAN reported. Tymoshenko added that the issue is "not very pressing on the agenda." The previous day, Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Anatoliy Kinakh noted that the CIS "has virtually lost its economic sense," according to Interfax-Ukraine. "Hundreds of documents have been adopted within the CIS framework that are not being implemented. In particular, the procedure for forming a free-trade zone has not yet been finished, and the agreement that was signed 10 years ago [on a free-trade zone] has not yet been ratified by the Russian State Duma," Kinakh added. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili recently asked the Georgian government to assess the possible repercussions if Georgia leaves the CIS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2006). JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES EU TO SPELL OUT MEMBERSHIP PROSPECTS...
President Viktor Yushchenko told the conference "Common Vision For A Common Neighborhood" in Vilnius on May 4 that Ukraine finds it difficult to remain in a "suspended state," without guarantees that it can join the EU in the future, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Yushchenko stressed that Ukraine hopes to obtain a "clear signal that the philosophy of [EU-Ukraine] relations is based on the philosophy of open doors." According to Yushchenko, Ukraine would now welcome an association agreement with the EU as the next stage on its path toward achieving full membership. Current EU-Ukraine relations are regulated by the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which expires in 2008. JM
...AND PLEDGES TO GIVE 'NEW IMPULSE' TO COALITION-BUILDING
President Yushchenko told Ukrainian journalists in Vilnius on May 4 that he will make every effort to give "a new impulse" to building a governing coalition in Ukraine in order to conclude this task within "the following week or two," Interfax-Ukraine reported. Yushchenko pledged to hold a meeting devoted to this issue on May 5 with leaders of the five parties that won parliamentary representation in the March 26 parliamentary election. On April 13, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party signed a protocol promising to recreate the Orange Revolution coalition that existed until President Yushchenko fired Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko in September 2005. Meanwhile, Party of Regions deputy head Mykola Azarov said on May 4 that the party has sent a draft coalition agreement to "our partners in talks," but failed to name those partners. The Party of Regions came first in the March 26 elections, winning 186 parliamentary seats. JM
SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR MLADIC'S ARREST...
Vojislav Kostunica has ordered the immediate arrest of war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, B92 reported on May 4, citing "Vecernje novosti." According to the daily, Kostunica held a series of nighttime meetings with officials responsible for the Mladic case on May 3. "We have taken a serious hit, but we must retaliate in the best way possible. This means that we must find Mladic, double our efforts, and fulfill our obligations," the newspaper quoted Kostunica as saying. BW
...AS SERBIAN POLICE SAY MORE ARRESTED FROM MLADIC SUPPORT NETWORK
Serbia's police announced on May 4 that they have detained three more people suspected of aiding Mladic, with more arrests on the way, AFP reported the same day, citing the state-run Tanjug news agency. Economy Minister Predrag Bubalo said Mladic's support network has been severely diminished, AFP reported, citing Beta. "At first, Mladic's network consisted of some 50 associates, but it has since decreased to only about a dozen people, five of whom have been arrested so far," Bubalo said. He added that Mladic's whereabouts from April 2002 to the end of 2005 have "been fully reconstructed, but it has yet to be established where he has been hiding in the past months.... Maybe he is in Serbia, but maybe he is somewhere else." BW
SERBIA SEEKS FORMAL DIVISION OF FLASHPOINT KOSOVA TOWN
As Kosova's final-status talks resumed in Vienna on May 4, Serbia called for the formal division of the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, Reuters reported the same day. Belgrade wants the town officially divided at the Ibar River, which has separated its ethnic Serbian and Albanian districts since the end of the 1999 war. "North Mitrovica should be a separate municipality, perhaps joined with Zvecan," Serbian negotiator Dusan Batakovic said. Ethnic Albanians worry that separating northern Mitrovica from the rest of the city could set a precedent for Serbian separatism in northern Kosova. "We believe the integration of the town will happen and local elections will bring a mayor, under which the municipality will be run in the future," Kosova's chief negotiator, Lutfi Haziri, said. The fourth round of the final-status negotiations is focusing on the borders of new municipalities for the province's 100,000 Serbs. BW
MONTENEGRO ANNOUNCES TENDER FOR PRODUCTION OF NEW PASSPORTS
The Montenegrin government has announced that it will hold a tender for the production of new personal identification documents and passports in anticipation of possible independence, B92 and Beta reported on May 4. Deputy Foreign Minister Dragan Sekulovic told the daily "Vjesti" that the tender will last one month, and, if voters approve independence in the May 21 referendum, the new Montenegrin passports will be issued by the end of 2006. Sekulovic added that well-known companies from the United States and Europe have expressed interest in producing the new documents. BW
SEECP SAYS EU MUST KEEP DOORS OPEN TO SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
In the wake of the European Union's breaking off talks with Serbia and Montenegro, the Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP) on May 4 urged Brussels to keep the door open to countries of the region, AFP reported the same day. "All countries must conform to the demands of the EU, but the European prospect must remain alive for all," Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis told a news conference at a SEECP summit, which he is hosting. Greece is the only SEECP member in the EU. The group also includes Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and Turkey. On May 3 the group announced that Moldova will become its 10th member. Karamanlis said there is "an excellent level of cooperation" among SEECP countries. "We want to modernize our rail links, promote trade between us, and together face up to the struggle against organized crime," he said. BW
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT APPEALS TO EU FOR HELP IN TRANSDNIESTER
Vladimir Voronin on May 4 appealed to the EU and the United States to help Moldova maintain its territorial integrity, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "We need assistance from the European Union and the United States to achieve the territorial integrity and independence of the Moldovan state," he said at a conference of leaders from Baltic and Black Sea countries in Vilnius, Lithuania. Voronin said leaders of the separatist Transdniester region have embarked on a path of self-isolation and that "outside forces" -- an apparent reference to Russia -- are making the situation worse. BW
AZERBAIJAN'S REGIONAL STAR ON THE RISE
Much of the public comment on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's recent visit to the United States focused on energy security and Azerbaijan's southern neighbor, Iran, a focus that reflects Washington's priorities. But there was a much more significant aspect to the visit, one that stems more from Azerbaijani interests than U.S. priorities.
Specifically, Aliyev's first official visit to the United States since his election in October 2003 served an Azerbaijani agenda much more than a U.S. one. And although both energy and Iran are integral parts of this Azerbaijani agenda, they are only elements of a grander aspiration to emerge as a regional power. In this context, Azerbaijan now holds the initiative over the United States, with a latent leverage that has, so far, gone unnoticed and unchallenged. And it is Iran that provides the first indication of Azerbaijan's initiative.
Despite the historic tension between Azerbaijan and Iran, largely kept alive by Baku's concerns for its ethnic Azeri kin in northern Iran, Azerbaijan does not see Iran as much of a real threat. In fact, like Russia, Azerbaijan is gaining more from the "status quo" in Iran, as its strategic location bordering Iran enhances its importance. For the Aliyev leadership, this position has brought significant benefits in the shape of increased U.S. military involvement, while at the same time Washington largely turned a blind eye to the deeply flawed November 2005 parliamentary elections.
And with the Pentagon's recognition of the need to secure Iran's northern border in the event of either multilateral sanctions or unilateral intervention, Azerbaijan's military and geostrategic importance has expanded well beyond its earlier limited role as an air corridor to Central Asia and Afghanistan. This is important to Baku not only in maintaining U.S. military engagement in the country, but as part of its bid to secure U.S. support for -- or at least acquiescence in -- its quest to regain control of Azerbaijani territory along the Iranian border that is currently occupied by Armenian forces.
It is this geostrategic advantage that has allowed Azerbaijan to sidestep U.S. concerns over its dismal electoral record. And even more importantly, it has also fostered a powerful preference for proximity over politics, with U.S. military considerations sidelining other concerns. In this respect, Aliyev's White House visit was not designed as a reward, but as a recognition of Azerbaijan's strategic significance.
Yet at the same time, Baku has been actively developing its ties with Tehran. A 2004 visit to Baku by then Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamhani raised defense cooperation to a new level, and a reciprocal visit to Tehran last year by Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiyev resulted in the signing of an intergovernmental agreement on defense cooperation.
Moreover, Aliyev's Washington visit was sandwiched between visits to Baku by both the Iranian defense minister and the Iranian president. On April 20, Aliyev met with Shamhani's successor, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, to review plans for defense cooperation and, in turn, was warmed by Najjar's assurance that Iran stands "ready to provide" any assistance necessary to "develop Azerbaijan's military."
The expansion of relations with Iran is only one part of a broader strategy, however. Azerbaijan is also looking increasingly away from the West and has deepened its ties with Russia, Pakistan, and the Central Asian states. The underlying driver of this Azerbaijani strategy is a new assertive bid to achieve regional dominance -- a bid launched not under Turkish tutelage, but from a new position of strength that rests on three factors.
First, the promise of an imminent influx of oil wealth that will fuel a consolidation of state power and fund a military revival. That hoped-for consolidation is seen as the answer to the country's social weakness and internal division.
The second element of this bid for regional power stems from Azerbaijan's linkage to Central Asia, specifically, the agreement (scheduled for signing later this month) under which Kazakhstan will commit to exporting 25 million tons of oil annually via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the possibility of building a new Caspian pipeline from Kazakhstan to link up with the South Caucasus Gas Pipeline. A related factor here is the benefit to Azerbaijan of being the center of gravity for Caspian Sea security, exploiting U.S. military assistance to dominate its rivals.
Thirdly, Azerbaijan is further seeking to combine the first two elements in order to preposition itself for a future revolution in Iran and for a possible withdrawal of U.S. military forces from the South Caucasus and Central Asia. The prerequisite here is an effective and rebuilt Azerbaijani military that would be capable not merely of confronting Armenia, but of boosting a future Azerbaijani role as a regional power.
There is, however, a crucial difference between seeking and securing a position of regional dominance. And Azerbaijan's strategy for regional power is lacking in one essential aspect: it fails to address or solve Azerbaijan's most fundamental impediment to state power -- a lack of legitimacy. Thus, even if Azerbaijan succeeds in exploiting each of those opportunities, it will still remain hostage to the internal constraints inherent in a dynastic regime that has still to hold its first free and fair election. The lesson here is of the centrality of legitimacy as the foundation for true state power.
AFGHAN PRESIDENT, FOREIGN MINISTER TRAVEL TO AZERBAIJAN
President Hamid Karzai traveled to the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, on May 4 to participate in a summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), the official Bakhtar News Agency reported (see Part 1). Karzai is scheduled to meet with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. Karzai is accompanied by a high-level delegation that includes his new foreign minister, Rangin Dadfar Spanta. The ECO is a largely symbolic forum on economic cooperation comprising: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. This is Spanta's first official trip as Afghanistan's foreign minister (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," April 28, 2006). AT
U.K. ASSUMES COMMAND OF ISAF IN AFGHANISTAN
The United Kingdom assumed command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on May 4, international news agencies reported. At a ceremony in Kabul, British Lieutenant General David Richards assumed command from Italian commander Lieutenant General Mauro del Vecchio. Shortly prior to relinquishing command, del Vecchio warned that ISAF is not going to be a "casualty-free mission," AFP reported. ISAF has around 9,000 troops stationed in Kabul and northern and western Afghanistan, but the force is expected to increase by 6,000 in the coming months as NATO expands to southern Afghanistan. Richards has dispelled concerns over ISAF's ability to maintain security in the volatile south, saying he is "more than confident that skeptics will be proven wrong," "The New York Times" reported on May 4. AT
RIGHTS GROUP WARNS AFGHAN GOVERNMENT OVER POLICE APPOINTMENTS
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a May 4 press release urged President Karzai not to appoint known human-rights abusers or warlords as provincial police chiefs. Pointing to the upcoming appointments in Afghanistan's 34 provinces, Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW, said these "candidates should be investigated for their human-rights abuses and other crimes." If Karzai "decides to appoint known human-rights abusers," Adams warned, "he would be endangering the human rights of Afghanis, not protecting them." HRW claimed Karzai is considering Mustafa Khan for a permanent appointment as police chief of Logar Province. HRW noted that Mustafa Khan, who is currently Logar's acting police chief, was banned from the 2005 elections over his ties to illegal militias. Another possible appointment singled out by HRW is that of Jamil Junbesh as police chief of Kabul Province. Junbesh, who is acting police chief in Kabul, has been accused of murder, torture, intimidation, and bribery. Junbesh's "reappointment as Kabul police chief would be a serious blow to police reform in Afghanistan," Adams said. AT
NEW DELHI DENIES PLANS AFOOT TO SEND TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN
Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Navtei Sarna said in New Delhi on May 4 that his country has no plans to send troops to assist ISAF rediff.com reported. Indian media have suggested that the United Kingdom proposed that India consider sending forces to Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2006). "There is no such proposal," Sarna added. AT
NONGOVERNMENTAL GROUPS NOTE LACK OF PRESS FREEDOM IN IRAN
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on May 4 that Ramin Jahanbegloo, a Canadian-Iranian scholar who has written for newspapers and magazines in Iran and abroad, was arrested the previous week and is at risk of torture. The Canada-Iran nexus appears to be especially upsetting for the Iranian government. On May 3, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) stated in its annual report covering 2005 that three Iranian security officials at the embassy in Ottawa launched a "brutal attack" on a Canadian-Iranian filmmaker. RSF also asserted that the Iranian government has "total control over news within [its] borders and [is] among the world's most repressive regimes." RSF called Iran "the region's biggest prison for journalists." The presidency of Mahmud Ahmadinejad has seen a worsening of the situation, RSF continued, and at least 32 newspapers were suspended in the last quarter of 2005. Predatory practices also are applied to the Internet, according to RSF, with "a score of bloggers and online journalists" jailed since September 2004. Freedom House's media survey of the Middle East, which was released on April 27, described Iran as "Not Free." The report noted harsh press laws that result in self-censorship, secret trials, and "solitary confinement and torture" of journalists and writers. BS
MEMBERS OF RELIGIOUS MINORITY IN IRAN JAILED
Fifty-two Sufis have been given prison sentences on a range of charges, Reuters reported on May 4, citing "Kargozaran" newspaper. "Each of them has been sentenced to a one year jail term, some fines, and 74 lashes," attorney and defendant Farshid Yadollahi said. Yadollahi and another defendant received the same sentence, plus a five-year ban on practicing law. They have 20 days to appeal the sentences. A major crackdown on Sufis began in Qom in February, when more than 1,000 of them were arrested (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 February 2006). BS
IRANIAN GENERAL DENIES TARGETING ISRAEL
General Alireza Afshar, a public-relations official at Iran's Armed Forces General Headquarters, has downplayed another officer's remarks about plans to attack Israel, "Iran" reported on May 4. Mohammad Ebrahim Dehqani, a commander with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' naval forces and spokesman of recent naval war games, said on May 2, "We have announced that wherever America perpetrates wicked deeds, Israel will be our prime target" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2006). Afshar noted that the naval exercises ended in March, so anything Dehqani says subsequently are his personal views and do not reflect the military's official views. BS
IRAN BLAMES SOUTHERN INSECURITY ON FOREIGNERS
Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr said in Shiraz that the Iranians responsible for "undermining security" in the southwestern Khuzestan Province and the southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province have been arrested, state radio reported on May 4. There was foreign involvement, Zolqadr added, saying, "The arrested individuals were some duped persons who enjoyed the support of the forces occupying Iraq." BS
IRAQI KURDISH OFFICIAL WARNS PKK AGAINST ATTACKING TURKEY, IRAN
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan official Imad Ahmad issued a stern warning to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) against launching attacks on Turkey or Iran from inside Iraqi territory in an interview with AFP, the news agency reported on May 5. "They [PKK] are on our land. We want them to respect the law and not use our territory to stage attacks," said Ahmad, deputy prime minister of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan-led government in Kurdistan. "We want them to leave our country but in peace, not in war. If they want to stay, they have to use politics, not weapons," he added. The PKK on May 3 vowed to retaliate against Turkey and Iran if either country launches another attack on their bases in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2006). KR
U.S. MILITARY RELEASES INSURGENTS MEMO ADVISING ATTACKS ON SHI'A
The U.S. military released an undated and unsigned memorandum seized during an April raid to reporters in Baghdad on May 4 that instructs insurgents loyal to Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi to focus their attacks on Shi'a and Iraqi security forces, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on May 5. The memo, which has not been independently authenticated, calls on insurgents to limit their attacks in Sunni Arab towns and focus on displacing Shi'a from mixed areas. "The priority in Baghdad will be the Shi'a, the [Iraqi army], and the rest of the related forces there," it adds. The memo further advises regular attacks on police and army checkpoints. In July 2005, al-Zarqawi established the Umar Brigade to "hunt and kill" members of the Badr Corps, the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shi'ite political party. The memo also discusses the exhaustion of the mujahedin fighters. The military also released outtakes of al-Zarqawi's latest video, depicting what the military called the Al-Qaeda leader's inability to operate a machine gun. KR
GERMANY WARNS NATIONALS AGAINST TRAVELING TO IRAQ
German Foreign Ministry State Secretary Gernot Erler on May 4 warned German nationals against traveling to Iraq, ddp reported the same day. Erler also called on German companies doing business in Iraq to rely on local staff rather than sending German employees to the country. "We hope that the current kidnapping case produces a learning effect, that is, that our warnings are finally taken seriously," Erler SAID. "No German should go to Iraq -- this is the clear recommendation of the Foreign Ministry." Two German hostages held captive in Iraq since January were freed earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2006). KR
IRAQ COMMAND-AND-CONTROL CENTER OPENED
The Iraqi Ground Forces Command, the operational fighting headquarters for the Iraqi army, opened a state-of-the-art command-and-control center at Camp Victory in Iraq on May 3, according to a May 4 press release on mnf-iraq.com. The center will enhance the army's ability to plan and direct operations against the insurgency, including coordination among different security agencies, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on May 3. The news channel reported that the center cost $1 million to build and is equipped with high-tech equipment and more than 80 computer workstations. KR