EU, RUSSIA FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON ENERGY...
The EU-Russia summit ended in Sochi on May 25 without any agreement on energy-related issues, including the EU's demand that Russia ratify the Energy Charter that would end Gazprom's monopoly over Russia's pipeline system, Russian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 26, and May 24 and 25, 2006). President Vladimir Putin repeated his earlier charge that the EU uses double standards by seeking access to Russia's domestic market while being reluctant to allow Gazprom to acquire assets in EU countries. "If our European partners expect that we will let them into the holy of holies of our economy -- the energy sector -- and let them in as they would like to be admitted, then we expect reciprocal steps in the most crucial and important areas for our own development," Putin said. He nonetheless added that "the most important thing is that we have a desire to agree on this issue, and we will reach an agreement." PM
...BUT AVOID PUBLIC CLASH
Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel of Austria, which holds the rotating EU chair, spoke in Sochi on May 25 of a mutual desire to "avoid further misunderstandings" on energy-related issues, international media reported. EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana spoke of unspecified European "sensitivities" regarding Russia's reliability as an energy supplier, but noted that Russia has honored its commitments in the past. Meanwhile, the summit yielded one agreement to facilitate granting multiple-entry and long-term Schengen EU visas for Russian students, scholars, politicians, diplomats, and businessmen, and a second document on the return of migrants, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on May 26. PM
PUTIN RESPONDS TO U.S. CRITICISM
At the EU-Russia summit in Sochi on May 25, President Putin made his first public response to recent criticism of Russian policies by U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 10 and 23, 2006). Putin said that "the United States is one of our biggest partners. We value our relations with this country." He noted that "there are many...spheres, including the antiterrorist struggle, where nothing can substitute for the Russian-American partnership." Asked by reporters about Cheney's criticism of Russian policies toward Ukraine and some other countries, Putin replied, "As for our relations with other countries, we will discuss them directly with those countries." He added that Russia sees "how the United States defends its interests and what methods it uses." Putin argued that Russia similarly "searches for the most acceptable ways of solving its national tasks. I find it strange that someone can misunderstand this." He also said that "if our Ukrainian partners say they are satisfied with energy agreements with Russia and see them as not just acceptable but as the only right solution, then how can the leaders of other countries say that this is bad?" PM
PUTIN REPORTEDLY SEEKS TO LIMIT FOREIGN ACCESS TO STRATEGIC RESOURCES
President Putin recently told Russian officials to lower the threshold for energy and minerals deposits to be considered "strategic", thereby raising the bar for foreign firms to enter those sectors, Reuters reported on May 25, citing the Moscow daily "Vedomosti." The daily wrote that the Natural Resources Ministry is preparing a new Law on Subsoil Use that will reduce by 50 percent the threshold for oil fields to 50 million tons (366,000 barrels) and to 500 billion cubic meters for gas. The paper said that Rosneft and Gazprom want to maintain their control over Russia's main oil and gas fields and are behind Putin's recent order. PM
WILL RUSSIA SEEK TO REVISE EXISTING GAS AND OIL DEALS?
According to London's "Financial Times" of May 25, Russia's Natural Resources Ministry wants a review of existing deals on natural resources, which will affect the two largest foreign oil projects in that country. The ministry will reportedly call for a parliamentary review of "ineffective" agreements dating from the 1990s that might be counter to Russian national interests. Such a move would affect primarily the Sakhalin-1 project, on which ExxonMobil and its partners have already spent nearly $5 billion, and the Sakhalin-2 project, in which Royal Dutch Shell and its partners are investing $20 billion, the daily added. It commented that "all this is taking place against the background of the state's growing role in the energy sector and its apparent readiness to use it as a foreign-policy tool." PM
EUROPEAN, RUSSIAN FIRMS TO CREATE WORLD'S TOP STEEL COMPANY
The Arcelor SA steel company announced in Luxembourg on May 26 that it will merge with Russia's Severstal to form the world's largest steel company and thereby fend off Mittal Steel's hostile takeover bid, dpa reported. The agency added that President Putin has already agreed to the merger, which is expected to be completed in July. Arcelor's shareholders are to own 68 percent of the merged company. PM
NEW PIPELINE ROUTE TO STEER CLEAR OF LAKE BAIKAL
The authorities in Irkutsk Oblast approved on May 24 a new route for the recently launched East Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline project, which will transport oil from eastern Siberian fields to Japan and South Korea, with an eventual extension to China, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on May 25 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 21 and 22, and April 26 and 28, 2006). In keeping with a recent order by President Putin, the new route will stay well clear of Lake Baikal, which the original plan did not. In April, Putin said that the pipeline must remain at least 40 kilometers away from the lake, and the new route stays clear of it by 400 kilometers. The pipeline now will run from Tayshet to Ust-Kut as originally planned. It will then head northeast away from Lake Baikal toward Lensk in Yakutia, and then southeast to the Tynda region before going on to the Pacific. PM
PROTEST IN SUPPORT OF NENETS GOVERNOR
About 300 people demonstrated on May 25 in Naryan-Mar, the capital of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug in the Arctic, on behalf of Governor Aleksei Barinov, who was recently arrested on corruption charges, "The Moscow Times" reported on May 26 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 22, 24, and 25, 2006). Many suspect that the authorities' real objections to Barinov are political and note that he was the last governor to be democratically elected before President Putin began directly appointing such officials. Barinov has called for Severnaya Neft, which is a subsidiary of the state-owned oil major Rosneft, to pay $33 million in back taxes. The Moscow-based daily suggested that Barinov thereby ran afoul of Igor Sechin, who is Rosneft's chairman and deputy head of administration in the Kremlin, and has ties to the former KGB (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," February 20, 2006). PM
DEPUTY GOVERNOR CHARGED WITH CORRUPTION
Prosecutors have charged Konstantin Bochkaryov, who is deputy governor of Chelyabinsk Oblast, with corruption in relation to an alleged illegal purchase of art objects to decorate a public building, RIA-Novosti reported from Yekaterinburg on May 25 (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," October 10, 2003). PM
VOLOGDA JOURNALIST CLEARED OF HATE CHARGE
The Vologda Oblast Court on May 25 overturned an earlier decision by the Vologda City Court against Anna Smirnova, who is editor in chief of the small weekly "Nash region," Interfax reported. Smirnova hailed the latest ruling, saying that it was unexpected and shows that the oblast court is "professional and unbiased." Smirnova was charged with inciting national, racial, and religious hatred in connection with a February article entitled "The Cartoon War: Viewpoints," which was accompanied by the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 17 and 21, and April 5, 2006). On April 4, the Moscow-based daily "Novye izvestia" commented that an official campaign against "fascism" and hate crimes is under way in order to channel political protests so that they do not focus on the authorities, and to present President Putin's Unified Russia party in a favorable light. PM
HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS IN GROZNY PROTEST ABDUCTION
Members of the Russian human rights center Memorial and the Grozny-based committee Civic Assistance (Grazhdanskoye Sodeystviye) staged a protest on May 25 in central Grozny against the abduction last month of Civic Assistance staffer Bulat Chilayev, Russian media reported. The protesters called on the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership to investigate Chilayev's disappearance, for which they believe an officer of the Zapad battalion commanded by Said-Magomed Kakiyev was responsible. LF
ADYGEYA PRESIDENT MEETS WITH SHAPSUGS
Khazret Sovmen met on May 25 in Maikop with representatives of the Shapsug community from neighboring Krasnodar Krai, caucasustimes.com reported. The Shapsugs expressed gratitude for 500,000 rubles ($18,513) he donated to help finance the publication of the newspaper "Shapsugiya." That paper was first published 15 years ago and currently appears twice a month in a print run of 3,700, according to an article by its editor Anzor Nibo on the heku.ru website. The Shapsugs are a tiny ethnic group, numbering approximately 10,000, related to the Adygs (Cherkess); they speak a dialect of Adyg. LF
NEW BALKAR COUNCIL ESTABLISHED
Meeting in Nalchik on May 25, 220 delegates from 26 Balkar villages established the Council of Elders of the Balkar People, kavkaz.memo.ru and regnum.ru reported. The Council elected retired police Colonel Ismail Sabanchiyev as its chairman, and adopted a resolution listing the problems the Balkar people face. The resolution has been sent to the republic's leadership, which ignored an invitation to send a representative to the congress. LF
NEW ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT GROUP FORMED
Ten of the 11 deputies who earlier this month defected from the Orinats Yerkir faction of then-parliament Chairman Artur Baghdasarian have formally aligned in a new group named Gorartsar (Business), Noyan Tapan reported on May 25. The group's head, restaurant owner Grigor Margarian, told journalist it will focus primarily on economic issues and hopes to maintain "normal good-neighborly relations" with the parliament factions of the parties aligned in the coalition government. LF
OSCE MINSK GROUP MEETS WITH ARMENIAN LEADERS
The French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, accompanied by senior diplomats from the three countries, met in Yerevan on May 25 with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian to discuss the ongoing search for a solution to the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In a subsequent statement, the co-chairs said the talks focused on unspecified "important aspects" of a peace settlement. As in a statement issued the previous day in Baku, they stressed the need for "the two sides to reach agreement on the basic principles of a settlement," and they urged the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to prepare the populations of their respective countries for peace, not a new war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 25, 2006). A spokesman for Kocharian told RFE/RL that the Armenian president will meet with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev in Bucharest on June 5 on the sidelines of a summit of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT HOPES FOR 'HIGH-LEVEL' TALKS WITH RUSSIA
Mikheil Saakashvili told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti in a May 25 interview that he wants to resume high-level meetings with Russian politicians with the aim of defusing tensions in bilateral relations. He said that Russia could "win Georgia's heart forever" by helping to resolve the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, conflicts he said were exacerbated by the "totally wrong approach" adopted by both Russia and the United States. Saakashvili also again implied that Georgia might opt to leave the CIS, saying the government has not yet found any cogent reasons not to do so. He also ruled out pre-term presidential elections in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Some 2,000 people attended an opposition demonstration in Tbilisi on May 25 to protest deteriorating economic conditions and demand Saakashvili's resignation, "The Moscow Times" reported on May 26. LF
NATO OFFICIAL ASSESSES GEORGIAN IPAP
Robert Simmons, the NATO secretary-general's special representative for the South Caucasus and Central Asia, said in Tbilisi on May 25 that Georgia has made "significant progress" over the past six months in implementing the defense and security reforms outlined in its Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP), Caucasus Press and RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. At the same time, he warned that there is no consensus within NATO that Georgia is ready to advance from the IPAP to an Intensified Dialogue, which is regarded as the precursor to a Membership Action Plan and formal invitation to join the alliance. Simmons also implied that Georgia should not expect to receive such a formal invitation at the NATO summit in Riga this fall. He expressed support and approval of Georgian initiatives to resolve peacefully the conflicts with the breakaway republics Abkhazia and South Ossetia. LF
GEORGIA PROTESTS RUSSIA'S HARBORING OF FORMER MINISTER
The Georgian Foreign Ministry sent a formal protest note on May 25 to its Russian counterpart demanding an explanation for statements by senior Russian officials implying that Moscow would grant political asylum to former Georgian National Security Minister Igor Giorgadze if he requested it, Caucasus Press reported. Giorgadze, who is wanted in Georgia on suspicion of having masterminded the August 1995 car-bomb attack on then-Georgian parliament Chairman Eduard Shevardnadze, told journalists shortly after arriving in Moscow on May 24 he has no intention of requesting asylum in Russia. Speaking in Tbilisi on May 25, Georgian New Conservatives (aka New Rightists) leader David Gamkrelidze compared Giorgadze to Osama bin Laden and said he should be sentenced in absentia, Caucasus Press reported. LF
KAZAKH OIL REACHES CHINA
Oil pumped from Kazakhstan has reached China through a 962-kilometer pipeline linking the two countries, China's "People's Daily" reported on May 25. The event marks the first direct pipeline import of oil to China. Yin Juntai, deputy general manager of China Petroleum Exploration and Development Company, commented that the pipeline, which was completed in November, "has provided a direct link between Kazakhstan's rich oil resources and China's robust oil consumer market." The $700 million pipeline will eventually transport 20 million tons of oil a year to China. The "People's Daily" report said that China's oil imports from Kazakhstan are expected to total 4.75 million tons in 2006. DK
KYRGYZ EX-PRESIDENT DENIES REPORTS OF RETURN TO BISHKEK
Former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev told RIA-Novosti on May 25 that reports he has returned to Bishkek are the "machinations of ill-wishers." Responding to unconfirmed Internet reports that he has returned to Bishkek, Akaev said: "If snow falls in the summer in Kyrgyzstan, it's Akaev's fault. I'm an easy target for all manner of insinuations." Akaev said that he is currently in St. Petersburg, Russia for an academic conference, adding, "I've left politics and immersed myself entirely in science." DK
KYRGYZ 'COAL KING' CHARGED
Nurlan Motuev, who gained fame in Kyrgyzstan for seizing the Kara-Keche coal mine in Naryn Province in 2005 and holding it for over a year, has been charged with unlawful property seizure and tax evasion, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on May 25. Motuev was arrested in Bishkek on May 23 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 24, 2006). DK
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW NATIONAL GUARD HEAD
President Kurmanbek Bakiev has issued a decree removing Sultan Kurmanov as commander of Kyrgyzstan's National Guard and replacing him with Asanbek Alymkojoev, Kabar reported on May 25. Alymkojoev commanded the Defense Ministry's southern military group in 2004-06, Interfax reported. DK
CIS PREMIERS MEET IN TAJIKISTAN
Heads of government from the member states in the CIS met in Dushanbe on May 25, agencies reported. Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov said that integration is lacking among CIS countries, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Georgian Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze said that CIS membership has not helped Georgia with the peaceful settlement of conflicts, free movement of Georgian citizens, or economic relations, Avesta reported. "There is no point for us to remain in this organization," Baramidze commented. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Melnik said his country is "not talking about" leaving the CIS, according to RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported, adding, "What we are saying is that the [CIS] structure should have clear priorities and has to be reformed." RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported that Georgia and Ukraine did not sign any of the documents approved by other participants at the meeting on May 25. DK
TAJIKISTAN, UZBEKISTAN JOIN ASIAN COOPERATION DIALOGUE
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan joined the Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) at a meeting of foreign ministers from ACD member states in Doha, Qatar on May 24, uzreport.com reported the next day. The organization, which now brings together 30 countries, is a forum for Asian states to discuss ways to realize their potential. The Qatar meeting focused on energy cooperation and ended with a declaration to use the ACD as a forum for coordinating energy cooperation, UPI reported. DK
NGO EMPLOYEES FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES IN UZBEKISTAN
Prosecutors in Tashkent told RIA Novosti on May 25 that they have opened a criminal case against the employees of the U.S.-based NGO Counterpart International. The report did not say how many employees are implicated in the criminal case. Prosecutors told the news agency, "The criminal case was opened in connection with the [Counterpart International] office's engaging in publishing activity without a license." A court in Tashkent ruled in early May to shut down Counterpart International's operations in Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 5, 2006). A press release published on the organization's website on May 8 quoted Lelei LeLaulu, president of Counterpart International, as saying, "We have no option but to abide by the ruling of the court and begin dissolving relevant programs in Uzbekistan." DK
BELARUS CONFIRMS BAN ON CANADIAN, U.S. OVERFLIGHTS
Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Papou confirmed on May 25 that the Belarusian government will suspend overfly rights for Canadian and U.S. airplanes, Reuters and Belapan reported. Papou noted that the move is in response to last month's refusal by Canada and the United States to refuel a plane carrying Belarus's prime minister to and from Cuba (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 21, 2006). "Belarus strictly observes symmetry in adopting any sort of retaliatory measures. These restrictions will apply only to two countries -- the United States and Canada," Papou told journalists. He did not clarify whether the ban will affect both official and commercial flights or just the former. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka alluded to the introduction of such a ban two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 24, 2006). JM
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST FACES JAIL ON CHARGES OF INCITING RIOTS
The district court in Shchuchyn, Hrodna Oblast, on May 25 began the trial of Syarhey Lyashkevich, who led opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich's election campaign in the area, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Prosecutors have demanded a six-month jail sentence for Lyashkevich, claiming that he instructed opposition activists during the campaign to stage riots by showing them videos, talking about rallies and demonstrations, and asking them to distribute wallet-size calendars, booklets, and other materials in support of Milinkevich. The prosecutors presented a videotape that Lyashkevich allegedly used to train rioters. The videotape turned out to be a musical film titled "An Extraordinary Concert," which shows onstage performances by Belarusian pop stars mixed with footage of clashes between opposition protesters and police between 1996 and 2000. "This is an unequivocally political trial; it was opened [deliberately] in Shchuchyn because it is the place where I come from. This is a show trial, reminiscent of those in the Soviet Union in the 1930s," Milinkevich told RFE/RL after attending the hearings. JM
OUR UKRAINE HEAD DISCLOSES 'PRINCIPLES' FOR RULING COALITION
Roman Bezsmertnyy, head of the Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus, said in a television interview on May 25 that coalition talks between Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialist Party over the next two weeks will touch upon "the entire set of parliamentary and governmental posts," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www.pravda.com.ua) reported. "I agree with my colleagues, Oleksandr Moroz and Yuliya Tymoshenko, who said today that the main thing is not posts, but principles," Bezsmertnyy added. He explained that in forming the coalition, Our Ukraine will insist on the principle that "all decisions should be made within the framework of the coalition." "The second principle is obligatory control and counterbalances. That is, if the [parliamentary] committee for economic policy belongs to one faction, the post of economy minister belongs to another," Bezsmertnyy said. Meanwhile, the daily "Ukrayina moloda" wrote on May 26 that Our Ukraine is going to propose Petro Poroshenko for the post of parliament speaker, implying that the party has already accepted the reinstatement of Yuliya Tymoshenko in the post of prime minister. "It is interesting that Our Ukraine has not foreseen the return of [acting Prime Minister] Yuriy Yekhanurov to the top echelons of the executive branch," wrote "Ukrayina moloda," which is edited by presidential adviser and close aide Mykhaylo Doroshenko. JM
VILLAGERS ATTACK UN CONVOY IN WESTERN KOSOVA
Three police officers and a translator were wounded on May 25 when a crowd of ethnic Albanians in western Kosova attacked a UN convoy escorting a Serbian defense attorney, international news agencies reported the same day. The attack took place in the village of Mala Krusa, where residents blocked a road and threw stones at the convoy, a UN statement said. "Police then had to clear the crowd, unfortunately resulting in injuries to a number of citizens who received medical treatment from an ambulance at the scene," Reuters quoted a UN statement as saying. Prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia say that Serbian police killed 100 men in Mala Krusa two days into NATO's 1999 bombing campaign. Soren Jessen-Petersen, head of the UN Mission in Kosova, said he is "outraged and disappointed" by the incident, Reuters reported. "It is important for the people of Kosovo to understand that their quest for justice can only be achieved through the course of justice, not by extrajudicial means," he said. BW
BOSNIAN COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE ALLEGED WAR CRIMES AGAINST SERBS IN SARAJEVO
Bosnia-Herzegovina's Prime Minister Adnan Terzic agreed on May 25 to form a commission to investigate alleged crimes against Serbs in Sarajevo during the 1992-95 war, international news agencies reported the same day. The alleged atrocities were reprisal attacks that occurred while Bosnian Serb paramilitaries were shelling the city with artillery and conducting regular sniper attacks against its Muslim residents. Terzic, a Muslim, previously said that he only supported the forming of a state commission to investigate all crimes throughout the country. As a result, Serbian lawmakers walked out of parliament in protest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 25, 2006). "I have decided to roll back on my pledge and decided that we form the commission," he said. BW
BELGRADE COURT RELEASES ALLEGED CRIME BOSS ON BAIL
A Belgrade court on May 26 released an alleged organized-crime boss and heroin dealer on bail and allowed him to keep his passport, dpa reported. Sreten Jocic, known by his alias "Joca Amsterdam," was released on 300,000-euro ($383,000) bail. Jocic is alleged to have been one of Europe's top heroin dealers. He was arrested in Sofia in 2002 on charges that he commissioned the murder of a rival in Belgrade. Prosecutors objected to the release, but court officials defended the move. "He is committed to respond to every call by the court," court spokeswoman Ivana Ramic told the Belgrade daily "Blic," according to dpa. BW
RUSSIA, MOLDOVA AGREE TO DRAFT WINE PLAN
Negotiators in Moscow agreed on May 25 to draft a plan to resume Moldovan wine exports to Russia, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Moldova-vin General Director Valeriu Mironescu announced the agreement the same day, but did not provide further details. "The drafting will begin when Moldova has presented a full list of measures its authorities have taken to tighten the control of the wines' quality," Mironescu said, adding that he invited a group of Russian experts to visit Moldova to look into the operation of the wine-making industry. In a move widely viewed as political retaliation for Chisinau's Western-leaning policies, Russia imposed a ban on Moldova's wine exports in March, citing health and safety concerns (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2006). BW
NEW UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT SETS DEADLINE FOR COALITION
All seemed in order as the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada convened for its first session on May 25, but the composure on the Ukrainian parliamentary rostrum was short-lived. A dispute among deputies erupted immediately after the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party -- the three allies in the 2004 Orange Revolution -- proposed that the session be postponed until June 7.
By that time, they pledged, the three groups will have agreed on the principles of a renewed coalition. The motion eventually passed with 240 votes.
Dissent came from the ranks of the Party of Regions and the Communist Party, whose members argued that the Orange Revolution allies have had enough time to agree on a coalition and should allow the legislature get to work.
The March 26 parliamentary vote in Ukraine, which was internationally praised as fair and democratic, produced a legislature comprising five forces: the Party of Regions (186 seats), the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (129), Our Ukraine (81), the Socialist Party (33), and the Communist Party (21).
Over the past two months, the five parliamentary groups have held several joint meetings chaired by President Viktor Yushchenko and many bilateral and trilateral conferences devoted to the formation of a parliamentary majority, but all of them proved fruitless.
In mid-April the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party signed a protocol pledging to work toward creating such a parliamentary majority. Their subsequent efforts led to the preparation of two draft coalition accords -- one endorsed by the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and the Socialists, the other worked out by Our Ukraine.
The main stumbling block in the coalition talks is the question of who will become prime minister. Tymoshenko has made no secret of her desire to regain the post she held before being dismissed by Yushchenko in September. But the restoration of Tymoshenko as prime minister is exactly what the president and his political partners from Our Ukraine would like to avoid.
Yushchenko officially split with Tymoshenko after she accused some of his closest allies of corrupt practices and of running a "second" government. All of them were subsequently elected to the Verkhovna Rada from the Our Ukraine list. If the former Orange Revolution allies eventually decide to restore their coalition and Tymoshenko becomes prime minister once again, the old conflict may reignite.
There is also another source of potential discord between the president and Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko promised during the election campaign to cancel a gas-supply deal that Yushchenko's cabinet signed with Gazprom in January. The deal raised the gas price for Ukraine from $50 to $95 per 1,000 meters and gave RosUkrEnergo, an opaque Swiss-based company owned half by Gazprom and half by two Ukrainian businessmen, the role of sole supplier.
The cancellation by Tymoshenko of the gas deal with Gazprom could lead to a serious conflict between Kyiv and Moscow. Russia could cut gas supplies to Ukraine, as it did for a short time in January, or impose trade sanctions, as it recently did with regard to Georgian and Moldovan wines. Ukraine, which currently sends some 22 percent of its exports to Russia, would hardly benefit from any trade ban from Moscow.
Another hurdle to an Orange coalition is the Socialist Party's opposition to some goals pursued by Yushchenko's presidency. In particular, the Socialists object to Ukrainian aspirations to join NATO. They also object to the privatization of land, thus undermining Yushchenko's efforts to implement reforms he pledged during the 2004 Orange Revolution in an effort to bring the country closer to the European Union.
If Our Ukraine doesn't allow Tymoshenko to realize her dream of regaining her seat as prime minister, she will most likely switch to the opposition, and Yushchenko will have to seek a coalition with the Party of Regions led by Viktor Yanukovych, his former presidential rival.
Such a coalition, with 267 votes in the Verkhovna Rada, would provide solid support for its cabinet, provided that the two seemingly mismatched parties could adopt a consistent program.
Both parties represent the interests of major oligarchic groups in Ukraine, so in theory they could very easily agree on a set of basic economic reforms. But difficulties could emerge in the determination of foreign-policy priorities, as Yanukovych's party is generally seen as Russia-leaning, in contrast to the Western-oriented Our Ukraine.
But for Yushchenko, this coalition option is fraught with much more serious dangers than mere differences of opinion on foreign policy. The Party of Regions, which won the March 26 elections, would most likely demand the post of prime minister. It is not clear whether Yushchenko would prefer Yanukovych or someone else from his party to Tymoshenko as prime minister.
Under the constitutional reform that went into effect in January, presidential powers in Ukraine were substantially reduced to the benefit of the parliament and the prime minister. Since the Party of Regions has many politicians with great experience in running the government under former President Leonid Kuchma, Yushchenko might think twice before handing the keys to the cabinet over to them. Such experienced politicians could do more to diminish the role of the president in practice than the constitutional reform did in theory.
Yushchenko told the Verkhovna Rada on May 25 that he expects the new cabinet to embody his future vision for Ukraine. "The government should be made up of those who, as a single team, will ensure Ukraine's development on the basis of European values, who are capable of consolidating the nation, stimulating economic reforms, and respecting the rights and freedoms of the people," he said.
However, the president could find these goals very difficult to achieve -- not only because of discrepancies among the potential coalition parties but also because of the personal ambitions of their leaders.
UN SAYS 2.7 MILLION AFGHANS AT RISK OF FOOD SHORTAGES
The UN World Food Program (WFP) said in a statement on May 25 that an estimated 2.7 million Afghans face possible food shortages due to a lack of funds and resources, AFP reported. The statement said WFP's efforts to distribute up to 25,000 tons of food in remote parts of Afghanistan before the winter could fall short unless more international aid is forthcoming. "The last thing WFP wants is to cancel our winter aid program because this will leave millions of Afghans with no hope of food assistance for months from the onset of winter until the snows start to melt in spring," WFP regional director for Asia Anthony Banbury is quoted as saying. "But unless donors come forward quickly, we will soon be forced to take this tough decision because we have so little wheat in our warehouses and almost none in the pipeline." WFP representatives predict a shortfall of 49,000 tons of food aid for 2006 without further donor help. The WFP planned to distribute about 106,000 tons of food aid throughout vulnerable areas of Afghanistan, and said an estimated $31 million is needed to shore up the 2006 supplies. MR
AFGHAN PRESIDENT APPEALS FOR CALM
Hamid Karzai called for calm during a visit to the restive south of the country on May 25, AFP reported. "I swear to God, I'll bring security to you," Karzai told a gathering of elders in Kandahar during a surprise appearance. "Be relaxed and don't worry. I am working on it. I am in talks with the international community, with Islamic countries, with big countries," Karzai said. "Eat your shorba [a popular Afghan gravy] and take your afternoon nap. But at the same time, take care of the security of your villages, districts, and cities and leave the major things for me," Karzai said he came to the area to visit the families of civilian victims caught up in recent days of fighting in the area, where as many as 350 people have died in clashes between coalition forces and insurgents. Karzai hails from the Kandahar area, which remains a hotbed of insurgent activity. MR
THOUSANDS FLEE VIOLENCE IN AFGHANISTAN
UN International Organization for Migration spokesman Nasim Karim said on May 25 that some 3,000 people have fled their homes in southern Afghanistan after days of fighting in the area, AP reported. Karim said most of those on the move are from the Panjwayi district of Kandahar Province, the scene of the fiercest fighting during a spate of violence that began on May 17. Abdul Qabar Nurzai, the director of the Kandahar office of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said there are numerous reports from across southern Afghanistan of people being uprooted because of clashes between coalition forces and neo-Taliban insurgents. "They have lost their homes, orchards, agricultural land, and assets, and now they are in a very bad position," Nurzai said. MR
AUTHORITIES ARREST SUSPECTS IN KILLING OF UN STAFFERS
Police in western Afghanistan said on May 24 that they have arrested two suspects thought to be involved in the recent killing of two UN staffers, the Afghan Pajhwak news agency reported. Herat Governor Sayyed Hosayn Anwari said intelligence officials detained Malvi Said Mohammad and Mulla Najmuddin in the border region of Karukh district. The two are thought to have been involved in the murder of two UNICEF staffers who died on May 12 when a rocket struck their vehicle as it traveled through Herat. Anwari said the two suspects were caught with two rockets. MR
NUCLEAR INCENTIVES FOR IRAN BEING PREPARED
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on May 25 that foreign ministers from the permanent Security Council member states plus Germany will meet in Europe late next week to discuss a plan to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis, Reuters reported. China, France, Great Britain, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany are expected to try to work out details of incentives and disincentives that might be offered to Iran in connection with curbing its nuclear activities. According to "The New York Times," the White House declared on May 24 that it is relying on the diplomatic process to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis, rather than entering into a direct dialogue with the Islamic Republic. The paper quoted White House and State Department spokesmen leaving open the possibility of direct talks in the future. BS
SUSPECTED BANDITS KILLED IN SOUTHWESTERN IRAN
The deputy commander of the Rasulallah military base in southwestern Iran, a brigadier general identified as Rezai, announced on May 25 that five "bandits" were killed and two others arrested in connection with a violent attack on the Bam-Kerman road recently (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 15, 2006), state television reported. Rezai said in "Iran" newspaper on May 23 that although the police can control the roads near the Sistan va Baluchistan Province border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, "full control over the roads at night is not going to be possible." Rezai claimed that all of the 100 bandit groups operating in the region are based in other countries, and said the national police force is seeking permission to cross into other countries while in hot pursuit. The establishment of security in the southeast, Rezai continued, depends on the area's economy. BS
IRANIAN PRESIDENT COMPLAINS OF ENEMIES AND ETHNIC UNREST
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in a May 25 speech in Tehran that an unnamed enemy is trying to undermine national unity, ILNA reported. He added that this will not work, saying, "Today, and with total awareness, people are thwarting the enemy plots to create ethnic discord, and continuing their progress in maintaining their national unity." BS
AZERBAIJANI NEWS AGENCIES REPORT MORE CASUALTIES IN IRAN UNREST
An unconfirmed report from the Turan news agency on 25 May described "tens of thousands" of Iranians staging a protest rally in the city of Parsabad. Turan went on to claim that security forces fired on the demonstrators and killed four of them, after which the protesters set several banks and schools ablaze. Those reports have not been confirmed. The incidents are the continuation of events that began last week in the northwest, where Azeris protested a cartoon in a government newspaper depicting an Azeri-speaking cockroach (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 May, 2006). BS
HIZBALLAH LEADER ACKNOWLEDGES IRANIAN AND SYRIAN ASSISTANCE
The secretary-general of Lebanese Hizballah, Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, acknowledged support from Iran and Syria in a May 25 speech in Tyre, Al-Manar Television reported. The speech was given at a rally called the "Festival of Resistance and Victory" held to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon. Nasrallah described the end of Israeli occupation as an event that destroyed the "Zionists' legendary image." He noted the contribution of Hizballah "martyrs" who gave their lives in this effort, and he also noted "martyrs" of the Lebanese and Syrian armies, as well as Palestinian "martyrs." Nasrallah praised Iran for its "key" role in aiding the "resistance." "I thank especially Syria under the leadership of late Hafiz al-Assad," he added, before citing President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian people, and the Syrian military. BS
JORDANIAN LEGISLATOR CALLS IRAN A 'THREAT'
Jordanian parliament speaker Abd-al-Hadi al-Majali said in Amman recently that Iran is a threat to Jordanian security and stability, "Al-Arab al-Yawm" reported on May 25. Iran "threatens national security by seeking to destabilize security in Jordan rather than to overthrow the regime," he added. Whether or not Iran is attacked -- presumably because of its disputed nuclear program -- Jordan is in danger, according to al-Majali. "Jordan will be harmed by Iran whether it is hit or not," he said. Al-Majali also expressed concern about Iranian activities in Iraq, saying, "Accurate information confirms that the Iranian intelligence service is occupying most of southern Iraq." BS
IRAN-IRAQ TIES TO IMPROVE?
Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad, on May 25 expressed the hope that the visit of Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki will mark the beginning of a new era in Iran-Iraq relations, IRNA reported. Kazemi-Qomi said the absence of foreign troops in Iraq is in the interest of Iran and other countries in the region. Mottaki arrived in Iraq on May 26, according to RFE/RL. BS
IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ARRIVES IN BAGHDAD
Manuchehr Mottaki arrived in Baghdad on May 26 for talks with Iraqi officials, international media reported. Mottaki met with Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari to discuss "various aspects of the bilateral relations between the two countries and the means to promote them in the interest of the two neighboring peoples," according to an Iraqi Foreign Ministry statement. Mottaki is also scheduled to meet with President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, as well as a number of parliamentarians. Mottaki's visit is the second high-level visit by an Iranian official to Iraq since the fall of the Hussein regime; former Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi visited Iraq in May 2005. KR
ARMED GROUP IN IRAQ REISSUES DEMANDS FOR RELEASE OF U.A.E. DIPLOMAT
The Liwa Al-Islam group reissued its demands for the release of United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) Consul Naji Rashid on May 25, Al-Jazeera television reported the same day. The group claimed that the U.A.E. continues to support the Iraqi government with weapons and training to attack the resistance. It also criticized the U.A.E. for continuing to allow Al-Fayha satellite television to operate from Dubai. The group called on the U.A.E. to close its embassy in Baghdad, cease all relations with the Iraqi government, and close down Al-Fayha or else it will kill Rashid. Meanwhile, former army Major General Nuri Ghafil al-Dulaymi, a candidate for defense minister, has issued an appeal for the release of Rashid, Al-Arabiyah television reported on May 25. KR
INSURGENT GROUPS IN IRAQ GOING LOW-TECH TO AVOID CAPTURE
Insurgent groups in Iraq are resorting to low-tech means to communicate in order to avoid capture by U.S. forces, "Al-Zaman" reported on May 24. Commanders of insurgent groups have instructed new recruits coming into Iraq not to use mobile telephones, landlines, or the Internet to communicate. The daily reported that leaflets have been circulated among armed groups instructing them to communicate only through oral or handwritten messages. "The U.S. Army has carried out successful raids due to tips obtained from the Internet and mobile telephones," a source close to an armed group said. "Al-Zaman" reported on May 22 that insurgents in Al-Fallujah have begun targeting remote-controlled digital cameras installed by the U.S. military in volatile areas of the city. The cameras can monitor movement of people from 3 kilometers away and have restricted the ability of insurgents to raid U.S. camps, the daily reported. KR
SUNNI, SHI'ITE MILITIAS ENFORCE ISLAMIC LAW IN SOME AREAS OF IRAQI CAPITAL
Sunni and Shi'ite militias are attempting to establish separate "Islamic emirates" in some areas of Baghdad, London-based "Al-Hayat" reported on May 24. Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda-affiliated organization has reportedly taken over the Sunni Arab districts of Al-Dura and Al-Amiriyah, local residents say. Each district has its own emir, while gunmen regularly distribute leaflets written by the Mujahedin Shura Council detailing acceptable dress and behavior. Shi'ite militiamen have taken control of the Shi'ite districts of Al-Sadr City, Al-Sha'b, Al-Qahira, Al-Baladiyat, and Baghdad al-Jadidah, where they run street patrols, and inspect government offices and girls schools for violations in dress and conduct. The daily reported that both Sunni and Shi'ite militias have killed violators. In Al-Amiriyah, two girls were abducted off the street and later released with their heads shaved as punishment for not wearing hijabs, or headscarves. Leaflets were then distributed saying that the shavings were commuted sentences, and the next violators will be put to death. Residents of Shi'ite districts reported similar incidents against women and girls. KR
SWISS FIRM PLEADS GUILTY TO VIOLATING U.S. LAW IN OIL-FOR-FOOD SALES
The Swiss commodities-trading company Trafigura pleaded guilty on May 25 to violating U.S. federal law with regard to the sale of oil under the UN-administered oil-for-food program, AP reported on May 26. The company admitted in U.S. district court in Texas to lying to Houston-area energy companies by saying that more than 500,000 barrels of imported Iraqi oil was obtained in compliance with the program. The oil was sold at two different times in 2001 along with larger shipments that were allowed under the program. As part of a plea agreement, the company agreed to forfeit $9.9 million, its proceeds from the sale of the oil, and pay criminal and civil penalties amounting to another $9.9 million. KR