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Newsline - June 16, 2006

Speaking to journalists on June 15 in Shanghai, where he was attending a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), President Vladimir Putin, who has recently avoided sharp criticism of the United States, referred to U.S. behavior in Uzbekistan as that of "a bull in a china shop," international news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 10, and June 6 and 15, 2006). He also dismissed as "arrogant" alleged U.S. suspicions about the SCO. He argued that Washington does not "like the fact that countries like China and Russia have joined efforts in solving common problems, that India and Pakistan are taking part [in the SCO], and that it has attracted Iran. [Washington's] worry is that they can't influence [the SCO]." Apparently alluding to recent criticism of Russian policies by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and some other leading politicians, Putin said: "we do not respond to provocative statements...we pursue a well-balanced policy, not least of all with the United States. People in the [United States] with common sense understand us," RIA Novosti reported. Putin charged that Russia's critics are impatient and want change "immediately and in a way they consider proper. [But] those who are wiser understand that Russia will be useful for them." PM

In his June 15 remarks to reporters in Shanghai, President Putin also slammed what he said are unfair U.S. demands that are holding up Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), international news agencies reported. He added nonetheless that he hopes Russia's WTO membership can be finalized before the St. Petersburg summit of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 13, May 10, and June 7 and 13, 2006). Putin stressed that "we're not joining the United States, we're joining the WTO." He also criticized U.S. policy toward the Hamas-led government of the Palestinian Authority, saying that cutting off its funds, as the United States and EU have done, only makes matters worse. Putin went on to blame Western countries for having backed the 2005 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, arguing that Western policies have led to a polarization in that country. PM

Addressing reporters in Shanghai on June 15, President Putin said that Gazprom is prepared to help build a proposed natural-gas pipeline linking Iran to India through Pakistan, international news agencies reported. He specifically mentioned the possibility of financial help and called the project, which the United States opposes, "perfectly feasible" and "perfectly profitable." Iran, India, and Pakistan have been negotiating for months about the proposed $7 billion pipeline project. PM

President Putin told reporters in Shanghai on June 15 that he will not run for a third term when his current mandate expires in 2008, international news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 8, 2006). He said that doing so would require changing the constitution, which in turn would deprive him of the moral authority to govern. "You cannot demand that people respect the law if you yourself break the law," he argued. Alluding to months of media speculation that his successor will be either First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev or Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Putin suggested that he might be followed by "someone not very well-known...[who is] not necessarily one of two [well-known] people." Some commentators have suggested that Putin's new chief of staff, Sergei Sobyanin, or Vladimir Yakunin, who heads Russian Railways and has been seen in photographs standing close to Putin, might be possible successors. Others note that Putin is unlikely to indicate his choice of a successor too early lest he draw attention to himself as a lame duck. Some pundits have argued that a number of prominent officials have been promoted to leading positions in Russian public life in the hope that they will fail and then be removed from power circles. PM

The State Duma voted 380 to six, with eight abstentions, on June 16 to confirm that Gazprom or a 100 percent-owned subsidiary of it has exclusive rights to export Russian natural gas, RIA Novosti reported. This was the first reading of the bill, which must pass on three readings before being submitted to President Putin for his signature. Speaker Boris Gryzlov proposed holding the two remaining votes on June 28. The EU wants Russia to ratify the Energy Charter it signed in 1994 that would end Gazprom's monopoly over Russia's pipeline system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 2006). PM

London's "Financial Times" wrote on June 16 that plans by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to acquire 24 Sukhoi-30 fighter jets in the near future could be a "waste of money" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 7, and 15, 2006). The paper suggested that Chavez would have to pay up to $30 million per plane and that his pilots would have to spend at least 20 to 25 hours per month flying the ultramodern aircraft in order to get the most out of them. One U.S. expert said that for Chavez to acquire the Sukhois would be a "prestige project" and a "waste of money." The expert added that "this system can give [Venezuela] an edge in air superiority, but against whom?" In related news, speaking on June 16 in Irkutsk, Aleksei Fyodorov, who heads the Irkut and MiG companies, said that delivering the planes to Venezuela is a "realistic" proposition, Interfax reported. He added that "an agreement could be signed in a short time." PM

Three militants have been killed to date in the special operation launched near Nazran earlier this week, reported on June 15 quoting unnamed members of the Federal Security Service (FSB) directorate for Ingushetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 15, 2006). One of the three men killed was identified as Adam Nalgiyev, second in command to field commander Ali Taziyev (aka Magas). Nalgiyev is suspected of involvement in the June 9 killing of Ingushetia's OMON commander Musa Nalgiyev and of having personally shot dead an unspecified number of police officers during the June 2004 raids on law enforcement facilities in Nazran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22 and 23, 2004). Ingush Interior Ministry officials contacted by on June 15 were unable to confirm that three militants have been killed. The Chechen resistance website on June 15 reported that two Ingush fighters were killed in the battle but did not identify them. It said the surviving fighters have regrouped and "control the situation." LF

The administration of Arsen Kanokov, president of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR), has drafted a new three-year program intended to enforce measures to protect human rights, reported on June 16. The document assesses the work of republican and local government officials and of the Interior Ministry, which under its former head Khachim Shogenov reportedly indiscriminately targeted young men who were practicing Muslims in a misdirected attempt to curb militant Islam (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," November 14, 2005 and "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20 and April 13, 2006). In a related move to address a second problem identified in his April address to the KBR population, Kanokov proposed during the economic forum in St. Petersburg on June 13 creating a single Russia-wide anticorruption system, reported. Lieutenant General Yury Kokov, who is first deputy head of the Russian Interior Ministry's Department for the Struggle with Organized Crime, has alleged that the fight against corruption in the KBR is totally ineffective, according to as reposted on June 13 on LF

In separate statements on June 13 and 14, Armenian Central Bank Chairman Tigran Sarkisian and the head of the IMF's Yerevan office, James McHugh, rejected the hypothesis that the 30 percent rise of the Armenian dram vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar over the past 2 and 1/2 years is the result of high-level manipulation intended to benefit importers with close ties to the government, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 8 and 14, 2004 and April 20, 2005). Both men said that the dram's exchange rate is decided by "numerous" market factors, including increased hard-currency transfers to Armenia from Armenians working abroad. But on June 15, Hrant Vartanian, who owns Armenia's two largest tobacco factories, warned that if the U.S. dollar continues to fall against the dram he will close his factories in Armenia and move manufacturing operations to Russia and Georgia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The Georgian lari has risen only 1-2 percent against the dollar in the past 12 months. LF

Georgian police on June 14 moved a police control post 400 meters closer to Tskhinvali, capital of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, and questioned residents of the Ossetian populated village of Prisi about local men serving in the South Ossetian police force, Caucasus Press reported. Prisi residents staged a protest picket outside the OSCE Mission in Tskhinvali, and Major General Marat Kulakhmetov, commander of the peacekeeping force deployed in the conflict zone, on June 15 condemned the Georgian actions as provocative, Caucasus Press reported. The South Ossetian parliament has issued a statement condemning the relocation of the police post and the arrest on June 9 of Ossetian Alan Bazzayev, whom the Georgian authorities have charged with counterfeiting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 2006), Caucasus Press reported on June 15. On June 16, Caucasus Press reported that three South Ossetian police posts have been set up close to Georgian-populated villages in the Great Liakhvi gorge. Meanwhile in Tbilisi, Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze and Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava both denounced on June 15 Russia's pledge, made at the OSCE-sponsored donors' conference for South Ossetia in Brussels on June 14 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 15, 3006), to provide the South Ossetian leadership with 3 million euros ($3.797 million) to finance reconstruction in the conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported. LF

A meeting of the transport ministers of Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan originally planned for early June has now been postponed from mid-June until July at Georgia's request, Caucasus Press reported on June 16 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 6 and June 7, 2006). On June 14, the House Financial Services Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to block any U.S. government funding for the planned rail link on the grounds that it circumvents Armenia and would exacerbate Armenia's economic isolation, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on June 15. The EU too has made clear it will not provide funding for a rail project that excludes Armenia. LF

Kazakh Defense Ministry Deputy Chief of Staff Major General Almaz Abdulmanov announced on June 15 that Kazakhstan is looking to Russia to modernize its armed forces, Interfax reported. General Abdulmanov explained that, "primarily, we are interested in modernizing the Kazakh air force," and he noted that as "members of the CIS unified air-defense system, we are interested in air defense systems...and in purchasing S-300PS missile systems." The Kazakh Defense Ministry is also interested in acquiring S-300PMUS2 Favorit surface-to-air missile systems and armored personnel carriers from Russia to replace the country's increasingly obsolete Soviet-era inventory. Much of the planned weapons procurement will be financed by a recently revised agreement with Russia for its use of four training ranges in Kazakhstan. According to the terms of that agreement, Russia will pay Kazakhstan about $3.2 million annually and provide some $19.6 million in military hardware, equipment, and military training. RG

The Kazakh Defense Ministry released a statement on June 15 reporting on a three-day visit to Astana by General Steven Whitcomb, the commander of the U.S. 3rd Army, Interfax reported. The statement cited a series of meetings between senior Kazakh officials and General Whitcomb during his three-day visit aimed at broadening bilateral military cooperation. The meetings also featured a review of U.S. assistance in the training of the "Kazbrig" peacekeeping brigade and the possible establishment of a new training center by the Kazakh Defense Ministry's Military Institute of Foreign Languages to provide language instruction and field engineering training. RG

In comments during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit meeting on June 15, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev called for closer economic cooperation among SCO member states, according to Interfax. Nazarbaev explained that "economic cooperation" is an important way to help "maintain security and stability in Central Asia." He also expressed support for a proposal to create a multilateral banking vehicle within the SCO aimed at promoting greater investment and trade. Nazarbaev further added that the SCO must also focus on the "strategically important" transport and communications sectors with the longer-term goal of forging an "integrated regional transport system within the SCO." RG

In a separate speech to the SCO meeting on June 15, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev echoed Kazakh President Nazarbaev's call for closer economic ties and, in turn, suggested that the SCO draft a broader, more formal convention on economic integration, according to AKIpress. Bakiev said such an agreement could be prepared for the SCO's next summit, to be hosted by Kyrgyzstan in 2007. RG

Three separate explosions in Dushanbe during the night of June 15-16 were almost certainly the work of a group of adolescents, not of a terrorist group, Asia Plus-Blitz and reported on June 16 quoting Tajik Interior Ministry sources. The blasts took place near the Iranian embassy, outside the headquarters of a charitable fund run by opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan leader Said Abdullo Nuri, and opposite the building that houses the Constitutional Court. No injuries have been reported. LF

The leaders of several Tajik political parties met in Dushanbe on June 15 with a visiting delegation of OSCE officials, Asia-Plus reported. The meeting, held at the Tajik Academy of Sciences, included the representatives of the eight main political parties in Tajikistan: the Agrarian Party, the Democratic Party, the People's Democratic Party, the Islamic Renaissance Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Party of Economic Reforms, and the Communist and Socialist parties. The People's Democratic Party, led by Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, is the largest party in the country and holds about 80 percent of the seats in parliament. RG

The deputy chairman of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, Rahmatullo Valiev, said on June 15 that the visiting delegation of unnamed OSCE officials discussed the parties' campaign strategies in preparation for the country's presidential election in November, Asia-Plus reported. According to Valiev, the OSCE officials also noted that Tajikistan's electoral law "does not meet OSCE standards" and expressed "concern over the detention and imprisonment" of Democratic Party leader Mahmadruzi Iskandarov prior to the start of campaigning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 6, 2005, and January 19, 2006). RG

A court in Orsha, Vitsebsk Oblast, on June 15 sentenced Mikalay Razumau to a three-year restricted-freedom term, finding him guilty of slandering President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. "Restricted-freedom" punishment, known in post-Soviet prison slang as "khimiya," means that a convict has to live in a sort of prison barracks, work for a specified enterprise or organization in a designated area, and report to the barracks administration at an appointed time every day. The incriminating evidence against Razumau was a videotape showing opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich's meeting with voters in February. Razumau reportedly said at that meeting that Lukashenka was involved in the disappearance of opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar in 1999. In 2003, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) rapporteur Christos Pourgourides released a report suggesting that Belarusian top-ranking officials might have been involved in arranging the disappearance of Belarusian opposition figures. Pourgourides also alleged that "steps were taken at the highest level of the state to actively cover up the true background of the disappearances" (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," August 10, 2004). JM

Opposition leader Milinkevich failed on June 15 to persuade a group of young people in Minsk to end a hunger strike they began 18 days earlier to protest the criminal prosecution of their colleagues and associates from the opposition Youth Front (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7, 2006), Belapan reported on June 15. "We believe that these courageous people have already achieved much and ending the strike would not be a sign of weakness," Milinkevich told Belapan. Some 20 people are still taking part in the hunger strike, which was announced by four youths in Salihorsk on May 29 and later joined by activists from across Belarus. JM

Lukashenka on June 15 said Belarus will respond by two or three steps to each step made by the European Union toward cooperation, Belapan reported. Lukashenka was receiving credentials from Ambassador Ian Boag, the Kyiv-based head of the Delegation of the European Commission to Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova. Lukashenka expressed readiness to accept not only European but also any other civilized and human values and follow them if they meet the interests of the Belarusian people and do not run counter to the country's constitution and laws, which he said are no less civilized than those of European states. The Belarusian president assured the EU envoy that universal human values are the cornerstone of the Belarusian government's policies. Simultaneously, Lukashenka stressed that Belarus will reject any attempts at dictating what it should do and at interfering in its internal affairs. JM

Leaders of Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT), and the Socialist Party of Ukraine (SPU) -- the three allies in the 2004 Orange Revolution -- met in Kyiv on June 16 to discuss the creation of a broader coalition that would also include the Party of Regions, Ukrainian media reported. Yuliya Tymoshenko told reporters after the meeting that her bloc categorically rejected Our Ukraine's proposal to form a government with the Party of Regions. "We have considered and continue to consider the Party of Regions as a clan left by [former President Leonid] Kuchma in legacy for Ukraine," Tymoshenko added. The former Orange allies are to continue their talks on June 17. "We have agreed to continue looking for an agreement," Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov from Our Ukraine commented on the June 16 round of talks. Simultaneously, Our Ukraine is conducting coalition talks with the Party of Regions led by Viktor Yanukovych. JM

Viktor Yushchenko said in a statement released on June 15 that he remains "an adherent of an Orange democratic coalition," Ukrainian media reported. Yushchenko blamed the BYuT and the SPU for the failure to form such a coalition following the March 26 parliamentary elections. "These talks have reached a dead end because of the position of one political force that chose [to assume] the post of prime minister and proposed an SPU representative for the post of Verkhovna Rada head," Yushchenko noted. He said he offered SPU leader Oleksandr Moroz the post of National Defense and Security Council secretary in order to overcome the negotiating impasse but added that Moroz rejected this proposal. At the same time, Yushchenko emphasized that the president is not a participant in coalition talks. JM

Party of Regions head Yanukovych has urged potential coalition partners to reach a compromise on all disputed questions, Interfax-Ukraine reported on June 15. Yanukovych's statement came apparently in response to the three conditions set by Our Ukraine for talks on partnership in a future coalition. Ukrainian media quoted an unidentified Our Ukraine politician as saying earlier the same day that a coalition agreement between Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions is possible if the latter meets three conditions -- gives up its federalist position, cancels decisions by its local legislators to grant Russian the status of a regional language in a number of regions, and abandons its "Ukraine-without-NATO" stance. "[The Party of Regions will react to] official position of the sides, not statements from incognito sources," Yanukovych commented on these three conditions. JM

Nearly a month after Montenegro voted for independence, Serbia finally recognized its former partner as a sovereign state on June 15, Reuters reported the same day. "Conditions have been met for the Serbian recognize the Republic of Montenegro and to establish diplomatic ties, which contributes to the development of friendly and good neighborly relations," the Serbian government said in a statement. Belgrade also said Montenegrins who live in Serbia can acquire Serbian citizenship and Montenegrin students will have the same rights as those from Serbia. Some Montenegrins feared that students would have to pay higher fees as foreigners. BW

Hundreds of ethnic Albanians in southern Serbia demonstrated on June 15, demanding regional self-rule in the municipalities where they form a majority, AP reported the same day. Protesters in the town of Presevo, near the Kosova border, accused the Serbian government of an "inadequate" approach to the area's problems. Local leaders have said in the past that they want to split from Serbia and unite with Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 17, 2006). The Presevo Valley was the scene of an ethnic Albanian rebellion in 2000-01, which ended in a Western-brokered deal granting more rights to local communities. BW

The European Union on June 15 sought to reassure Serbia that the bloc is still committed to forging closer ties despite a series of setbacks, dpa reported the same day. EU foreign ministers held an "in-depth debate" on Serbia at the bloc's summit meeting in Brussels, Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said. Austria currently holds the EU's rotating presidency. Plassnik said Brussels recognizes that there is "a feeling of frustration and of bitterness" in Serbia after the EU suspended premembership talks in early May and Montenegro voted for independence on May 23 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4 and 22, 2006). "We discussed what could be done by the EU to help and assist Serbia in this choose the European path. This for all of us is a very important matter," Plassnik said. BW

The EU warned Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 15 that it is moving too slowly on key reforms necessary for closer ties, Reuters reported the same day. Specifically, Brussels said the Republika Srpska is holding Bosnia back by not moving fast enough with reforms to create a single national police force. "Let me be frank: we would have liked to see more progress over the last months," Reinhard Priebe, head of the Western Balkans office in the EU Enlargement Commission, told a news conference in Sarajevo, following talks on the progress of negotiations on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA). "On the issue of the police reform, there is a particular hesitation on moving ahead in Republika Srpska," he added. The two halves of the country, the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska, agreed in October 2005 to create a single, multiethnic police force in three to five years. That move paved the way for the start of the SAA talks. BW

Bosnia-Herzegovina's central government on June 15 appointed a 10-person commission to investigate alleged war crimes against Serbs in Sarajevo while the city was besieged by Serbian paramilitaries, Reuters reported the same day. Serbian lawmakers walked out of Bosnia's parliament in protest in late May when Prime Minister Adnan Terzic, a Muslim, refused to form the commission. Terzic wanted to have all war crimes throughout the country probed. He later backed down and agreed to form the commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 25 and 26, 2006). The government on June 15 named three Muslims, three Croats, three Serbs, and one person to represent other ethnic groups to the commission. More than 10,000 people -- most of them Muslims -- were killed in fighting, sniper attacks, and indiscriminate shelling of civilians during the Bosnian Serbs' 43-month siege of the capital from 1992-95. According to most independent estimates, some ethnic Serbs and Croats were also killed, some by Serbian artillery and sniper attacks and some in reprisals by militias organized to defend the city. BW

Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev of Moldova has ordered Justice Minister Gheorghe Papuc to transfer short and overweight traffic policemen to other jobs in law enforcement, ITAR-TASS reported on June 15. "The [traffic police] uniform is part of the image of the state and all the people wearing it should meet the requirements of that image in terms of tallness and bodily build," Infotag quoted Tarlev as saying. As part of a restructuring and staff reduction, the government is requiring all traffic police to recertify. New regulations require that traffic police be at least 175 centimeters tall and forbids them from being overweight. BW

After nearly three months of futile negotiations with its former Orange allies, the pro-presidential Our Ukraine has turned to an unlikely partner in its efforts to form a new government. This week, Our Ukraine unambiguously indicated that it would like to form a new government that includes the Party of Regions -- led by President Viktor Yushchenko's main adversary in the 2004 Orange Revolution, Viktor Yanukovych.

The announcement dealt a serious blow to hopes of a renewed Orange Coalition with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (ByuT) and the Socialist Party (SPU), as Tymoshenko has said her bloc will have no part in a "mishmash" coalition that includes the Party of Regions.

Our Ukraine explained that its coalition talks with its former allies in the Orange Revolution allies broke down because the BYuT and the SPU "have put their ambitions regarding the key portfolios above the will of the Ukrainian people." In particular, Our Ukraine objected to SPU leader Oleksandr Moroz's demand that he be offered the post of parliament speaker.

But the session of the Verkhovna Rada on June 14, which was reopened after two earlier recesses, shed much more light on the coalition-building process in Ukraine. Tymoshenko charged from the parliamentary rostrum that Our Ukraine was intentionally dragging out the coalition talks in order to leave them in the end and conclude a power-sharing deal with the Party of Regions. "I can tell that, indeed, it is becoming obvious [and] absolutely clear today that all this protracted, degraded, disgraced Orange negotiating process was an absolute smokescreen for real intentions, real plans, and real preferences," she said.

The newly elected Verkhovna Rada, which opened its session on May 25, needs to form a ruling majority by June 25. According to the Ukrainian Constitution, which was amended during the 2004 Orange Revolution, the president has the right to dissolve the legislature if it fails to form a ruling majority within one month after its inauguration.

Tymoshenko also claimed on June 14 that the former Orange allies had reached a complete understanding on the program of a new government, thus reinforcing her argument that the collapse of the talks was a premeditated ploy by Our Ukraine. "And I will tell you that yesterday and [even] the day before yesterday, we reached an agreement on all programmatic principles, on absolutely all positions," she said. "There was not a single difference of opinion, either on [the sale of] land, or NATO [membership], or the development of the country."

In order to salvage the talks to form an Orange coalition, Moroz declared that he would give up his aspiration to become speaker in exchange for a "proportional" distribution of other government posts among the coalition partners.

Tymoshenko and Moroz have not formally abandoned the coalition talks but have given clear indications that they have no intention of participating in a government with the Party of Regions.

As for the Party of Regions, it responded to Our Ukraine's invitation favorably and promptly. Lawmaker Mykola Azarov, one of the party's leaders, declared on June 14 that his party is ready to shoulder responsibility for forming a government. And he simultaneously tried to defuse fears that the Party of Regions, widely seen as a pro-Russia force, would obstruct Ukraine's European integration. "The Party of Regions sees the future [of our country] in a united European home," he said. "In connection with this, we support the state's course toward European integration of Ukraine."

Another Party of Regions lawmaker revealed on June 15 that the Party of Regions and Our Ukraine already held talks on June 14 and expect to come up with a coalition deal early next week.

If such a coalition indeed becomes reality, what would Ukraine gain? First and foremost, the Ukrainian government would become more stable. Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions control between them 267 votes in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, which is substantially more that the 243 votes controlled by a potential Orange coalition.

Second, Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions are more likely to agree on a more consistent economic program than a potential Orange coalition. Both groups are essentially liberal in their economic views. In contrast, Tymoshenko is an advocate of state interventionism in economy, while Moroz and his party are in favor of planned economy.

What, then, are the main negative aspects of the Yushchenko-Yanukovych alliance? The Party of Regions remains hostage to the promises it made in eastern and southern Ukraine during the parliamentary elections earlier this year, particularly those on forging closer ties with Russia, giving official status to the Russian language, and on putting an end to talk of Ukraine joining NATO.

These contentious issues could bring about a significant review of Kyiv's foreign-policy priorities or provoke the comeback of the inconsistent "multivector" foreign policy that was characteristic of former President Leonid Kuchma's term in office. In either case, Ukraine's chances of integrating with European and Euro-Atlantic structures would diminish considerably.

Since politicians from the Party of Regions constituted the backbone of the Kuchma regime, which was widely criticized for antidemocratic practices and shady economic deals, it would be difficult to envision them doing anything to promote democratic values or transparency in business in today's Ukraine.

Last but not least, a Yushchenko-Yanukovych governing alliance would definitely put an end to the expectation incited by the Orange Revolution that "bandits will go to prison." It is unimaginable that Yushchenko could now prosecute his political allies for what he saw in 2004 as their involvement in vote rigging and/or dishonest privatizations.

The current process of building a coalition in Ukraine is a typical illustration of the cynical political mantra that there are no permanent allies in politics, only permanent interests. Many Ukrainians may find it very difficult to come to terms with what happened to the expectations nourished by the Orange Revolution in 2004. But there is still hope that at least some of the "permanent interests" of coalition builders overlap with those of ordinary Ukrainians.

President Hamid Karzai told the June 15 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that his country "wants to strengthen cooperation with SCO members," Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Karzai, who attended the summit as a guest of the host country, China, said that Afghanistan is in particular interested in cooperating with SCO members in "the fight against terrorism and extremism." Karzai pledged his government's commitment to fighting the production and trafficking of illegal drugs, adding that eliminating the drug problem will require time and international support. Karzai met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on the sidelines of the SCO summit. AT

Ten Afghans employed at the Kandahar Airfield were killed and 16 others were injured when an explosion ripped their minibus apart in Kandahar city on June 15, international news agencies reported. The report suggested that a bomb was hidden in the minibus and detonated when another car crashed into it. Meanwhile, Qari Mohammad Yusof, purporting to speak for the Taliban, called the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) on June 15 to claim responsibility for the attack. "It was not a suicide attack," Mohammad Yusof told AIP, adding that the Taliban placed explosives in the minibus carrying "laborers working with the Americans in Kandahar Airport." Mohammad Yusof repeated his warning that "those working with the Americans [must] stop" or risk being targeted by "attacks and explosions." AT

One Nepalese guard working for U.S.-based DynCorp was killed and another sustained injuries in Kabul on June 15 when a man with a pistol fired at them, AFP reported. The assailant was killed by another Nepalese guard. Kabul police chief Amanullah Gozar said the incident did not appear to have been a robbery. AT

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Iran's scientific achievements in a speech to nuclear-industry officials in Tehran on 15 June and said development of the country's nuclear technology is far more important than oil discovery and extraction, ISNA reported the same day. Iran earns the bulk of its revenues through the sale of crude oil. Khamenei said Iran will not "give in to...pressures" exerted by Western powers who fear Iran will develop nuclear weapons and will continue its nuclear program. Iran insists that its program is strictly aimed at the supply of electricity or scientific research. Iranian Atomic Energy Organization chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh addressed the same gathering, saying his organization has formed several research and specialist training centers for new personnel, ISNA reported. The same day, AP reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested after a meeting at a Shanghai summit with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad that Iran is ready to negotiate over a package of international proposals recently delivered by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. AP quoted an Iranian presidential aide, Ihsan Jahandieh, as confirming that position. VS

The defense ministers of Iran and Syria, Mustafa Mohammad-Najjar and Hassan Turkmani, met in Tehran on June 15 and signed an agreement to strengthen their "strategic" relationship, provide a vigorous response to "disorder and insecurity" in the region, and form an ongoing joint-defense committee, ISNA reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 14, 2006). At a subsequent news conference, Mohammad-Najjar said the Syrian delegation's visit conveys a message of solidarity between Islamic states. He said he and Turkmani discussed Iran's support for "the Lebanese resistance," presumably the Hizballah, ISNA reported. "We shall continue to support the resistance, and the people of Palestine," he said. Mohammad-Najjar suggested that Iran is not unduly concerned by "America's threats," and said regional peoples have come to realize these are "merely psychological operations...[but] these threats will not get anywhere, and we shall maintain our course." Iran, he said, will continue missile "development and research" as part of a defensive policy of deterrence. Both ministers stressed that their states consider their respective security a mutual concern. Turkmani said Iran and Syria are forming a common front against Israeli threats. "We work to mobilize movements and forces against America and Israel," Turkmani said. "We have always consulted, and keep consulting, with Iran in this regard." VS

Manuchehr Mottaki said in remarks in Madrid published in "El Pais" on June 15 that there is a "dirty plan" afoot to "create, back, and continue ethnic and religious confrontations in Iraq and other parts of the Islamic world." He said Iran supports "all Iraqis," whatever their ethnic or religious affiliation, and their participation in Iraq's government. Unfortunately, he said, "terrorist groups" have been created "with the financial and military backing of...specific countries now making propaganda of fighting them under the banner of the war against terrorism," reported. He did not specify what country he was referring to. "There are no good or bad terrorists," Mottaki said. He urged the Iraqi government to take measures to end terrorism on its territory, and said he hopes a date is set for the departure of foreign coalition forces from Iraq. He said he is "optimistic and realistic" on the possibility of a resolution of the dispute over Iran's nuclear dossier. The package offered by the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany is positive in that it signals a new willingness to negotiate with Iran, he said. Mottaki said that while Iran will study a Russian offer to have uranium enriched in Russia for delivery to Iran as nuclear fuel, "we still intend to enrich uranium in Iran." VS

Fifty academics have written to President Ahmadinejad warning him about the state of Iran's economy and criticizing economic policies as inflationary and against set economic plans, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on June 15. New York-based academic Siamack Shojai told Radio Farda that a group of people who have been neutral or technocratic since Iran's 1979 revolution have for the first time engaged themselves in the public sphere. Shojai described the move as an important step toward identifying some of Iran's problems. "For the first time...a number of academics and specialists that have worked as technocrats in these years have come forward," he said. In their letter, Shojai told Radio Farda, the economists highlighted grievances like excessive state intervention in business and employment regulations as well as noting increased imports and government spending, but also pointed to broader issues that have led to economic problems. VS

Iraqi National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told reporters on June 15 that documents retrieved from Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's hideout and other raids are a "treasure" of information that will positively impact the fight against militants in Iraq, international media reported the same day. "Now we have the upper hand," he said, adding that the death of Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq al-Zarqawi is the "beginning of the end" for terrorists in Iraq, the BBC reported. He added that the documents found reveal information on other Al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq. "We feel that we know their locations...their whereabouts, their movements," AP quoted him as saying. The prime minister's office announced on June 15 that one of the documents details a plan to spark a war between the U.S. and Iran, the BBC reported. Al-Rubay'i also expressed confidence in the Iraqi security forces and said that "maybe the last [U.S.] soldier will leave Iraq by mid-2008." BAW

U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell told reporters on June 15 that Al-Qaeda's new leader in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, might be the same person as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian with links to Ayman al-Zawahri, Al-Qaeda's second in command, AP reported the same day. "We think they are one and the same at this point. We'll continue to do further analysis," Caldwell said. The military also showed a picture of al-Muhajir, who appeared on a U.S. terrorist list issued in February 2005. Al-Muhajir has vowed to avenge the death of al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a June 7 air strike. Caldwell added that al-Muhajir is an explosives expert who received training after going to Afghanistan in 1999. BAW

An Iraqi Justice Ministry spokeswoman said on June 15 that "a total of 450 detainees were released from the Abu Ghraib prison, Camp Bucca, and Camp Suse," Iraq's three main U.S.-run detention centers in Iraq, AFP reported the same day. The release, intended to pave the way for national reconciliation, follows a joint Iraqi-U.S. review of some 14,300 detainees in the custody of coalition forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 7 and 8, and June 12, 2006). Deputy Prime Minster Salam al-Zawba'i told released prisoners at Abu Ghraib, "We want you to help build Iraq and help with the project of national reconciliation," Reuters reported on June 15. He also told them that they were arrested on false information. However, some of the detainees were not so sure of what awaits them outside their cells. "We heard gunmen are informed that there will be a prison release and then they will kill us," one detainee told Reuters. BAW

The UN Security Council on June 15 authorized the stay of U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq until the end of 2006, following a meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari , Voice of America reported the same day. In a letter dated June 9, Zebari said that Iraq wants the multinational forces to stay in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 14, 2006). Zebari told the council that despite momentum following the death of Al-Qaeda leader al-Zarqawi, security remains a high priority. Furthermore, he called for more UN involvement in Iraq. "We call upon member states to step up the provision of funds and operational support, as my government pledged to provide any assistance necessary to enhance the UN mission. As security in Iraq improves, we request that the UN reinforce its staff and increase its role throughout the country," the Voice of America quoted Zebari as saying. BAW

Iran officially recognized the Haji Omaran border point with Iraq on June 15, dpa reported the same day. The Haji Omaran crossing, northeast of Irbil, was previously used unofficially as a transit point. This becomes Iraq's second official border crossing with Iran after Al-Monzuriyah, northeast of Baghdad. Kurdish regional parliament speaker Adnan Mufti said that recognition of the crossing follows his talks with high-ranking Iranian trade officials. He also said that the new crossing, which he hopes will enhance bilateral trade, is a sign of improved relations between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran. Hussein Intizari, head of the chamber of commerce of Iran's West Azerbaijan Province, said that the new official crossing will increase commercial exchange and reduce smuggling between the two countries, Radio Nawa reported on June 15. BAW