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Newsline - June 19, 2006

President Vladimir Putin nominated Justice Minister Yury Chaika on June 19 to succeed Vladimir Ustinov as prosecutor-general, Interfax reported. An unnamed "source in the Federation Council" told the news agency that "Federation Council Speaker Sergey Mironov has [meanwhile] met with Chaika." The source added that there will be no confirmation problems for the nominee. "He is a professional. The [upper] house has actively cooperated with the Justice Ministry, and Chaika has addressed the house many times," the source said. The Federation Council Legal and Judicial Affairs Committee will discuss the nomination later on June 19. Putin sacked Ustinov on June 2 "at his own request," which led to a flurry of speculation in the media regarding the real reason for his ouster and the name of his successor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 2, 2006). Ustinov had been prosecutor-general since 2000 and acquired a reputation for hounding Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other oligarchs who refused to toe the Kremlin line. Justice Minister Chaika was also involved in the Kremlin's campaign against Khodorkovsky, reported. Chaika was born in 1951 in Khabarovsk Krai and spent much of his career as a prosecutor and legal expert in the Far East and eastern Siberia. He became Russian first deputy prosecutor-general under President Boris Yeltsin in 1995 and then was named acting prosecutor-general in April 1999 before "retiring" in August that same year. One week later, Yeltsin named him Prime Minister Putin's justice minister. PM

Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev said in Moscow on June 19 that over 70 Russian fields "of mineral resources" may be declared "strategic," Interfax reported. Trutnev recently argued that foreign firms and companies with 50 percent or more foreign participation should not to be allowed to develop fields with more than 70 million tons of oil and 50 billion cubic meters of gas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 14, 2006). Trutnev argued that the move is designed to protect Russian national interests. His approach would be in keeping with the trend under President Putin for key branches of the economy to be concentrated in large state-run corporations, which the "Financial Times" of June 19 described as a "corporate state." Speaking at an economic forum in St. Petersburg recently, Putin said that "the advantage of our country is natural resources.... The only question is the mechanism of control." PM

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who heads the stockholders' oversight body for the planned North European Gas Pipeline (NEGP) running from Vyborg to Greifswald, said in Moscow on June 19 that "Russia and Russian companies must get the same opportunities as European companies enjoy in Russia," Reuters reported. He added that "mutual dependency can create trust between Russia and Europe. Europeans know that there is no truly reliable alternative to Russia as an energy partner. But Europe should not pretend that Russians have to be grateful for being allowed to supply oil and gas to Europe." He called for an end to European reliance on Ukrainian pipelines, through which 80 percent of Russian deliveries to the EU pass. "In the interest of Europe's safe energy supplies, this [Ukrainian role] will have to be reduced," he argued. Schroeder's nomination to the NEGP post late in 2005 led to criticism in Germany and to questions about his taking up the Gazprom pipeline post so soon after the end of a chancellorship that saw ever-closer relations with Moscow, the conclusion of the NEGP deal, and the worst U.S.-German relations since World War II. He has repeatedly rejected charges of impropriety (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 3 and 28, 2006, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," January 17, 2006). PM

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters on June 16 that Washington will "get in touch" soon with Moscow regarding the plans of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to purchase 24 Sukhoi-30 fighter jets, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 7, 15, and 16, 2006). "I think we will ask them to take another look at any potential sales they have, given what Venezuela's real defensive needs are," McCormack added. The United States has already succeeded in blocking sales of Spanish and Brazilian weaponry to Chavez. Moscow argues that arms sales to Venezuela are legitimate because that country is under no international weapons embargo. Russia's Rosoboroneksport arms exporter already plans to supply Chavez with 100,000 AK-103 Kalashnikov assault rifles, which Washington and some Latin American countries fear will be used to consolidate his rule at home and export trouble to Colombia and throughout the region. His government is also negotiating with Russia to build a factory to make Kalashnikovs under license, which would be the first such plant in the Western Hemisphere. McCormack noted on June 16 that Chavez has "already purchased 100,000 [Kalashnikovs] from Russia. So I'm not quite sure what else they might need a factory for. It certainly raises questions about what their intentions are." PM

Frederick Jones, who is a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, was quoted in the June 16 issue of "USA Today" as saying that U.S. and Russian officials have concluded a "seven-year extension of programs that provide U.S. money and expertise to secure and destroy Soviet-era caches of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons." Jones noted that "the agreement ensures that critical cooperation with Russia continues to combat the proliferation threat posed by large quantities of Soviet-legacy weapons of mass destruction [WMD] and missiles." The program was first set up in 1992, but its future was in question because of disputes over liability protection for U.S. personnel and firms working on Russian sites. PM

Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev, who succeeded Aslan Maskhadov early last year as president of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) and leader of the Chechen resistance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 10, 2005), was killed early on June 17 in a two-hour exchange of fire in his home town of Argun, east of Grozny, Russian and Chechen media reported. The resistance website quoted an unnamed eyewitness as saying that some 300 Russian and 50 pro-Moscow Chechen troops backed by armor took part in the attack on Sadulayev, in which numerous Russians were also killed. on June 17 said the operation was carried out by the Akhmed Kadyrov Chechen regiment. London-based ChRI Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakayev told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service the same day that 3,000 troops took part in the assault on Argun, and that two of Sadulayev's comrades in arms were also killed. Russian agencies reported that the two escaped and are being searched for. Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev was quoted by Interfax on June 17 as saying that one FSB official and one police officer were killed in the operation. Pro-Moscow Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov claimed on June 17 that Sadulayev planned to stage one or more major terrorist attacks in Argun in the run-up to the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg in July. In his last interview, Sadulayev rejected terrorism as a tactic, saying that the resistance should not target innocent civilians (see End Note). LF

In an interview with the Bulgarian weekly "Politika," a Russian translation of which was posted on June 17 on, Sadulayev said veteran field commander Doku Umarov is his designated successor. Sadulayev named Umarov vice president last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 16, 2005). ChRI Foreign Minister Zakayev similarly told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on June 17 that under the ChRI Constitution, the vice president becomes acting president in the event of the president's death. Zakayev predicted after a three- or four-day period of mourning, the State Defense Council will formally designate Umarov president. LF

Dmitry Kozak, who is presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, met in Yerevan on June 16 with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The talks reportedly focused on strengthening economic ties between Armenia and southern Russia and on Yerevan's concern over the increasing number of apparently racially motivated murders of Armenians in various Russian cities. Kozak said such killings "are not specifically directed against Armenians," and assured Kocharian that the Russian authorities are making every effort to solve them. Kozak also visited on June 16 the Russian military base at Giumri, according to as reported by Groong. LF

Azerbaijan has agreed to the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen's proposal that the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan meet again in the wake of their talks in Paris last week, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov was quoted on June 18 as saying by Mammadyarov said he is ready to meet as many times as it takes to reach an agreement on resolving the Karabakh conflict. Mammadyarov's Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian told journalists after his June 13 meeting with Mammadyarov in Paris that they addressed, but failed to resolve, unspecified problems that the two countries' presidents tried in vain to solve during their talks in Rambouillet in February and in Bucharest on June 4-5. also quoted Mammadyarov as saying that Baku is prepared to offer the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) the same status that the Republic of Tatarstan has within the Russian Federation. LF

Masis Mayilian, who is NKR deputy foreign minister, told journalists on June 16 that there is no truth to Azerbaijani allegations that the Armenian side is systematically destroying by fire villages and pastures in Azerbaijani districts contiguous to the NKR, Noyan Tapan reported. Mayilian attributed those allegations to Baku's desire to deflect attention from the destruction of Armenian historic monuments on what is now the territory of the Azerbaijan Republic, and said he has asked OSCE Special Representative Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk to send a monitoring team to assess the situation in the districts in question. Three Azerbaijani parliament deputies visited the Agdam and Khodjavend raions last week to verify earlier reports that villages were being deliberately set on fire (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 15, 2006). Mayilian said brush fires are common in those districts in question in summer months when there has been a drought, and that they are generally caused by Azerbaijani forces firing tracer bullets. LF

Georgian presidential administration head Giorgi Arveladze and Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili convened separate news conferences on June 17 at which they stated that an attempt was planned to assassinate opposition Conservative party leader Koba Davitashvili in order to discredit Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili the run-up to the Group of Eight (G8) summit in St. Petersburg in July, Caucasus Press and reported. Davitashvili told journalists on June 8 that a young man spent two nights watching his apartment building, Caucasus Press reported the same day. When approached on June 7 by Davitashvili's neighbor, the man fired two shots from a pistol with a silencer and fled, leaving behind a pair of trousers, in the pocket of which were two Russian SIM cards. Davitashvili said he believes the man was sent to kill him. The two Georgian officials named the presumed assassin as Giorgi Kurtayev, a resident of the Republic of North Ossetia, who, they said, has since returned to Russia. Merabishvili described Kurtayev as "a well-trained professional," Caucasus Press reported. President Saakashvili told the independent television channel Imedi on June 18 that the intelligence services of unspecified "neighboring countries" pose "a threat" to Georgia's domestic political stability, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on June 19. LF

The Georgian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement summarizing the proceedings of the June 14 donors conference in Brussels at which EU member states pledged some 7.9 million euros ($9.94 million) for conflict reconstruction in the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported on June 17 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 15, 2006). The statement noted that all participants to the conference except Russia expressed support for Georgia's territorial integrity and for the most recent Georgian draft peace plan for South Ossetia. It criticized Russia's pledge, announced at the donors conference, to make available 10 million rubles ($3.7 million) to the authorities of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia for unspecified reconstruction projects, noting that such "unilateral and nontransparent" acts undermine the international community's efforts to reach a full-scale political solution of the conflict. LF

South Ossetia's Press and Information Committee issued a statement on June 17 accusing Georgia of fuelling tensions in the conflict zone by, among other things, relocating a Georgian police checkpoint, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 16, 2006). The statement further alleged that U.S. military instructors participate alongside Georgian Interior Ministry troops in special operations in the conflict zone, and that Washington supports Tbilisi's plans to resolve the conflict by force. LF

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev signed an accord in Almaty on June 16 on the use by Kazakhstan of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Under the terms of the accord, Kazakhstan will ship an initial 10 million tons of crude oil annually from its offshore fields in the Caspian Sea to Baku for transport through the 1,770-kilometer pipeline reaching the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea, according to Interfax. A formal ceremony in Turkey to mark the official inauguration of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline is planned for July 13. RG

Leaders from some 17 countries met in Almaty on June 17 to attend a one-day summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, KazInform and Asia-Plus reported. Host and Kazakh President Nazarbaev called on the assembled leaders to deepen cooperation on a wide range of pressing regional issues, including environmental degradation and poverty. The summit closed with an announcement pledging greater cooperation in the areas of regional security, energy, trade, and counterterrorism. Nazarbaev said regional stability depends on "the level of economic development" and also appealed for greater attention to ecological needs. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the summit should seek to further reinforce regional cooperation to combat terrorism and extremism, as well as tackling drug trafficking and organized crime. RG

The Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia summit in Almaty released a statement on June 17 defending the "inalienable right of countries to have access to nuclear technologies, materials and equipment, as well as using them for peaceful purposes in line with the obligations set by corresponding agreements on [the International Atomic Energy Agency's] safety guarantees," Interfax reported. But that statement also noted the group's support for "the joint efforts of Central Asian countries in creating a zone in Central Asia free of nuclear weapons" and stressed the importance of broader nonproliferation efforts, specifically commending and encouraging "the efforts of all countries to suppress attempts by terrorists and criminal groups to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them." In addition to leaders of the member states, the summit was also attended by a number of representatives from observer states, including the United States, Japan, Ukraine, and the United Nations. The regional grouping, founded in 1992, seeks to foster greater cooperation and security in Asia and its members range from China and Russia to Iran and Israel. RG

A new coalition comprising three media groups was formed in Dushanbe on June 16, according to the Avesta website. The coalition, including the Media Alliance of Tajikistan, the National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan, and the Association of Independent Electronic Media of Tajikistan, seeks to forge greater cooperation among journalists, protect the "freedom of speech and independent media," and defend "journalists' rights." The new coalition also advocates the formation of a public-state body to promote a "permanent dialogue between the media and the authorities" and an "in-house public body for regulating relations among the media" in Tajikistan. RG

An Uzbek military court in Tashkent sentenced a member of the Defense Ministry staff to a 15-year prison term on June 16 after he was convicted of espionage, ITAR-TASS reported. Erkin Musaev was found guilty of high treason, disclosure of state secrets, fraud, and criminal negligence and reportedly turned over classified materials to the intelligence service of an unnamed NATO member state. Earlier reports on the website suggested that Musaev, the former head of the Defense Ministry's foreign-trade department, was sharing classified information pertaining to the Uzbek and Russian armed forces with Pentagon officials, according to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. Uzbekistan served as a strategic ally of the United States and played a primary role in support of coalition operations in nearby Afghanistan until the Uzbek government evicted U.S. forces from the country last year. RG

Irish pressure group Front Line announced on June 16 that it is granting an award to prominent Uzbek human rights activist Ahmadjon Madumarov, RFE/RL reported. The 15,000-euro ($19,000) human rights award recognizes Madumarov's unique contribution to the development of civil society and the strengthening of human rights in Uzbekistan. The 60-year-old Madumarov is deputy chairman of the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan, the only officially registered human rights group in Uzbekistan. Front Line said it hopes the award will help persuade the Uzbek government to consider releasing Madumarov's three sons and two nephews from prison. All were convicted in 1999 for distributing publications associated with the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. RG

Young opposition activists on June 17 ended a 20-day hunger strike over political harassment, Belapan reported. The protest began on May 29 in Salihorsk and later spread to other Belarusian cities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 16, 2006). Opposition youth leader Dzmitry Dashkevich told the news agency that the hunger strikers decided to end their fast mainly for health reasons. "It's hard to speak about the results of the protest. On the whole, we haven't achieved our goals. However, I believe we have managed to attract the attention of the Belarusian public to problems in the Belarusian state," Dashkevich added. JM

Young oppositionist Krystsina Shatsikava on June 18 climbed a television-transmitter tower in central Vitsebsk, hanging up an opposition white-red-white flag and tying herself to the metal structure, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Shatsikava reportedly spent some four hours on the tower before police managed to get her down. "A policeman climbed up to her and started to beat her on the head," a witness told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity. "Krystsina was crying awfully. Then three vehicles from the Emergency Situations Ministry arrived, and two fire brigades, and three special-task troopers climbed up to her and tied her there -- they tied her hands, fastened some hooks, put some collar around her neck. These special-task troopers kicked her in the head as they were taking her down." Shatsikava was reportedly taken to a police station and later hospitalized. JM

Our Ukraine has concluded "consultations" with the Party of Regions and is now ready to begin "negotiations" on the creation of a ruling coalition, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported on June 19, quoting Roman Zvarych from Our Ukraine. According to Zvarych, his bloc will make a final decision regarding such negotiations with the Party of Regions on June 20, at a meeting of the Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus. Asked about the progress of Our Ukraine's coalition talks with the former Orange Revolution allies -- the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and the Socialist Party -- Zvarych said: "There are differences of opinion so serious that they may become a barrier [to forging a coalition]." JM

Oleksandr Turchynov from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc told journalists in Kyiv on June 19 that a coalition accord between his bloc and Our Ukraine and the Socialist Party is ready for signing, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. "[The accord] has been prepared and agreed, and it depends exclusively on Our Ukraine whether it will be finalized today or not," Turchynov said. Meanwhile, Our Ukraine spokeswoman Tetyana Mokridi told journalists the same day that a round of Orange coalition talks on June 18 has left a number of diverging positions. In particular, Mokridi claimed that the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc opposes Our Ukraine's idea of making the post of prime minister accountable to the parliamentary coalition, while the Socialist Party has objections to Our Ukraine's strategic political goal of integrating with Euro-Atlantic structures. JM

Vojislav Kostunica on June 18 attacked the EU, saying its policy toward Belgrade is causing negative results, AFP reported the same day. "The policy of a permanent setting of conditions that has been conducted for a while towards Serbia, is deeply wrong and so far produced exclusively negative effects," FoNet quoted him as saying. Kostunica was referring to Brussels' decision in May to suspend premembership talks with Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2006). "Serbia does not ask for help and privileges, but for objectivity and equality," Kostunica said. "From our point of view and by any reasonable standard that means one neither sets conditions nor puts pressure on a partner but cooperates with him and commonly determines criteria that need to be fulfilled." Fearing a nationalist backlash in Serbia, the EU devoted part of a June 15 foreign ministers' meeting to discussing Belgrade's situation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 15 and 16, 2006). BW

The head of Serbia's Council for Kosova, Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, warned on June 18 that granting Kosova independence would encourage separatists elsewhere, destabilizing Europe and other parts of the world, AP reported the same day. "If you support an ethnic group to break up a country and create its own state, then you open a Pandora's box and it becomes very hard to explain why other [separatist] groups should not do the same," she said. Raskovic-Ivic said Belgrade is prepared to grant Kosova autonomy "broader than anything seen in Europe." But independence, she warned, will open "a Pandora's box" and "cause a domino effect destabilizing the entire Balkans and other parts of Europe." UN-sponsored talks on Kosova's final status are scheduled to resume in July. BW

Soren Jessen-Petersen, the outgoing head of the UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK), has denied saying that the province's independence is inevitable, B92 reported on June 16. On June 13, the newspaper "Koha ditore" quoted Jessen-Petersen as saying that Kosova's dream of independence "will become a reality this year" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 14, 2006). Belgrade accused Jessen-Petersen of prejudicing talks on Kosova's final status. Jessen-Petersen said his actual words were: "My message and appeal to the Kosovar leadership is to continue to work and never stop to implement the dream of Kosovo, and we all know what this dream is, but I am not going to mention it here." Jessen-Petersen announced his resignation as UNMIK head on June 12, citing family reasons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2006). BW

Moldova's Foreign Ministry on June 16 called the arrest of five Moldovan policemen in Tiraspol a "provocation" by the separatist Transdniestrian authorities, Interfax reported the same day. "The Foreign Ministry is concerned about the policemen's fate, because there is no information on their whereabouts and health," the ministry said in a statement. "This confirms once again that the existing peacekeeping mechanism should be modified." The ministry also called on the international community "to condemn Tiraspol's steps and demand the release of the Moldovan policemen." The Moldovan Prosecutor-General's Office, meanwhile, has opened a criminal case into what it is calling an abduction. Transdniestrian special forces arrested the policemen on June 14 while they were allegedly photographing unspecified facilities in Tiraspol. They were accused of planning to abduct people who oppose Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin. BW

Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov announced on June 17 the death during a special operation in the town of Argun, east of Grozny, of Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev, who succeeded Aslan Maskhadov as Chechen president and resistance commander following Maskhadov's killing in March 2005. Akhmed Zakayev, whom Sadulayev named foreign minister of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) on May 27, confirmed Sadulayev's death in a telephone interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service later on June 17.

Predictably, both Kadyrov and pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov have termed Sadulayev's demise "a major success" in the campaign to stamp out continuing resistance to the pro-Moscow regime installed in Chechnya six years ago. But in military terms, the impact both in Chechnya and in those neighboring republics of the North Caucasus where the Islamic resistance operates is likely to be negligible, at least in the short term.

In an interview with the Bulgarian weekly "Politika" (published in the issue for June 9-15 and posted on on June 17, the morning that his death was announced), Sadulayev noted that in the same way that a session of the War Council in the summer of 2002 formally confirmed him as Maskhadov's successor, he has publicly designated as his own successor veteran field commander Doku Umarov, whom Sadulayev named vice president exactly one year ago. Sadulayev stressed that the legality of his decree naming Umarov cannot be contested.

In his interview with the Bulgarian weekly, Sadulayev downplayed the possibility of his own death, saying that "there was someone [to command] before me. And if through the will of Allah I meet my death, there is someone to continue this task even better." Umarov too has commented that the death of a resistance commander, while regrettable, has minimal impact on the resistance as there is always someone willing and competent to take his place.

Sadulayev also created last summer a network of emirs, or field commanders, responsible for the various sectors of the North Caucasus. The commanders of the Daghestan, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria fronts liaise on a regular basis with Umarov and with radical field commander Shamil Basayev, who has overall responsibility for military operations across the North Caucasus, Umarov told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service in an interview in April 2006. Sadulayev likewise in his interview with the Bulgarian weekly stressed the unity and coordination between the various resistance groups, saying that it is growing stronger and more extensive daily.

Umarov, who was born in 1964, is one of the most experienced Chechen field commanders, having fought since the beginning of the first Chechen war in 1994. And crucially, he has never been identified as having participated in any resistance operation branded "terrorist" by the Russians. What's more, in an interview one year ago with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Umarov categorically rejected inflicting on the Russians the same atrocities that they routinely inflict on the Chechens. "If we resort to such methods, I do not think any of us will be able to retain his human face," Umarov said. He added that the Chechen resistance en masse does not consider the 2004 Beslan hostage taking a legitimate response to Russia's actions in Chechnya.

That rejection of terrorism as a tactic is reminiscent of the prohibition imposed by Maskhadov on conducting military operations against Russian civilians or beyond the borders of Chechnya. But Umarov, in contrast to Maskhadov, affirmed one year ago that the resistance considers it appropriate to expand its activities to other regions of the North Caucasus.

Sadulayev too in his interview with the Bulgarian weekly affirmed unequivocally that "in our state we do not consider it acceptable to conduct operations that entail the seizing of hostages, civilians." That affirmation calls into question Chechen Prime Minister Kadyrov's claim, quoted by on June 17, that at the time of his death Sadulayev was planning a series of major terrorist attacks in Argun.

If Sadulayev's death poses any threat at all to the cohesion of the resistance, that danger lies in the possibility of a major disagreement between Basayev and Umarov over the acceptability and expediency of staging a major operation -- like the hostage takings in Moscow in 2002 and Beslan in 2004 -- to focus the world's attention on the ongoing war of attrition in Chechnya. (That war is being increasingly waged by pro-Moscow Chechens against their fellow Chechens.) But as RFE/RL North Caucasus Service director Aslan Doukaev pointed out in a May 31 commentary in the "International Herald Tribune," since Beslan, Basayev has not directed a single operation against a Russian civilian target, possibly because he has finally understood that killing innocent civilians only fuels Moscow's rejection of a negotiated end to the fighting.

Nor is it clear whether the timing of the operation to kill Sadulayev was fortuitous. Maskhadov was killed just weeks after he unilaterally declared a cease-fire and proposed unconditional peace talks with Moscow on ending the war. In an interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service in late May, Akhmed Zakayev, a London-based former close associate of Maskhadov whom Sadulayev had just named foreign minister in the ChRI government, said he knows that Russian government officials are currently discussing the possibility of peace talks to end the war. Dukkvakha Abdurakhmanov, speaker of the lower house of the Chechen parliament and a close associate of Kadyrov, immediately warned Moscow against any such talks, especially with Zakayev. Zakayev said on June 17 that Sadulayev's death has created a "dead end" in that "he was one of the [last] absolutely balanced, normal [Chechen] politicians with whom it would have been possible to hold a dialogue," according to as reposted on

President Hamid Karzai arrived in Almaty for the second summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) on June 17, the official Afghanistan National Television reported. On the sidelines of the CICA meeting, Karzai met with his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin, Russia's RTR reported. Russia is aware of the problems that Afghanistan faces are "difficult to resolve," Putin reportedly told Karzai, adding that "good feelings for the Afghan people are always there." Karzai reportedly expressed hope for a further improvement of Afghan-Russian relations. CICA was established in 2002 in Almaty. AT

Suspected Taliban fighters reportedly have killed seven people -- including Gol Mohammad Khan, known as Golmas, a brother of Afghan National Assembly member Dad Mohammad Khan -- in an attack in Helmand Province, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on June 18. Dad Mohammad previously served as head of Helmand police department. A resident of Sangin district, where the incident took place, said an unidentified son of Dad Mohammad has also been killed. Dad Mohammad, speaking with AIP from Kabul, acknowledged that "serious fighting" was continuing and said that he got "no response from the telephones" of his brother or "others." Dad Mohammad added that he has no idea what is happening in Helmand. AT

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra expressed his country's willingness to reconstruct the two ancient Bamiyan Buddhas in central Afghanistan destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, Thai News Agency reported on June 18. Shinawatra reportedly made the offer in a meeting with President Karzai on the sidelines of the CICA summit in Almaty. Thailand, which is predominantly Buddhist, offered to collect the debris of the statues blown up by the Taliban in 2001 and rebuild them (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," December 4, 2003). Karzai said that he will discuss the Thai offer with his government. AT

Just back from a trip to Tehran and other Asian cities, Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmud al-Zahhar said at a June 17 news conference in Gaza that that Iran has donated $50 million to the Hamas-led government, Bethlehem's Ma'an News Agency reported. He said other sources of funding include $50 million from Libya, $30 million from the Arab League Fund and other sources, and $60 million in taxes that Israel owes the Palestinian Authority. BS

Three Kurdish students -- Asu Saleh, Asad Baqeri, and Shuresh Moradi -- were summoned by the Kurdistan University disciplinary committee on June 17, ILNA reported. The summonses followed a protest against the "cultural situation" on campus and against the closure of the Islamic Students Association, ILNA reported. One day after that demonstration, some 18 of the participants were not allowed on campus, prompting 1,200 students to sign a petition. BS

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on June 18 described as "positive" the recent meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), IRNA reported. By attending the event, Assefi continued, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad had the opportunity to inform his counterparts of the Iranian stance on a number of issues. Iran currently has observer status in the SCO but has expressed an interest in full membership, and Assefi said Iran would like to increase its cooperation with member states on a variety of issues. One day earlier, Ahmadinejad said his trip to Shanghai was useful, state radio reported. Ahmadinejad spoke with Russian President Putin, saying, "We share same views in many areas including regional security, world peace, and development of economic ties. We made good decisions regarding the energy issue." Ahmadinejad also met with Chinese President Hu Jintao, saying, "We have a high rate of official and unofficial trade exchange with China, including mutual investment, commerce, and industry. We discussed current issues facing Asia and the international community. Fortunately, we share the same views on these issues." BS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said on June 18 that Tehran is unwilling to discuss Iraqi affairs with Washington, despite previous indications to the contrary, Radio Farda reported. "Because we respected the opinion of Mr. [Abd al-Aziz] al-Hakim [head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI], we accepted his request to talk to the United States," Assefi said. "But the Americans showed unreasonable and inappropriate behavior that made the talks impossible." Tehran responded positively to al-Hakim's request in mid-March, but subsequent developments made the talks seem unlikely (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 and 29 March and 3 April 2006). Al-Hakim told reporters in Tehran on June 17 that Iranian-U.S. talks would benefit Iraq, IRNA reported. He expressed the hope that obstacles to such talks will be removed. BS

Continuing his visit to Tehran, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim met on June 18 with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, IRNA reported. Hashemi-Rafsanjani said the continuing presence of foreign forces in Iraq is causing regional instability, and that political activism by religious leaders will contribute to national unity. Al-Hakim concurred on the importance of religion and said ethnic and religious divisions will lead nowhere. Al-Hakim also met with President Ahmadinejad on June 18, according to IRNA. On June 17, al-Hakim met with Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki, IRNA reported. Al-Hakim's visit is in connection with a July 8-9 meeting in Tehran of foreign ministers from Iraq's neighboring states and from Organization of the Islamic Conference member states. Mottaki said this event will strengthen the Iraqi government and contribute to peace and stability in the country. BS

On June 16, gunmen ambushed a U.S. military convoy near the town of Al-Yusifiyah, 20 kilometers south of Baghdad, and one soldier was killed and two were reported missing, AP reported on June 17. An Iraqi farmer told AP on June 18 that he saw masked gunmen take the two away. U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell told reporters on June 17 that U.S. troops have carried out at least four raids in search of the missing soldiers, AP reported the same day. "We continue to search using every means available and will not stop looking until we find the missing soldiers," he said, referring to the two abducted soldiers as well as the still missing Sergeant Keith Matthew Maupin, who was abducted on April 9, 2004, according to AP on June 17 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 2, 2004). BAW

Ten Iraqis working at a bakery in Baghdad were kidnapped on June 18, international media reported the same day. "Gunmen in five civilian cars stormed the bakery in the Shi'ite neighborhood of Kadhimiyah and took away the 10," an Interior Ministry official told AFP on June 18. Meanwhile, Iraqi police found nine corpses on June 18 that showed signs of torture, AFP reported the same day. Despite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's plan to bring security to Baghdad, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 15, 2006), June 16 and 17 saw violence in and around the city. During Friday prayers on June 16, a suicide shoe bomber blew himself up inside the Shi'ite mosque of Buratha in Baghdad, killing 13, AP reported the same day. Explosions at checkpoints and marketplaces killed at least 43 policemen and civilians on June 17, Reuters reported the same day. BAW

Despite assertions from U.S. commanders that there is no plan for a full-scale assault on Al-Ramadi, the capital of Al-Anbar Governorate, there are a growing number of checkpoints being set up, the BBC reported on June 18. "We are focusing on multiple sites used by the insurgents to plan and conduct terrorist attacks and store weapons," U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Salas told Reuters on June 18, while denying reports that Iraqi and U.S. troops have closed off parts of the town. "We have also set up additional checkpoints to restrict the flow of insurgents, but citizens will still be able to enter and leave the city.... This is just one part of a long-term plan to restore stability to Al-Ramadi," Salas said. A massive assault, similar to that on Al-Fallujah in November 2004, has been expected following reports that the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Mujahedin Shura Council has taken over the governorate (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," June 2, 2006, and "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 2006). BAW