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Newsline - September 6, 2006

The situation in the Karelian town of Kondopoga, which was the scene of recent violence involving ethnic Russians on one side and Chechens and Azeris on the other, remains quiet but far from peaceful, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on September 5 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2006). In the Karelian capital, Petrozavodsk, on September 6, Karelian Deputy Prosecutor Pyotr Klemeshev told reporters that the authorities might launch criminal proceedings against the police in Kondopoga for "simply standing watching" during the violence that began in the early hours of August 30 as a barroom brawl, Interfax reported. The news agency noted on September 5 that the Karelian Interior Ministry has evacuated "several dozen" Chechens from Kondopoga and has taken them to "one of the numerous tourist centers in southern Karelia" where elite forces are "guarding them around the clock." PM

Karelia Republic President Sergei Katanandov told "Izvestia" of September 6 that the authorities, including himself, share much of the blame for the recent violence in Kondopoga because they have known for some time that ethnic tensions there could have led to a "pogrom" but did not take any action. He also noted, however, that some of the people there from the Caucasus behaved in a lawless and arrogant manner, including toward the police. The daily suggested that criminals were behind the violence, using others to achieve a "redistribution of business assets." It also noted that this is not the first time that an apparently ethnic clash has broken out in Russia, but that this is the first time that political groups have brazenly sought to exploit it for their own purposes. Several commentators in the Russian media drew a connection between the events in Karelia and the regional elections due there on October 8. The daily "Vremya novostei" wrote on September 5 that "the situation in Kondopoga is actually typical of many other regions in Russia. It's just that it deteriorated to a different level in Karelia. Extremism went out of control in Kondopoga and absorbed the masses who normally don't belong to any political parties or movements." PM

The daily "Kommersant" on September 6 quoted a local Chechen as saying that his people have invested a lot of money in their homes and businesses in Kondopoga and want to return to work. Referring to the offer by Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov to help "normalize" the situation in Kondopoga, the daily "Trud" asked rhetorically "who's he trying to scare?" Other commentators suggested that Kadyrov is attempting to assert himself on the national political stage. But Vladimir Katrenko, who is a deputy speaker of the State Duma, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that Kadyrov's initiative could prove helpful and that the Chechen and Karelian authorities should work together in dealing with the situation in Karelia. PM

. Russia officially informed the United States on September 5 that it has postponed the third installment of the joint maneuvers known as Torgau, which were slated for late September and early October, allegedly due to unresolved legal issues regarding the presence of foreign soldiers on Russian territory, Russian and international media reported. Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Kostyshin said that all foreign military personnel and not just those from the United States or other NATO countries are affected. He added that the maneuvers will be rescheduled only when the issues are resolved. Several Russian commentators noted that the real reason is probably political, reflecting the cool state of bilateral relations. Others noted that the Russian official media paid much gleeful attention to the anti-American and anti-NATO protests in the Ukrainian port city of Feodosia earlier in the year. Those commentators suggested that it would now be politically awkward for the Russian authorities themselves to play host to U.S. troops. Nine Russian regions will hold their respective elections on October 8, while national parliamentary elections are slated for 2007. PM

Several Russian commentators suggested on September 6 that the decision to postpone the joint U.S.-Russia Torgau-2006 exercises was motivated by Russian domestic political considerations, Russian and U.S. media reported. One Defense Ministry official told Interfax that "emotions that are being raised over these maneuvers by certain political forces do not match the scope of the planned exercises." Valery Shantsev, who is governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region where the exercises were to take place, said that the Communists (KPRF) in particular have been "stirring up" anti-American feelings with an eye toward the coming elections. The KPRF had threatened to cut off all roads leading to the site of the exercises if they went ahead. On September 5, state-run television ran footage of KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov calling the maneuvers "an attempt at building a bridgehead in one of the key regions...where nuclear centers and major industrial enterprises are concentrated.... We should not let [U.S. troops] into the heart of Russia." He argued that "after the Balkans, the Middle East, the aggression in Iran, [and the general] unpardonable behavior of the Americans -- be it in the Baltics or North Caucasus -- these exercises have no point other than being an attempt [by the United States] to stake out a claim in one of the key regions of the Russian Federation." PM

President Vladimir Putin visited South Africa on September 5-6 along with a powerful economic delegation on his first state visit to sub-Saharan Africa, Russian and international media reported. He told reporters in Cape Town that Russia has $300 million in foreign exchange reserves and wants to invest more in Africa. He also noted that one Russian company "plans to invest more than $1 billion in the South African economy, in [the extraction of] manganese ores. Another company is ready to participate in developing electrical power production in [South Africa] and also in constructing an aluminum plant." Putin added that an agreement has been reached to supply a Cape Town nuclear power plant with nuclear fuel until 2010. Bilateral trade in 2004 amounted to only $130 million with a huge balance in South Africa's favor. Russia is the biggest buyer of its fruit. South Africa's imports from Russia totaled only $9 million and consisted largely of nickel. Putin commented that Russia "has a lot of catching up to do." PM

Among Putin's business contacts on September 5-6 was Nicky Oppenheimer, chairman of the De Beers group, which is the world's largest diamond-mining company, Russian and international media reported. The Russian delegation includes officials of Alrosa, a leading rough-diamond company. The EU launched an antitrust investigation in 2001 into some dealings involving the two companies and pressured De Beers into stopping purchases from Alrosa starting in 2009 in order to open up the market. But on September 6, De Beers and Alrosa signed a "historic agreement" on the prospecting for and mining of diamonds in Russia and elsewhere. Several members of the South African political leadership, including President Thabo Mbeki, once attended Soviet institutions of higher learning or military training centers. The BBC commented that Russia is engaged with China, as well as with Western countries, in a modern version of the 19th century "scramble for Africa" in pursuit of the continent's mineral wealth. After leaving South Africa, Putin went on to Morocco. PM

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Cape Town, South Africa, on September 6 that any economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program must rule out the use of force, Interfax reported. Lavrov said that any sanctions must be based upon the UN Charter, which "states unequivocally that economic measures exclude the use of force" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 1, 2006). He noted that Russia will soon be in contact with all the relevant parties. He added that "the Russian position will depend on what the optimal way for advancing towards the goal of nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction will be. We shall look at this problem from all angles and in a comprehensive way." PM

The Russian Federal Service for the Oversight of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor), filed suit in the Moscow District Court on September 5 to force Royal Dutch Shell and other members of an international consortium to halt work on the Sakhalin-2 natural-gas pipeline, citing possible environmental problems, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 26 and August 4, 2006). But Igor Shuvalov, who is a top Kremlin aide and was President Putin's chief planner for the recent Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries' summit in St. Petersburg, said in Moscow on September 5 that the government considers Sakhalin-2 as "one of its most serious projects." He added that with other pipeline projects, too, the government has had "a lot of problems with public watchdogs." London's "Financial Times" wrote on May 25 that the Russian authorities are considering revising some existing oil and gas deals with foreign partners in order to further tighten Russian control over energy resources. Those projects include Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2. PM

The Moscow District Military Court ruled on September 6 that General Vladimir Ganeyev of the Emergency Situations Ministry is guilty of corruption in the law enforcement services, reported. Six of his associates have also been found guilty. The men were known as "werewolves in epaulets" for their ruthlessly corrupt activities that included an extortion racket (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 29, 2005, and "RFE/RL Foreign Policy and Security Watch," June 8, 2003). PM

In a September 6 address to the Chechen people to mark the 15th anniversary of the proclamation by Djokhar Dudayev of the independent Chechen Republic Ichkeria, President and resistance leader Doku Umarov enumerated subsequent legal measures that he said substantiate that independent status, including the Russian-Chechen peace treaty of May 1997 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 12, 1997). He further stressed the legal right of all nations to defend their security and freedom. Umarov argued that "Russian statehood has suffered a reversal in Chechnya," adding that Moscow has failed in its imputed intention to conflate the Chechen resistance with "international terrorism" and to incite an internal Chechen conflict between clans or factions. He further hailed the spread of the "holy war against the colonial Russian empire" from Chechnya to neighboring North Caucasus republics. LF

Nonpartisan deputy Tatul Manaserian has written to Stepan Demirchian, chairman of the People's Party of Armenia, informing him of his intention to leave the Artarutiun parliament faction that Demirchian heads, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on September 5. Manaserian complained in his letter of Artarutiun's "passivity." At the same time, he rejected as untrue rumors that he plans to follow the example of Viktor Dallakian, who quit Artarutiun last month to join the pro-government Prosperous Armenia party founded last year by wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 21, 2006). Manaserian's defection lowers to 12 the number of parliament seats nominally controlled by Artarutiun; two of those 12 are at odds with Demirchian, including former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, who heads the Hanrapetutiun party. LF

The trial began on September 5 in Gavar, northeastern Armenia, of ethnic Tatar Rustam Valiakhmetov, a Russian citizen apprehended in Armenia in November 2005 on suspicion of spying for Azerbaijan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He faces charges of systematically passing "state secrets" to Azerbaijani intelligence. Valiakhmetov told the court he was "brutally" mistreated while in pretrial detention and he retracted a confession of guilt he said he made under torture. The trial has been adjourned until September 18 to enable Valiakhmetov to hire a defense lawyer. LF

Shahen Hovasapian, who headed the State Taxation Service division tasked with combating tax fraud, died early on September 6 of injuries received when an explosive device detonated in his official car, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. His driver suffered minor injuries, while his son, who was traveling with him, escaped unhurt. Hovasapian was born in the then-Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and served as a field commander during the Karabakh war. LF

The trial of satirical journalist Mirza Sakit Zahidov was suspended on September 5 for one week as the prosecutor is on a business trip, reported on September 6. Zahidov, who was arrested two months ago, faces charges of illegal possession of drugs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26 and August 7, 2006). He and other independent Azerbaijani journalists say those charges are fabricated. On September 6, Hugug Salmanov, who is chairman of the Committee for the Defense of Journalists' Rights, told that "no one can guarantee" that no further journalists will be arrested or murdered before the end of this year. Meanwhile, presidential administration head Ramiz Mehtiyev on September 6 implicitly rejected OSCE Media Representative Miklos Haraszti's September 4 statement deploring what he termed "a wave of repressive lawsuits" against journalists and calling for greater media freedom in Azerbaijan, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2006). Mehtiyev characterized the media situation in Azerbaijan as "normal." LF

Police arrested Neimat Panahli, chairman of the tiny National Statehood Party, following a dispute over a debt in Baku on September 1 during which Panahli allegedly stabbed and injured businessman Abbas Rzayev, reported on September 5. Police have opened a criminal case on charges of hooliganism, reported. Panahli rose to prominence during the late 1980s on the wave of popular protest triggered by Armenian claims on the then-Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. LF

In a September 4 statement posted on the website of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (, OSCE Chairman in Office and Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht expressed concern over the incident the previous day in which South Ossetian forces opened fire on a Georgian military helicopter in which Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili was traveling (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2006). De Gucht stressed that opening fire at aircraft overflying the area of operations of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces deployed in the conflict zone constitutes a violation of the commitments both sides have signed. Also on September 4, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement questioning whether Okruashvili was indeed on board the helicopter and stressing that the flight was unauthorized and therefore violated Russian-South Ossetian-Georgian agreements. On September 5, North Ossetian official Murat Tkhostov was quoted by Caucasus Press as saying that the meeting of the Joint Control Commission tasked with monitoring developments in the South Ossetian conflict zone scheduled for September 5-6 has been postponed. Tkhostov denied, however, any connection between that postponement and the helicopter incident. LF

Georgian police arrested human rights activist Maya Nikoleishvili, who heads the so-called Anti-Soros movement, at her home early on September 6, Caucasus Press reported. Two members of the Zugdidi chapter of the opposition Samartlianoba (Justice) party, which is aligned with the Anti-Soros movement, have likewise been arrested. Samartlianoba's chairman is fugitive former National Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, wanted for allegedly masterminding the August 1995 bomb attack against then-Georgian parliament Chairman Eduard Shevardnadze. According to a Russian opinion poll summarized on September 5 by Caucasus Press, 38.9 percent of those questioned believe Giorgadze will be Georgia's next president. LF

Busurmankul Tabaldiev, head of Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service (SNB), presented a bill to parliament on September 5 that would create a national Antiterrorist Center, reported. The bill would also give the SNB the power to coordinate the actions of law-enforcement agencies during counterterrorism operations. If passed, the bill would boost the strength of the Alfa special-forces unit from 102 to 200 and provide funds for new equipment, Kabar reported. Tabaldiev said that the bill would cost 198 million soms ($5.4 million) a year. Tabaldiev cited terrorist incursions in 1999, 2001, and a recent incursion in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 15, 2006) to justify the need for stronger security measures and a unified command of counterterrorism operations. DK

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev met with Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer in Ankara on September 5 for talks on bilateral relations, signing four cooperation agreements, AP reported. Bakiev said that Kyrgyz-Turkish relations in the 21st century will be built on "mutual trust," news agency reported. "As in the past, Turkey will continue helping its Kyrgyz sisters and brothers on their way to democratization and development," Anatolia quoted Sezer as saying. DK

President Bakiev has vetoed an opposition bill that would have transformed Kyrgyzstan's state-controlled national television channel into a public broadcaster, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on September 5. Bakiev's spokesman Dosaly Esenaliev said the move would require additional funding and should be agreed on with the government. Parliament passed the bill on June 8. DK

Reza Nayyeri, head of Iran's Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on September 4, Khovar reported the next day. The two discussed the committee's activities in Tajikistan, including a program to create textile workshops in the home. "Thanks to this [program], we are creating new jobs for women and girls, and at the same time we are creating conditions to process domestic raw materials, including cotton and wool," Rakhmonov said. DK

Aleksei Miller, head of Russia's state-controlled gas company, Gazprom, and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed an agreement in Ashgabat on September 5 raising the purchase price of Turkmen gas for Russia from $65 to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters starting October 1, reported. Russia will buy 12 billion cubic meters of gas in the fourth quarter of 2006 at the new price and then 50 billion cubic meters a year in 2007-09, after which the price terms will be reviewed, NewsCentralAsia reported. Gazprom's purchases at the old price of $65 will total 30 billion cubic meters in 2006. Stressing that Turkmenistan has sufficient gas reserves to cover all its export commitments, Niyazov noted, "We will always give first priority to Russia." The deal has implications for Ukraine, which purchases a mixture of Turkmen and Russian gas through Swiss-registered middleman RosUkrEnergo for $95 per 1,000 cubic meters. The new agreement would likely raise the price Ukraine pays to $140 per 1,000 cubic meters, ITAR-TASS reported. Alfa Bank analyst Chris Weafer told AP that "it's obvious that the price to Ukraine is going to go up." He continued, "It's an important deal for Gazprom, because it now gives them complete leverage over Ukraine in price negotiations." DK

The trial of Uzbek poet and songwriter Dodokhon Hasan resumed in Tashkent on September 5 as the defendant waived his right to legal representation and the judge ordered a closed trial, the BBC's Uzbek Service and reported. Rights activist Surat Ikromov said that Hasan, who faces charges of defaming the president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2006), came out of the courtroom to tell observers that he has decided not to trouble anyone with his defense. Ikromov suggested that Hasan might have been subjected to pressure or promised a light sentence in return for foregoing legal representation. The next session in the trial is scheduled for September 7. DK

Russian Ambassador to Belarus Aleksandr Surikov said on September 5 that the gas price for Belarus will not reach the European level during the establishment of a joint gas-transport enterprise in Belarus, Belapan reported. Russia's Gazprom has long planned to buy a 50-percent stake in Belarus's Beltranshaz gas-pipeline operator. Surikov predicted that if Minsk sells the stake to Gazprom, the price of Russian gas for Belarus will not exceed $100-$120 for 1,000 cubic meters. According to Surikov, the Netherlands' ABN Amro bank is expected to complete the appraisal of Beltranshaz next month and the two sides will subsequently get down to talks on the sale of the stake. JM

Fuel and Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko said on September 5 that neither the price of imported gas nor the gas tariffs in Ukraine will go up this year, in the wake of a deal concluded by Gazprom and Turkmenistan earlier the same day, Ukrainian media reported. Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller signed a deal in Ashgabat, whereby Gazprom will buy 50 billion cubic meters of gas annually from Turkmenistan in 2007-09 plus an additional 12 billion cubic meters this year at a price of $100 per 1,000 cubic meters, up from the $65 currently paid by Gazprom. Boyko said this Russian-Turkmen deal is expected to affect the price of gas imported by Ukraine in 2007, but added that he sees no reason for any sharp increase. Ukraine currently pays $95 per 1,000 cubic meters of a Russian-Turkmen gas mix. JM

The Party of Regions (PRU), the Socialist Party (SPU), the Communist Party (KPU), and Our Ukraine have set up a working group to prepare an agreement on an expanded ruling coalition, Ukrainian media reported on September 5, quoting KPU leader Petro Symonenko. The current cabinet of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych was formed on the basis of an "anticrisis coalition" accord concluded in July by the PRU, the SPU, and the KPU, and of a declaration of unity signed by these parties, Our Ukraine, and President Viktor Yushchenko on August 3. Our Ukraine, although it has several ministers in the cabinet, is not a signatory to that coalition accord. JM

Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz said in a television interview on September 5 that it is "shameful" and "humiliating" for the Ukrainian authorities to delay decisions in the case of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, who was killed in September 2000, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. "This issue is raised by people asking representatives of the authorities, including myself, about how long this farce will continue," Moroz said. "Six years have passed since the man [Gongadze] was killed, everybody knows where the problem is." It was Moroz who in November 2000 publicized recordings allegedly made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko in then-President Leonid Kuchma's office, which suggested that Kuchma and other high-ranking officials might have been implicated in the slaying of Gongadze. "We should give a legal assessment of everyone involved in this crime, and the point here is not in settling scores," Moroz noted. Three former officers of the Interior Ministry are currently standing trial on charges of murdering Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 9, 2006). JM

Boris Tadic said in Belgrade on September 5 that he plans to ask Washington for greater understanding of Belgrade's opposition to Kosova's independence during an upcoming visit to the United States, AP reported the same day. "I shall...tell my counterparts in Washington that establishing an independent Kosovo could threaten the stability of the entire Balkans and have serious implications for other countries in the world," Tadic said. Tadic is scheduled to visit Washington on September 6-8 and meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. No meeting is planned with President George W. Bush. Tadic also said Serbia wants closer ties with the "most powerful country" and to repair what he called the "destructive image" left by former President Slobodan Milosevic. "The political echo of 1990s Serbia is still persistent, six years after our democratic changes," he said. BW

Vuk Draskovic predicted on September 5 that granting independence to Kosova will lead to unrest in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro and slow Kosova's and Serbia's integration with Europe, B92 reported the same day. "The consequences will be tragic," Draskovic said in Belgrade. "Serbia's European bid may be delayed for a while. But, I'm afraid, Kosovo's European future will be over once and for all. You can only get to Europe through Serbia -- physically, economically, trade-wise. All the roads go through Serbia," he said, adding that Kosova cannot solve its economic problems without good relations with Serbia and its neighbors. Draskovic's comments that independence for Kosova will lead to unrest in Bosnia echo remarks made by Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2006). BW

Zoran Stankovic said in Belgrade on September 5 that Serbia's military is participating in the drafting of the country's new constitution, B92 reported the same day. "We are at this time obligated to incorporate the army in the right manner into the Serbian Constitution," Stankovic said in a lecture to members of the 50th General Staff Class and the 53rd Command Class at the Belgrade School of National Defense. "The fact is we had no part in the work on the new constitution until a couple of weeks ago, when we offered our assistance concerning the framework and the plan of the army's participation in the constitutional regulations," he added. Serbian parliament speaker Predrag Markovic has said that a draft of the country's new constitution will be ready by the end of this week, Focus reported on September 5, citing a report in the daily "Blic." BW

The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) announced on September 5 that two former Bosnian Serb guards will be transferred to Bosnia-Herzegovina to stand trial for war crimes, AP and Reuters reported the same day. The ICTY has charged Mitar Rasevic and Savo Todovic with the persecution, illegal imprisonment, enslavement, torture and murder of Bosnian Muslims from 1992 to 1994 at the KP Dom detention camp in Foca, southeastern Bosnia. "The tribunal yesterday rendered its decision to refer the case against Mitar Rasevic and Savo Todovic to the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina," the tribunal said. "The accused are to be transferred within the next 30 days." Rasevic and Todovic had unsuccessfully argued that they would not be given a fair trial in Bosnia and had sought to be tried either at the Hague-based ICTY or in Serbia. The ICTY is moving all but the highest profile trials to national courts in former Yugoslavia. BW

Bosnia-Herzegovina's Citizenship Status Commission announced on September 5 that it will revoke the passports of 50 naturalized citizens, mainly from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, B92, Beta, and AKI reported the same day. "Among them are people who are on the United Nations list as supporters of Al-Qaeda, as well as people for whom we have data linking them to terrorist activities," the commission's president, Vjekoslav Vukovic, told reporters in Sarajevo. Vukovic said that the 50 people, who were part of a group of 400 whose citizenship was reviewed, will be deported. Thousands of Islamic fighters from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia came to Bosnia to fight on the side of local Muslims during the 1992-95 war. Many remained in the country and were given citizenship under questionable circumstances after the war. Vukovic said a total of 1,500 cases of naturalized citizens will be reviewed by his commission. BW

There are numerous signs that Moscow has taken a hard line on its longstanding dispute with Japan over ownership of the Kurile Islands -- essentially telling Tokyo that the chain of 56 islands are no longer subject to negotiation and that it can forget about recovering any of them.

Russian President Vladimir Putin first vocalized Russia's tougher stance regarding the archipelago, of which four are most contentious, during an interview in September 2005. "As for the negotiating process with Japan regarding the four Kurile Islands," he said, "the islands are under the jurisdiction of Russia, it is codified in international law, it is a result of World War II and, as far as [possession] is concerned we are not going to discuss anything. But are we ready to talk from this starting point."

The Kuriles came into Soviet hands as a result of World War II and the maneuverings of Josef Stalin. The Soviet dictator shaped the issue as it stands today during the Yalta conference in February 1945, where he secured Soviet claims on the southern part of Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands in exchange for promising the Allies that the Soviet Union would enter the war against imperial Japan.

As a result of its only World War II campaign against Japan -- the Battle of Manchuria -- the Soviet Union took control of the Kurile Islands. However, it failed in 1951 to finalize the deal when it decided against signing the San Francisco Treaty, which outlined the postwar fate of the islands.

Moreover, the issue of ownership was complicated by the fact that Japan maintained its claim on the four southernmost islands it calls its Northern Territories. Those islands had been administered before the war by Japan's Hokkaido Island.

In the late 1980s and 90s, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and his successor Russian President Boris Yeltsin took steps to settle the dispute by speaking about the possibility of "transferring" control of the four southernmost islands to Japan following the signing of a formal World War II peace treaty. The deal was also contingent on the promise of Japanese investment.

President Putin initially followed his predecessors' path upon taking office in 2000. But midway through his second term his administration completely reversed course, backing its tough new stance via statements and deeds.

On August 4, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref announced a large-scale federal program intended to develop the Kurile Islands and to double its shrinking population of 18,000 by 2015. The 17.9 billion-ruble (more than $600 million) program would make the Kuriles the best-funded region in Russia per capita. Meanwhile, Defense Minster Sergei Ivanov announced that the lion's share of these funds will be allocated for infrastructure projects to be carried out largely by the military and Federal Security Service (FSB) personnel that make up two-thirds of the islands' population.

In the wake of the outcry in Japan that followed the announcement, Russia turned the screws. As if to confirm Japanese concerns, Duma International Relations Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachyov said on August 29 that "the issue of the development of the Kurile Islands is an exclusively Russian domestic issue. It has no relevance at all to Russia's relations with Japan and Japan's well-known claims to the islands," reported.

Meanwhile, in mid-August a Japanese fisherman was killed and three were detained near the Kuriles by FSB border troops on the basis that they had been illegally crab fishing in Russian waters. It was the first fatality among the many poaching incidents documented between the two countries in the past 60 years. Following strong Japanese diplomatic and public protests, Russia eventually returned the body of the dead fisherman and two of his shipmates to Japan. However, the captain of the ship remains in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the capital of the islands, where he awaits trial.

Many observers believe that the Russian troops intentionally overreacted to the alleged incursion to teach Japan a lesson. Indeed, poaching in this region is a rule rather than an exception, although Russian fisherman are generally more involved in illegal fishing practices than their Japanese counterparts. Russian fishermen often cull crabs in their own waters and then transfer their catches to Japanese vessels in neutral waters. This practice has been conducted at such a massive scale that crab prices have fallen to the extent in the past 10 years that it is no longer considered a delicacy.

The Russia Foreign Ministry followed up on the detention of the fishermen by protesting what it called the mass violation of fishing rules by 39 Japanese ships that it accused of illegally entering Russian waters in late August. The ministry on August 28 characterized the incursion as a "political provocation." Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirnovsky accused Japan of artificially raising tensions over the Kuriles in order to fuel nationalist sentiment ahead of the country's elections for prime minister in September. But on August 31, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin told Mayak radio that the Russian response constituted an "emotional" overreaction, and that the Japanese fishing boats had been harvesting seaweed in full compliance of agreements signed in 1981 and 1988.

Moscow's decision to choose confrontation with Tokyo over the Kuriles raises the question as to what levers Russia holds in its relations with Japan.

One of the informal leaders of the national-patriotic camp in Russia, Duma International Relations Committee Deputy Chairwoman Natalia Narochnitskaya, has described Moscow's changed policy toward Japan as well-calculated and long overdue.

Speaking at a roundtable discussion on the future of Russian-Japanese relations organized by Ekho Moskvy radio on August 30, Narochnitskaya said that the Kremlin made the decision to drop the Kuriles policy forwarded by Gorbachev and Yeltsin, whose "extreme advances" merely served to whet Japan's appetite.

She singled out a statement by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in November 2004 as particularly egregious. While it is normal diplomatic policy to gradually retreat from initial bargaining positions, she said, he went too far by expressing Russia's readiness to recognize a Soviet-Japanese joint declaration of 1956 that would open the way for the transfer of two of the southern islands to Japan.

Speaking about the future of Russian-Japanese relations, the influential Narochnitskaya said she no longer believes compromise is possible. She said Russia views the Kuriles as a war prize, and that in that context it is not important who owned the islands prior to World War II.

Narochnitskaya said a peace treaty ending the Soviet Union's brief hostilities against Japan in the war is not necessary. She said that Russia can build its relations with Japan regardless, noting that "Russia and Germany also have no peace treaty, but have very good relations." Narochnitskaya stressed that Russia's refusal to compromise on the issue should not be considered confrontational, adding that "any strengthening or growth of Japan does not impair our interests."

Politically, Russia, can play the energy card as leverage in its relations with energy-dependent Japan. But there is another, economic, aspect to its strategy regarding the Kurile Islands.

Until quite recently Russian business largely ignored this region. However, driven by the tremendous profits they have received from high global oil prices, Russian oligarchs and business groups have begun to set their sights on the immense natural resources there.

According to an evaluation conducted by Russia's Natural Resources Ministry, the contentious southern islands boast considerable deposits of oil, as well as magnesium, titanium, and the precious metal rhenium, "Finansovye izvestia," reported on August 4. The worth of the islands' resources are thought to be worth some $2.5 trillion, while fishing in neighboring waters can bring in an estimated $4.5 billion a year.

An unidentified secretary at the National Assembly was quoted by private broadcaster Tolu Television on September 5 as saying that a number of Afghan parliamentarians "neglect the duties" that the "nation has given to them by not being present during [legislative] debate sessions." The absence of some legislators is hampering work in the Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) decision-making process, the report suggested. An unidentified member of the Wolesi Jirga reportedly told Tolu that some of his colleagues leave debates when the topics are not "interesting to them." The parliamentary secretary quoted said the leadership of the Wolesi Jirga is planning to "take and implement serious decisions" regarding absenteeism. One proposal is to tally the names of those not in attendance and present the list to the media each week. AT

Pakistani Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam told a weekly press briefing in Islamabad on September 4 that the government of Afghanistan is not involved in fomenting trouble in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province, Islamabad daily "The News" reported on September 5. However, Pakistan has "talked about Afghan territory being used" in the deterioration of the security situation in Baluchistan, Aslam noted. Islamabad is "taking certain steps to stop the infiltration" from Afghanistan into Baluchistan, Aslam said. Pakistani officials have accused New Delhi of using Afghanistan to destabilize Baluchistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," September 4, 2006). AT

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi on September 4 denied reports that Canada's defense minister has requested assistance in southern Afghanistan from Pakistani troops, the official Radio Afghanistan reported. Azimi said that deployment of Pakistani forces in Kandahar Province, where Canadians command the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) contingent, has never been discussed. Azimi also rejected reports claiming an agreement to fence the Afghan-Pakistani border was reached during the most recent meeting of the quadrilateral commission (formerly a trilateral commission) that brings together Afghan, Pakistani, and U.S. and NATO representatives (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," September 4, 2006). Islamabad has called for fencing the mutual border, which extends 2,430 kilometers. Kabul has opposed the idea, arguing that it would divide people with historical ties. Afghanistan has never officially recognized its border with Pakistan. AT

Armed men suspected of having Taliban links have threatened residents in the village of Qarabaghi in Ghazni Province in an effort to discourage them from sending their daughters to school, Sheberghan-based Aina Television reported on September 4. The gunmen reportedly vowed to burn down the schools if girls attend classes. Ghazni security commander Tafsir Khan confirmed the report, calling them "enemies of the Afghan government." Taliban loyalists have closed a girls' school near the city of Ghazni that remains shuttered, Aina reported. AT

The White House released the U.S. "National Strategy for Combating Terrorism" on September 5, and a few hours later, President George W. Bush, speaking at the Capital Hilton Hotel in Washington, discussed Iran's alleged role in terrorism, according to Radio Farda and the presidential website. Bush said "the Iranian regime has clear aims" that he described as driving the United States out of the region, destroying Israel, and dominating the Middle East. Those goals have led Iran to fund and arm Hizballah, Bush said. He also accused "the Iranian regime and its terrorist proxies" of a willingness to kill Americans, alleged efforts to do so in connection with Lebanese Hizballah and with Saudi Hizballah, and what his administration believes is Tehran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. "The international community has made a reasonable proposal to Iran's leaders, and given them the opportunity to set their nation on a better course," he said in a reference to an offer made to Tehran in June but seemingly rejected in August. Bush warned Iran's leaders against isolating the country and harming its economy through their actions. BS

President Bush said in his September 5 speech that both Shi'ite extremists -- which he described as having "taken control of a major power, the nation of Iran," in 1979 -- and Sunni extremists "seek to impose a dark vision of violent Islamic radicalism across the Middle East," the White House website reported. Bush referred to a "global struggle" and cited his administration's "National Strategy for Combating Terrorism." That document refers to Iran several times. It says Iran "continue[s] to harbor terrorists at home and sponsor terrorist activity abroad." The strategy states that U.S. sanctions against Iran are meant to end its state sponsorship of terrorists. The document alleges roles by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security in the planning of and support for operations by Hamas, Hizballah, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as Tehran's failure to "account for and bring to justice senior [Al-Qaeda] members it detained in 2003." The document adds, "Most troubling is the potential WMD-terrorism nexus that emanates from Tehran." BS

Former Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami told CNN during a September 3 visit to Chicago that international terrorism is the result of U.S. foreign policy, and he warned that those policies will contribute to regional "extremism." Khatami is in Iran for a two-week visit; the last U.S. president to visit Iran was Jimmy Carter some 30 years ago. Khatami had a message for President Bush: "I would tell him that the United States, with all of its might and resources, can, side by side with the good people of the Middle East, bring about a new experience and the creation of democracy and the advancement of democracy, even though the way to democracy may have been slow originating in the Mideast." He called for an end to threatening language, and said Iranians fear the United States will attack their country. BS

Anonymous diplomats said on September 5 that Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani probably would meet with European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana on September 6 in Vienna, AFP reported. Vienna's "Der Standard" daily issued a similar report on September 5, but EU spokeswoman Christina Gallach would not confirm the possibility, according to the paper. The meeting would be part of the continuing efforts to persuade Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities in exchange for various incentives and in order to avoid international sanctions. Tehran responded to an international proposal addressing these issues with a lengthy counterproposal, and the meeting would be an opportunity to discuss what diplomats tell AFP is an "at best, unclear" Iranian text. BS

The legislature's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee has approved the general outlines of a bill that would suspend international inspectors' access to Iranian nuclear sites, IRNA reported on September 5. Shahrud's Kazem Jalali, the committee's rapporteur, explained, "The single article bill urges the government to call off all [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspections of the Iranian nuclear sites and facilities as soon as UN Security Council embarks on imposing restrictions on Iran," Fars News Agency reported. BS

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told students in Tehran on September 5 -- National Youth Day -- that they must object to liberal thinking in the universities, state radio reported. "Today's young students, in universities, must shout at the president: Sir, why does this secular gentleman [lecturer] come and, if I say something contrary to what he says, penalize me in my marks?" Ahmadinejad said. "In other words, young students must shout against a liberal economy, against liberal thinking." Ahmadinejad further advised university heads to avoid politics. BS

After meeting with British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett on September 5, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said that he believes all British troops will be able to leave Iraq by the end of 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2006), Reuters reported the same day. "By then, we will have achieved good success in building our forces," he added. Beckett, for her part, cautioned that such a timetable is merely Talabani's personal opinion, and that the gradual handover of areas to Iraqi forces will depend on improvements in security. "These are circumstances which we will have to judge over time," she added." She further noted that "hardly anyone thinks that time [for withdrawal] is now or is likely to be in the immediate future." DW

As many as nine people were killed and 38 wounded by a bomb attack on September 6 in the Shi'ite Al-Qahira district of Baghdad, international news agencies reported. A car bomb was detonated on a busy street during the morning rush hour, and another car bomb went off across the street after police cordoned off the area of the initial attack, but it caused no additional casualties. DW

Following a decree by Kurdish regional President Mas'ud Barzani to fly the Kurdish flag instead of Iraq's national flag on local public buildings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2006), U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad joined Iraqi officials in condemning the decision, international news agencies reported. "Decisions on Iraq's national symbols must be made by the Iraqi people as a whole through an established constitutional process," Reuters quoted Khalilzad as saying in a statement. The statement added that Washington is committed to "Iraq's unity and territorial integrity." DW