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Newsline - October 11, 2006

Thousands of people turned out in rainy weather for the Moscow funeral of prominent slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya on October 10, Russian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10, 2006). Numerous foreign diplomats were present, but no Kremlin representatives. The leader of Russia's liberal Yabloko party, Grigory Yavlinsky, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that "she was not simply a political journalist; she was a political opponent of the authorities. In this case it is evident that they have destroyed a political opponent. The authorities have begun eliminating their political opponents physically." The leader of the Union of Rightist Forces, Nikita Belykh, argued that if "the authorities in fact have nothing to do with [her killing] and if it is an attempt to discredit them or it is a provocation, [they should] prove it." The president of the Russian National Association of Television and Radio Broadcasters, Eduard Sagalayev, said that "one of the causes of Anna's death is a deficit of truth in our country, in our society. If there was no such deficit, if there were more opportunities to tell the truth, to express different points of view about what goes on in the country, perhaps there would be fewer such tragedies." One unnamed editor rhetorically asked fellow journalists: "Who's next?" The daily "Moskovsky komsomolets" wrote on October 9 that President Vladimir Putin is the only source of real power in today's Russia and that "his people" must bear responsibility for the killing. "In our country, the policy is that problems are solved with gunshots in apartment-building lobbies," the paper added. PM

After speaking to President Putin in Dresden on October 10 at the start of his two-day visit to Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters that she made it clear to him that Politkovskaya's slaying "upset us very much, and that it is necessary that this death must be thoroughly clarified, because symbolically it concerns press freedom," German and Russian media reported. She added that "the Russian president assured me [that Politkovskaya's death will be investigated]" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10, 2006). Putin, who is a former KGB operative in Dresden and speaks fluent German, told reporters in Russian that "whoever committed this crime and whatever motives they had, we must say that it is a disgustingly cruel crime and, of course, it must not go unpunished." He added that "we have information, and it is trustworthy, that there are people hiding from Russian justice and nurturing plans to sacrifice someone as a victim to create a wave of anti-Russian sentiments worldwide" but did not elaborate. Referring to Politkovskaya, he said that she was known abroad but "had minimal influence on political life in Russia. This murder does much more harm to Russia and Chechnya than any of her publications." Crowds greeted Putin with chants of "murderer." PM

President Putin told U.S. President George W. Bush in a telephone conversation on October 9 that "all necessary efforts will be made for an objective investigation into [Politkovskaya's] tragic death," Reuters reported from Washington (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10, 2006). It was Putin's first known statement on the killing, albeit not a public one. White House spokesman Tony Snow said on October 10 that Putin also told Bush that "the murder was a personal tragedy and a blow to Russia, and raised questions about a free media and security for journalists." Snow noted that Putin added that Politkovskaya "did a lot of reporting about Chechnya, and that her death was also a blow to the leadership of Chechnya. [Putin] said her death did the leadership more harm than her reporting did." In her writings, Politkovskaya described Putin as a cynical liar. Elsewhere in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "I don't have any reason to believe, or any evidence, that the Russian government is involved," in Politkovskaya's killing. Rice added, however, that "the Russian government does have a heavy burden to demonstrate that it is both interested in and determined to find the killers" of Politkovskaya, Paul Klebnikov, and other slain journalists. Putin told Bush in their phone conversation that he has not forgotten the July 2004 killing of Klebnikov, who was an American editor of the Russian edition of "Forbes" magazine. The daily "Komsomolskaya pravda" suggested on October 11 that Politkovskaya was born in New York to a Soviet diplomatic family and might have had U.S. as well as Russian citizenship, but this does not appear to have been confirmed elsewhere. PM

During President Putin's visit to Dresden on October 10, several Russian officials criticized the amount of attention paid by the German media to Politkovskaya's killing and the alleged publication of unspecified "inaccurate reports," German media and London's "Financial Times" reported on October 11. In what the British daily called "an emotional outburst," Russian Ambassador to Germany Vladimir Kotenev accused some unnamed German media of conducting anti-Russian "campaigns." For his part, Putin denied that Russia is planning a "hostile takeover of EADS," the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. But he stressed that Russia wants to be a "real partner" in the firm, which has resisted Moscow's reported attempt to win a board seat, Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" noted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 25, 2006). PM

President Putin also said in Dresden on October 10 that he wants Germany to become an "energy distribution center" in Europe for Russian gas and oil supplies, German media reported. He repeated an earlier offer to grant Germany huge supplies of gas from the Shtokman field, saying that this would mean that "Germany is not only a consumer of natural gas but would make it a big European distributor of Russian gas. This will transform the energy face of Germany and strengthen its role in European energy matters." But the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on October 10 that there is a lack of consensus in Germany over the extent to which cooperation with Russia is desirable. The Russian state-run daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" wrote nonetheless on October 11 that the elites of the two countries "know how to debate and reach agreements." With the help of articulate lobbyists in Germany and parts of the political and business establishments there, Putin has sought to lock Germany into an ever closer relationship with Russia at the expense of trans-Atlantic ties, which was a long-standing Soviet policy goal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 26, July 17, August 24, and October 10, 2006, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," March 23, 2006). PM

President Putin and Chancellor Merkel agreed in an interview with German ARD public television on October 10 that the international community should act together to deter North Korea from pursuing its nuclear ambitions in the wake of its recent test (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10, 2006). Putin stressed, however, that "we need to move from talk of ultimatums and sanctions towards seeing international law prevail in international matters.... As long as [those who violate international norms] feel they're discriminated against or they think their security is being violated, they will continue to behave in this way." Also on October 10, the Moscow daily "Vremya novostei" wrote that the North Korean test has created a "new military and political reality." The daily "Vedomosti" suggested that Pyongyang will be able to pose a threat to its neighbors in three to five years' time. PM

Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov told reporters in Moscow on October 10 that the North Korean test is a "colossal blow to the nonproliferation regime" but that force should not be used by others in response, news agencies reported. Referring to possible Polish deployment of the missile-defense systems of the United States or NATO on its territory, Ivanov said that "we see this as an element of destabilizing the situation, an attempt -- and no more than that -- to change somewhat the strategic balance" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 3, 2006). PM

President Valdas Adamkus said in Vilnius on October 9 that an unnamed Russian "spy was caught, and, according to the rules, was expelled," dpa reported. He added that one should not be "surprised if Russia expels a Lithuanian diplomat from Moscow without any reason. This is not the first case and it won't be the last." Adamkus said that he does not expect the incident to damage bilateral relations. Local media suggested that the spy was a high-ranking diplomat who sought "to influence Lithuania's determination to support Georgia in its conflict with Moscow." But in Moscow on October 9, the Russian Foreign Ministry denied that one of its diplomats was expelled from Vilnius. In related news, the Moscow daily "Kommersant" wrote on October 11 that the meeting the previous day between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Andrei Stratan, his Moldovan counterpart, was a Russian attempt to neutralize support within GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) for Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 3, 4, and 10, 2006). PM

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves told RFE/RL in Brussels on October 9 that Russia's recent turning away from democracy is his greatest concern. He argued that "virtually all of the issues that we have in our problems with Russia stem from an absolute refusal on the part of Russia to really accept what happened in the past." He cited what he called Moscow's "obsession" with insisting that Estonia was not annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 but voluntarily joined it. Ilves suggested that "it comes down to the problem of what you do if there's a large, powerful country that a priori views democratization on its borders as a security threat." He cautioned the West against "pretending that we're dealing with a country just like us. [Russia] doesn't behave just like us." Ilves suggested that the Russian example shows that carrying out privatization alone is not enough in making a transition from communism and that establishing the rule of law is equally important. He added that high oil prices have enabled Russia recently to ignore Western opinion about Russia's "sovereign democracy." "Any adjectival modifier of the word 'democracy' should send alarm bells ringing.... If you put an adjective in front of it, then it is not a democracy," he added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 1, 2006). PM

Aleksandr Plokhin, who was a branch manager with Vneshtorgbank, Russia's second-largest bank, was shot in his Moscow suburban apartment building on October 10, Interfax reported. A spokeswoman for the Moscow prosecutor's office said it appeared to be a contract killing. An investigation is under way. The killing came almost one month after Central Bank executive Andrei Kozlov was killed in a gangland-style assassination (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 15, and 18, 2006). PM

Nurdi Nukhadjiyev, the pro-Moscow Chechen administration official with responsibility for human rights, criticized on October 9 unnamed Russian journalists who, he claimed, have "prematurely" implicated Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov in the October 7 slaying of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10, 2006). Nukhadjiyev said there is as yet no evidence to substantiate such allegations. At the same time, Nukhadjiyev paid tribute to Politkovskaya's civic courage and described her as an "interesting" debating partner. Meanwhile, an investigation launched by Kadyrov personally has uncovered no documentary evidence that public-sector employees are constrained to pay a hefty percentage of their monthly salary into the Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov Fund named for his late father, reported on October 10, quoting Deputy Interior Minister Khamzat Guseynov. Politkovskaya was among the Russian journalists who have reported that such "voluntary" contributions to the fund are mandatory for all government employees. She claimed to have documentary evidence of such contributions. Kadyrov for his part suggested that unnamed persons outside the Chechen government have been extorting such payments in the name of the republic's leadership. LF

The amount of oil extracted in Chechnya is declining rapidly, primarily as a result of the "barbaric" methods employed by Rosneft, Amadi Temishev told on October 10. Temishev predicted that over the next two-three years, annual output will fall from the current 2 million tons to 600 tons. He accused Rosneft of routinely violating all ecological precautions, with the result that wells become flooded. Temishev implied that it is unfair that Rosneft earns some 25 billion rubles ($927.6 million) annually from the sale of Chechen oil, while Chechnya's annual budget does not exceed 19 billion rubles. LF

Ingushetia's Supreme Court rejected on October 10 an appeal by 13 militants sentenced last year in connection with their role in the June 2004 attacks on police and security forces across Ingushetia in which 79 people were killed and 113 wounded, Interfax and reported. The men received jail terms ranging from eight to 25 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22, 2004, and August 4, 2005). They appealed those sentences on the grounds that some members of the jury were related to police and security personnel and for that reason may not have been totally objective. Six of the men are demanding the annulment of their sentence and a new investigation. LF

Some 88 percent of voters in five predominantly Nogai-populated villages in the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR) participated on October 8 in a referendum on creating a Nogai Autonomous District on that territory, according to on October 10 as reposted by (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 22, 2006). Of those approximately 10,000 voters, 94 percent voted in favor of that proposal. In a second referendum the same day, Abazin residents of five other villages overwhelmingly approved amendments to the KChR Constitution that would establish an Abazin autonomous district on the basis of those villages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 11, 2005).

An unnamed official in the office of Armenian Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian said on October 10 that criminal charges are being brought against a pro-government parliamentarian recently arrested for assault, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Hakob Hakobian, a member of the pro-government People's Deputies parliamentary group, remained in custody for a third consecutive day following his arrest on October 7 for participating in a mass brawl and shoot-out outside a natural-gas distribution station south of Yerevan. Law-enforcement authorities reported that Hakobian ordered a large group of men accompanying him to attack security guards that prevented him from entering the facility, resulting in the subsequent hospitalization of at least four people who were seriously injured in the confrontation. The Prosecutor-General's Office is also preparing a formal request to parliament to lift the deputy's legal immunity for prosecution. RG

Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan, Armenian deputy parliament speaker and pro-government Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun leader Vahan Hovannisian denounced on October 10 the recent assault against a prominent opposition politician, saying that it was politically motivated, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Suren Abrahamian, a senior member of the opposition Hanrapetutiun (Republic) who served as interior minister in 1999, was reportedly attacked near his house in Yerevan by a group of unknown men (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10, 2006). Hovannisian condemned the incident as a "terrible and ugly phenomenon" and argued that the "attack on Suren Abrahamian had to do with political activities," adding that "this is not only unacceptable but condemnable, and this must be eliminated from our political life." The deputy speaker further said that the assault only affirms the need for a special law that would strictly regulate private security and personal bodyguard services. RG

Commenting on October 10 on Armenia's parliamentary elections set for May 2007, Artur Baghdasarian said that his Orinats Yerkir party may form "pre-election alliances" with other unnamed opposition groups but again declined to name its potential allies, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. Speaking in an interview in Yerevan, Baghdasarian noted that although "it is still too early to talk about" the party's specific alliances, there is "a desire to cooperate on concrete issues," and confirmed that he has been holding talks with other opposition forces. In his first return to parliament since his resignation, Baghdasarian openly denounced the government for its controversial exchange-rate policies and announced plans to try to force it to cut key utility prices (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5, 2006). RG

The special representative of the NATO Secretary-General for the Caucasus and Central Asia, Robert Simmons, met on October 10 with senior Georgian officials in Tbilisi, Caucasus Press and Rustavi-2 television reported. The three-day visit comes three weeks after NATO formally offered Georgia closer relations within the framework of a new Intensified Dialogue with the alliance and the special envoy is scheduled to meet with President Mikheil Saakashvili, Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli and parliament Chairwoman Nino Burdjanadze. Simmons noted that NATO is concerned by the escalation of tension between Russia and Georgia and expressed the hope that "after the Russian officers were handed over to Moscow, the sides will take the right steps to regulate the relations that assist consolidation of good-neighborly relations between Georgia and Russia." He explained that the main goal of his visit is to discuss the next stage of Georgia's deeper integration with NATO and review necessary defense reforms. Simmons arrived in Tbilisi after meeting with Azerbaijani leaders in Baku to discuss plans for Azerbaijan's greater integration with NATO within the framework of its existing NATO Individual Partnership Action Plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10, 2006). RG

Georgian officials announced on October 10 that two Georgian policemen were injured in a border clash with South Ossetian forces, Rustavi-2 and Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian authorities contend that Ossetian gunmen opened fire on the Georgian policemen in a village that lies within the conflict zone in South Ossetia and condemned the incident as "an act of provocation." South Ossetian officials dismissed the criticism and countered that the policemen were injured in a mine explosion, arguing that South Ossetian forces were not involved. RG

President Nursultan Nazarbaev told an October 10 meeting on the implementation of his March state-of-the-nation address (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 2, 2006) that the executive branch has not done enough to carry out his instructions, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The report quoted a statement from the presidential press service saying that "the president strongly criticized the work of the executive in the areas of administrative reform, the development of the Kazyna and Samruk holding companies, the program on the further expansion of the port of Aktau, and the establishment of socio-entrepreneurial corporations in the countries regions." Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov, Deputy Prime Minister Karim Masimov, a number of ministers, and the heads of state oil and gas companies KazMunaiGaz, Kazyna, and Samruk attended the meeting. DK

Kazakh Health Minister Anatoly Dernovoi told a cabinet meeting on October 10 that an HIV outbreak in South Kazakhstan province has been contained, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Dernovoi said that an investigation revealed 76 HIV-positive children and six child deaths after 9,070 children, 174 blood donors, 3,143 medical workers, and 18,861 women were examined. Twelve criminal cases have been opened in connection with the outbreak, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The children are believed to have been infected through blood transfusions. Dernovoi noted that there were 6,943 officially registered HIV-positive individuals in Kazakhstan as of October 1. DK

The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has opened its observer mission in preparation for Tajikistan's November 6 presidential election, Avesta reported on October 10. The mission, which is headed by Onno van der Wind, includes 12 experts and 14 long-term observers. ODIHR will ask OSCE member states to provide 100 short-term observers to monitor polling stations and vote counting and tabulation on election day. DK

Shavkat Shoimov, deputy director of Tajik national gas company Tojikgaz, told AP on October 10 that Uzbekistan plans to raise the price of natural gas for Tajikistan from $55 to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters starting in 2007. "The new price will negatively affect Tajik industrial production," Shoimov commented. Tojikgaz specialists reportedly told Avesta that the price hike "will lead to a reduction in imports of gas from Uzbekistan, since it will be simply unprofitable for many Tajik enterprises to use natural gas." Uzbekistan is slated to supply Tajikistan with a total of 730 million cubic meters of gas in 2006. Tajikistan currently owes Uzbekistan $2.5 million for gas shipments after paying off $2 million in arrears last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 2006). DK

Qobiljon Obidov, former governor of Andijon province, faces charges of organizing violence in Andijon in May 2005, reported on October 10, quoting one of Obidov's relatives. The report noted that Obidov had been removed a year before the violence in Andijon, but rumors linked the idea of freeing prisoners from Andijon prison in May 2005 to a former high-ranking official in the province. According to, Obidov is currently being held in a jail in Tashkent. DK

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has decreed that Belarus will conduct local elections on January 14, Belapan reported on October 10. Central Election Commission Secretary Mikalay Lazavik told journalists that there are 22,641 seats to be contested in Belarus's 1,583 local councils (soviets): the Minsk City Council, six oblast councils, 118 district councils, 13 councils in cities of regional subordination, 14 councils in cities of district subordination, 66 town councils, and 1,365 village councils. The January polls will be held under an amended election law, which provides for a one-round vote. The law also toughens rules for holding outdoor meetings with voters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 3, 2006). JM

Following a meeting with President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych told journalists in Kyiv on October 10 that negotiations on the creation of an expanded ruling coalition with the participation of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc will be continued, Ukrainian media reported. "We agreed to work toward forming a broad coalition. For that, we have, first and foremost, the political will of the Ukrainian president and prime minister. We believe it is our common goal to stabilize the political situation," Yanukovych said. Last week, Our Ukraine leader Roman Bezsmertnyy announced that his party was switching to the opposition and called on Our Ukraine ministers in Yanukovych's cabinet to step down (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5, 2006). However, Sports Minister Yuriy Pavlenko told journalists on October 11 that he and the three other ministers from Our Ukraine will decide whether to quit the government only after "the talks on the formation of a coalition of national unity are finally concluded." JM

Martti Ahtisaari said on October 10 that he sees little possibility for Serbia and Kosovar Albanians to reach a compromise solution, laying most of the blame with Belgrade, B92, Beta, and FoNet reported the same day. "I do not see the two sides coming together as far as the status is concerned. The sides are diametrically opposed and I do not see the negotiations reaching a solution," the UN envoy to the status talks said. "Serbs and Kosovo Albanians will not reach an agreement in my lifetime. Pristina was prepared to make significant compromises, unlike Belgrade." Ahtisaari said the UN Security Council will most likely need to impose a solution. "A solution must be found, but that means that the UN Security Council must take a stance in the Kosovo question," he said. "Kosovo is the last piece of the Balkan puzzle.... Without a lasting solution for Kosovo, there will be no lasting solution for the Balkans." BW

Cedomir Jovanovic, the president of the Liberal Democratic Party, said that Kosova has been de facto independent for the last seven years and that Serbs need to come to terms with this reality, B92 reported on October 10. "It will be a new country in the Balkans," Jovanovic said. "In what measure this will be made formal will depend on the political circumstances and the readiness of the world to insist on a new solution, but it will soon turn into one of the most painful topics for Serbia." Deriding the idea of a "Greater Serbia," Jovanovic added that Serbs outside Serbia, paradoxically, are currently living better than those inside the country. "Today Serbs in Croatia live a better life than those in Serbia, Serbs in the Republika Srpska say that they live a better life than Serbs in Serbia, and Serbs in Timisoara [Romania] are practically in the European Union," he said. BW

At a meeting of Serbia's ruling coalition and parliamentary opposition on October 9, members of the liberal G17 Plus party said their resignations from Vojislav Kostunica's government will not take effect until after a constitutional referendum, B92 reported the next day. The referendum is scheduled for October 28-29. Ministers from G17 Plus announced their resignations on October 1 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 2006). After the meeting, parliament speaker Predrag Markovic said the resignations are not legally valid because the ones he received are different from those submitted to Kostunica earlier. Aleksandar Vucic, a member of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) parliamentary caucus, accused the ruling coalition of deceiving the public over the resignations. Milos Aligrudic of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) responded that the G17 Plus ministers have the right to change their minds about the date their resignations take effect. BW

A mosque in Bosnia-Herzegovina's ethnically divided city of Mostar was badly damaged by a rocket-propelled grenade on October 10, international news agencies reported the same day. Police spokeswoman Lejla Trivun said the mosque in Jesenice, a western suburb of the city, was struck by a 60-millimeter grenade fired by unknown attackers, dpa reported. The mosque, which was badly damaged in the 1992-95 war, was recently rebuilt. Nobody was in the mosque at the time of the attack. The head imam in Mostar, Salem Dedovic, called the attack disturbing, particularly since it happened during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, AP reported. Mostar Mayor Ljubo Beslic, who is a Bosnian Croat, condemned the attack and called on citizens to stay calm and help the police. BW

The breakaway Moldovan region of Transdniester on October 10 rejected a compromise plan proposed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to settle the conflict, dpa reported the same day. The OSCE plan, sponsored by OSCE Chairman in Office and Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, proposed a semi-independent status for Transdniester inside a Moldovan federation. "Actually the plan contains some interesting ideas, but what is the point of talking about them?" Transdniestrian Foreign Minister Valery Litskay said. "The Transdniestrian people have spoken clearly on this matter, and it is up to us politicians to respect their opinion. We had set our course towards independence and Russia," he added, referring to a widely unrecognized referendum in which an overwhelming majority of the region's residents supported independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 2006). BW

Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko raised more than a few eyebrows when he told journalists in Kyiv on October 6 that Ukraine will not import Russian gas for domestic consumption next year.

His statement that "there will not be any Russian gas in Ukraine's balance" was clear enough. How he calculated that meeting Ukraine's gas needs is possible without a Russian contribution was not.

Boyko announced two days earlier that Ukraine has signed contracts to purchase 42 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Turkmen gas, 7 bcm of Uzbek gas, and 8.5 bcm of Kazakh gas in 2007.

That would add up to 57.5 bcm, sufficient in Boyko's opinion to fulfill Ukraine's prodigious appetite for natural gas. A curious conclusion considering that the forecast for 2006 is 76-77 bcm and Ukraine imported 73 bcm under a gas-purchasing agreement with Russia in which it received a "mixed basket" of gas from Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.

That agreement, under which Ukraine paid $95 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, was apparently scrapped in late September during secretive discussions with Russia on gas supplies.

Despite Boyko's statement regarding the replacement contract, it is a stretch to say that Ukraine will be free from the Russian gas yoke. After all, while it will be purchasing gas under the new contract via RosUkrEnergo and not from Gazprom directly, the Russian gas giant remains the owner of 50 percent of the shares in RosUkrEnergo.

According to the new agreement, which is to go into effect in January 2007, Gazprom will not sell Russian gas to Ukraine, but will resell the 50 bcm of gas it buys from Turkmenistan for $100 per 1,000 cubic meters to Ukraine.

This after Ukraine's failed negotiations with Turkmenistan led to Russia making a play for Turkmen gas at the $100 rate. Seeing that in 2006 Ukraine is paying Russia $95 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, the fact that Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller announced on September 27 that that rate will stand until the end of the year could mean a loss of nearly $400 million for Gazprom.

The exact price Ukraine will pay for its imported gas in 2007 has not yet been announced, but Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych has in recent weeks repeatedly touted a price at or around $130 per 1,000 cubic meters.

On September 28, Yanukovych told his cabinet that the country "will pay less for gas than its neighbors in 2007-09." He followed up on that prediction by telling the cabinet on October 4 that "we know that the price of gas for 2007 for our neighbors -- Moldova, the Baltic countries, Georgia, and Azerbaijan -- is already about $200 [per 1,000 cubic meters]. In October, we will see what price Ukraine will have to pay. We expect, and we have reasons for this, that the price will be about $130."

Meanwhile, the 2007 draft budget prepared by the Yanukovych government factored in the new price for gas to be $135 and allocated ample funding to account for increased gas expenses, while also lowering the gas price for the public.

The new arrangement apparently caught the Ukrainian government off-guard. As late as September 22, Boyko told the media that beginning in January 2007 thru the end of 2009, Ukraine will buy an annual total of 62 bcm of gas from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and "partially from Russia." Again, Boyko said that amount would be "fully sufficient to meet Ukraine's gas needs."

Five days later, Gazprom CEO Miller and Boyko announced that Ukraine would only be buying 55 bcm of gas per year beginning in 2007 thru 2009 -- again saying that despite the 18 bcm difference compared to 2006, the gas would "fully meet Ukraine's needs."

It is difficult to account for the vast discrepancy in the volume of gas purchased by Ukraine in 2006 and the new amount for 2007. The oft-cited decrease of around 18 bcm would be enough gas to meet the demands of a medium-size country. Has Ukraine's consumption of gas declined so drastically in one year?

Ukraine currently ranks sixth in the world in terms of gas usage -- burning more gas than Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia combined. It produces approximately 20 bcm of its own gas and in 2005 sold 5 bcm abroad. Thus, it is feasible that imports of 55 or 57.5 bcm might be sufficient to meet Ukraine's needs in 2007, although that would also mark the end of profitable sales of gas abroad.

In the weeks preceding the Ukrainian-Russian negotiations, numerous Russian officials -- among them Anatoliy Chubais, the head of Unified Energy Systems, the electricity-generating monopoly; Andrey Kiriyenko, the head of the Atomic Energy Agency; and German Gref, the economic development and trade minister -- all warned that Russian gas production will not be able to keep up with domestic demand by 2007.

This means that the fall in Ukrainian gas imports is likely not by preference -- but can rather be directly traced to Russia's own rapidly rising domestic demand.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office responded to a NATO warning of the specter of growing public support for guerrillas by asserting on October 10 that the people of Afghanistan will not shift their allegiance to the resurgent Taliban despite the recent escalation of violence, AFP reported. Karzai spokesman Karim Rahimi was reacting to NATO-led International Security Assistance (ISAF) commander British Lieutenant General David Richards' suggestion that 70 percent of Afghans could eventually support the Taliban if the security situation in Afghanistan does not improve within six months. "It is true that we still have some problems, but these problems do not mean that the people will give their support to the Taliban," Rahimi said. Richards warned on October 7 that Afghans might be tempted to view "austere and unpleasant life" under the Taliban to "another five years of fighting." Rahimi said that by electing a president and a parliament, Afghans have already demonstrated their rejection of the Taliban. AT

General Richards met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad on October 10, Islamabad-based PTV reported. Musharraf reaffirmed his country's support for a strong, secure, and stable Afghanistan, while Richards said that the primary purpose of his visit was to thank Pakistan for its help in the ongoing counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan. However, according to a member of the delegation accompanying Richards, the "matter of Taliban gaining strength in Pakistan and posing a threat to the U.K.-led NATO forces" was part of the discussions, the Karachi-based daily "Dawn" reported on October 10. The unidentified delegate reportedly told "Dawn" that NATO has substantial evidence implicating Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in indirectly supporting the Taliban. AT

An improvised explosive device struck a minibus carrying Afghan policemen in Kabul on October 10, wounding 10 and also injuring two civilians, AFP reported. The explosives were attached to a parked bicycle and detonated remotely, according to Alishah Paktiyawal, head of the criminal investigation section of Kabul police. A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- claimed on October 10 that "Islamic Emirate" mujahids attacked a police vehicle using a remote-controlled explosive device, killing or wounding 14 but claiming "there was no harm to the civilians." Mohammad Hanif, speaking for the Taliban, also claimed responsibility for the blast, adding that 14 policemen were killed, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on October 10. AT

Afghan Public Health Minister Sayyed Mohammad Amin Fatemi laid the foundation stone for a 500-bed hospital in Mazar-e Sharif on October 10, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. The new facility is being erected on the site of an old hospital that burned down in September. The Ministry of Public Health is funding the project, which is estimated to cost $15 million, Fatemi said. Once operational, the hospital is designed to serve residents of Balkh and eight nearby provinces. Afghanistan has one of the worst health-care systems in the world. AT

Government spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham told reporters in Tehran on October 10 that Iran favors generalized nuclear disarmament but that North Korea's reported nuclear test "is to Iran's advantage" because it demonstrates the peaceful nature of Iran's own program, IRNA reported. Elham said disarmament should start with the "great powers and especially America." He said Iran has repeated its commitment to the peaceful use of nuclear power, and "we are against nuclear and destructive weapons, and that is our ideology." He added that international bodies and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should not restrict access to peaceful technology for states respecting nonproliferation regulations. "Nobody in the world is fit to use the atomic bomb," Elham said, according to IRNA. "We believe all countries that have this dangerous weapon must be disarmed," he added, including "dangerous" Israel. Western states want Iran to abandon fuel making and related activities that could be used to develop bombs -- a demand that Iran has rejected. Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Husseini, said in Tehran on October 8 that Iran "will not even accept a day-long suspension" of uranium enrichment -- part of the fuel-making process -- IRNA reported the same day. VS

Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi told a meeting on the topic of Afghan refugees in Geneva on October 10 that Iran is concerned by the arrival and presence of thousands of Afghans in Iran, IRNA reported. Pur-Mohammadi also said reduced international aid for Afghanistan has prompted "a worrying decline in the process of return" of Afghans to their homeland. He was addressing the 11th session of a UN commission on the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees at the invitation of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres. Pur-Mohammadi estimated that there are 950,000 Afghans in Iran legally, and another 1 million illegally, while "a third" of some 590,000 migrants who came to Iran "last year" have not gone back. He linked the presence of these Afghans to concerns over terrorism, as well as drug and human trafficking. "This year 14,000 illegal migrants were arrested on the Turkish frontier, most of whom were Afghans," Pur-Mohammadi said, adding that Iran has tried to act as a "dam" to this migratory movement. Iran signed five cooperation agreements with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees at the end of the session, committing Iran's Health and Education ministries to training nursing and health-care staff among Afghan migrants in Iran, IRNA reported. VS

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi reiterated to a specialist committee in Tehran on October 10 his contention that Islam does not favor prison as a punishment, except for dangerous offenders, and deplored the frequency with which judges send offenders to prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 26, 2006). "There will be a response to judges handing out jail sentences without any limits," Hashemi-Shahrudi told a committee examining means of reducing prison sentences. "There is no place in Islam for imprisonment as a punishment for debts." He expressed hope that parliament will approve the proposed suspension of parts of the present law on financial offences that include the failure to pay debts. Hashemi-Shahrudi said he hopes legislators pass the judiciary's proposal "with due regard for the negative effects of prison on people," IRNA reported. Islamic laws envisage imprisonment for six crimes, he said, "but in our present laws, there are about 1,000 penalties involving prison, and this needs fundamental examination and review." VS

Iranian Human Rights Activists in the EU and North America, a coalition of exiled activists, issued a special report on the state of prisons in Iran on October 10 to mark the World Day Against the Death Penalty, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported. The report identifies 111 Iranians executed in an 11-month period from late September 2005 to late August 2006. The group says that its report is based on foreign and domestic news-agency and press reports and that its list may be incomplete, given the existence of censorship in Iran. In the stated period, 282 Iranians have been condemned to death in Iran. VS

A study by Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health estimates that a total of 655,000 Iraqis died "excessive deaths" since the U.S.-led 2003 invasion, international media reported on October 11. The figure is 20 times the estimate given by U.S. President George W. Bush in December and more than 10 times the estimate of Iraq Body Count, which has been tracking the number of killed in Iraq since 2003, "The Washington Post" reported. The study, funded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and carried out in cooperation with Iraqi doctors affiliated with Baghdad-based Al-Mustansariyah University, found that of the 655,000, 601,000 deaths were violence-related; the rest of the deaths were attributed to disease and other causes. Fifty-six percent of the violent deaths were attributed to gunshot wounds, while 14 percent were attributed to car bombs and other explosions. KR

The study's researchers defended the methodology used in the study, according to media reports. Principle author Gilbert Burnham said the study was more comprehensive, since it focused on a random sample taken from across the country rather than focusing solely on morgue figures from one area, such as Baghdad, as other studies do, "The New York Times" reported on October 11. Researchers polled 1,849 randomly selected homes housing an average of seven members each, asking one member of the household about deaths of family members in the 14 months preceding the March 2003 war and deaths since. Interviewers asked for death certificates 87 percent of the time and more than 90 percent of households provided such evidence. Researchers did acknowledge a margin of error ranging from 426,369 to 793,663 deaths. The study is being published in the British medical journal "The Lancet." KR

Iraqi Minister of Migration and Displacement Abd al-Samad Rahman Sultan told reporters at an October 10 press briefing in Baghdad that 51,000 Iraqi families have been displaced since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Rahman said that total estimated number of displaced is over 300,000, estimating that each family contains an average of six members. At least half of the families have fled their homes since the February 22 bombing of Samarra's Golden Mosque, which led to an increase in sectarian violence across the country. The government has allocated $10 million in humanitarian aid for the displaced, he added. Another 900,000 Iraqis have left Iraq for neighboring Jordan, Syria, and Iran since the 2003 invasion, the minister noted. KR

The U.S. Department of Labor said that 647 claims for death benefits have been filed between March 1, 2003, and September 30, 2006, for deaths in Iraq, Reuters reported on October 10. The claims were based on an insurance policy, the Defense Base Act, which all U.S. government contactors and subcontractors must take out for their civilian employees working outside the United States. The policy covers both U.S. and foreign workers. The number of contractors working in Iraq is estimated at around 100,000, Reuters reported. KR

Saddam Hussein and his six co-defendants were ejected from the courtroom during the October 10 session of the Anfal trial in Iraq, international media reported the same day. The cause of the ejection is not known, as chief Judge Muhammad al-Uraybi turned off the microphones just as Hussein rose to speak. The former Iraqi leader has been thrown out of four of the last five sessions. Witnesses said co-defendant Husayn Rashid scuffled with guards when they sought to remove him after he jumped from his chair yelling, "long live Iraq." Hussein's cousin and co-defendant Ali Hasan al-Majid asked the court to sentence him immediately. "I hope for the death penalty so I can finish with this court," Reuters quoted him as saying. Two Kurdish women testified about their 1988 arrests and detention, describing grim prison conditions. One said her relative gave birth in a bathroom toilet -- the baby's umbilical cord had to be cut with a piece of glass. Another said women were routinely raped by prison guards. KR