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Newsline - December 6, 2006

Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika told a Moscow press conference on December 5 that British police who have come to Russia in connection with the recent unexplained death in London of British citizen and former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agent Aleksandr Litvinenko will not be allowed to question FSB officers, British and Russian media reported on December 5 and 6 (see "RFE/RL Newsline, December 4 and 5, 2006). Chaika added that "the issue of [questioning] FSB authorities is not on the agenda." He said that, during the investigation, "it [will be] us doing the questioning in the presence [of British investigators], not [British investigators] doing the questioning in our presence. The investigation is conducted on the territory of our country, so in accordance with all international norms we conduct the investigation and they can participate in it with our permission, which we may or may not grant." Chaika also ruled out any extraditions in the case. Britain's "The Times" wrote on December 6 that "Chaika again promised full cooperation...but gave little tangible sign that he will make it easy for Scotland Yard. He denied that the radioactive substance used to poison Litvinenko could have come from Russia and emphasized that Britain would have to provide evidence to that effect before he would open a formal investigation." The paper added that "in a clear sign of growing diplomatic tensions, [Chaika] appeared to link the Litvinenko investigation to the demands by the Kremlin for Britain to hand over Boris Berezovsky, the exiled oligarch, who is one of President [Vladimir] Putin's fiercest critics." Chaika said that Moscow will try again soon to obtain the extradition of Berezovsky and London-based Chechen Republic Ichkeria Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakayev, both of whom were friends of Litvinenko. Chaika added that he is "sure" that Britain will eventually extradite the two, the state-run "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on December 6. "The Times" noted that "British diplomats gave a restrained response to Russia's ultimatum but ruled out any idea of 'a swap'" of the two men for unnamed suspects in the Litvinenko affair. PM

The interest of the British investigators looking into the Litvinenko affair in Moscow reportedly centers on former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi, who had met several times with Litvinenko before his death, British media reported on December 5 and 6. The investigators were told on December 5, however, that Lugovoi was admitted to a Moscow hospital that same day and was too sick from radiation poisoning to speak, "The Times" reported on December 6. Lugovoi later said, however, that he has "nothing to hide" and is prepared to meet the investigators, ITAR-TASS reported. Chaika told his December 5 press conference that Lugovoi's doctors will decide whether he is well enough to answer questions. The Russian daily "Izvestia" on December 6 drew attention to the Italian "security expert" Mario Scaramella, who met with Litvinenko the day he became ill but whose role in the affair remains unclear. The Gazprom-owned paper suggested that "most likely, Scaramella was either a participant in some shady machinations involving radioactive materials or knew too much about [those intrigues]." Also on December 6, Interfax quoted Mark Franco, the European Commission's representative for Russia, as telling the news agency in Moscow that no European government "has told its media to publish reports that Russian special services are involved" in Litvinenko's poisoning. Franco stressed that the critical "reports being published in the [European] press" should be understood as "a demonstration of freedom of speech and the independence of the media in Europe." PM

On December 5, former Russian acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar left the Moscow hospital where he had been undergoing treatment for an unexplained illness after he became very ill on a recent visit to Ireland, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30 and December 1, 2006). It remains unclear what made him sick. Gaidar's spokesman Valery Nantarov told Reuters in Moscow on December 5 that "the doctors are very flexible in their terms and do not use the word 'poison.' They talk about intoxication of the body caused by some unnatural products. And due to medical ethics, they cannot use the word 'poison.'" Nantarov added that he spoke to Gaidar by telephone that same morning and that Gaidar "feels much better but still needs some medical treatment. He is staying at home and consulting the doctors on a constant basis." PM

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a Brussels press conference on December 5 that his government remains opposed to Western proposals for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 18 and 30, 2006). He said that "our Western partners at earlier stages wanted to adopt broad sanctions against Iran, which we believe are not proportionate to the assessments of the [International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)] and which would only harm the situation." Lavrov stressed that "all of us want to see the resumption of negotiations, but such a wholesale approach to banning cooperation with Iran in various fields will only exacerbate the situation and will have the opposite effect.... We believe such measures should focus, in accordance with the existing agreement, on those fields that still cause the IAEA's concern, primarily uranium enrichment, chemical processing of irradiated reactor fuel, and heavy water reactor technology." Russia opposes serious sanctions on Iran and North Korea while maintaining tough sanctions, including a blockade, on Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10 and 17, 2006). PM

An unnamed Foreign Ministry official told Interfax in Moscow on December 6 that outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton "is a strong professional, who assumed quite a tough position on many issues. We hope his successor will be able to overcome this excessive toughness that was characteristic of Bolton and at the same time will retain and expand the positive record of work that also took place" during Bolton's tenure. The official added that, in some unspecified cases, cooperation between Bolton and his Russian colleagues was "quite successful." PM

The State Duma voted on December 6 in a first reading to authorize the president of the Russian Federation to impose economic sanctions on foreign countries, reported. Under the proposed legislation, the president may impose sanctions on any foreign state or individual at the recommendation of the State Duma and Federation Council, or of the government. The sanctions may remain in place for up to four years, with the possibility of renewal for two additional years. In order for the bill to become law, it must pass the Duma after two additional readings and then be signed by the president. Vladislav Reznik, who heads the Duma's Credit Organizations and Financial Markets Committee, said that the United States and some other, unnamed countries have made the imposition of sanctions part of "international practice." He argued that Russia accordingly needs to codify its own legislation on the matter. At the same session, the Duma also passed on first reading legislation that would expand the government's powers to set various quotas to limit the influx of foreign "uneducated guest workers" on the basis of their professions, skills, or qualifications, reported. PM

Prosecutor-General Chaika said during his December 5 Moscow press conference that the case involving the recent killing of Central Bank official Andrei Kozlov, who led efforts against money laundering, "is considered solved," the state-run "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on December 6 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 15, and 18, and October 13, 2006). Chaika added that "a number of people have been arrested" but did not elaborate. It is not clear whether the investigation has been closed. PM

Speaking on December 5 in Brussels at the annual meeting of foreign ministers of OSCE member states, Sergei Lavrov reaffirmed earlier Russian criticisms that that organization focuses too obsessively on election and human rights related issues while ignoring the more important military and security dimension, the Russian daily "Kommersant" reported on December 6 (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," July 12, 2004). Lavrov proposed forming an OSCE working group to reform the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the body tasked with election monitoring and which Lavrov accused one year ago of double standards (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 5, 2005). Other member states vetoed that proposal. Those OSCE member states that also belong to NATO and the EU similarly rejected Lavrov's appeal to signatories to ratify the amended Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), stressing that ratification remains contingent on Russia fulfilling the commitments it assumed at the 1999 OSCE Summit in Istanbul to withdraw its forces from Moldova and Georgia. Responding to that veto, Lavrov criticized attempts by unnamed states to use the OSCE to "push through one-sided politicized approaches to resolving 'frozen conflicts.'" He argued that the optimum approach to resolving regional conflicts is based on reaching an agreement between the conflict sides that takes into account the position of each of them, abjuring the use of force, and the "phased" approach to conflict resolution. After the United States and the United Kingdom voted on December 5 against Kazakhstan's bid, which Russia supported, to take over the OSCE chairmanship in 2009, Lavrov suggested that the time has come to decide whether to revert to the true roots of the OSCE or to formalize its transformation into an organization dealing exclusively with human rights issues. In the latter case, Lavrov continued, "our countries would decide whether or not to become members" of that revamped organization. In his closing address to the gathering (, Belgian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Karel de Gucht said Belgium's chairmanship has contributed to restoring a better balance between the security, economic/environmental, and human rights dimensions of the OSCE. He further called for signatories to demonstrate "political will" and "break the vicious circle" that prevents the ratification of the CFE Treaty. LF

Republic of Ingushetia parliament deputy Musa Ozdoyev, who heads the republican branch of the People's Party of Russia, rejected on December 4 media reports of his assassination, the website reported. Earlier on December 4, the website Vesti-Severny Kavkaz reported, citing the Ingushetian Prosecutor-General's Office, that a man identified as Musa Uvaysovich Ozdoyev was found dead early on December 3 near his abandoned Mercedes in a ditch on the edge of the Nazran-Sredni Achaluk highway. The dead man had bullet wounds on his head, neck, and chest. LF

Reports that Alu Alkhanov's motorcade was involved in a traffic accident in Ingushetia on December 4 in which two local residents were seriously injured are untrue, reported on December 5, quoting Alkhanov's press service. A similar denial was posted on the official website One of Alkhanov's bodyguards died and another was seriously injured in a car accident in Ingushetia late on November 26, Interfax reported the following day. LF

In separate statements adopted in Brussels on December 4 and 5, respectively, the EU and the OSCE foreign ministers' meeting hailed the progress made this year toward agreement on the basic principles for resolving the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on December 5. Both statements called on the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to intensify their efforts in the coming year to finalize those basic principles. The OSCE ministerial statement further called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to extend cooperation in determining who is responsible for brush fires in the districts of Azerbaijan currently controlled by Armenian forces. Baku has repeatedly accused Armenia of conducting a scorched-earth policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 15, 19, and 29, July 18 and 21, August 1 and 22, and September 8, 2006). In an interview with on December 6, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov downplayed, but failed to offer an explanation for, his failure to meet in Brussels on the sidelines of the OSCE foreign ministers' meeting with his Armenian counterpart, Vartan Oskanian (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," December 1, 2006). In that same interview, Mammadyarov denied that either the timing of a referendum on the future status of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh republic or the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Lacin constitutes an obstacle to further progress in negotiations. LF

The prosecution at the trial of some 27 members of a criminal gang that over a decade committed numerous high-profile murders and kidnappings demanded on December 5 life imprisonment for nine members of that gang, including its leader, former Interior Ministry official Haci Mammadov, and reported. The prosecution demanded 15 years' imprisonment for Mammadov's wife Naila Quliyeva and jail terms of between 10 and 15 years for 12 other people. In the course of the four-month trial, Mammadov claimed to have masterminded the March 2005 assassination of opposition journalist Elmar Huseynov at the behest of former Economic Development Minister Farxad Aliyev and threatened to incriminate other senior officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26 and 27, 2006). LF

Leading members of the majority United National Movement rejected on December 5 a call by opposition parliament deputies to set up a working group to investigate the alleged fabrication by the Audit Chamber of materials incriminating two former government officials, Caucasus Press reported. The majority parliamentarians argued that there is no need for such a body as criminal investigations into both cases are still under way. A former Audit Chamber official recently claimed he was coerced by officials from the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office into fabricating materials implicating former Forestry Department head Bidzina Giorgobiani and former State Standardization Agency head Mikheil Djanikashvili in financial irregularities. LF

Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Merab Antadze issued a statement on December 5 arguing that the current format for talks on resolving the South Ossetian conflict within the framework of the Joint Control Commission is ineffective, Caucasus Press reported. Antadze advocated three-way talks -- mediated directly by the OSCE -- between Tbilisi, the separatist South Ossetian leadership headed by President Eduard Kokoity, and Dmitry Sanakoyev, who was elected alternative South Ossetian president on November 12 in an alternative ballot by the minority Georgian population of South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2006). Sanakoyev was inaugurated in that capacity on December 1. But Boris Chochiyev, who is first deputy prime minister in the South Ossetian separatist government, rejected Antadze's proposal later on December 5 as "absurd" and "unethical," Caucasus Press reported. Chochiyev branded the alternative administration headed by Sanakoyev illegal and accused it of trying to sabotage the existing framework for negotiations. LF

Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht announced in Brussels on December 5 that there is still no consensus on Kazakhstan's bid to chair the OSCE in 2009, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported (see Russia section above). De Gucht said that the 2009 chairmanship issue will be resolved next year. The report noted that Kazakhstan's bid to chair the OSCE in 2009 drew support from CIS countries and several Western European nations but encountered opposition from the United States and Great Britain. DK

Kazakhstan's Supreme Court on December 5 began to review an appeal filed on behalf of those convicted of the February murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 14, 2006), "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Erzhan Utembaev, former head of administration for the upper chamber of parliament, received a 20-year prison term for the murder. Rustam Ibragimov was sentenced to death, and Vitalii Miroshnikov received a 20-year sentence; seven other defendants were sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 14 years. Lawyers representing Sarsenbaev's family want evidence that Utembaev wrote a confession under duress examined. They are also asking the Supreme Court to order an additional investigation into the killing. DK

Kyrgyz legislators failed to agree on December 5 on a new structure for the country's parliament, news agency reported. Iskander Gaipkulov, head of the Meken faction, led a group of lawmakers in a walkout that prevented a conclusive vote. Opposition deputy Azimbek Beknazarov noted that the practice of walkouts was previously resorted to only over such serious issues as the privatization of the power sector. "To do this over a new structure for the chamber, which is an internal issue, isn't serious," Beknazarov said. Parliament will reconsider the issue on December 7. DK

Tajikistan's cabinet appointed former Economy and Trade Minister Hakim Soliyev head of the Tax Committee at a meeting on December 5, Avesta reported. Other appointments included Mehrinisso Nosirova as head of the Committee for Women and Families and Davlatali Saidov as head of the Committee for Youth, Sports, and Tourism. Quoting "reliable sources," the news agency reported that Asadullo Rahmonov will retain his position as head of the Television and Radio Broadcasting Committee. The latest appointments follow a cabinet shakeup in the wake of President Imomali Rakhmonov's recent reelection (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4, 2006). DK

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson on December 5 called on EU member states to support the European Commission's proposal that the EU should temporarily suspend Belarus's benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) in response to violations of trade union laws, Belapan reported. "In my view, this decision is a test case of our collective commitment to the promotion of workers' rights as an integral part of our trade policy," Mandelson said. Earlier the same day, the European Commission's expert committee voted to approve the move, clearing the way for EU foreign ministers to announce the suspension of GSP benefits later this month and for the European Commission to impose tariffs on imports of Belarusian timber, textiles, and minerals next summer. The withdrawal of GSP benefits could result for Belarus in a loss of some $300 million euros ($400 million) annually in trade with the EU. JM

Iryna Kazulina on December 5 visited her husband, former opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin, who is serving his sentence of 5 1/2 years in a correctional facility near Vitsebsk, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Kazulin began a hunger strike on October 20, demanding that the UN Security Council discuss the situation in Belarus. Kazulin also wants the opposition Political Council of United Prodemocratic Forces to send a statement about human rights violations in Belarus to the UN Security Council. Iryna Kazulina told journalists that her husband is not going to stop his fasting as long as his demands are unfulfilled. Kazulin reportedly lost 26 kilograms during his 46-day protest. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on December 5 issued a decree ordering Borys Tarasyuk to continue performing the duties of foreign minister, the presidential website ( reported. The Verkhovna Rada on December 1 voted to dismiss Tarasyuk, who subsequently claimed that his dismissal was illegitimate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4, 2006). Yushchenko said in the decree that his decision is based on Article 106, Part 3 of the Ukrainian Constitution, which stipulates that the president "administers the foreign political activity of the state." "It is irresponsible to try to cancel such decisions," Reuters quoted Yanukovych as saying in Washington about Yushchenko's decree regarding Tarasyuk. JM

Borys Tarasyuk told an RFE/RL Ukrainian Service correspondent in Kyiv on December 5 that he was not allowed to attend a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers earlier the same day. Tarasyuk said Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers Anatoliy Tolstoukhov prevented him from entering the meeting room. "I was told [by Tolstoukhov that] I wasn't on the list and [I was barred from meetings] until further clarification, even though I showed them the court decision and the presidential decree. This is outrageous. I will press for my rights as a cabinet member to be respected," Tarasyuk said. Also on December 5, Tarasyuk told journalists that a district court in Kyiv has ruled to suspend the Verkhovna Rada's resolution on his dismissal. Tarasyuk, who was appointed to his post directly by the president, argues that only the president has the right to submit a motion for his dismissal, which was not the case in his dismissal vote. JM

A French doctor who examined the condition of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Vojislav Seselj said the ultranationalist politician and war crimes indictee could die within two weeks if he continues his hunger strike, AP reported on December 5. "He is very weak and we have huge concerns about his health," Dr. Patrick Barriot told AP. "In the coming days we think he could have a cardiac arrest if he continues his hunger strike. If he continues, he will die in the coming two weeks." Seselj is on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for war crimes, and went on hunger strike to demand, among other things, the right to choose his own defense team and to unrestricted visits by his wife. Last week, the ICTY suspended proceedings due to Seselj's failing health (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4 and 5, 2006). BW

Ivica Dacic, the newly elected leader of the Serbian Socialist Party (SPS), has defended his comments that Serbia has the right to use military force to retain control over Kosova, B92 reported on December 5. "No one has the right to say that Serbia will not go to war for Kosovo," Dacic told B92. "I do not think I said anything different from what the president and prime minister of Serbia have said. How will [Serbia] defend [Kosovo] if not with force? But stay calm, because even if it wants to go to war, Serbia has nothing to go to war with," he added. BW

Nicholas Burns, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, said he is "very surprised" by comments by Russian Ambassador to Serbia Aleksandr Alekseyev's suggestion that Moscow might veto a decision on the final status of Kosova, B92, FoNet, and Beta reported on December 5. Alekseyev said Russia is prepared to veto a Kosova solution if it is unacceptable either to Belgrade or to Prishtina. "I cannot believe that a permanent member of the Security Council is threatening to veto even though we have not seen [UN envoy Martti] Ahtisaari's proposal yet," Burns said. He added that Alekseyev "might have been misquoted." BW

German Rear Admiral Hans-Jochen Witthauer assumed command of the European Union's EUFOR peacekeeping forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina on December 5, AP reported the same day. Witthauer replaces Italian Major General Gian Marco Chiarini as commander of the 6,000-strong force. The European Union's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, and a number of senior Bosnian officials attended a ceremony to mark the change of command in Butmir, a EUFOR base outside Sarajevo. The UN Security Council last month decided to extend the mandate of the EU peacekeeping force in Bosnia for another year. After the ceremony, Solana congratulated Bosnia's leaders for receiving an invitation to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program and said membership of the EU is on the horizon, AP reported on December 5. The alliance invited Serbia and Bosnia to start talks on joining the program during a NATO summit held last week in the Latvian capital, Riga (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2005). Solana said the invitation showed that the international community appreciates Bosnia's reform efforts. "You can be assured that the European Union will continue to cooperate with you. The road for you to come into the EU is open," Solana said. BW

Bosnia-Herzegovina's Presidency has issued a formal protest to the Dutch ambassador in Sarajevo in connection with a decision by Dutch Defense Minister Henk Kamp to decorate Dutch troops who served in Bosnia during the country's 1992-95 war, dpa reported on December 5. Kamp decorated 850 Dutch troops on December 4, including 450 who served in the UN safe area of Srebrenica in July 1995 and failed to stop Serbian paramilitaries massacring approximately 8,000 Muslim men and boys. "This act has caused bitter feelings and disapproval among citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, especially those who lost family members in Srebrenica," the tripartite Bosnian Presidency said in the protest note. BW

Former Moldovan Prime Minister Dumitru Bragis on December 5 called on his country's leaders to forge better relations with Russia, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "The attempts of the present Moldovan authorities to stake a place in Europe through the escalation of tensions in relations with Russia and by setting West and East at loggerheads in their rivalry over influence over our country look absolutely unproductive," said Bragis, who leads the opposition Social Democratic Party. "This policy, far from bringing political dividends to Moldova, is leading to growing losses to the national economy," he continued. Bragis said good relations with Moscow should be maintained "given the huge size of the Russian market and Russia's role in the settlement of the conflict" in Transdniester, a region of Moldova that broke away from Chisinau in the early 1990s. BW

Prominent among the issues clouding relations between the Russian government and successive pro-Moscow Chechen leaders has been the latters' demand that Chechnya retain the entire profits from the oil extracted on its territory. Grozny argues that those profits -- which one Chechen oil sector official recently estimated at 25 billion rubles ($927.6 million) annually, more than the republic's total annual budget of 19 billion rubles -- could and should be used to rebuild the republic's war-shattered infrastructure.

But the Russian government, which in 2006 allocated 5 billion rubles for postconflict reconstruction in Chechnya, has proven reluctant to meet the Chechens' request and thereby relinquish its economic leverage over influential political figures whose loyalty may be open to question.

In the late 1970s, Chechnya produced up to 20 million tons annually of high-quality light oil, providing the bulk of the Soviet Union's aviation fuel. That figure declined sharply to approximately 3 million tons in the late 1980s, and to below 2 million tons on the eve of the first (1994-96) war, according to a U.S. study released in October 1996.

The second Russian invasion of Chechnya in late September 1999 compounded the material damage inflicted on the oil-sector infrastructure during first war. In late 1999, the state-owned oil company Rosneft was tasked with restoring Chechnya's oil industry, and in the early months of 2000 launched an effort to extinguish burning wells and resume production, reportedly investing some 140 million rubles to that end. But its legal status in Chechnya was dubious, and Rosneft reportedly fell foul of then presidential representative in Chechnya Nikolai Koshman and pulled out of Chechnya completely in May 2000.

Moreover, as journalist Anna Politkovskaya noted in an article published in "Novaya gazeta" in August 2000, some Russian military officers and Chechens loyal to Moscow sought to take advantage of the chaos and destruction to extract and export crude oil illegally on a large scale.

In June 2000, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin sacked Koshman and named Chechen mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov to succeed him. Rosneft then resumed its activities in Chechnya, and in early August 2000, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko announced the imminent creation of a new, 100 percent state-owned company that would restore and develop Chechnya's oil sector, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on August 11.Khristenko said at that juncture that all the revenues from the extraction and export of Chechen oil would be channelled to the republic's budget, but this has not proven to be the case.

It was not until early November 2000 that the new company, Grozneftegaz, was established as a subsidiary of Rosneft, which holds a controlling 51 percent stake; the remaining 49 percent is owned by the Chechen government. "Vremya MN" on January 26, 2001, attributed the delay to Kadyrov's insistence, which Moscow finally overruled, that Chechnya should have the controlling stake (51 percent, according to Interfax on September 9, 2000) in the new entity. The board of Grozneftegaz comprised five directors named by Rosneft and four by Chechnya, with Kadyrov as board chairman, Interfax reported on January 25, 2001. Grozneftegaz was initially granted only a one-year license to extract oil in Chechnya, according to "Vremya novostei" on November 9, 2000; it is unclear when and under what circumstances that license was extended.

According to official statistics cited by Rosneft and Chechen officials, oil production in Chechnya has risen steadily from some 750,000 tons in 2001 to 1.5 million tons in 2002, 1.75 million tons in 2003, and 1.9 million tons in 2004, with the projected figure for 2005 reaching 2.2 million tons, according to ITAR-TASS on January 24, 2005.

But an analysis posted on the Chechen website in January 2004 pointed to a glaring discrepancy between the official production figures for 2002 and the price of 4.4 billion rubles ($137 million) for which Rosneft claimed to have sold the oil in question. Those figures, according to, translate into a price of $10-$11 per barrel of Chechen oil, while the average price on the world market in 2002 was $25.4 per barrel. Nor can that discrepancy be wholly accounted for by the quantity of oil stolen, which in 2002 was a modest 48,000 tons, according to Rosneft President Sergei Bogdanchikov as quoted by Interfax on May 15, 2004.Theft -- or at least officially acknowledged theft -- reportedly reached 150,000 tons in 2003, or 7 percent of that year's total output.

In October 2003, then Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov publicly warned that the oil sector in the Southern Federal District (meaning Chechnya in the first instance) was under the control of "organized crime" and that proceeds from the illicit sale of oil were being diverted to the Chechen resistance, according to "Kommersant" on October 23, 2003. That same month, the head of the Chechen special police regiment tasked with guarding oil installations was replaced, after which thefts declined, according to ITAR-TASS on January 19, 2004.

But in May 2005, the daily "Gazeta" cited unnamed sources as estimating that 50,000 tons of oil were still being stolen in Chechnya each year. It is not clear whether some of that intercepted oil is refined into gasoline for sale at the string of gas stations in Chechnya and Daghestan owned by Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, Akhmed-hadji's son.

Meanwhile, as world prices for oil have skyrocketed over the past year, the dispute between Grozny and Moscow over an equitable distribution of the profits from Chechen oil has gained momentum. According to "Vremya novostei" on November 2, 2006, Rosneft's revenues from the sale of Chechen oil are deposited in a special bank account from which the federal government then transfers an unspecified amount -- less than 10 percent, according to unnamed Chechen government sources quoted by that paper -- back to Chechnya. But Prime Minister Kadyrov's press service on October 27 cited a figure of less than 22 percent of Rosneft's profits, according to the website That press service further claimed that of a total 680 million rubles that Rosneft should have channelled into reconstruction in Chechnya, 308 million remains unpaid as Rosneft suspended such payments in 2004.

Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, speaker of the lower chamber of the Chechen parliament, told journalists in Grozny in March 2006 that Rosneft earns over 17 billion rubles from the sale of Chechen oil but transfers no more than 30 million rubles to the Chechen budget. He argued that Rosneft's activities should be "transparent," in light of the importance of the oil sector for the entire Chechen budget, and said that the legislature will again raise with the Russian leadership the issue of increasing Chechnya's stake in Grozneftegaz to 51 percent, Interfax reported on March 18.

In addition to the immediate financial benefits that would result from diverting to the republican budget (85 percent of which currently comprises subsidies from the federal center) a much larger proportion of the profits from the sale of oil, the Chechen leadership has an additional longer-term interest in taking the oil sector back under its exclusive control. Chechen Industry and Energy Minister Amadi Temishev was quoted by on October 10 as accusing Rosneft of resorting to "barbaric" methods in order to increase output in violation of all normal ecological safeguards. Temishev claimed that as a result, wells are being flooded, and he warned that unless Rosneft abandons those methods, within two or three years annual output will fall from the current level of 2.1million tons to no more than 600,000 tons.

British troops attacked a Taliban stronghold in Garmser in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province on December 5 but withdrew after a fierce counterattack by Taliban forces that included heavy weaponry, Reuters reported. Major Andy Plewes, who led the Royal Marines on the assault, said the soldiers expected resistance ahead of the 10-hour battle: "What we didn't know was how strong it was." Reuters quoted unnamed "Afghan and foreign officials" as suggesting that the "well equipped and highly organized Taliban forces illustrate the effects of an insurgency strengthened by profits from a record opium crop." The assault was the latest in a series of battles by British forces around Garmser. "We don't currently have enough forces in the area to hold ground completely," Plewes added. RR

A suicide bomber drove a car into a convoy of NATO troops in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on December 5, wounding two soldiers and nine civilians, Reuters reported. Two NATO soldiers were injured in the attack and two vehicles were damaged, a NATO spokesman said. NATO troops cordoned off the site of the attack, which took place on the western outskirts of Kandahar, and at least two helicopters hovered over the area, according to witnesses and officials. Kandahar has been a Taliban stronghold and both NATO and U.S.-led troops are stationed there. It was the second suicide bombing of a NATO convoy in Kandahar in the course of three days. At least eight Afghan civilians were killed on December 3 from a suicide attack and subsequent gunshots by NATO troops. RR

Viktor Cherkesov, head of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service, said on December 5 that coalition forces in Afghanistan have not acted to rein in the drug trade, ITAR-TASS reported. Not only are their measures inefficient, Cherkesov charged on the second day of a visit to Tehran, but "on the contrary, we witness a rise in production and smuggling of heroin." Cherkesov said both Moscow and Tehran believe the coalition armed forces should be more proactive in countering illegal drugs. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) would like to see the Pentagon do more, too, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on December 5. The military tends to ignore drug bazaars and takes little action against trafficking syndicates, and it tends to reject DEA requests for transportation, the daily reported. The military reportedly considers drug control a law-enforcement problem and fears alienating the locals who earn a living from the trade, the "Los Angeles Times" reported. BS

Officials from the so-called 5+1 Group (China, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States, plus Germany) met in Paris on the evening of December 5 to discuss the possible imposition of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, AFP reported. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, possibly fearing the adverse impact of sanctions on his country's Iranian business interests, said in Brussels on December 5 that "broad sanctions" would not be "proportionate" and would "harm the situation," Radio Farda reported. Washington appears to be taking a more robust approach to the sanctions issue. "I think the reason to pass a resolution in the Security Council is to increase the cost to Iran of its illegitimate behavior -- the political and economic cost," Radio Farda quoted Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns as saying in Brussels, "and to take away any possible technical, or scientific, or political, or financial support that they might get from private companies, from private research institutions for what they're trying to do." BS

During a December 5 speech in Mazandaran Province, which borders the Caspian Sea, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad reacted defiantly to the possible imposition of sanctions against Iran, Radio Farda reported. "If you continue making efforts to halt the progress of the Iranian nuclear program and if you take any step against the Iranian nation's rights, either in propaganda or international bodies," he said, "the Iranian nation will consider this an act of hostility." BS

University students who were barred from continuing their studies due to their political activism held a protest in front of the parliament building in Tehran on December 5, Advar website reported. The student activists reportedly are asked to sign a pledge that they will abstain from involvement in politics, and, if they refuse, a star is placed next to their names. Historically, top scholars had stars placed next to their names. While several reformist members of parliament met with the demonstrators, conservative legislator Mehdi Kuchakzadeh denounced them. "The university is no place for American mercenaries," he said. "You are sabotaging the university." BS

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) noted on December 5 that the Iranian government is blocking access to the video-sharing website and "The New York Times" website. RSF added that access to, an online encyclopedia, was blocked for several days in early December, and access to the Kurdish version of "Wikipedia" was blocked for several months. "The Guardian" reported the same day that and the Internet Movie Database ( were blocked, too. Saying the blockages are not "airtight," "The Guardian" reported that skilled operators can get around the government-imposed obstacles. The British daily added that the government now requires bloggers and website operators to register officially. BS

During a speech on December 4 at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, called on the United States to take stronger measures against Sunni-led insurgents in Iraq, international media reported on December 5. "Eliminating the danger of civil war in Iraq can only be achieved by directing decisive strikes against Ba'athist terrorists in Iraq. Otherwise we'll continue to witness massacres being committed every now and then against innocent Iraqis," al-Hakim said. Earlier that day, al-Hakim met with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House, where he reiterated his opposition to a regional or international conference on Iraq and stressed that U.S. forces must remain in Iraq long enough to ensure the country's stability. For his part, Bush praised al-Hakim for his "strong position against the murder of innocent life," but said he was unsatisfied with "the pace of progress in Iraq." "We want to continue to work with the sovereign government of Iraq to accomplish our mutual objective, which is a free country that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself, a free country which will serve as an ally in the war against the extremists and radicals and terrorists," Bush said. SS

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said during a news conference on December 5 that he will dispatch envoys to neighboring states in order to seek their help to improve Iraq's security, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. He also indicated that Iraq will host a regional conference to discuss ways of ending the violence there. "After favorable political climates have been created, we will call for a regional conference that will be attended by those countries that are keen for Iraq to be secure and stable and that are willing to commit themselves to assisting the Iraqi people in building a federal and democratic political system as well a unified and independent state," al-Maliki said. The announcement indicates that al-Maliki is backing away from previous comments in which he rejected a call by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for an international conference on Iraq. He also added that Iraqi leaders will meet sometime in mid-December, as part of the National Reconciliation Initiative, in order "to sustain national unity and agree on a national code banning sectarian fighting." Al-Maliki also said he will soon announce a major cabinet reshuffle. SS

A spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Association, Dr. Bashar al-Faydi, said during an interview on Al-Jazeera television on December 5 that Iraq is in a deep crisis caused by sectarian practices by Iraq's Shi'a-led government. He went on to say that the government in Baghdad must be overthrown because it has committed "horrors and crimes against the Iraqi people." Al-Faydi also said the main reason why SCIRI leader al-Hakim has rejected a proposal to convene an international conference on Iraq is because a conference would weaken his influence in Iran. "We in Iraq find that there is a big regional influence for a country like Iran, and that Mr. Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim is taking part in granting such an influence.... He fears internationalizing the Iraqi question because he knows an internationalization of the Iraqi question will destroy his influence in a country like Iran, and will also destroy his freedom and conduct," al-Faydi said. SS

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein appeared in court on December 6, two days after announcing that he would no longer attend the hearings. Prosecutors accuse Hussein and six co-defendants of genocide for killing more than 180,000 Kurds in a 1987-88 campaign. In the one-page handwritten note sent by Hussein on December 4 and obtained by AP, Hussein cited what he claimed were repeated "insults" by Chief Judge Muhammad al-Uraybi and prosecutors. Referring to himself in the third person, the former president said: "Saddam, who taught pride and dignity to many people, refuses to attend [the trial] and be subjected to insult by agents and their followers.... Therefore, I ask to be relieved from attending the [court] hearings in this new comedy and you can do whatever you want." Al-Uraybi did not respond to the letter. It is not clear why Hussein decided to appear in court on December 6. SS

The Iraqi Interior Ministry announced on December 5 that unknown gunmen in central Baghdad on December 5 killed 16 Shi'a working for a Shi'ite Waqf, or religious endowment foundation, international media reported the same day. Ministry sources said a car bomb stopped a bus carrying the Waqf employees in the Al-Qahira district before opening fire. Salah Abd al-Razzaq, a spokesman for the Waqf, which cares for Shi'ite shrines in Iraq, blamed the attack on terrorists. "It is clear that this crime is aimed at stoking sectarian strife among Iraqis. The terrorists are trying to portray these crimes as a sectarian conflict," he said. Meanwhile, in the religiously mixed Al-Bayya neighborhood of southern Baghdad, local police said three car bombs exploded on December 5 next to a gas station, killing 15 and wounding 20. SS