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Newsline - February 12, 2007

Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the 43rd annual Munich Conference on Security Policy on February 10 that the United States seeks to deal with problems abroad through unilateral military actions, which, in turn, lead to even more problems, and state-run Russian television reported. Putin argued that "everything that is going on this world today is a consequence of attempts to implement a unipolar concept of the world. And what is the result of that? Unilateral, often illegitimate actions have not resolved one single problem. On the contrary, they have caused new human tragedies and more tension." He added that "today we are witnessing an almost unrestrained, excessive use of military force in international affairs, which is plunging the world into an abyss of new crises, one after another.... We see more and more disregard for the fundamental principles of international law." Putin stressed that "some norms -- in fact almost the entire legal system of one country, primarily the United States, of course -- have overstepped their national borders and are being imposed on other countries essentially in all areas: in economic, political, and humanitarian matters. Who is going to like that?" He argued that "the use of force can be considered legitimate only if the decision has been made within the UN and based on its [charter]. And the United Nations should not be replaced either by NATO or by the European Union." Stressing that Russia feels threatened by the projected U.S. missile-defense shield, which could possibly include installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, Putin said that the project is not in the interest of "the Europeans." He added that it makes no military sense to put a defense system in Central Europe if it is really intended to shoot down missiles fired from Iran or North Korea. Dismissing frequent U.S. reassurances that the system is not directed against Russia, Putin said that "to those who say your missiles are not directed against us, we say that our missiles are not directed against you" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 2 and 9, 2007). PM

President Putin said in Munich on February 10 that Russia will determine her place in the world by herself, and will strive for a well-balanced and "multipolar world," and state-run television reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 24, 2007). He also warned other, unnamed countries against lecturing Russia about democracy, saying that they should better learn it themselves. He stressed that "Russia is a country with an over 1,000-year-long history and has almost always been privileged to pursue an independent foreign policy. We do not intend to give up that tradition today, either.... We would also like to deal with responsible and also independent partners, with whom we could work to build a just and democratic world order, ensuring security and prosperity not only for select countries, but for all." PM

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in Munich on February 11 that his country seeks a security partnership with Russia and not a return to the Cold War, international media reported. He did not mention President Putin by name, except to say that he received an invitation to Moscow from the Russian leader. Gates noted nonetheless that "as an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday's speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost. Many of you have backgrounds in diplomacy or politics. I have, like your second speaker yesterday [namely Putin], a starkly different background, a career in the spy business, and I guess, old spies have a habit of blunt speaking. However, I've been to reeducation camp." He stressed that "one Cold War was enough." He nonetheless added that "we wonder...about some Russian policies that seem to work against international stability, such as its arms transfers and its temptation to use energy resources for political coercion." Gates reassured Russia that it has no reason to "fear law-based democracies on its borders," including those democracies that have joined NATO. He also called on Russia to be a partner in security matters. Gates's quip about old spies drew laughter and applause from the audience. Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" noted on February 12 that his remarks in general made an especially positive impression on the members of the German parliament present in the audience. The "International Herald Tribune" on February 12 quoted Russian Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov as saying that Moscow's relations with its Western partners are sufficiently "mature that we are free to speak what we really think" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 9, 2007). The Czech daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on February 12 quoted General Yury Baluyevsky, who heads the Russian General Staff, as saying that the time has come for Moscow to "rethink" its policy toward Washington. "The Moscow Times" on February 12 quoted him as slamming "the U.S. military leadership's course aimed at maintaining its global leadership and expanding its economic, political, and military presence in Russia's traditional zones of influence" as a top threat for Russian national security. PM

A White House spokesman in Washington and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Munich expressed disappointment with President Putin's February 10 speech, international media reported on February 11. German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung warned the Russian leader in Munich on February 10 against "relaunching the Cold War." Kurt Beck, who chairs German ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democratic Party (SPD), praised Putin for his "openness and honesty." Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told the Munich gathering on February 11 that "we have to thank...Putin, who...clearly and convincingly argued why NATO should be enlarged." Schwarzenberg said that the decision whether to set up a U.S. missile-defense base on Czech territory is an internal one for the Czech government and parliament alone. He stressed that "demands from other states will not influence our government." Schwarzenberg was quoted by the Czech news agency CTK on February 10 as saying that "the thread of [Putin's] speech actually was that he staked his claim to the role of the old, late Soviet Union." The Czech daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" noted on February 12 that the "Russian bear" seeks to display self-confidence. The paper added that this behavior could provoke a reaction among Russia's neighbors that is the opposite of what Russia wants. The BBC said on February 10 that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was "glum" as she listened to Putin's speech, which was "political theater" that went over among those present "like a lead balloon." Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on February 12 that Putin delivered a "Soviet-style" speech to show that Russia "is back" as a great power. The paper suggested that he chose to do so at this point because the United States has been weakened in the Middle East, while Russia's oil and gas resources have strengthened its position. Some other German commentators argued that Putin was unconvincing because he spoke from a position of weakness relative to that of the former Soviet Union. Britain's "Financial Times" noted on February 12 that Putin's speech not only failed to drive a wedge among NATO member states, but that "for the first time in at least a decade, the senior politicians, diplomats, and defense ministers of the 26 NATO allies managed to close ranks against a common enemy." PM

The website suggested on February 12 that President Putin was concerned with establishing his legacy by making a tough speech in Munich on February 10. The daily "Novye izvestia" on February 12 referred to the negative impression Putin made on many in the audience, noting that Chancellor Merkel seemed to frown more and more as the speech went on. The paper also reported that two U.S. senators known as "sharp critics" of Russia -- namely John McCain (Republican, Arizona) and Joe Lieberman (Independent-Democrat, Connecticut) -- listened to Putin's remarks with knowing "ironic smiles" on their faces, as though to show that the Russian leader's tough message vindicated their views of him. The daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on February 12 that it is now clear that the United States and Russia no longer regard each other as "strategic partners." The daily "Kommersant" noted on February 12 that its "special correspondent Andrei Kolesnikov found [Putin's] speech so aggressive in relation to the United States and NATO that the only thing missing was a shoe in his hand to bang on the podium with." The paper added that "it seems that Putin had been preparing for his moment his whole political life.... He wanted to vent his spleen, that is, express the relationship he has developed with the Western world. He undoubtedly knew exactly what he was doing." Referring to the many questions Putin received from the audience, after his speech the daily noted that "a question about human rights in Russia went unanswered." PM

Defense Minister Ivanov told reporters in Seville, Spain, after a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council that U.S. plans to place missile-defense sites in the Czech Republic and Poland make no military sense if their purpose is to intercept missiles from Iran, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 9, 2007). He argued that "even if we imagine that Iran all of a sudden comes into possession of missiles with a 5,000- or 6,000-kilometer range...any ballistic expert will agree that in this hypothetical case the missile trajectory will be very far from Poland and the Czech Republic." Ivanov added that "we think about our security constantly, not occasionally. And we must ensure our security in any scenario. But our response will, of course, be asymmetric and inexpensive. And if anybody tries to draw us back into an arms race, that is not going to happen." Also on February 9, a commentator for RIA Novosti suggested that Washington is trying to make Moscow a scapegoat for "the painful American failures in Iraq, the aborted attempt to turn the broader Middle East into a testing ground for the Western model of democracy, and the flop of the neoconservative doctrine of 'a new American age.'" The commentator stressed that Russia is a leading energy power and "will not become a clay pigeon on an American shooting range." PM

The British daily "Financial Times" wrote on February 10 that "BP's Russian venture TNK-BP suffered a blow [recently] when Moscow confirmed the oil major is in violation of terms to develop the vast east Siberian Kovykta field." The paper quoted unnamed officials of the Federal Agency for the Use of Natural Resources (Rosnedra) as saying that it has "given the joint venture between BP and Russia's Tyumen Oil three months to fix the [unspecified] violations. The setback comes two months after Royal Dutch Shell [and its two Japanese partners were] force to cede control of [their] Sakhalin-2 venture to state-controlled Gazprom." The paper noted that "Gazprom has long been eyeing a stake in Kovykta.... The mounting pressure over Kovykta is seen by many as part of a broader state plan to gain control of TNK-BP itself." Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" on December 22 quoted Anatoly Ledovskikh, who heads Rosnedra, as saying that "I very much hope that TNK-BP and Gazprom reach an agreement. They have no choice" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20 and 25, and December 22, 2006). PM

The State Duma voted on February 9 to ratify a 10-year power-sharing agreement between the federal authorities and the Republic of Tatarstan, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 19, 2006). The treaty gives the Volga-region republic a degree of economic and political autonomy no other region enjoys. After a heated debate, 306 lawmakers voted for the document, 110 voted against, and one abstained. "There were almost no arguments from those who opposed the ratification of the treaty," Duma Deputy from Tatarstan Ildar Gilmutdinov told RFE/RL. He added that opponents could not "justify why we shouldn't approve the treaty -- we didn't hear any of that. With the supporters, it was just the opposite. We could show that it was possible to grant special status based on Russian law itself, as we've done in the past for Magadan or Kaliningrad or Altai Krai. So today, more than 300 deputies voted to support the treaty with Tatarstan." Deputy Duma Speaker Oleg Morozov told RFE/RL that there will be similar agreements with other federation subjects in the future, most likely including Bashkortostan and Chechnya. "I don't foresee a large number of agreements," Morozov said. "The count will be in the single digits." PM

In his February 10 address to the Munich Security Conference, President Putin deplored the fact that only four of the original signatories, including Russia, have ratified the 1999 flank amendments to the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), and reported. Those amendments enumerate the amount of heavy weaponry signatory states are entitled to deploy in the so-called flank zones. Putin implicitly rejected NATO members' refusal to ratify either the original CFE Treaty or the flank amendments until Russia removes its military bases from Georgia and Moldova, noting that "as everybody knows," Russia has reached an agreement with Georgia on closing its remaining military bases in that country. He said that the remaining 1,500 Russian servicemen in Moldova are deployed on a peacekeeping mission and guarding warehouses containing Soviet-era ammunition, and that Russia is engaged in constant consultation with EU Foreign and Security Policy Commissioner Javier Solana on further reductions. Russian officials have hinted that Russia may cease to comply with the CFE flank agreements if other signatories fail to ratify them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 25, 2006). Meanwhile, Putin continued, although so-called U.S. mobile bases with 5,000 servicemen in each are planned in Bulgaria and Romania, Russia continues to abide by its CFE obligations and "we are not reacting in any way" to the fact that "NATO is moving its frontline forces right up to our state borders." Putin concluded that "the process of NATO enlargement has no relation whatsoever to the modernization of the alliance or to maintaining security in Europe. On the contrary, it is a serious factor...undermining the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask openly: against whom is this enlargement directed?" He went on to recall the assurances given in Brussels in May 1990 by then NATO Secretary-General Manfred Woerner that "the very fact that we are prepared not to deploy NATO forces outside the Federal Republic of Germany gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee." LF

In his February 10 speech in Munich, Putin also criticized the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), claiming that although the OSCE was created to address all aspects of security -- military-political, economic, and humanitarian, and the interaction between them -- it has been transformed into "a vulgar instrument for trying to promote the foreign policy interests of one country or group of countries in relation to other countries." He argued that while Russia supports the obligation of the OSCE to assist member states in observing human rights if they request such assistance, it should not interfere in members' internal affairs, let alone dictate to them "how they should live and develop." LF

Asked after his address to the Munich conference to comment on "the experience of the Russian military in Chechnya," Putin said he did not comprehend the point of that question. He said that Chechnya now has organs of state power, an elected leader, and an elected parliament in which "almost all political forces" are represented, and whose deputies include a former defense minister in the government of Aslan Maskhadov. Putin added that "we have enacted a whole series of measures" to enable former resistance fighters to return to civilian life, engage in politics, and sign up to work in the police force and other security organs. Addressing the same conference on February 11, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov affirmed that although it has taken "five years," "we have scored a success in Chechnya, the problem is solved," reported. Ivanov went on to say that in Chechnya "we really were fighting international terrorism, and not local terrorism, because local terrorism in today's global world simply does not exist." LF

The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement on February 10 pegged to the Declaration on a Shared Vision of Regional Cooperation signed in Tbilisi three days earlier by the presidents of Azerbaijan and Georgia and the Turkish prime minister, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 8, 2007). The statement noted the signatories' declared commitment to engage in regional cooperation, especially in the energy and economic spheres, as a way to promote democratization and security, and the invitation to neighboring states contained in the Declaration to join the three-way initiative. The Russian Foreign Ministry comment stressed the importance of involving "all countries of the region, without exception," in such cooperation, adding that Russia is open to "any forms of transparent and mutually beneficial cooperation" in the interests of promoting stability and socioeconomic progress throughout the region. Azerbaijan, however, has repeatedly ruled out any kind of economic cooperation with Armenia until the Karabakh conflict is resolved on terms acceptable to Azerbaijan. LF

Two men, both Chechens, have been detained as possible suspects in the October 7, 2006 murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, reported on February 10 citing the daily "Komsomolskaya pravda." That paper said the two men were identified and apprehended on the basis of satellite photographs. The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office declined, however, to confirm that report, while the deputy chief editor of "Novaya gazeta," the paper for which Politkovskaya wrote, told that the arrest report is untrue. The Russian Foreign Ministry and the pro-Moscow Chechen government denied last month that the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has opened an investigation into the possible involvement of Chechen police in Politkovskaya's killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 23 and 24, 2007). Meanwhile, German historian Gerd Koenen has proposed Politkovskaya for the German Book Trade's annual Peace Prize, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on February 10. LF

Militants in Daghestan ambushed a group of eight trainee tank drivers on February 10 as they returned from a training ground to their base in Daghestan's Buynaksk Raion, and the daily "Kommersant" reported on February 11 and 12 respectively. Two Russian servicemen were killed in the attack and four injured. LF

Leading members of the opposition Artarutiun bloc and the National Accord Party (AMK) complained on February 10 that the tariffs set for election campaign advertising in the run-up to the May 12 parliamentary ballot are disproportionately high, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Each party or electoral bloc is allocated up to 60 minutes of free airtime on national television and 120 minutes on state radio; each additional minute of election-related programming on the first channel of national television will cost 80,000 drams ($220), compared with $120 during the 2003 parliamentary elections campaign. Private broadcasters will reportedly charge up to 100,000 drams per minute. Grigor Harutiunian of Artarutiun claimed that the Armenian authorities set such high prices in a deliberate attempt to deprive cash-strapped opposition parties of airtime. "They are trying to make sure that only those who have made fortunes by illegal means can have access to TV airtime," Harutiunian said. LF

A car belonging to Ara Saghatelian, editor of the weekly "Im iravunk" (My Right), burst into flames on February 9 shortly after he parked it in the yard of his paper's editorial office, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. It is not clear whether the incident was related to Saghatelian's journalistic activities. A vehicle belonging to Suren Baghdasarian, editor of "Football Plus," was destroyed by fire 10 days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 31, 2007). LF

In a statement summarized on February 9 by Caucasus Press, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said Georgia is complying with the UN Security Council resolution of October 13, 2006. It referred to the findings of a patrol conducted by the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), as cited in UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's January 15 report to the Security Council, that only 270 Georgian police personnel remain in the Kodori Gorge and the patrol found no evidence of heavy weaponry there. The October 13 resolution called on Georgia to withdraw from the Kodori Gorge all troops whose presence is not approved in the May 1994 Moscow cease-fire agreement. That agreement called for the withdrawal from Kodori of "all troops of the Republic of Georgia," without specifying whether Interior Ministry as well as Defense Ministry troops were meant (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," February 5, 2007). On February 10, Georgian Deputy Interior Minister Ekaterine Zguladze said the crime rate in the Kodori Gorge has fallen drastically, and the police contingent there will be gradually reduced, Caucasus Press reported. LF

National Forum leader Kakha Shartava and Union of Traditionalists Chairman Akaki Asatiani have suggested at separate press conferences that the Georgian population, rather than the country's leadership, should decide whether Georgia should join NATO, Caucasus Press reported. Asatiani on February 8 cited the UN secretary-general (it was not clear whether he meant Kofi Annan or Ban Ki-moon) as raising the possibility that Georgia could be admitted to NATO without its breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Asatiani said neutrality would be preferable to risking the loss of those territories. Shartava too raised the possibility of loss of jurisdiction over Abkhazia (where his father Zhiuli was executed by the Abkhaz during the last days of the 1992-1993 war) and South Ossetia, and added that the Georgian people should vote in a referendum on the country's possible accession to NATO. LF

Salome Zourabichvili, the French-born career diplomat constrained to resign as Georgian foreign minister in October 2005 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," October 21, 2005), told a press conference in Tbilisi on February 9 that President Mikheil Saakashvili was lying when he affirmed that hundreds of Georgians who left the country in search of work have since returned, Caucasus Press reported. She estimated the number of Georgians who emigrate annually in search of employment at 27,000, adding that the only persons she knows of who have returned are herself and her husband. LF

Kazakhstan's economy runs the risk of "overheating," according to a 2007-09 government action plan presented to parliament on February 9 by Prime Minister Karim Masimov, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The program forecast annual GDP growth of 7.5-8 percent in 2007-09, setting a goal of holding inflation to 5-7 percent, Interfax reported. The program noted that inflationary pressure comes from an influx of foreign currency, mounting external borrowing, and foreign investments, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. It also warned: "A raw-materials focus continues to dominate the economy. The largest influx of investment is directed to the extraction sector. Non-raw materials exports remain at a low level. The potential for diversification and modernization of the economy has not yet been realized." DK

President Nursultan Nazarbaev has removed Rakhat Aliev, who is his son-in-law, from the post of deputy foreign minister and appointed him ambassador to Austria, Interfax reported on February 9. Aliev previously served as Kazakh ambassador to Austria in 2002-05 after he was implicated in corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 24, 2002). More recently, Aliev has been accused of exerting pressure on managers at Nurbank, in which he is a shareholder. Aliev's wife, Darigha Nazarbaeva, who is President Nazarbaev's daughter, has dismissed the allegations as "fictions" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 7, 2007). DK

President Kurmanbek Bakiev told the members of the newly appointed Kyrgyz cabinet on February 9 that they should establish a good working relationship with parliament, which the previous government failed to do, Kabar reported. Bakiev urged the new cabinet to develop a strategy for dealing with Kyrgyzstan's external debt and said that if a workable strategy emerges, the issue of joining the World Bank and IMF's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt-relief initiative will be of "secondary" importance. noted that the statement marked an apparent change in Bakiev's position on Kyrgyzstan's possible participation in HIPC, for which he had earlier voiced qualified support. For his part, Prime Minister Azim Isabekov told the members of his cabinet that they should focus on the budget, energy sector, industry, and the construction of a railroad to China in order to improve the economy, Interfax reported. DK

Bakiev stated on February 10 in Bishkek that the upcoming summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO: China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan) in the Kyrgyz capital is a "priority task in Kyrgyzstan's foreign policy in 2007," Kabar reported. Stressing that "the economic and political life of Kyrgyzstan will depend very much on how we will prepare for the summit," Bakiev said that the summit's agenda will bring about a "substantial revival" for Kyrgyzstan's "people and economy." DK

A total of 98.65 percent of registered voters took part in Turkmenistan's presidential election on February 11, according to data from the country's Central Election Commission, reported. RFE/RL correspondents in Turkmenistan reported light turnout, however, in the capital of Ashgabat and in Lebap Province. Preliminary results are expected to be announced on February 13, AP reported. Six candidates took part in the election, with acting President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov widely expected to win. No foreign observers monitored the ballot. The OSCE sent an Election Support Team, rather than an observation mission, to Turkmenistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 2, 2007). A spokesman for the CIS Executive Committee's election monitoring department told Interfax on February 9 that CIS observers were not invited to monitor the election. DK

Members of Turkmenistan's expatriate opposition condemned the election on February 11, while cautiously advocating dialogue with the country's authorities, news agencies reported. Avdy Kuliev, head of the United Democratic Opposition of Turkmenistan, told RIA-Novosti on February 11 by phone from Norway, "We consider the election being held in Turkmenistan illegal and undemocratic, and of course we cannot recognize it." Opposition leader Nurmukhammet Khanamov, speaking to RIA-Novosti from Vienna, also said that "we do not recognize the results of the presidential election," but he added that the opposition must "begin talks with the authorities, at least we are planning to do so." Bairam Shikhmuradov, the son of imprisoned former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, told Interfax in Moscow on February 11, "We'll have to work under the new president and our chief goal is to become involved in the political process in one way or another." DK

Police and KGB officers rounded up 26 activists of the Association of Belarusian Students (ZBS) who gathered in a private house near Minsk on February 10, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. The authorities banned the ZBS in December 2001 in what was seen as official reprisal for its campaign against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the 2001 presidential election. All the detainees were released later the same day after police officers shot video footage of them and took their fingerprints. JM

The Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) on February 10 discussed the political context of the opposition's rally scheduled in Minsk for March 25 to mark the anniversary of the shortlived 1918 Belarusian People's Republic, Belapan reported. "We view the present strategic situation as a new one," BNF leader Vintsuk Vyachorka said. "This concerns both the economy and the degree of unity among the present governing elite and the position of Belarus in the international arena. All problems that are felt in these spheres are, on the one hand, a threat to the independence of Belarus and, on the other hand, a chance for pro-democratic forces." The BNF resolved that the upcoming demonstration will be an opportunity for Belarus's pro-democratic forces to manifest national unity around the idea of independence. Simultaneously, the BNF sees the demonstration as an opportunity for the present authorities to show their readiness to make some steps toward democratization and, therefore, toward receiving aid from the European Union. Last week, former opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich appealed to President Lukashenka to join the opposition in celebrating the anniversary of the Belarusian People's Republic on March 25 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 8, 2007). JM

Viktor Yushchenko said at the Munich Conference on Security Policy on February 10 that Europe needs to take into account the interests of the countries that serve as transit routes for Europe-bound energy supplies, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "[These countries] should be equal partners within a predictably reliable, economically effective, and environmentally favorable mechanism for ensuring the energy security of the European continent," Yushchenko noted. Yushchenko recalled that Ukraine transported 45 million tons of oil and 129 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Europe in 2006. He added that these volumes could and should be increased, but only if Ukraine's partners in Europe show their interest in new projects, including the transportation of oil from the Caspian region and Central Asian countries. JM

President Yushchenko said during a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the Munich Conference on Security Policy on February 10 that Ukraine will continue playing an active role in NATO-led peacekeeping operations, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Yushchenko assured de Hoop Scheffer that NATO membership remains Ukraine's strategic objective. Yushchenko pledged that the Ukrainian government and he personally will continue giving special attention to impartial and politics-free awareness-raising campaigns addressing NATO's activities and Ukraine's integration with Euro-Atlantic organizations. He added that the 2007 budget earmarks 5 million hryvnyas ($1 million) for these efforts. Yushchenko said Ukraine appreciates NATO's readiness to contribute to such campaigns. "I am convinced that our joint efforts will help debunk all old myths and stereotypes regarding NATO in Ukraine," he noted. JM

Violent clashes between police and radical supporters of independence for Kosova resulted on February 10 in the deaths of two protesters. The UN police force said the violence erupted when demonstrators tried to enter government buildings in central Prishtina, local and international media reported. The government and the head of the UN police force, Stephen Curtis, said the police response was proportionate. An inquiry has been launched. One eyewitness said that police fired at one of the victims, Mon Balaj, from a distance of 5 meters, Albanian-language KohaVision television reported on February 11. KohaVision said Balaj died of head wounds. In all, reports suggest more than 80 people were injured, two of them critically. The leader of the Self-Determination movement, Albin Kurti, said on February 10 that the police were not provoked and that Self-Determination will hold new demonstrations, the daily "Koha ditore" reported on February 11. Kurti, who organized the rally, was subsequently arrested for his role in the violence. Fourteen others were also arrested. At the rally, around 3,000 Self-Demonstration supporters condemned a UN blueprint for the Albanian-populated, UN-administered Serbian province. The plan outlined by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari on February 2 envisages that Kosova would enjoy self-rule, many of the symbols of statehood, and the right to join international organizations. However, Kosova would remain under the oversight of an international envoy, and Kosovar Serb municipalities would be granted substantial autonomy and would retain some financial ties to the Serbian government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 5, 2007). AG

A Kosovar Serb rally held on February 9 in Mitrovica, the site of bloody clashes in 2004, passed without incident. The protest, called to demonstrate opposition to the Ahtisaari plan, reportedly attracted up to 5,000 people. Marko Jaksic, a member of the team involved in negotiations over the status of Kosova, said the Ahtisaari plan contains nothing good for Serbia or for Kosovar Serbs, Serbian radio reported on February 9. "They want to take away from us our hospitals and our schools and our system of payment, and they have given everything to them [ethnic Albanians]: their constitution, their anthem, they have given them all our land because they say it must belong to them," Jaksic said. He said the plan would force Serbs to live in "Indian reservations," and he labeled the Kosova proposed by Ahtisaari "a criminal monster-state." AG

The Serbian parliament will convene on February 14, paving the way for the country's leading political forces to decide who should represent Serbia at talks on the future of Kosova, local media reported. This will be the first time the Serbian parliament has met in session since elections on January 21. The country's political leaders have still to decide on the formation of a new government. The talks with the author of the UN proposal for Kosova, Martti Ahtisaari, were originally scheduled for February 13, but were postponed until February 21 at the request of Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 6 and 8, 2007). The election commission on February 9 opened the way to parliament convening by confirming the results of the election. AG

Russian President Vladimir Putin has indicated that Russia's support for the Ahtisaari plan depends on Serbia's willingness to sign up to it. "If we see that one of the parties is not happy with the solution, we will not support that decision," Putin told international leaders at the Munich Conference on Security Policy on February 10, international media reported on February 12. "Only the Kosovars and Serbs can resolve this," he said, adding that "if one participant in this problem feels hurt, this will drag on for centuries." "Let's not play God and try to resolve their problems," he continued. In a February 9 meeting in Spain with defense ministers from NATO countries, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov warned that granting independence to Kosova could spark a "chain reaction" not just in the "post-Soviet space, but also in regions in Europe." "We must be careful not to open Pandora's box," he said, ITAR-TASS reported. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia has the right to veto the plan. There have been signs over the past week that Russian support for the Serbian position might be conditional (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 6, 2007). AG

More than four months after parliamentary elections were held, Bosnia-Herzegovina's parliament on February 9 approved a government headed by the leader of the Bosnian Serb Party of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), Nikola Spiric. In keeping with the terms of the agreement that ended the 1992-95 war, the government includes representatives from the country's three largest ethnic groups: Bosnian Muslims, Serbs, and Croats. It is possible that the new government, which has a four-year mandate, will be the first postwar administration to assume full responsibility for running the country. However, in recent months it has appeared increasingly likely that the international community will retain the power to intervene in domestic politics (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 31, 2007). EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn urged the new government to press ahead with reforms, the SRNA news agency reported on February 9. He highlighted reform of the police, cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), public-service broadcasting, and constitutional reform as areas where Brussels is particularly anxious to see progress. AG

Bosnia's Human Rights Ministry has confirmed that the Bosnian government has set up a new commission to review whether UN officials acted unfairly when they barred 793 federal and local police officers from working in 2002, the "International Herald Tribune" reported on February 10. The commission will reportedly present its recommendations to the new government this week. The UN dismissed the officers because it believed they may have committed crimes during the 1992-95 civil war or because they were not qualified for their posts. The government criticized the speed and quality of the UN's vetting process and said the officers had no access to an appeal process. The international community's high representative, Christian Schwarz-Schilling, has previously supported demands for a review of the process, in which the UN vetted 18,000 officers in 16 police forces. Some of the dismissals were subsequently challenged in court. Monitoring of the police is now supervised by the EU. AG

NATO troops on February 10 raided the home of a man in the Bosnian Serb town of Pale believed to have been helping Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic evade capture, local media reported the same day. The owner of the house, Radomir Kojic, has been in custody since August on suspicion of financial crimes. Kojic, the owner of a mine-clearance company and a hotel, was a commander of a brigade of the Bosnian Serb army during the 1992-95 war. Karadzic is wanted by the Hague-based ICTY on charges that include genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. A Bosnian newspaper on February 1 quoted an unnamed member of the Bosnian secret services as saying Karadzic is in hiding in Russia, a claim denied by Russian authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 2, 2007). The raid also comes amid signs that the EU may decouple the future of accession talks with Serbia from the capture of Karadzic's chief military associate during the war, Ratko Mladic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 9, 2007). A February 10 phone-in poll by the Bosnian Muslim television channel Hayat found that an overwhelming majority of viewers would support a boycott of Slovenian products to protest against a statement by Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel that he does not think the EU will demand Mladic "be brought to Brussels in chains" before reopening talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 31, 2007). AG

The U.S. military announced the official opening on February 5 of the joint Iraqi-U.S. Baghdad operations command center in preparation for the massive security operation to take control of Baghdad. U.S. military officials described the operation as unlike anything the city has seen and expressed optimism that the violence in the Iraqi capital could be suppressed.

This will be the third attempt to take control of Baghdad since Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki came to power in May 2006. Previous attempts failed because too few troops were used. Now, with the influx of 21,000 additional U.S. forces and three Iraqi Army brigades, in theory this operation seems to have adequate strength to succeed where the others failed. And pressure is mounting on the U.S. and Iraqi governments to ensure that it does.

While Iraqis wait for the start of the much-vaunted Baghdad security plan, al-Maliki acknowledged for the first time during a speech to military commanders on February 6 that the government had erred in its efforts to launch the operation, and the subsequent delays could help insurgents, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day.

"I feel that the delay of military operations has sent a negative message -- the opponents will say that the operations will fail from the very beginning," he said.

In fact, Al-Sadr City Mayor Rahim al-Darraji said the delay in the security plan was due to Iraqi forces being unprepared, and that the operation would not be implemented for another 15 to 20 days, "The New York Times" reported on February 5.

After great fanfare from both al-Maliki and U.S. officials, the delay only strengthens the perception among Iraqis that the government and its security forces are incapable of stemming the violence and protecting its citizens.

Iraqi parliament speaker Mahmud Mashhadani bluntly declared on February 7 that the plan was the last opportunity for Iraq and the United States to pacify the city, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. "If this plan fails, the U.S. administration's scheme in Iraq will fail as well," Mashhadani said. "In addition, the whole Iraqi political scheme will fall apart. If there is not serious and genuine public cooperation in this regard, the plan will be facing serious failure."

Unprecedented violence has increased pressure on al-Maliki to show signs of progress regarding the Baghdad security plan that was announced more than a month ago. Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry announced that 1,000 people were killed the previous week, AP reported on February 5.

The most spectacular attack occurred on February 3 when a massive suicide truck bomb carrying 1 ton of explosives exploded in the predominantly Shi'ite Al-Sadriyah district, killing 130 people and wounding more than 300.

The bombing was widely described in the Arab and Western press as the single deadliest bombing since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, and it underscored the severity of the security situation. The lack of quick results coupled with more brazen and deadly attacks creates an untenable political situation for al-Maliki and weakens his grip on power.

Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi brusquely said on February 2 that the government would lose what credibility it had left in the eyes of the Iraqi people if it continues to fail to curb the violence and protect innocent Iraqis, Al-Arabiyah satellite television reported the same day.

"Things have become intolerable. We must reach the day when the Iraqis see no bloodshed, car bombs, or abductions," al-Hashimi said. "The government needs to prove its credibility and seriousness in implementing the general principles it announced today."

The efforts by Iraqi and U.S. forces to crack down on Shi'ite militias, particularly Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam al-Mahdi Army, have created an inadvertent security vacuum in Shi'ite neighborhoods. Sunni and U.S. officials have long accused al-Sadr's militia of carrying out sectarian attacks and the crackdown was meant to quell sectarian violence. However, many Shi'a claim that the militia is an effective deterrent against Sunni insurgents.

Checkpoints and security stations usually manned by al-Sadr's militia have been dismantled and militiamen have either gone into hiding or have been arrested by U.S. forces. This has left a security void in Shi'ite neighborhoods, where insurgents have been emboldened to step up their attacks, as witnessed in the February 3 bombing in the Al-Sadriyah district.

An unidentified al-Sadr aide in Al-Najaf told "Al-Hayat" on February 7 that the crackdown and the ensuing lack of security has led to the deaths of hundreds of innocent Shi'a. He added that the insurgents "exploited the [security] gap with the Americans' help and started to send the booby-trapped vehicles to the Shi'ite markets."

If attacks on the scale of the February 3 bombings continue, this could lead to reprisal attacks by Shi'ite militias. If the Baghdad operation fails to deliver soon enough, it could create a scenario where militias may need to be deployed to maintain security. A populace living in fear and feeling under siege may demand their return.

Qari Yusof Ahmadi, purporting to speak for the Taliban, claimed on February 11 that thousands of reinforcements have been sent to defend the town of Musa Qala in Helmand Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. The Taliban took control of Musa Qala in early February, several months after U.K. forces serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) struck a deal with local elders and left Musa Qala after suffering higher-than-expected casualties. After the recent takeover, Afghan government issued warnings to Taliban fighters to evacuate Musa Qala as soon as possible or face forced withdrawal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 18, 2006, and February 6, 2007). Ahmadi told Pajhwak that the Taliban are ready for any eventuality in Musa Qala and will not retreat. He accused ISAF of violating the October agreement, which ostensibly was signed with the elders of the area and not the Taliban. AT

Helmand Governor Asadullah Wafa claimed on February 11 that around 700 Al-Qaeda members have entered the Sangin district of Helmand Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Speaking with Pajhwak from Lashkargah, Wafa claimed that the terrorists included Arabs, Chechens, Uzbeks and "Punjabis." (Editor's note: In Afghanistan's political lingo, Pakistanis, when referred to pejoratively, are frequently called "Punjabis" -- which specifically refers to people from Pakistan's Punjab Province.) Wafa alleged that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency is training and equipping the terrorists and that the ISI helped them move across the border into Afghanistan. Wafa claimed the fighters' main targets are reconstruction projects, such as the Kajaki Dam and the Herat-Kandahar highway that passes through Helmand. AT

London's "The Sunday Times" reported on February 11 that some of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's closest advisers have accused the United Kingdom of "conspiring with Pakistan to hand over southern Afghanistan," in the newspaper's words. Karzai travels to London this week to meet with Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss current political differences between Afghanistan and Britain, whose bilateral relations were described by a "Sunday Times" diplomatic source as "in total tatters." Acknowledging the "long friendship" between Pakistan and the United Kingdom, Karzai was quoted by "The Sunday Times" as saying that London's "compromise [with Islamabad] will not bring an end to terrorism in Britain." He went on to say that the United Kingdom will continue to suffer at the hands of terrorists if it "ignor[es] what is happening in Pakistan." An unnamed Karzai adviser alleged that London has been turning a blind eye to infiltrations into Afghanistan from Pakistan. An unnamed British official told the London paper, "Quite frankly, we find all this offensive," adding that not "only are we the second biggest donor here, but we have lost 42 men in the past year." Karzai reportedly said he was "very upset" with the October deal with local elders in Musa Qala, which appears to have fallen apart (see item above). AT

U.S. Colonel John Nicholson said on February 11 that forces under his command in eastern Afghanistan have launched artillery rounds into Pakistani territory in "self-defense," AP reported. "We do not allow the enemy to fire with impunity on our soldiers, and we have the inherent right of self-defense," Nicholson told AP, adding that even "if those fires are coming from across the border [in Pakistan], we have the right to defend ourselves, and we exercise that right." Nicholson acknowledged that U.S. forces have conducted missions across the border into Pakistan. Major General Shaukat Sultan, speaking for the Pakistani military, told AP that his country "would not allow any coalition forces to violate the international border," adding that there was an understanding on this issue between the foreign forces operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Washington and Kabul have repeatedly urged Pakistan to do more to counter cross-border activities by opponents of the Afghan central government. AT

Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in Tehran on February 11 that Iran will continue its nuclear program "in the framework of laws," ISNA reported. He told hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Tehran to mark the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that the government has not yet used the authority parliament has given it to curtail its cooperation with UN nuclear inspectors. He added, however, that Iran will not leave the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Ahmadinejad claimed that "fortunately, formal [International Atomic Energy] Agency reports have all confirmed the health and lawfulness of Iran's" program, a statement that is disputable. He said there is "no article in the [NPT] that...if a member wishes to use [nuclear] technology, it has to win the confidence of some American countries. We say to them, have you won our confidence?" Ahmadinejad was referring to Western suspicions that Iran plans to make nuclear weapons. He asked why "if you claim you want to talk, you insist on [enrichment] suspension? Why do you set a precondition?" Why, he asked, "should your [nuclear] fuel factories work day and night, but [Iranians] have to halt their activities?" Ahmadinejad said demands for a suspension are a pretext to halt Iran's nuclear program, "and we are obviously not going to pay attention to their pretext," ISNA reported. VS

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani told the Munich Conference on Security Policy on February 11 that Iran is being pressured over its nuclear program on the basis of "speculation" over its future intentions, and this has no precedent in international law, ISNA reported. "We have declared repeatedly," he said, that "there are no nuclear or chemical weapons in Iran's national defense doctrine, and we consider [such things] to be against Islamic laws." He said Iran is aware that a bid to create atomic bombs "would cause a nuclear arms race in the region," and disrupt people's "peace of mind, which is why we support a Middle East without weapons of mass destruction." He said if the "other side" is really interested in talks, "we are certain all issues could be resolved in a few months," paving the way for "long-term cooperation." He said that "for about eight months now there have been no talks," because of the demand that Iran stop enrichment-related activities first. If "three months of this time had been spent on talks without this condition, what harm would this have done, and [without talks] what has been achieved?" he asked. He said the refusal to talk and December's UN resolution against Iran's program "have not resolved the problem, but pursued another goal with another motivation," ISNA reported. VS

Workers from Qazvin, a city near Tehran, have recently protested over difficult financial conditions and their frustration with unfulfilled presidential promises, Radio Farda reported on February 10. It stated that 35 workers from the Pushineh-Baft textile factory in Qazvin gathered "last week" outside the presidential offices in Tehran, and "hundreds" from the ceramics factory in Chini-Alborz blocked the main road to Qazvin before police ended the protest. Qazvin labor representative Abdali Karimi told Radio Farda on February 10 that some 5,000 workers are in a "state of uncertainty" in Qazvin. He said that a group of workers from Qazvin "came to Tehran to convey their grievances including nonpayment of their wages and, after their protest outside the presidential office, officials promised that all their claims would be paid in three weeks." Karimi added that workers from Chini-Alborz have not been paid for five months, although the company is functioning normally. He said, "its problem is managerial and [that it is being transferred] to the private sector," Radio Farda reported. VS

Yahya Rahim-Safavi, the commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), told a crowd in the central city of Arak on February 11 that the United States made its greatest mistake in recent decades by invading Iraq and Afghanistan, and it must now accept the rise of the Islamic world as a global power base, Mehr reported. Those invasions, he said, "have pushed them into a bog up to their necks," while the invasion of Iraq was "America's greatest mistake since Vietnam." He said "[President George W.] Bush and [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice are no longer talking about" plans to democratize the Middle East, and "an Islamic Middle East is taking shape instead." Rahim-Safavi stressed that "our policy is detente and the creation of peace in the region and the world, but we shall resist excessive demands." He said that with a population that will one day number 2 billion, and "50 percent" of the world's oil, gas, and other mineral resources, the Islamic world is becoming a global "pole" and "America must accept this," Mehr reported. VS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Husseini welcomed on February 11 the Saudi-brokered accord between the Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah, headed by President Mahmud Abbas, ISNA reported. The formation of a national unity government will help unite Palestinians and benefit Muslims, Husseini said, adding that Iran considers "internal unity and cohesion" among Palestinians the only way to resist "the aggression and plots of the Zionist enemy." The same day, Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai said in Shiraz that "the West is afraid of Iran's influence in the region," ISNA reported. "They have told Syria to resolve Lebanon's problems, and [Saudi] Arabia to resolve [Palestine's problems] and they are trying, meanwhile, to isolate Iran. But are we upset by the resolution of the Palestine and Lebanon crises by Saudi Arabia and Syria? Still, they will not make much progress if their intention is to isolate Iran," he said. VS

At a February 11 press briefing in Baghdad, senior U.S. military officials presented evidence allegedly linking Iran to armor-piercing explosives and other weapons used by insurgents in Iraq against U.S. and Iraqi targets, international media reported. Among the weapons are what briefers called "explosively formed penetrators," which are capable of piercing the armor of tanks and Humvees. "Iran is a significant contributor to attacks on coalition forces and also supports violence against the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi people," one senior defense official said. The officials at the briefing spoke on condition of anonymity. A defense analyst told reporters at the briefing that Iranians used Iraqi smugglers to transfer the weapons to Iraq, where they have made their way to elements of the Imam al-Mahdi Army, the militia of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. KR

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told reporters on February 11 that the Baghdad security plan will target insurgents in all areas of the capital, countering reports that the plan is a scheme aimed at one particular sectarian group. The plan "will not begin in one area, but rather will begin simultaneously in all areas so that people would not say that it began first in this or that area," he said, adding that police and soldiers taking part in the operation come from various sects, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. At a February 11 press conference, Sunni Arab leader Abd al-Salam al-Kubaysi of the Muslim Scholars Association claimed the plan unfairly targets Sunnis, RFI reported. "If the security plan continues this way, then this means that the premeditated objective is annihilating Sunnis who reject the occupation in Baghdad, and not the implementation of a security plan for Baghdad," the cleric said. "Concerning this point...the government and the occupiers who support it should know that the best possible outcome is that we will all die together," he added. KR

The Iraqi government on February 11 commemorated the first anniversary of the bombing of the Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, one of Iraq's most important Shi'ite shrines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22, 2006). The February 22, 2006, bombing marked an escalation of sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shi'a. February 11 is the anniversary of the attack according to the Islamic calendar, which moves 11 days ahead each year. Prime Minister al-Maliki issued a statement on February 11 saying, "A year of tragedies, forced displacement, [sectarian] killing, destruction of infrastructure, and targeting of innocent considered a continuation of the terrorists' evil scheme that began with the blowing up" of the shrines. He criticized religious leaders across the Muslim world for not taking a tougher stand against the crime. Had Muslim leaders issued a fatwa (religious edict) calling the bombing a violation of Islam, thousands of Iraqi lives might have been spared in the past year, he contended. KR

Some 14 weapons caches were uncovered and 140 suspected insurgents detained as part of the Baghdad security sweep from February 3-9, according to a press release posted to the Multinational Force -- Iraq website. Brigadier General John Campbell, the Multinational Force -- Baghdad deputy commanding general, said that Iraqi security forces carried out 3,800 of the 7,400 patrols carried out during the above-mentioned period. Campbell said that U.S. and Iraqi forces are currently focusing on the Al-Rusafah area of eastern Baghdad, which is a large industrial area. Iraq closed its borders on February 10 until further notice, Iraqi media reported. U.S. General David Petraeus assumed his position as U.S. military commander in Iraq on February 10, calling the task at hand "exceedingly challenging," but adding, "But hard is not hopeless." KR