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Newsline - April 13, 2007

The Federation Council passed a resolution on April 13 rejecting a recent U.S. State Department report titled "Supporting Human Rights And Democracy: The U.S. Record," which criticized human rights violations in Russia, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 11, 2007). Viktor Ozerov, who heads the council's Defense and Security Committee, said that "the State Department report is provocative in its intentions and has a doctrinal nature with a clear indication of guidelines for putting pressure on Russia and other sovereign states." He stressed that "our declaration is an appeal to the United States to assess adequately the development of Russia's political life today. [The United States] should itself make an analysis of its own record on human rights and principles of democracy." Also on April 13, the Duma approved a similar resolution condemning the U.S. study, Interfax reported. Sergei Popov, who heads the Duma's Committee for Public and Religious Organizations, said that "we believe that the U.S. position, concealed as an effort to promote international standards of human rights and democratic principles, is a veiled attempt to put pressure on Russia ahead of elections" for the Duma in 2007 and for president in 2008. Vladimir Vasilyev, who chairs the Duma's Security Committee, argued that "apparently in the coordinate system that guides certain forces inside the United States, particularly the military-industrial complex, Russia is supposed to play the distinct role of a source of raw materials. We are not content with this role at all." PM

On April 12, Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Yakovenko told a Moscow news conference that the U.S. "report is politicized and doesn't reflect the real state of affairs," news agencies reported. He added that "unfortunately, in those countries that follow the U.S. foreign-policy course, the human rights situation is given a rather positive assessment, while those countries that are not in step [with the United States] are subject to criticism." He stressed that "it is not acceptable to use the ideas of democracy as a cover for interfering in a country's internal affairs." Yakovenko added, however, that there is no crisis in relations between Moscow and Washington. He said that "we simply name the problems and trends that exist.... There are issues that should be solved together, and this is the primary goal or our policy." Yakovenko argued that "if we do not solve [those issues] through dialogue or cooperation, the world will unfortunately develop in the wrong direction, and international relations will go from bad to worse." PM

On April 12, about 200 members of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi demonstrated outside the U.S. Embassy against the State Department report, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 18, and March 7 and 26, 2007). Nashi leader Vasily Yakemenko likened U.S. policy toward Russia to that toward Iraq, suggesting that "if [Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice escalates tension here, it's possible there will be a situation where people here could die, too.... The U.S. needs to think less about what is happening here and more about what is going on in Iraq." The German weekly "Focus" recently described Nashi and some similar organizations as President Vladimir "Putin's toughs." The magazine suggested that these groups have support from the Kremlin and members who join for opportunistic reasons. PM

The daily "Gazeta" wrote on April 12 that Russian supporters of a "Cool War" with the West hope to convince voters that Russia faces a growing external threat, which supposedly would justify a third term for President Putin, who is barred by the constitution from running again when his current term runs out in 2008. The daily compared the frequent Kremlin attacks on U.S. policy in recent weeks with Soviet-era behavior, adding that "the harsh style of these [recent] comments is immediately reminiscent of Soviet-era reports" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 11, 2007). The paper quoted Aleksei Arbatov, who heads the International Security Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences' World Economy and International Relations Institute (IMEMO), as saying that "both Russia and the United States have some fairly influential groups that really want a Cold War. They are trying to incite it, combining their efforts to do so, with tacit coordination. Although they won't succeed, they could do a lot of damage in the process." On April 13, the daily "Kommersant" quoted Konstantin Kosachyov, who heads the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee and is often more outspoken than the Foreign Ministry, as saying that Russia should react decisively to what he called U.S. attempts to interfere in Russia's internal affairs lest a "colored revolution be set off sooner or later in Russia as well." On April 12, the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" also noted a similarity between U.S. support for the opposition and civil society in Russia today and the run-ups to the "colored revolutions" elsewhere in the past. The paper also suggested that the State Department report itself is "turgid?, unoriginal, and at times downright boring." PM

On April 13, the British daily "The Guardian" quoted unnamed "British security sources" as saying that "the number of Russian intelligence agents based in London has reached Cold War levels, reflecting the Kremlin's growing interest in London's [Russian] dissident community." The paper added that "counterintelligence officers say there are now 30 agents operating out of the Russian Embassy and trade mission, with the possibility that many more are working undercover for outside agencies across the capital. Sources say the Russians are keeping an eye on technological advances in the U.K. as well as monitoring senior figures within London's exile community." The daily's sources added that Moscow still uses traditional Soviet techniques of "cultivating" selected individuals over many years in the hope that they will attain positions of influence in business or technological circles. Joel Brenner, who heads the Bush administration's Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, told a meeting of the American Bar Association in Washington on March 29 that Russian efforts to obtain secrets from top U.S. policy-making circles have reached levels not seen since the end of the Cold War (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 30, 2007). PM

Self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky was quoted by Britain's "The Guardian" on April 13 as saying that it is not possible to change the regime in Russia "without force, pressure." Asked if he is effectively fomenting a revolution, Berezovsky answered, "You are absolutely correct." He argued that "we need to use force to change this regime. It isn't possible to change this regime through democratic means." He also suggested, however, that he considers working with elements of the political elite opposed to President Putin as a way to topple the regime. He argued that "there is no chance of regime change through democratic elections. If one part of the political elite disagrees with another part of the political elite -- that is the only way in Russia to change the regime. I try to move that." He said he is offering his "experience and ideology," as well as financial support, to Putin's opponents, but did not elaborate. The daily quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as denouncing Berezovsky's comments as a criminal offense that he said should undermine Berezovsky's asylum status in Britain, which forbids him from advocating political violence. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appealed to Britain on April 13 to strip Berezovsky of his asylum status, which he said he is grossly abusing, Russian news agencies reported. Lavrov said London knows "perfectly well" about Berezovsky's anti-Putin activities. Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika ordered a criminal investigation on April 13 into what he called Berezovsky's "open call for the violent overthrow of constitutional rule," Interfax reported. Just over one year ago, Berezovsky made comments that were widely interpreted to mean that he wanted Putin overthrown by force. He later qualified his remarks after then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw warned him he might lose his asylum status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 24, 2006). Britain has rejected repeated Russian requests for Berezovsky's extradition. PM

Police in Moscow detained on April 13 an unspecified number of opposition activists who planned to take part in the unauthorized "March of Dissent," which is scheduled to take place in Moscow and St. Petersburg on April 14, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Police and Interior Ministry forces began deploying in Moscow from other regions, the broadcast added. Police officials said they will crack down harshly on attempts to hold the unauthorized protests. Reuters suggested that a desire to intimidate potential protest participants is one of the reasons behind the strong official criticism of the recent U.S. human rights report on Russia. PM

Captain Eduard Ulman and his three fellow spetsnaz officers, who are on trial in Rostov-na-Donu for the execution-style killing in January 2002 of five Chechen civilians, failed on April 12 to appear in court, and the daily "Kommersant" reported on April 12 and 13, respectively. At the previous hearing, the prosecution demanded prison terms ranging from 18 to 23 years for the four men, who have twice been tried and acquitted of the killings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 20, 2004, and May 20 and 23 and June 17, 2005). LF

Two separate explosions during the early morning of April 12 damaged the offices in the Yerevan districts of Kanaker-Zeytun and Avan of the Prosperous Armenia (Bargavach Hayastan, BH) party, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. BH was founded in late 2005 by wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukian, who is reputed to be close to President Robert Kocharian, and boasts several hundred thousand members; it hopes to win a majority of seats in the May 12 parliamentary election. Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian condemned the blasts, which he said show that unnamed forces in Armenia are not interested in ensuring a free and democratic ballot, Noyan Tapan reported. The Republican Party of Armenia, which has a majority in the outgoing legislature and is regarded as BH's main rival in the May 12 vote, similarly blamed the explosions on "those who are incapable of waging an honest and fair political struggle and who are ready to destabilize the situation in the country." LF

Opposition Musavat party Chairman Isa Qambar convened a press conference in Baku on April 12 at which he argued that incumbent President Ilham Aliyev should apologize to the Azerbaijani people for having "usurped power" in August 2003 and step down, the electronic daily reported on April 13. Qambar added that if Aliyev fails to do so, Musavat's parliament faction will demand the creation of an independent commission to probe the circumstances in which Aliyev was named prime minister during the final illness of his father and predecessor as president, Heydar Aliyev. In his final statement earlier this week at his trial on charges of large-scale embezzlement, former Health Minister Ali Insanov, who according to Qambar was Heydar Aliyev's personal physician, claimed that in August 2003 Heydar Aliyev was in a coma and could not therefore have signed the decree naming his son prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 11 and 12, 2007). Under the constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic, should the president die or become incapacitated, his duties devolve on the prime minister. LF

A group of 11 "Wahhabis" was detained late on April 9 in a special operation in the Apsheron Peninsula village of Saray, and reported on April 12. The 11 men, who to judge from their names are all Azeris, were said to have undergone military training in 2000-02 at a camp in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge established by Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelayev, and are suspected of committing unspecified crimes on Azerbaijani territory. Gelayev was killed three years ago in Daghestan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 2 and 4, 2004). LF

The Georgian parliament approved on April 11 in the second reading by 162 votes in favor, and on April 13 in the third and final reading by 160 votes in favor and three against, President Mikheil Saakashvili's bill proposing creating a provisional pro-Georgian government in the breakaway unrecognized republic of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. That bill is intended to legalize the position of Dmitry Sanakoev, whom the minority Georgian population of the region elected last November as an alternative leader to de facto President Eduard Kokoity, and thereby to create an alternative leadership with which Tbilisi could then seek to negotiate a settlement of the South Ossetia conflict on its own terms, obviating the republic's de facto Moscow-backed leadership (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," March 30, 2007). LF

The head of Kazakh state atomic industry company Kazatomprom, Mukhtar Dzhakishev, announced on April 12 that Kazakhstan is negotiating new agreements on cooperation in the nuclear energy sector with China and Japan, ITAR-TASS reported. The agreement with Japan is to be a major priority during the planned visit to Kazakhstan by Japanese Economy, Trade, and Industry Minister Akira Amari at the end of April. Dzhakishev further added that Chinese officials have also expressed readiness "to quickly sign" an intergovernmental agreement. The agreements are to be modeled on Kazakhstan's current accords on nuclear energy cooperation with both the United States and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). RG

Kazatomprom chief Dzhakishev discounted on April 12 any suggestion that Kazakhstan intends to compete with Russia in the nuclear-energy field, according to ITAR-TASS. Dzhakishev said Kazakhstan seeks to become the world's leading producer of uranium within two years, with uranium mining set to increase from 5,200 tons last year to roughly 7,200 tons in 2007. Longer-term plans project uranium extraction to reach 18,200 tons annually by 2010 and to surpass 25,000 tons by 2016. He also noted that Kazakhstan has recently "completed all procedures" necessary for the ratification of an additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and stated that the country has no plans to establish its own uranium-enrichment facilities. Since Kazakhstan first identified uranium mining as a strategic imperative in 2004, its targets for increased uranium mining have increased significantly and it initiated a $420 million project to construct seven new uranium mines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 8, 2004). RG

At a news conference in Astana on April 11, leading Kazakh human rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis released a new draft law on the freedom of assembly, Kazakh TV's Channel 31 reported. The new draft -- produced by a group of several civic, human rights, and nongovernmental groups -- provides detailed procedures for peaceful public demonstrations and rallies, based on "the right of all citizens to gather" and providing the authorities with a minimum of 10 days of advance notice. Speaking on behalf of the various groups involved in drafting the document, Zhovtis, a rights activist and director of Kazakhstan's International Bureau for Human Rights and the Observance of Legality, explained that the country's "existing legislation on peaceful assembly and rallies is outdated" and noted although the draft seeks to codify the rights of citizens to publicly demonstrate, the "main requirement is that assembly must be peaceful and should not contradict the constitution." The activists are seeking to have the draft formally submitted to the Kazakh parliament and have forwarded the document to the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights for its consideration. RG

Some 3,500 people attended a rally in Bishkek on April 12 demanding that Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev resign and calling for an early presidential election and constitutional reforms, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and Interfax reported. Although the Kyrgyz parliament failed to convene an emergency session to discuss the protests and the opposition's demands, deputies are due to begin a formal debate on April 16 of a set of new constitutional amendments formulated by a special working group led by Prime Minister Almaz Atambaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 11, 2007). Although turnout was lower than the previous day's 10,000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12, 2007), opposition leader and former Prime Minister Feliks Kulov hailed the two days of rallies as a victory, arguing that "we have achieved our original aims- the president agreed to reduce his powers" and warning that "the process of peaceful pressure on the government will be a permanent one," ITAR-TASS reported. RG

Addressing demonstrators in Bishkek, opposition United Front For A Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan activist Melis Eshimkanov vowed on April 12 to continue the two-day rallies with another demonstration on April 13, according to the news agency website. Another opposition spokesman, Topchubek Turgunaliev, a member of the For Political Stability and Unity Movement, also announced that the protests will be expanded beyond the capital, with other mass rallies to be held on April 13 in several regions of the country, AKIpress reported. Opposition parliamentarian Kanybek Imanaliev also announced plans to form a committee on April 13 to "begin gathering 300,000 signatures" as part of a new effort to present a national petition calling for the impeachment of President Bakiev. RG

Following a meeting in Ashgabat with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, visiting Spanish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Miguel Angel Moratinos said on April 12 that the OSCE stands ready to provide Turkmenistan with "increased support" in the political, economic, educational, and environmental-security fields, but called on Turkmen officials to intensify its cooperation with the international community, ITAR-TASS reported. Moratinos said that the OSCE looks forward to greater "cooperation in human rights protection" and welcomed Turkmenistan's new pledge to forge an "active partnership" in the areas of border security and to increase measures to combat drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorism. Moratinos is on a regional tour of Central Asia and arrived in Ashgabat after concluding a series of meetings in Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12, 2007). RG

Alyaksandr Lukashenka said at an April 12 meeting with top media executives in Minsk that Belarus will not become a province of the Russian Federation nor of any other country, Belapan reported. Lukashenka admitted that even opposition newspapers no longer write that he is "a traitor, surrenders our country's sovereignty and independence." Lukashenka added that "sovereignty and independence are more valuable" than the favorable price of Russian natural gas. Lukashenka affirmed the importance of a union with Russia, but also did not hide his resentment at Russia's decision to "switch to market economy relations." "How can you build good, human, brotherly relations, when they have bled you dry under the guise of the establishment of market relations? How could I respond to this and what relations could I build with Russia?" Lukashenka asked rhetorically. AM

President Lukashenka said on April 12 that Belarus will not tolerate dictation and pressure exerted by the EU, Belapan reported. "The EU sets us a list of conditions that the so-called Belarusian opposition writes for it," Lukashenka said, adding that "this is not a normal basis for dialogue." "If we detained some people," Lukashenka said, commenting on the EU's dissatisfaction with the Belarusian authorities' treatment of demonstrators on March 25, "those were provocateurs who worked for money. There were one and a half thousand slobs and some 400 rebels [participating in the demonstration]." Lukashenka said that the authorities will not let those people "foul our streets." Lukashenka announced that Belarus is ready for the dialogue with the EU, but "if you want to take us by the scruff of the neck like a naughty kitten, then don't bother us." Lukashenka admitted that Belarus's foreign policy is "multivectoral," but the country has not managed to establish the same relations with the West as with Russia and Ukraine. AM

President Lukashenka said on April 12 that he does not intend to appoint his elder son Viktar as his successor, Belapan reported. "I swear on my children's fate that we have never discussed this issue at home," Lukashenka said, adding that he himself will be president of Belarus "in the near, visible future." "Viktar is weaker today and will be weaker tomorrow than the incumbent president," Lukashenka said. "Why should I prepare the presidency for [someone] who is weaker? I will be preparing the smallest one for becoming my successor. Neither the first nor the second one will be president. Maybe the third one will be," he added. Lukashenka is known to have two legitimate sons -- Viktar and Dzmitry -- and so his comment is likely to fuel rumors about his having a third, illegitimate son. AM

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) has issued a statement demanding the release of United Civic Party member Andrey Klimau, who was taken into custody last week, Belapan reported on April 12. Prosecutors accused Klimau of insulting President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in articles published on the website "The investigators have treated the global Internet as the media, though Belarusian laws say nothing about this. The politician may face up to five years in prison for articles posted on the Internet," the BAJ said in its statements. "Prosecution for expressing an opinion is a well-established tradition in the Republic of Belarus. Thus, Hrodna-based journalists Pavel Mazheyka and Mikalay Markevich, as well as the editor of the 'Rabochy' newspaper, Viktar Ivashkevich, were sentenced to restricted freedom in 2002," the statement read. AM

Ukraine's Cabinet of Ministers has called on President Viktor Yushchenko to suspend his decree dissolving the Verkhovna Rada until the Constitutional Court rules on its compliance with the constitution, Interfax reported on April 12. "We believe that this is the only right way at this stage," Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said. Yanukovych also said that the current political crisis will not influence Ukraine's foreign policy and economic stability. "The situation in Ukraine will develop within democratic guidelines and will not affect the country's foreign-economic or foreign-policy priorities. We firmly guarantee foreign investors' rights," Yanukovych said. Yushchenko, however, said on April 12 he will not suspend his decree dissolving the Verkhovna Rada, Interfax reported. "Presidential decrees must be implemented. Those who fail to obey them will be brought to account," Yushchenko said, adding that the political crisis should be resolved through political means. Yushchenko said he sees a possible solution to the crisis in proposals he submitted earlier to Prime Minister Yanukovych. According to Yushchenko, the crisis has raised questions about amendments to the constitution, the law forbidding deputies from leaving their caucuses, and the law on the Cabinet of Ministers. Yushchenko believes that the crisis has forced Ukrainian politicians "to make decisions, which we would never make in other circumstances." AM

The Serbian government issued a protest on April 12 at a suggestion by the German ambassador that Hungary could raise questions about Serbia's right to the region of Vojvodina if it continues to oppose a UN proposal to grant Kosova independence, local media reported the same day. The news agency Beta quoted Ambassador Andres Zobel as telling a forum in Belgrade on April 10 that "insistence on Kosovo being part of Serbia would destabilize Serbia and a question could then be raised about Vojvodina, which is a new territory in Serbia," adding that Hungary could "insist on Vojvodina." Zobel dated Serbian control of Vojvodina back to just 1918, following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire, a questionable interpretation of the region's very complex history. Zobel also said questions could be asked about the southern region of Sandzak, whose highly mixed population principally comprises Bosnian Muslims. A Serbian government statement issued on April 12 said that "the ambassador...showed disrespect for the dignity of state institutions of Serbia," and it called for a clarification of Germany's official position. Local and international media reported that a statement by the German Embassy issued on April 12 said that the ambassador's remarks were "misunderstood" and had been taken out of context, and that he "at no point" said Hungary would question the status of Vojvodina. According to the local broadcaster B92, the embassy also asserted that Zobel did not argue that Serbia needs a better political elite when he said Serbia needs a new government quickly. Germany has a particularly high diplomatic profile at present: it currently holds the rotating EU Presidency and the international community's chief representatives in both Kosova and Bosnia-Herzegovina are Germans. The comments have caused a storm of protest from all corners of Serbia's political scene, including a call from the country's largest party, the Serbian Radical Party, that Berlin recall Zobel. The Radicals are generally viewed as too extreme to be included in a new government, which the constitution demands should be formed by May 14. The elections were held in January. AG

A UN survey published on April 12 has found that the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) is less popular than it has been for two years, with international news agencies saying that just 26 percent of the population is satisfied with its performance. The "Early Warning" report by the UN Development Program found that UNMIK is the least popular of the institutions it monitors in Kosova. The UNMIK has administered the nominally Serbian province since 1999, when NATO intervened to end fighting between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas. Under a UN plan currently being discussed by the Security Council, the UNMIK would hand over administration of a newly independent Kosova to the local government and transfer responsibilities for oversight to an EU mission. The results of the poll will again raise questions about the viability of the status quo. Restiveness over long-standing problems such as unemployment -- which is usually estimated to be 60 percent or more -- are being supplemented by rising expectations that Kosova will gain independence, creating the potential for fresh violence if it is denied independence. The UN's poll rating in March 2004, when UNMIK forces were attacked during a wave of violence against ethnic Serbs, was 23 percent. The poll holds little comfort for Kosovar's local politicians either, with just 30 percent saying they approve of the government. Despite the prospect of independence, 50 percent of respondents said they are pessimistic about the future, the lowest figure since mid-2002. The survey found that 57 percent of ethnic Albanians view the UN's plan positively; it is overwhelmingly opposed by ethnic Serbs (82 percent). AG

Several dozen members of the radical ethnic Albanian Self-Determination (Vetevendosje) movement on April 12 trashed two UN vehicles in Prishtina, the Bosnian news agency SRNA reported the same day. Kosova police said that they also sprayed "UNMIK out -- killers" on several UN vehicles. Details of the lightly reported incident are scant. However, the incident highlights the animosity felt toward the UN in some quarters as well as Self-Determination's potential for violence. A February 10 rally called by Self-Determination ended in the deaths of two protesters, after UN police fired at demonstrators who they say were trying to storm government buildings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 12, 13, 14, and 15, March 26, and April 5, 2007). UN vehicles have been attacked on two other occasions this year. In both cases, the identity of the attackers remains unknown (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 20, 27, and 28, 2007). Self-Determination argues that Kosova should be granted outright independence with no international supervision. The head of KFOR, Lieutenant General Roland Kather, said on April 10 that the security situation in Kosova is stable, local media reported. AG

In a report released on April 12, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that the population of Kosova is currently being given inadequate opportunity to redress administrative decisions that they believe are arbitrary and illegal. Kosova is currently administered by the UN, with the support of NATO-led KFOR peacekeepers. The local government has relatively few powers. The report identifies "the lack of judicial review of UNMIK and KFOR decisions" as one of four key concerns. The others are weak laws, "problems with administrative decisions," and problems with reviews of administrative decisions. In a statement, the OSCE said these "challenges to a functioning administrative justice system need to be tackled to help protect individual rights and the rule of law." The report calls for Kosova's Supreme Court to function as an appeals court, saying that individuals' right to an effective legal remedy are "arguably" being violated. It also said there is a need for administrative decisions to be "well reasoned" and to "comply" with the law. In Kosova, the role of the OSCE is to build up the region's institutions and democracy and to promote human rights and the rule of law. AG

Serbian President Boris Tadic on April 12 raised concerns with Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic about a long-running property dispute between the Montenegrin Orthodox Church and the Serbian Orthodox Church that appears to be reaching boiling point. The news agency FoNet quoted a Montenegrin government statement in which Vujanovic assured Tadic that the Montenegrin authorities will "protect the property" of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Leaders of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church are due to meet in extraordinary session on April 14, and they appear likely to push for radical steps to press their claims to property held by the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Serbian Orthodox Church is the only Orthodox church in Montenegro recognized by the communion of Eastern Orthodox churches. The Montenegrin Orthodox Church, which registered itself as a nongovernmental organization in 1997, argues that it is Montenegro's sole legitimate Orthodox church and that its property was illegally seized in the early 20th century. On April 9, a senior official in the Montenegrin church, Stevo Vucinic, was quoted by the Mina news agency as saying that "we shall take over all municipal churches and chapels, including village churches, as well as monasteries." Vucinic said there will be "no more concessions" and "no turning back." That prompted a leader of the country's ethnic Serbian coalition, Budimir Aleksic, to call the Montenegrin Orthodox Church a tool of the Montenegrin government. President Vujanovic stepped into the dispute on April 10, saying on television that the state will prevent "any seizure of property." The head of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Mihailo, immediately criticized Vujanovic as causing "confusion in the public with his ambiguous statement" and accusing the government of helping the Serbian Orthodox Church to bar his congregation from entering the disputed buildings. The flare-up in tensions coincides with a heated dispute over the country's draft constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 9 and March 12 and 15, 2007). AG

Serbian Capital Investment Minister Velimir Ilic has said that Serbia wants to gain a stake in Montenegro's largest cargo port, Serbian media reported on April 10 and 11. Ilic said that Belgrade will enter a privatization tender recently called by the Montenegrin government. The reports imply that Serbia has put forward a moral case for part ownership, with Serbian television reporting that Serbia may "seek ownership on the basis of past investment," and B92 quoting Montenegro's deputy transportation minister, Rados Sucur, as saying that "Serbia has not insisted on part ownership in the port, but that the country is interested in participating in the Port of Bar privatization process and acquiring a part of it." According to Serbian television, Ilic said Serbia has invested $1 billion into developing its transportation infrastructure to serve Bar and that its entire transportation strategy is built around access to the port. Other reports suggest the investment figure refers to a period of decades. Between 60 and 70 percent of goods shipped from Bar come from Serbia. Serbia itself has no coastline. AG

Moldova's Food and Agriculture Ministry announced on April 12 that Moldova has resumed exports of wine to Belarus, ITAR-TASS reported on April 12, corroborating earlier unconfirmed reports in the Moldovan media. Moldova stopped exporting unbottled wine to Belarus in January as part of a broader effort to raise quality standards. Belarus responded by halting imports of bottled wine. Both bottled and unbottled Moldovan wine is now being sold in Belarus, following changes in Moldova's policy and the establishment of a joint venture to manage the trade. Belarus is Moldova's third-largest wine market, behind Russia and Ukraine, bringing in revenues of $36 million in 2006, according to figures from the news agencies Basa and ITAR-TASS. Moldova's wine industry says it is in a state of crisis, with Russia proving slow to restore the free flow of wine after lifting, in November, a ban imposed in March 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2006, and March 20, 2007). On a related note, Russia said that it is now importing fruit and vegetables from Moldova, one month after Moldova said Russia lifted a ban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 13, 2007). AG

Two years ago, Viktor Yushchenko was hailed as a conquering hero in many Western capitals. The U.S. Congress, hosting the newly anointed Ukrainian president in April 2005, welcomed his arrival with boisterous enthusiasm, chanting his name and cheering as he thanked "the entire American nation" for its support.

That speech, and one in Germany's Bundestag a month earlier, were part of a postrevolutionary victory lap after the massive public protests of the Orange Revolution propelled Yushchenko into the Ukrainian presidency -- and reduced his Moscow-backed rival, Viktor Yanukovych, to political ignominy.

Now Yushchenko and Yanukovych are once again locking horns. This time, however, Yanukovych is prime minister and head of the lynchpin party in parliament's ruling coalition. And the cheers of Western support for Yushchenko? Nowhere to be heard.

"Any political questions in Ukraine need to be resolved by the Ukraine government," said U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, responding to Yushchenko's dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada following the defection of opposition lawmakers to the coalition. And in Brussels, Adrian Severin, a member of the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, said this time around, Europe is putting its support behind "values," rather than "people."

Yushchenko himself appears to acknowledge he cannot turn to the West for support on this battle. In an interview with RFE/RL on April 11, he said Ukrainians must solve the current crisis "by themselves."

Some observers say that many in the West have been disappointed by the inability of the Orange Revolution leaders to capitalize on their powerful public mandate and effectively lead the country down a new progressive path. "The lethargy that you see, the hesitancy, or even the frustration on the part of Brussels and Washington has to do with the degree to which the Orange Revolution itself collapsed or disintegrated or eroded," says Robert Legvold, a professor at New York's Columbia University who specializes in post-Soviet politics.

Just months after the Orange Revolution, Yushchenko and his charismatic political ally, Yuliya Tymoshenko, were reduced to constant bickering. By September 2005, Yushchenko removed Tymoshenko from her prime ministerial post. That move split the pro-Western Orange forces and opened the door for Yanukovych's political comeback and the victory of his Party of Regions in March 2006 parliamentary elections.

After months of haggling, Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, and Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz appeared to revive the Orange forces and form a ruling coalition that would have returned Tymoshenko to the prime ministerial post. But in the end, Moroz defected and instead formed a coalition with Party of Regions and the Communists. By August 2006, it was Yanukovych, and not Tymoshenko, who was confirmed as prime minister.

"The Orange Revolution alliance quarreled so much, it didn't have the sort of inner dynamism to create a government of its own," says Eugeniusz Smolar of the Warsaw-based Center for International Relations, who says he watched the months of haggling with a mixture of "sympathy and horror." The fighting, he says, "destroyed, on the one hand, the cohesion -- and, on the other hand, some of the support -- of the population toward the government."

Some analysts and politicians suggest the West could have done more to support pro-European forces in Ukraine by expediting the country's bid to join Western institutions like the World Trade Organization, the European Union, and NATO.

Brussels, which acknowledges expansion fatigue, has been firm in its refusal to bolster Ukraine's hopes of membership. But U.S. President George W. Bush on April 10 signed legislation backing NATO membership for five countries, including Ukraine.

The fact remains, however, that Ukraine's eastern regions remain largely loyal to Russia, which adamantly opposes NATO expansion. As a result, Ukraine itself is deeply divided over whether it wants to join either the EU or NATO. Some polls have indicated that most Ukrainians would reject membership in either if the issue was put to a referendum. "There is a quite a large group of public opinion in Ukraine that is not terribly interested in joining the European Union, understanding that it has an important economic, social, and cultural interest in staying close to Russia," says Smolar.

So did the West fail, or Ukraine? "It's a complex situation," Smolar says. "I believe that the Ukrainian public and the Ukrainian elite didn't do enough. Whether the West could do more.... I believe it could do more, but I am not sure it could do much more."

Ukraine's inconstancy regarding the West may prove an inconvenience elsewhere in the former Soviet Union -- particularly in Georgia, whose NATO bid also got Bush's blessing this week.

Georgia kicked off the wave of colored revolutions with its 2003 Rose Revolution, and President Mikheil Saakashvili has traditionally kept close ties with Yushchenko. But Legvold at Columbia University says Georgia's own Western ambitions may be hampered by the ongoing Ukrainian stalemate. "I don't see any prospect that Georgia can be considered for NATO membership -- even if it seems in some fashion more qualified -- until the Ukrainian issue is settled," he says. "You can't jump over Ukraine and address the Georgian question separately."

Ultimately, U.S. and EU support for Yushchenko and Ukraine's pro-Western forces may also be muted because the current composition of the Ukrainian government is the product of elections that were universally judged to be among the fairest and cleanest in post-Soviet Ukraine. The Orange Revolution had a clear villain in Yanukovych, whose backers blatantly falsified election results. This time around, he is the legitimate head of government and leads the most popular party in the country.

Marek Siwiec, deputy chairman of the European Parliament, said on April 11 that Yushchenko can no longer expect the unequivocal Western support he enjoyed in 2004. "All parties have a legal democratic mandate now," Siwiec said. And that makes a "huge difference."

Roadside bombs struck two NATO convoys in eastern Afghanistan on April 12, killing two soldiers, AP reported. The convoys were patrolling five miles apart when they were hit by roadside bombs, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement. Another NATO soldier was wounded; NATO did not identify the dead and injured soldiers. "The two ISAF convoys were approximately eight kilometers apart, conducting independent operations in support of the Afghan government, when they were attacked within 30 minutes of each other," the ISAF statement said, without identifying the nationalities of the victims. RR

U.S.-led warplanes and soldiers killed 24 Taliban who were hiding in caves in southern Afghanistan on April 12, AFP reported. U.S. and Afghan security forces were ambushed by militants and fought them for about an hour in southern Zabul Province before the air strike on the fighters' positions, a U.S. coalition statement said. The troops requested the air strikes after they tracked several Taliban who fled by motorcycle from the area of caves northeast of the city of Qalat, the statement said. "As a result of the fighting, 24 enemy fighters were killed, 14 motorcycles and two cave sites were destroyed. One weapons cache was also recovered during a subsequent search of the caves," it said. Taliban militants seized control of a remote district during the past week. RR

Italy said NATO and the United Nations should consider guidelines on appropriate ways to respond in hostage crises, Reuters reported on April 12. Addressing parliament after being criticized over a prisoner swap with the Taliban on March 19, Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema defended the release of five jailed Taliban by the Afghan government to secure the release of Italian reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo, who had been kidnapped in Afghanistan. The Taliban killed Mastrogiacomo's translator, journalist Ajmal Naqshbandi, on April 8. D'Alema said kidnapping cases are too sensitive to create a blanket no-negotiation rule. "At the same time, I think it's time to explore the possibility of guidelines shared on an international level, a code of shared behaviour," D'Alema said. "I think, for example, in the case of Afghanistan, of a discussion at NATO." Critics of the Taliban swap, including the United States and Britain, said it encouraged further kidnappings and endangered NATO troops by returning jailed guerrillas to the battlefield. RR

Executed hostage Naqshbandi was buried in Kabul on April 11, the "International Herald Tribune" reported. Naqshbandi was working as an interpreter for "La Repubblica" correspondent Mastrogiacomo when the two and their driver, Sayyed Agha, were kidnapped in Helmand Province on March 4; Agha was also executed in captivity. Naqshbandi's relatives and colleagues criticized President Hamid Karzai for not having done more to win his release. Sultan Muhammad, a relative of Naqshbandi, said some of the blame rests with Karzai and Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, who "prematurely" announced that there would be no further prisoner exchanges with the Taliban. RR

Mohammad Saidi, the deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization for international affairs, said in Tehran on April 12 that "entering into the industrial phase of nuclear fuel production" has improved Iran's position in any international negotiations over the nuclear issue, IRNA reported. He said Iran's position has changed as it has developed its fuel-making capabilities in past years. The UN Security Council has pressed Iran to stop producing fuel that some believe could eventually be used in making nuclear weapons. Saidi said Iran has been testing its "industrial-scale" set of centrifuges in the Natanz site for at least a year. He did not say how many centrifuges there are, but they may number between 328 centrifuges -- the number reportedly used so far on an experimental basis -- and 3,000, the number Iran said it would install. Saidi said Western skepticism on Iran's apparent breakthrough into large-scale enrichment was premature, and Western states should wait for the next report on Natanz from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors. Saidi said Iran will enrich uranium hexafluoride gas in Natanz to the 5 percent level, producing fuel for a "light-water" reactor, presumably the one being built in Bushehr. He said future nuclear waste can be buried 400 meters below ground in spots where uranium ore was extracted, IRNA reported. VS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said in Tehran on April 12 that a Frenchman whose passport was confiscated in January after he photographed a religious ceremony can now leave the country, ISNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 5, 2007). Hosseini said investigations of Stephane Dudoignon are complete and he has been given back his passport. Hosseini said the passport was confiscated because Dudoignon's research activities differed from those he had originally stated, presumably when applying for a visa. The French Foreign Ministry expressed satisfaction at the news, Radio Farda reported on April 12. Dudoignon told "Le Figaro" shortly after he was detained on January 30 that his research into Iran's Sunni Muslim communities is a problem for Iranian authorities, the daily reported on April 5. He was told during subsequent questioning by Iranian authorities that Iran does not want his findings to be published abroad, and that "next time" he may only enter Iran to visit his relatives, reported. Dudoignon is married to an Iranian. VS

Labor activist Mahmud Salehi was arrested on April 9 in the town of Saqqez in the western Kurdistan province after police asked him to go to the local governor's office for "a conversation," Radio Farda reported on April 12, quoting family members. They told the broadcaster that a police officer went to Salehi's work place on April 9 and asked him to go to the district governor's office to discuss Labor Day on May 1, and that they left "apparently heading for the district governor's office." He was detained, and the family saw him in prison in Sanandaj, another Kurdistan province town, on April 12. Iranian workers have intermittently sought to voice work-related demands at May Day gatherings. Radio Farda on April 12 cited a history of past arrests, three trials, and a five-year prison term given to Salehi in 2004, apparently for activism or participation in demonstrations. He was most recently re-tried on March 11, it reported. New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) also reported his arrest on August 2, 2005, in Saqqez or Sanandaj, and identified him as a spokesman for the Organizational Committee to Establish Trade Unions. VS

A report published by the Iranian parliament's research center has concluded that inflation might increase in the Persian year to March 20, 2008, and that the rise is partly caused by the injection of billions of petrodollars into the economy in the past year, Radio Farda reported on April 11, citing Persian papers. The research center forecast an inflation rate of 23.4 percent in the year cited, up from the 22.4 percent rate it gave for the preceding year, and economic growth of 5 percent, Radio Farda reported. The broadcaster noted that these figures differ from those of the government, which has reportedly forecast inflation and economic growth rates this year of 11 and 7 percent, respectively. Critics have cited increased spending by the government of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad as one cause of inflation, Radio Farda reported. On April 12, the deputy finance minister for banking and insurance affairs, Hamid Purmohammadi, told a Tehran conference that the budgets of state-sector firms have on average increased by 31 percent annually, and some years more than 53 percent, reported. He said it is not unusual for these companies to overspend, despite their expanding budgets. Mehr news agency also reported on April 10 that Iran's central bank has set the Persian year from March 21, 2004, as the new base year from which it will calculate annual inflation rates. VS

Legislator Kamal Daneshyar, the head of parliament's Energy Committee, said in Tehran on April 11 that "some" legislators are "seriously" considering preliminary proposals to revalue Iran's currency, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on April 12. Daneshyar said the "value of the rial has fallen greatly compared to foreign currencies" in past years. One U.S. dollar is currently worth a little over 9,000 rials, or 900 tumans. Daneshyar suggested that with a "new rial" equivalent to 10,000 existing rials, "we would raise the country's monetary value in economic and psychological terms." He said this would "make printing money easier and extra zeros will no longer be needed on banknotes." Daneshyar said legislators would have to consider the cost of gathering up Iran's current coins and notes, and issuing new ones, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. VS

Three cafeteria workers are being held in connection with the April 12 suicide-bomb attack on the National Assembly's cafeteria, Reuters reported on April 13 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12, 2007). Parliamentarian Hasan al-Sunayd told reporters some parliamentary guards are also under investigation, but none are being held. The U.S. military reported that one parliamentarian, Muhammad Awad al-Juburi, was killed in the blast. Awad hailed from the Sunni Arab Iraqi Front for National Dialogue. Twenty-two others were wounded. Al-Sharqiyah television reported that parliamentarian Taha al-Luhaybi and another unidentified parliamentarian died on April 13 from wounds sustained in the blast. That report has not been independently verified. Parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani convened a extraordinary session of parliament on April 13, telling parliamentarians, "The fact that we are holding this session here today is an clear message to the terrorists." "Time" magazine reported that the Islamic State of Iraq has claimed responsibility for the attack. KR

Turkey's top general, Yasar Buyukanit, told reporters at an April 12 press briefing in Ankara broadcast live on TRT2 television that Turkey should launch operations against the Turkish-Kurdish Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) inside Iraqi territory. Calling northern Iraq "an area of living, training, and logistic support for the PKK," Buyukanit said that if given the legal authority, the Turkish Army could successfully carry out a cross-border operation . "Should an operation be carried out in northern Iraq? Yes!" Buyukanit told reporters. "Would it be useful? Yes, it would be useful." Buyukanit criticized Iraq's Kurdistan region government, telling reporters that it has overstepped its authority in the federal Iraqi structure because the region's president, Mas'ud Barzani, refuses to fly the Iraqi flag. He also claimed that the region has established its own currency, printed from its central bank. Regarding the PKK, he said Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's political party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, "has now become [the PKK's] natural ally," allowing the PKK "a great freedom of action in northern Iraq." He added: "Now [the PKK fighters] travel in taxis to the places where they used to go with mules. We have photographs of this." He also claimed that the PKK received weapons from Saddam Hussein's army after its fall. KR

Turkey has begun implementing an "action plan" against the PKK in Iraq, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on April 12. The daily reported that Ankara's warning this week through a note sent to the Iraqi government seeking urgent Iraqi action against the PKK was the first step. The note allegedly said that should the Iraqi government fail to take immediate steps against the PKK, Turkey will implement Article 51 of the UN Charter, which pertains to the right of states to self-defense. "Turkey's neighbors should know that if they wrong us, we shall not let that happen," Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said on April 11 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12, 2007). The government is also considering economic sanctions through the closing of the Habur border crossing, a major trading route for goods imported to Iraq, the daily reported. Commenting on the tensions between Turkey and Iraq, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters on April 12, "The focus should be on trying to resolve this in a cooperative way, in a joint way, rather than to resort to unilateral actions." KR

Iran is still considering whether it will attend the next meeting of foreign ministers of Iraq's neighboring countries, Iranian media reported on April 12. Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said it is "not definite" that Iran will attend the meeting, which will be held in Cairo. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Ghayt said some 50 countries are slated to take part in the May 3-4 meeting, which will be held in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, MENA reported on April 12. KR

The Sharm el-Sheikh conference will focus on nine key points, "Al-Sabah" reported on April 12. In the political sphere, the conference will discuss support for national reconciliation, expanding political participation, revising constitutional issues, ending political and sectarian tension, and guaranteeing a fair distribution of wealth. Four subjects related to the security file will be addressed: supporting the law enforcement plan, speeding up the training and rehabilitation of the security forces, addressing the issue of militias and armed groups, and ending foreign interference in Iraq's domestic affairs. KR