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Newsline - June 28, 2007

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived in Moscow early on June 28 for talks with President Vladimir Putin that many observers suggest could involve a major arms deal, Russian media reported. Chavez said that he arrived "as usual with a deep trust in our [mutual] cooperation and in our union and with much enthusiasm for Russia, for the new Russia of the 21st century." Prior to Chavez's arrival, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in an interview that "Russia and Venezuela are successfully developing military-technical cooperation on the basis of an intergovernmental accord and in strict compliance with their international commitments and international legal norms," Interfax reported. He also noted the central importance of fuel and energy in bilateral relations, adding that "Gazprom, LUKoil, Zarubezhneftegaz, Raznoimport-Venezuela, Tekhnopromeksport, and other Russian companies are expanding their presence on the Venezuelan market." An unnamed "Kremlin official" was quoted by ITAR-TASS as saying that "Russia and Venezuela, as major oil producers and exporters, support stability on the international oil market and welcome the dialogue between independent producers of hydrocarbons and OPEC member states." The state-run daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" and some other Russian media suggested on June 28 that Chavez wants to make major arms purchases, which he claims are necessary to defend Venezuela against an alleged U.S. threat. Washington, however, suspects that such deals are intended to taunt the United States and extend Caracas's influence in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2006, Chavez bought $3 billion worth of Russian jet fighters, military helicopters, Kalashnikov assault rifles, and other weapons. More recently, he has reportedly expressed interest in acquiring submarines and air-defense missile systems (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28 and August 8, 2006, and January 31 and June 15, 2007). PM

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Minsk on June 28 that there are no reasons for a "new Cold War," Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 12, May 15, and April 19, 2007). He stressed that "there is no predestined confrontation with any country, including the United States. Accordingly, a Cold War is out of the question. There are no objective prerequisites for that." Lavrov added that "at the same time, isolation and alienation would have equally negative consequences. That is why Russia, which reserves the right to disagree with its partners, is always ready for truly collective efforts if our partners choose such [an approach]." He argued that Moscow opposes "strategic games in Europe, which would have zero results but create a potential confrontation out of nothing and base the European policy on the 'friend or foe' principle." He appealed for understanding for Russia's positions on the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), Kosova, and the proposed U.S. missile-defense project. He said that "we hope our conclusions will be taken seriously. It is not easy to brush them aside." A central technique in Soviet diplomatic rhetoric was to express self-righteous indignation and suggest that all would be well if the other side would accept the reasonableness of Moscow's position, which, however, was really one-sided and sought to mask the Soviet Union's own aggressiveness. On February 10, President Putin delivered a belligerent speech in Munich that many observers considered to be the opening broadside in a new Cold War. Many Western leaders have since criticized what they regard as an escalation of tough Russian rhetoric (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27, 2007). The daily "Kommersant" wrote on June 27 a propos of some of Putin's recent remarks that "it's amazing how rapidly Soviet-era rhetoric is taking over the present. Perhaps it's because that rhetoric is flawless in its almost painfully clear and simple formulations, which almost beg to be spoken, since they were forged over long years of positional battles with our probable and hypothetical opponent." PM

A consortium led by the state-run Russian airline Aeroflot withdrew on June 27 from bidding in the competition to acquire at least 39.9 percent of the shares of Alitalia, which is Italy's largest airline, "The Moscow Times" and Britain's "Financial Times" reported on June 28 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 5 and June 18, 2007). Aeroflot officials said they did not receive "access to critical information" about several key aspects of Alitalia's business. Lev Koshlyakov, who is a member of Aeroflot's board, said that "we felt there was strong political pressure on the [Italian] government from the trade unions to keep Alitalia in Italian hands." One of the two remaining bidders is led by Air One, which is Italy's second-largest carrier. Bids are due by July 12. PM

Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, who is also an army general, was quoted by the state-run daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on June 27 as calling for "compulsory treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction, and administrative monitoring for ex-prisoners. Most importantly, we need a law on crime prevention...[and] laws on citizen participation in law enforcement activity." Asked whether mandatory treatment might not be a violation of citizens' rights, Nurgaliyev replied that "drug addicts steal 600,000-700,000 mobile phones a year and sell them to get a fix. Some of the victims of those thefts are children and women. Don't the rights and liberties of these people need protection too? So might it not be better to have the drug addicts undergo treatment, even force them to do so, rather than sending them to jail?" He stressed the importance of preventing crimes before they happen, saying that a "crime-prevention system will require additional funding. But the consequence of economizing on this could be very serious. Isn't it better to invest 10,000 rubles [$387] in rehabilitating a problem adolescent now, rather than paying hundreds of thousands of rubles to keep that person in prison in the future?" Russian social-service centers, including those for the treatment of alcoholism and other forms of addiction, are generally regarded as understaffed, poorly equipped, and inadequate. PM

Moscow police on June 27 prevented about 25 gay activists from holding a demonstration, which was approved by the city authorities, outside the offices of the EU to demand a visa ban on Mayor Yury Luzhkov, news agencies reported. Police detained two protesters. Activist Aleksei Davydov said that the "authorities in Moscow have broken the law again by not allowing our picket." Luzhkov calls gay-pride marches "satanic" and has repeatedly banned them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 27, March 1, and May 29, 2007). PM

St. Petersburg prosecutors opened a criminal case on June 27 against police officers who used violence to break up an opposition rally there in April, news agencies reported. The heavy-handed response by police during the Marches of Dissent prompted not only an outcry from human rights groups, the United States, and Germany -- which holds the EU's rotating Presidency -- but also a rare admission from the Kremlin that some police "overreacted" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 16 and 17, 2007). PM

Following the withdrawal of military equipment and personnel, the commander of the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus, Major General Andrei Popov, signed an agreement on June 28 formally handing back to Georgian jurisdiction the military base at Akhalkalaki in southern Georgia, reported. Russia retained possession of that Soviet-era facility, which can accommodate 15,000 servicemen, following the collapse of the USSR in 1991. After years of often difficult talks, agreement was reached in May 2006 that Russia would vacate the Akhalkalaki base by July 1, 2007, and a second base in Batumi by the end of 2008 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31, 2005). The process of withdrawing military equipment from Batumi is already under way. LF

Chechen Republic Ichkeria Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakayev attended the ongoing session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on June 27, the resistance website and reported. "Kommersant" on June 28 reported that at the June 27 session, Swiss Senator Dick Marty presented the findings of his investigation into reports of clandestine CIA prisons in Europe, and also mentioned analogous Russian prisons in Chechnya. Zakayev met with Marty, and also with German parliamentarian and former PACE rapporteur on Chechnya Rudolf Bindig, according to "Kommersant." The deputy head of the Russian PACE delegation, Leonid Slutsky, was quoted by as saying that his delegation will formally request from the French government an explanation how Zakayev, who is wanted in Russia on terrorism and abduction charges, managed to attend the PACE session. LF

Ruslan Odizhev, one of two suspected militants gunned down on the street in Nalchik early on June 27 in a "special operation," was a participant in the Moscow apartment-building bombings in August 1999, RIA Novosti reported June 27, quoting an unnamed Federal Security Service (FSB) source (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27, 2007). But the daily "Kommersant" on June 28 quoted Geidar Djemal, who heads the Islamic Committee of Russia, as dismissing that allegation as nonsense and as saying that Odizhev's friends can prove that he was not in Russia at that time. (He was apparently fighting in Afghanistan, where he was apprehended by U.S. troops and subsequently detained for several years at Guantanamo Bay.) The FSB further claimed that Odizhev was a member of the Yarmuk jamaat and that he commanded a group of 16 militants who participated in the October 2005 multiple attacks on police and security facilities in Nalchik (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 13 and 14, 2005). But according to on June 28, Yarmuk was a group of no more than 20 people, predominantly Balkars, established in November 2002, when Odizhev would have still been in detention in Guantanamo (he was released in October 2004), and it was virtually destroyed in early 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 26 and May 2, 2005). Odizhev was nonetheless a close friend of Yarmuk's chief ideologist Anzor Astemirov, according to "Kommersant" on June 28 identified the second slain militant as Anzor Tengizov, about whom little is known. LF

A group of FSB personnel from North Ossetia tried early on June 27 to detain a 26-year-old Ingush man, Khalit Aushev, at his home in the village of Surkhakhi in neighboring Ingushetia, Interfax and the website reported. That attempt was thwarted by villagers armed with axes and pitchforks and by Ingushetian police called in to intervene. At the insistence of Aushev's family, he was taken to local police headquarters to confirm he is not wanted on suspicion of any crime. One Surkhakhi resident suspected of links with the armed resistance was brutally killed on June 17, and one of his relatives has circulated an account of how he was subsequently detained and tortured (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 18 and 26, 2007). LF

Lieutenant General Magerram Aliyev was dismissed late on June 27 as head of the Baku City Police in connection with his transfer to another, unspecified post, and reported on June 27 and 28, respectively. Aliyev told his former subordinates on June 28 that he resigned voluntarily, according to LF

In a "commentary" posted on June 27 on its website (, the Russian Foreign Ministry rejected as misplaced media speculation that Russia and Georgia might cut a deal under which Georgia would drop its objections to Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization in return for the withdrawal of Russian support for the leadership of Georgia's breakaway unrecognized republic of South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26, 2007). The statement termed "counter to nature" efforts by Tbilisi to ignore the clear support enjoyed among the republic's population by the present (pro-Russian) leadership. For that reason, the statement continued, it is "impossible that Russia would suddenly turn its back" on those leaders and enter into talks with the pro-Tbilisi provisional South Ossetian leadership, "which is not a party to the conflict." The statement further appealed to the media not to circulate "unverified information from dubious sources." LF

More than 20 representatives of the Abkhaz intelligentsia have signed an open letter, released on June 27, suggesting that a bomb explosion early on June 22 on the Novy Afon highway may have been directed against Prime Minister Aleksandr Ankvab, reported. No one was injured. They do not explain the basis for that assumption. The signatories condemned the bombing as directed against the interests of the Abkhaz people, and expressed puzzlement and concern that the Abkhaz authorities are apparently downplaying the incident. Ankvab escaped two assassination attempts within a one month shortly after the unrecognized republic's de facto president, Sergei Bagapsh, named him prime minister in early 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 1 and 2, and April 4, 2005). LF

The trial of 21 health officials, doctors, and hospital workers accused of being responsible for a deadly outbreak of HIV in Southern Kazakhstan Oblast ended on June 27 in Shymkent. The Kazakhstan Today and Interfax-Kazakhstan news agencies reported that 16 of the defendants were sentenced to between three and eight years in prison. Judge Ziyadinkhan Pirniyaz ruled that some of them be barred from exercising their professional duties for up to five years after their release and that the property of others be confiscated. The other five defendants received suspended prison terms of up to 3 1/2 years. The final verdict read that all defendants were found guilty of negligence. It also denounced the corruption and illicit trade in blood that flourished in Shymkent hospitals. The outbreak of HIV began last year and has affected some 120 children, of whom 10 died of AIDS. Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on June 27 that parents of the infected children expressed outrage upon hearing the court's ruling, saying they expected heavier sentences. JCP

Meeting in the Kyrgyz capital on June 27, the defense ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) agreed to enhance multilateral cooperation and finalized preparations for a joint military exercise to take place later this year, Russia's Interfax and Kyrgyzstan's news agencies reported. Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan said the five sets of maneuvers that have already taken place within the framework of the SCO have helped member states "learn from each other" and enhance the combat capacity of their respective armed forces. The upcoming maneuvers, codenamed Peaceful Mission-2007, will take place in Russia's Chelyabinsk Oblast in August. They will involve some 5,000 troops from China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. The sixth SCO member, Uzbekistan, will send only military observers, RIA Novosti reported on June 27. Following the SCO meeting, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov held separate talks with his Kyrgyz counterpart, Ismail Isakov. The Kyrgyz Defense Ministry said in a statement that the two discussed bilateral military cooperation "and other issues," Interfax reported. The ministry also said it expects to receive military equipment worth $2.5 million from Russia this year, compared to $2 million in 2006. This assistance is intended to compensate the Kyrgyz government for the use of the Kant military air base by the Russian air force. Also on June 27, Serdyukov met with Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev, who praised the steady development of defense ties between Moscow and Bishkek, Interfax reported. JCP

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev on June 27 signed into law amendments to the Criminal Code that, among other things, replace the death penalty with life imprisonment. The Kyrgyz parliament approved the changes on April 26. According to a press release posted on the presidential website (, the amendments aim at "humanizing" Kyrgyzstan's criminal legislation and bringing the Criminal Code into line with the new constitution, which was approved by parliament on December 30, 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 3, 2007). Kyrgyzstan, which introduced a moratorium on capital punishment in 1998, is the second Central Asian country to abolish the death penalty after Turkmenistan. A moratorium on executions exists in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. JCP

Tajikistan on June 27 marked the 10th anniversary of the signing in Moscow of the peace agreement brokered by Russia, Iran, and the UN that put a formal end to the 1992-97 civil war. Addressing an expert panel on the eve of the anniversary, which is a national holiday, President Emomali Rahmon said the peace deal that was inked in Moscow on June 27, 1997, "helped save the young, independent Tajikistan" from collapse, the Avesta and official Khovar news agencies reported on June 26. Rahmon also posthumously decorated late wartime opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri, who died last year in Dushanbe. The Tajik civil war claimed some 150,000 lives and turned 1 million people into refugees. JCP

The official website of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka ( on June 27 inaugurated a Belarusian-language version, in addition to its Russian- and English-language ones. Since the start of his presidential career, Lukashenka has been known for his overt disdain for the native tongue of the Belarusians. In a notoriously derisive comment in 1994, he declared that there are only two great languages in the world -- Russian and English. "The people who speak the Belarusian language cannot do anything else apart from speaking the Belarusian language, because it's impossible to express anything great in Belarusian," he asserted. In May 1995, Lukashenka called a referendum that made Russian the second official language in the country. In practical terms, the 1995 referendum has eliminated the Belarusian language, which enjoyed a measure of state-sponsored revival in 1991-93, almost completely from public life and state-controlled media in Belarus. JM

"Belaruskaya voennaya gazeta," the daily press organ of the Belarusian Defense Ministry, reported on its website ( on June 27 that a military registration and enlistment office in Minsk rejected an application from a Belarusian citizen of African origin, identified as Vital N., to serve in the Belarusian armed forces. According to Belarusian law, the daily explained, those who have previously served in foreign armed forces may not join the Belarusian Army. Some time ago Vital reportedly found an Internet advertisement saying that the U.S. Army was looking for foreign volunteers to serve in Iraq and promised U.S. citizenship to such volunteers after one year of service. The daily reported that Vital arrived in the United States as a tourist, managed to enlist as a recruit, and was sent to Iraq after a "short special training course." Vital's "euphoria over donning a brand-new uniform was still turning his head but the fairytale was soon over. Mildly speaking, foreigners are not liked there, and they are subject to all kinds of humiliation. Severe hazing is thriving. After a few months of such service, Vital returned to his fatherland," the daily wrote in an article penned by Lieutenant Dzmitry Labashou. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on June 27 called for a referendum "in the near future" to amend the Ukrainian Constitution, Ukrainian media reported. Yushchenko said he does not rule out that a draft constitution submitted to a referendum will provide for the stripping from lawmakers of immunity against prosecution, a reduction in the number of lawmakers, a shortening of the parliamentary term, and the establishment of a bicameral legislature. "I am in favor of strengthening the principles of parliamentary government. But simultaneously we need to make it impossible for the Verkhovna Rada to be transformed into the supreme power body," Yushchenko said at a solemn gathering on the eve of Constitution Day. "Ukraine needs a strong power. Its [power] system should be clear-cut and balanced, with specific responsibilities distributed among the head of state, parliament, and the cabinet of ministers," he added. There have recently been rumors circulated by some politicians from the ruling coalition that Yushchenko wants to hold a constitutional referendum simultaneously with the preterm parliamentary elections he decreed for September 30. Meanwhile, presidential adviser Stepan Havrysh said on June 27 that the "new wording of the constitution" should be approved by a national plebiscite in 2008. JM

Our Ukraine leader Vyacheslav Kyrylenko and People's Self-Defense leader Yuriy Lutsenko on June 28 signed a declaration to set up a joint election bloc for the September early polls, Interfax-Ukraine and UNIAN reported. The two groups pledge to create a "single democratic political party as an exponent and advocate of national-development priorities and European socioeconomic and political values in Ukraine." They also call on all democratic forces in the country to join the declared election bloc. JM

Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht appeared to break ranks with other Western members of the UN Security Council on June 27 by calling for new bilateral talks on Kosova with no proviso that, if talks fail, the Security Council would back independence for Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 20, 2007). "If you have negotiations, then you should not say in advance what the result will be," AP quoted de Gucht as saying. Belgium currently holds the presidency of the Security Council. De Gucht claimed that "many members of the Security Council and a majority of European Union nations" now support a new round of talks without conditions. He did not indicate what steps should be taken if the proposed four extra months of talks between Belgrade and Kosova produced no result. The UN's proposal for supervised independence for Kosova was made after 15 months of UN-mediated bilateral talks. Russia's criticism of the "automaticity" built into the latest resolution was countered on June 22 by Belgium's ambassador to the UN, Johan Verbeke, who said: "This is not automaticity, this is a default clause. That is to say that we go for genuine negotiations among the two parties, we see what these negotiations give, we evaluate them in depth on the basis of the report of the [UN] secretary-general, and then we see whether whatever agreement came out is, indeed, an improvement over what is currently on the table" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 25, 2007). EU foreign ministers on June 21 once again voiced their support for this, the third draft resolution put forward by Western members of the Security Council, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on June 25 repeated that they believe independence for Kosova is inevitable (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 25 and 26, 2007). AG

The chief prosecutor of the UN's war crimes tribunal, Carla Del Ponte, on June 26 reiterated her belief that the EU should not sign a premembership agreement with Serbia before war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic is captured, local and international media reported on June 26-27. Del Ponte, who joined the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 1999, in early June gave her first positive assessment of Serbia's cooperation in the hunt for war crimes suspects and encouraged the EU to resume talks with Belgrade, which were suspended in May 2006 because of Belgrade's failure to capture Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military commander during the 1992-95 war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7, 2007). Her latest comment indicates that while she believes Serbia's role in the recent capture of two suspects warrants a resumption of talks, it has done too little to be rewarded with a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31 and June 4 and 6, 2007). Del Ponte described the SAA as "the next extremely important leverage opportunity regarding Serbia." "Conditionality is a unique incentive, it is both a carrot and a stick," Del Ponte said, adding that conditionality has "proved to be a successful and absolutely crucial tool" in the ICTY's effort to bring indictees to justice. Del Ponte said that "90 percent of those in custody now are there as a direct result of EU conditionality." Del Ponte also linked her view to the imminent closure of the ICTY, which will bring its last cases in 2008. Del Ponte has previously called for the ICTY to remain in operation until Mladic and his political commander, Radovan Karadzic, are tried, but Russia has said that "the fact that the tribunal does not have several of the accused before it cannot serve as a justification" for its mandate to be extended (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2007). Del Ponte said Mladic and Karadzic "should not be under the illusion that they can just wait out the ICTY." AG

Del Ponte, who was speaking before the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, denied interpretations of a recent statement in which she said that a decision on the future of Kosova "could interfere" in Serbia's cooperation with the ICTY, and that "it would be better if the decision on Kosovo is not coming out now" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2007). Del Ponte argued she simply expressed her wish that the timing of a resolution of Kosova's status would not affect the arrest of ICTY fugitives in Serbia. Her comments have been widely criticized in the Kosovar Albanian media, and by an adviser to Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku, Arben Qirezi, who said in a June 22 interview with the Serbian daily "Glas javnosti," that the Swiss prosecutor's statement was "absurd," "scandalous," and "preposterous." Serbian President Boris Tadic himself has implied that the Western powers would be more willing to change their position on Kosova if war crimes suspects were captured (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 2007). In addition to Mladic and Karadzic, two other indictees remain on the run: Stojan Zupljanin, a commander of the Bosnian Serbs' police force during the war; and Goran Hadzic, a wartime leader of the Croatian Serbs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 18, 2007). Del Ponte dwelt on the question of Karadzic's whereabouts, repeating that he has "disappeared from the radar screen" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2007). "I know he's around," she said, "because he comes up with books and poetry, he still produces his literature, but no one seems to be looking for him anymore. If Mladic was captured, it would be much easier to smoke out Karadzic." AG

In other comments to the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Del Ponte was highly critical of the UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK), arguing that its proximity to the leading Kosovar Albanian war crimes suspect, former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, has impeded the ICTY's efforts to build a case against him. "The proximity of the UNMIK leadership to those accused by the ICTY has had a very negative impact on the tribunal's work and image," Del Ponte said. A former UNMIK chief once praised Haradinaj for taking the process of reconciliation between ethnic Albanians and Serbs "forward in a way that nobody else has done," and the post's current occupant, Joachim Ruecker, was criticized for very publicly meeting Haradinaj shortly before Haradinaj entered a detention cell in The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 26 and March 2, 2007). The widely held perception that Haradinaj enjoyed impunity was reinforced recently when international prosecutors accused Western diplomats and some UN officials of trying to prevent a case being brought against him. It has also been adduced as a reason for the lack of witnesses willing to testify against the former military commander (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 2, 2007). Del Ponte explicitly cited intimidation as a serious problem, and warned that that Haradinaj might be declared innocent "not because of a lack of proof but because of a lack of any possibility to present the proofs in the courtroom." "We have 15 important witnesses who refuse to come and testify because they are afraid for their life and the life of their relatives," she said. "Some members of the police service are not friendly with the tribunal and therefore they don't want to protect 'traitors,'" Del Ponte said. On June 28, the Kosovar Albanian daily "Koha ditore" quoted an UNMIK spokesman, Alexander Ivanko, as saying Del Ponte's accusations are "groundless and untrue." Kosovar Prime Minister Ceku was also critical. Kosova Television quoted him as saying on June 27 that Del Ponte is going through "a crisis," and stressing that Kosova's government is the only one in the region to have cooperated fully with the ICTY. AG

The International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP) said that the wartime fate of 13,500 Bosnians is still unknown, Croatia's Hina news agency reported on June 27. The number was given by ICMP Director Kathryn Bomberger following the first meeting in Sarajevo of the operational bodies of the Institute for Missing Persons. The Institute for Missing Persons was established in 2005 with international funds to coordinate the work of the existing local commissions in Bosnia, of which each ethnic group has its own. It is hoped that its work, which includes managing a central database of the missing, will speed up the process of DNA identification of the remains that have already been disinterred and are now in warehouses awaiting processing. Last week, the final report of the Research and Documentation Center in Sarajevo, the most systematic and scientific attempt to date to compile the names of people killed in the 1992-95 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, indicated that 97,000 people are known to have died and that the figure could grow by up to 10,000 if new information becomes available. TV

The parliamentary commission overseeing the work of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Intelligence and Security Agency (OSA) said on June 25 that about one dozen naturalized Bosnians pose a threat to national security, the Sarajevo daily "Oslobodjenje" reported the next day. All of them are under surveillance by state bodies, according to the commission, and none of them are Bosnian citizens by birth. The commission's deputy chairman, Semsudin Mehmedovic, told the daily that the threat is far smaller than commonly claimed. "In Bosnia-Herzegovina, there are no terrorist training camps for planning and carrying out terrorist activities," he said, adding that Bosnia is "a safe territory" with regards to terrorism. Naturalized Bosnians, mostly jihadists from the Middle East, are of great concern to domestic and foreign intelligence bodies since they are thought to have specialized skills, for example with explosives. Many jihadists stayed on after the end of the 1992-95 war, often marrying local women and gaining citizenship. All such naturalizations are currently being reviewed; a first round of reviews found that 367 persons obtained citizenship illegally. In April, they were ordered to leave the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12 and May 3, 2007). TV

A report issued by the UN Development Program (UNDP) on June 22 says that for the first time Macedonians are more optimistic than pessimistic or undecided about their future. In all, the UNDP's "Early Warning" report found that 45.3 percent of Macedonians believe the country is moving in the right direction, as opposed to 39.7 percent who believed it is moving backwards or not progressing. Other good news for the government was that, for the first time, a majority of Macedonians (56.5 percent) believe that steps taken by the government could bring improvements. This was also reflected in the relatively strong level of support for the government's leading party, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), for which 27 percent would vote if elections were held today. The VMRO-DPMNE and its 14-party coalition garnered 32.5 percent of the vote in the last parliamentary elections, which were held in July 2006. Macedonians also expressed growing trust in the country's security agencies and more said they feel safe. AG

The same UNDP report found that two-thirds of Macedonians (63 percent) believe the situation in Kosova is a destabilizing factor in the region. This is a lower figure than in May 2005 (73 percent), and a similar trend was apparent when Macedonians were asked whether they believe Kosova is affecting the overall situation in Macedonia itself: 69 percent answered "yes" in May 2005 and 59 percent in March 2007. The vast majority of Macedonian Albanians (80 percent) believe a decision on the final status of Kosova would be positive for Macedonia; only 5 percent of ethnic Macedonians shared that view, with 65 percent saying the answer depends on the decision. Only 3 percent of ethnic Macedonians want an independent Kosova, while roughly a third would like Kosova to enjoy autonomy within Serbia (31 percent) and another third (34 percent) would like to see Kosova return to its pre-1999 status, as a Serbian province with only limited autonomy. Three other countries or regions were a significant cause of concern: Greece (39 percent), which has threatened to veto Macedonia's membership of the EU and NATO because of the dispute over Macedonia's name; Albania (33 percent); and Serbia (21 percent). The EU (38 percent) and NATO (29 percent) were seen as the key stabilizing forces in the Balkans, followed by the United States (24 percent). Macedonia hopes to be invited to join NATO in April 2008, and also to sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU in 2008. AG

At two summits in two Southeast European cities last week. Russian President Vladimir Putin presented one message loud and clear: "We're back."

Addressing a Balkan energy summit in Zagreb, Croatia on June 24, Putin was as poker-faced as ever as he trumpeted a landmark deal that could secure Moscow's continued dominance of Europe's energy market. "As you know, yesterday [June 23] Gazprom and the Italian [energy] company Eni signed a memorandum on the possible construction of a gas pipeline under the Black Sea," he told 10 heads of state from the Balkan region.

Putin also said Russia wants to build "underground storage facilities in several Balkan states, which will not only improve energy supplies to the region, but will make it more attractive and more important from the perspective of solving energy problems in Europe as a whole."

A day later at a meeting of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) in Istanbul, Turkey, Putin urged member states to foster stability in the region's energy markets by signing long-term contracts -- presumably with Russia.

Putin later told reporters that "the Balkans and the Black Sea [region] has always been a sphere of our special interests," adding that it is "natural that a resurgent Russia is returning there."

Analysts say Putin's energy diplomacy in the Balkans and Turkey was partially aimed at frustrating the European Union's efforts to diversify the continent's energy supply to lessen dependence on Moscow. But Putin also had a larger agenda: reestablishing a Russian sphere of influence in Southeastern Europe.

The highlight of Putin's energy diplomacy this week was Gazprom's deal with Eni to build the South Stream pipeline, which would pump 30 billion cubic meters of Russian gas a year under the Black Sea to Bulgaria. The pipeline, which is slated to be finished by 2011, would then branch off in two directions: north to Austria and south to Italy.

Energy analysts say South Stream severely hampers the European Union's efforts to diversify the continent's energy supplies to reduce dependency on Russia.

Federico Bordonaro, a Rome-based energy analyst for the "Power and Interest News Report," says it's another big move in the chess game. "I don't think this kills other possible projects, but what it kills is the possibility that these other projects will be as decisive as they were actually thought to be," Bordonaro says.

A key component of the EU strategy is the proposed Nabucco pipeline, which would transport gas from Central Asia and the Caspian Sea region to Western Europe via Turkey and the Balkans -- without going through Russia.

To block this strategy and maintain its dominance, Moscow is seeking to gain control over energy routes in Southern Europe so Caspian and Central Asian gas is exported to international markets via Russia.

In May, Russia moved closer toward that goal when Putin, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev agreed to build a pipeline along the Caspian Sea coast to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan to Europe via Kazakhstan and Russia.

And the South Stream project is another giant step in that direction. "I think it makes it much more complicated to find the backing for projects like the Nabucco pipeline. Particularly if South Stream seems to be looking at two onshore routes once it gets to Bulgaria -- one, perhaps, going across to Italy and one going to Austria. And that second one would be in competition with Nabucco," says Julian Lee, a senior analyst with the London-based Center for Global Energy Studies

The EU strategy has also been frustrated by nuclear-free countries like Germany and Italy who are among the most heavily dependent on Russian energy to generate electricity.

Moscow has also courted countries like Hungary, which decided in March to back another Gazprom plan to extend Russia's Blue Stream pipeline under the Black Sea. According to the plan, Hungary would then serve as a hub to transport Russian gas to Europe.

"Actually, if we see the whole thing in a broader perspective, this kind of strategy that wants to decisively reduce Russian influence is not working so well. I think that Russia reacted with an intelligent strategy," Bordonaro says.

Like many analysts, Marshall Goldman, a professor emeritus of Russian economics at Wellesley College and the author of a forthcoming book on Putin's energy policy, compares Putin's energy policy to a game of chess. "The end game is to make sure that Russia maintains its monopoly control and to prevent anything from undercutting that kind of activity," Goldman says. "Gazprom's next step now is to pressure to gain control of the distribution lines within Europe, both Central and Western Europe."

But Goldman and other analysts say Russia's grand strategy goes further than dominating Europe's energy market. After being largely sidelined from European affairs since the 1991 Soviet breakup, Moscow is trying to use its energy might to reestablish a foothold -- some even say a "sphere of influence" -- on the continent.

And Russia sees a major window of opportunity in the western Balkans, where Moscow has longstanding cultural and historical ties and where countries like Serbia and Montenegro are becoming increasingly frustrated with the EU's reluctance to admit them.

"This energy game in the western Balkans is actually linked to geopolitical moves and to Russia's desire to become once again an influential player in the region, so that it will balance the EU and United States combined and the European Union's enlargement," Bordonaro says.

Bordonaro says that while Russia is a long way from establishing anything close to the old Soviet bloc, they are successfully "infiltrating a would-be Western bloc" on the continent. "We cannot talk about a bloc," he says. "What we can talk about is Russia's attempt to undermine the Washington-backed vision of a very homogenous wider Black Sea area, which is secured for NATO and Western security."

And this assures Moscow a measure of political support -- or at least acquiescence -- in Europe. "You certainly do have a sphere of influence because once those countries become addicted to using Russian natural gas they begin to hesitate to strike out in a different direction for fear that the Russians will cut them off," Goldman says.

But despite Russia's gas-powered geopolitical resurgence, most analysts point out that one of Europe's greatest fears, that Moscow will use energy as a political weapon against the West, is unfounded.

"Europe is dependent on Russia for a very large proportion of its natural-gas imports. Europe is not nearly as dependent on Russia as Russia is on Europe as a market for its gas exports," Lee says. "Russia doesn't export significant quantities of gas anywhere other than to Europe. It exports some to the former Soviet republics, and it is beginning to bring prices there into line with its European prices. But it has no gas-export pipelines that go anywhere other than Europe."

Despite Gazprom's current might, it could have other problems in the future supplying its customers with gas. Many analysts say that some of its fields are underdeveloped and need more investment to meet growing demand.(Brian Whitmore is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)

A U.S. officer responsible for both U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan said on June 26 that allied procedures for avoiding civilian casualties are adequate, and he blamed the Taliban for placing civilians in danger, the Voice of America reported. Brigadier General Joseph Votel told reporters in Kabul that despite the recent surge in civilian deaths due to NATO operations, both the U.S. military and NATO troops already have extensive procedures to avoid civilian casualties, including detailed planning and coordination with local officials, Reuters reported. Votel attributed numerous civilian casualties to the Taliban insurgents who, he says, have launched attacks in populated areas and used Afghan citizens and their homes as shields. The rising number of civilian deaths has fueled criticism in Afghanistan. Last week, President Hamid Karzai accused NATO and coalition forces of "carelessness" and called for improved coordination between foreign militaries and Afghan security forces. JC

A district attorney known for his tough stance on crime was gunned down in Afghanistan's western Herat Province on June 26, the Pajhwak Afghan News reported the next day. Maria Bashir, head of the provincial attorney office, told Pajhwak that Fazl Haq Jo was shot dead on his way to the capital of Herat from the Guzara district. Haq Jo's driver and neighbor were unharmed. The assailants escaped. Provincial police spokesman Colonel Noor Khan Nekzad said it is too soon to say who may have killed the attorney or the motive. Haq Jo had campaigned for 27 years against the unlawful actions of groups and individuals, said Bashir, who believes Haq Jo's work was the motive for the murder. Specifically, she said she thinks the perpetrators were locals involved in three different cases currently being handled by Haq Jo. JC

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has granted $8 million to the Good Performers Initiative in coordination with the government's Counternarcotics Trust Fund, reported on June 26. The grant will be administered by the United Nations Development Program and managed through the Afghan Ministry of Counternarcotics. The objective of the contribution is to support progress towards poppy elimination and the maintenance of poppy-free provinces by rewarding the provinces that commit to reducing opium poppy production. The grant will provide financial support for poppy-free provinces or those which have exhibited success in reducing opium-poppy production. JC

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has discovered an improvised-explosive-device (IED) factory in Afghanistan's southern Oruzgan province, the Bakhtar news agency reported on June 27. According to an ISAF statement released on June 26, the factory may have provided the explosives used in a recent suicide attack in Chora district on June 15. ISAF soldiers from Task Force Oruzgan searched a building in the area and detained 13 insurgents involved in bomb making. Soldiers found bomb-making materials that could be used in a suicide attack, such as fuses, explosives, and a vehicle. Suicide attacks have increased dramatically in Afghanistan over the past year. Most recently, a suicide bomber destroyed a bus carrying police trainers on June 17 in Afghanistan's most deadly suicide attack since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 18, 2007). JC

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iraq's visiting President Jalal Talabani in Tehran on June 26 that the main problem in Iraq is the presence of foreign forces, and he cited Great Britain and the United States as the leading opponents of the "wishes and interests" of Iraqis, IRNA reported. Khamenei blamed "the spy services of America," Israel, and "some of the countries supporting them" for "present calamities" in Iraq, and accused the United States of arming "terrorist groups inside Iraq." This "will end up harming the Americans, because they armed some groups inside Afghanistan a few years ago and saw the consequences." IRNA quoted Talabani as saying that Iraq is determined to improve ties with Iran in the face of any opposition by unspecified foreign powers. The meeting was attended by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who had earlier welcomed Talabani to Tehran. VS

Iranian Culture Minister Mohammad Hossein Saffar-Herandi said in Mashhad in northeastern Iran on June 26 that people voted for Mahmud Ahmadinejad in 2005 because they wanted a government concerned for their welfare and security, "Iran" reported on June 27. Saffar-Herandi said Iranians now feel safe "inside and outside the country." Outside Iran, he said, "people in many countries wish their head of government was someone like Ahmadinejad." He said the current government lost no time in serving the people, citing large-scale projects that he suggested previous governments had left unfinished for 15 years, and said, "We did the equivalent of 15 years' work in one year." Saffar-Herandi said past administrations struggled with some projects for 18 years and made "just 15 percent progress," while the Ahmadinejad government terminated some of those projects and brought others to near-completion in a year and half following its 2005 inception, "Iran" reported on June 27. VS

Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and lawyer representing two of four Iranian-Americans whose freedom has been restricted by Iranian authorities -- Radio Farda correspondent Parnaz Azima, who is in Iran and has had her passport confiscated, and U.S.-based researcher Haleh Esfandiari, who is in an Iranian jail -- has appealed in a letter to Iranian judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi for their release and deplored what she suggests is the interference of politics in the way Iranian justice treats suspects, Radio Farda reported on June 27. In an interview with Farda, Ebadi compared the bail of more than $50,000 set for Azima with bail of just under $110 set recently for a man who had kidnapped and raped a woman. "I told Mr. Shahrudi that Ms. Azima's only offense was reading news on Radio Farda," she told the broadcaster, adding that she asked if "this approach is not letting politics interfere with the legal process." She said Esfandiari, who has been in Tehran's Evin prison for more than 40 days, is suffering skin problems from being kept in a warm and badly ventilated cell. She said Esfandiari has been prevented from meeting with her family or with Ebadi, who has also not had access to her dossier. VS

Iranian Work Minister Mohammad Jahromi has suggested the formation of a gold bank for Iranians to deposit the gold coins that many people keep at home, "Iran" reported on June 27, citing a report or statement from the Work and Social Affairs Ministry. Gold coins are a favored form of investment for Iranians, as they are readily bought and sold and generally follow inflationary movements in Iran. Jahromi said Iranian families currently hold about 100 million gold coins that could be kept more safely in the bank and be used by the bank to finance job-creating business ventures. His comments suggested that "gold" accounts would not pay interest, but that depositors would be entitled to win prizes in lotteries organized by the bank. VS

The Iranian Supreme Court confirmed death sentences for two unnamed members of a 10-man gang that had kidnapped, raped, and robbed more than 20 women around Tehran in 2005, "Iran" reported on June 27. The others were sentenced to prison terms of between four and 10 years. The Tehran court that sentenced them to death has referred the cases to a judiciary department that will prepare the convicts' executions, "Iran" reported. VS

The Sunni-led Iraqi People's Conference issued a statement on June 27 condemning the arrest warrant issued against Iraqi Culture Minister As'ad Kamal al-Hashimi on terrorism charges, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported the same day. "The [Iraqi] government is stupidly playing with fire in continuing a policy of lies meant to exclude Sunni officials and politicians," the statement said. The Iraqi People's Conference "threatens to expose those high-ranking officials, ministers, members of parliament, and even Shi'ite religious figures who are involved with crimes of extermination against the Sunni people, such as killings, kidnappings, and forced relocations." Muhannad al-Issawi, a spokesman for People's Conference head Adnan al-Dulaymi, who is also the leader of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni political bloc, told AP the same day that the arrest warrant is "a political matter, not a legal one" and warned that the issue "aims to marginalize the Sunnis." The arrest warrant, issued on June 26, alleges that al-Hashimi ordered the killing of Sunni lawmaker Mithal al-Alusi's two sons in Baghdad in 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27, 2007). SS

The head of the Turkish military, General Yasar Buyukanit, said in a televised news conference on June 27 that he has requested the Turkish government to set political guidelines for a military incursion into northern Iraq to fight Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels, international media reported. "Will we go to northern Iraq just to fight PKK rebels, or, for example, what will we do if we come under attack from local Iraqi Kurdish groups?" he said. "There is a need to know political targets in this struggle, then the military would determine what kind of force it needs to do it and seek formal approval," he added. Ankara has long complained that Iraq and the United States are not doing enough to stop PKK fighters based in northern Iraq from carrying out attacks in Turkey. Tensions between the Iraqi Kurds and Turkey have increased in the last several months, as thousands of Turkish troops have massed along the Iraqi border. There have been sporadic reports in the Iraqi press for months of low intensity cross-border incursions by Turkish forces into northern Iraq. SS

The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq issued a statement on a jihadist website on June 26 claiming responsibility for the June 25 suicide bombing of the Al-Mansur Hotel that killed four Sunni tribal sheikhs from the Al-Anbar Salvation Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26, 2007). The group said that the attack was in retaliation for the alleged rape of a Sunni girl by policemen in the western Al-Anbar Governorate. The girl's father complained to the group about the incident and the group's leadership decided to act against the "the leaders of infidelity and of the apostasy [Sunni tribal sheikhs] who have brought these filthy policemen to the homes of the Muslims." The tribal sheikhs were known to be meeting at the Al-Mansur Hotel in Baghdad. "So, a lion from the Martyrdom Brigade within the Islamic State of Iraq, the brother Abu Uthman al-Dulaymi, pounced on them with his explosive belt. He shouted 'God is great' and then he detonated his belt, killing all the hordes of infidels and apostasy, saving none, especially Fasysal al-Gud, who showed his infidelity by his association with the rejectionist Badr forces." The Badr Organization is the military wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the largest political party in the ruling Shi'ite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance. SS

An Iraqi official indicated on June 26 that Ali Hasan al-Majid, also known as "Chemical Ali," and two other former regime officials will probably be hanged in the Kurdish north if their appeals are rejected, international media reported the same day. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said no final decision has been made, but that the execution will most probably take place in Irbil or Halabjah. On June 24, the Iraqi High Tribunal sentenced al-Majid and two other co-defendants to death for their role in the 1987-88 Anfal campaign against Iraqi Kurds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 25, 2007). Prosecutors maintained that up to 180,000 people were killed during the operation. According to Iraqi law, death sentences are automatically appealed; if the sentences are upheld, the executions are supposed to take place within 30 days. SS

The U.S. military announced in a statement on June 27 that coalition forces killed a senior Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader during a June 23 operation in the northern town of Hawijah. The man was identified as Mehmet Yilmaz, also known as Khalid al-Turki, a known terrorist "who operated a cell that facilitated the movement of foreign fighters into Iraq for Al-Qaeda operations." He was formerly an Al-Qaeda leader who allegedly led a group of Turkish nationals to Afghanistan in 2001 to fight against U.S.-led coalition forces. In addition to Yilmaz, coalition forces also killed Mehmet Resit Isik, also known as Khalil al-Turki, a close associate of Yilmaz and an Al-Qaeda in Iraq courier. "These are two very dangerous, very significant international terrorists that are no longer part of the Al-Qaeda network," U.S. military spokesman Christopher Garver said. SS

U.S. forces on June 27 allegedly raided an institute for disabled children in eastern Baghdad that was run by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, leading the ministry to consider taking legal action against the U.S. military, the independent Voices of Iraq news agency reported the same day. A source at the ministry said it is considering suing the U.S. military for violating Iraqi laws and the sovereignty of the state. There was no immediate comment from the U.S. military. SS