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Newsline - July 17, 2007

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced in Parliament on July 16 that four Russian diplomats will be expelled in response to Moscow's refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, the prime suspect in the 2006 London poisoning death of former Russian security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 11, 12, and 13, 2007). Miliband said that "first, we will expel four diplomats from the Russian Embassy in London. Second, we shall review the extent of our cooperation with Russia on a range of issues and, as an initial step, we have suspended visa-facilitation negotiations with Russia and made other changes to visa practice." Speaking later on July 16 in Berlin, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said his country wants the "best possible relations with Russia," but defended the decision to expel the diplomats. Brown said he had "no apologies" for the move. He stressed that "we are dealing with an issue where in Britain, in London, at a risk to many hundreds of people, a murder did take place. It is being investigated by the independent prosecuting authorities. They have laid a charge and they made it clear who they want to try for this crime." Brown added that "we believe that there should be cooperation from the Russian authorities in this. We are sad that the cooperation has not been forthcoming. We have therefore had to take the action that we have taken and, of course, we hope that we will have a resolution of these issues very shortly." On July 17, "The Guardian" daily wrote that "Cold War diplomacy is back," and predicted that the expulsions will lead to a series of tit-for-tat measures by both sides. "The Times" called the British moves "balanced and appropriate." The "Financial Times" quoted an unnamed Western diplomat as saying that "right now there is not a great bank of goodwill towards the Russians.... To have someone poisoned on your territory, nobody could take that lying down." PM

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in Moscow on July 16 that "London's position is immoral," Russian and international media reported. He added that "London should understand that the provocative actions undertaken by British authorities will be not left unanswered and, on the whole, will have the most serious consequences for Russian-British relations. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that frankly to his British colleague in a phone conversation." Kamynin said that "we will resolve these issues in a constructive way, without politicizing them," but did not elaborate. Lugovoi, who is at the center of the controversy, said in a Russian state-run television broadcast that the British moves "show that the results of this investigation were predictable from the very beginning and have always had a political character.... All [British] announcements that the investigation was conducted competently are lies." State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachyov said that "it is clear that Russia's response can only be the same, only symmetrical, only a mirror image, and of course, swift.... We must show the whole world in this situation that we can flawlessly defend our positions and our interests in a legal way." He charged that Britain seeks "to force an inferiority complex on Russia," but stressed that Russia is a sophisticated power and knows how to respond. Andrei Kokoshin, the chairman of the Duma's Committee for CIS Affairs, warned of additional, unspecified measures and hinted that "Britain will suffer a far greater loss in this situation" than Russia. He suggested that Russia has the upper hand in economic relations because of its energy resources. PM

The daily "Vremya novostei" wrote on July 17 that the British announcement shows that the Brown cabinet is "ready for enmity with Moscow." "Vedomosti" argued that "the Western countries are making a collective mistake in exacerbating [tensions with Russia], but Russia is not about to compete with those partners in [displaying] short-sightedness." "Novye izvestia" wrote that Britain has too much at stake economically in its relations with Russia to allow a complete break in relations. Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor in chief of the Moscow-based journal "Russia in Global Affairs," told RFE/RL's Russian Service on July 16 that Britain is responding to Russia's uncompromising line. He suggested that British firms engaged in business in Russia, especially the larger and well-established ones like British Petroleum, will not be affected by any diplomatic spats between the two countries. PM

After discussing the proposed U.S. missile-defense system with President George W. Bush, Polish President Lech Kaczynski said in Washington on July 16 that "this is a defensive system and will be directed against only those regimes which are considered to be irresponsible and which already have or may have nuclear weapons in the future," international media reported. He stressed that, for Poland, the project is a "foregone conclusion." He added that the site for the interceptors has already been determined and will be announced soon. Bush noted that "there is no better symbol of our desire to work for peace and security than working on a missile-defense system, a missile-defense system that would provide a security for Europe from single- or dual-launch regimes that may emanate from parts of the world where leaders don't particularly care for our way of life and are in the process of trying to develop serious weapons of mass destruction." The missile-defense system s to include 10 interceptors in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic. Russia is using its objections to the project to promote splits in Western ranks, Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" commented on July 16 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 12 and 16, 2007). PM

Reuters on July 17 quoted unnamed "industry and trade sources" in Moscow as saying that First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov has ordered transit of Russian goods via Estonia to be limited and that Russian Railways (RZhD) told exporters to "halve shipments of refined oil products, metals, and coal via Estonia." An unnamed "source close to Ivanov" denied the report, and RZhD declined to comment. But business sources told the news agency that the cuts are already in effect and are similar to those imposed for 10 days in the spring during a period of high tensions in bilateral relations. The trade sources said that the latest restrictions could cause serious disruptions and backlogs inside Russia for lack of alternative routes. On April 3, Ivanov said that Russians should boycott Estonian products and not spend their vacations in that country to protest what he called "vandalism" against Soviet-era military monuments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 3 and 5, 2007). He also called for developing a new port in Kaliningrad Oblast and completing a port in Ust-Luga near St. Petersburg in order to deny Estonia cargo-transit fees. Estonia in late April-early May relocated a World War II military monument and some graves from central Tallinn to a military cemetery on the outskirts. President Toomas Hendrik Ilves argues that many of Russia's problems with its neighbors stem from the fact that Russia has never really come to grips with its totalitarian past and with the injustices Russia committed towards others. PM

The Constitutional Court ruled on July 16 in favor of legislation that took effect in 2006 requiring a political party to have at least 50,000 members to register with the Federal Registration Service and hence be legally able to participate in elections, "The Moscow Times" reported on July 17. The Russian Communist Workers' Party-Revolutionary Party of Communists, which has about 35,000 members, challenged the law in court on the grounds that the legislation illegally limits a citizen's right to participate in political life. Party First Secretary Viktor Tyulkin, who is also a State Duma deputy, said that the decision amounts to "the removal of organizations that represent common people.... We have witnessed once again that without a big sack of money [to expand branches and membership], you can't get into the political arena." He and other critics charge that the legislation is aimed at reducing the number of parties that can participate in the December legislative election. Supporters of the law argue that 50,000 is a reasonable figure for a political party in a country of Russia's size and that smaller groups of people can still form political associations. PM

Unidentified perpetrator fired two mortar shells late on July 16 at the home in the village of Barsuki, on the northeastern outskirts of Nazran, of Ruslanbek Zyazikov, who is a close relative of President Murat Zyazikov and the unofficial head of his personal bodyguards, reported. The attackers then subjected the building to automatic-weapons fire for some three minutes; some 90 minutes later an explosion was reported in the courtyard of a neighboring house. Ruslanbek Zyazikov is suspected to have given orders for the recent detention of Ingush he openly accused of playing a role in the abduction four months ago of his father, Uruskhan Zyazikov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 26, 2007). LF

Suleiman Vagapov, who is one of presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak's deputies, has made available to journalists a document claiming that a group exists in North Ossetia that engages in abductions as retaliation for the 2004 Beslan school hostage-taking in which more than 330 people died, RIA Novosti and reported on July 15. The document claims that some 238 people are recorded as having gone missing in North Ossetia, of whom 26 are Ingush. In 2006-07, 25 Ossetians and 19 Chechens and Ingush were reportedly abducted. Ingush human rights activists believe the North Ossetian police and security forces are responsible for most such abductions at gunpoint. LF

A Federation Council delegation on July 15 visited the cemetery where the victims of the Beslan hostage taking are buried, and also several settlements in North Ossetia inhabited by Ingush displaced persons from the republic's disputed Prigorodny Raion, reported. The delegation also met on July 16 with North Ossetian President Taymuraz Mamsurov before traveling to neighboring Ingushetia where they met in Magas with President Zyazikov and other officials to discuss the plight of the Ingush displaced persons from Prigorodny Raion. Delegation member Yury Smirnov advocated the creation of a new working group, to be headed by a Russian deputy prime minister, that would assess the situation on the ground and seek to expedite the return to North Ossetia of the approximately 19,000 former residents of Prigorodny Raion who still live in Ingushetia, 15 years after fleeing their homes to avoid the violent reprisals of October-November 1992. LF

A Yerevan court on July 16 acquitted two senior executives of the coffee importer Royal Armenia who were arrested two years ago after they accused customs officials of proposing an illegal scam that would have reduced the company's tax and import duties, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 24, 2004; January 11, June 28, and October 14, 2005; and March 20 and April 7, 2006). The State Customs Committee consistently rejected those allegations, claiming that Royal Armenia avoided paying some 1 billion drams ($3 million) in tax and import duties. The Yerevan court dismissed the case as without foundation and asked prosecutors to open a criminal case against a former Royal Armenia employee on whose testimony the case was largely based. A spokeswoman told RFE/RL that the Prosecutor-General's Office will appeal the acquittal. LF

Robert Kocharian on July 16 named State Tax Service head Feliks Tsolakian one of his advisers, and appointed Vahram Barseghian, head of the presidential oversight service, to replace him, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. No reason was given for either appointment, but Kocharian has repeatedly criticized the tax service over the past several years for the low level of tax collection, which increased by 24 percent over the first five months of this year compared to 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 12, 2005, January 12, 2006 and January 11, 2007). Tsolakian, who is 55, previously held senior posts in the KGB and its Armenian successor agency, the National Security Service. LF

Soviet-era dissident Paruyr Hairikian, who heads the small Union for National Self-Determination (AIM), told a press conference in Yerevan on July 16 that Armenia's opposition forces must unite behind a single candidate in the run-up to next year's presidential election to prevent the "self-reproduction" of the incumbent leadership, Noyan Tapan reported. He said he has not yet decided whether to participate in that ballot, but predicted that if he does so he will receive no less than 10 percent of the vote. Hairikian implied last month he is prepared to assume the role of a single opposition candidate in a ballot that he described as "an atonement for [our] sins," according to Noyan Tapan on June 12. Hairikian withdrew his presidential candidacy at the last minute in 1996 in favor of fellow oppositionist Vazgen Manukian. He participated unsuccessfully in the 1998 preterm presidential ballot and initially registered for the 2003 election, but withdrew two months prior to the vote, acknowledging that his chances of success were minimal. LF

The French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group that seeks to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict issued a written appeal on July 13 to the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to prepare for a new summit "at the first opportunity" in order to "continue the negotiations on the basis of what has been developed over the past three years," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. They affirmed their continued readiness to assist in organizing such a meeting, noting that time is running short in light of the presidential elections due in both countries in 2008. In an apparent allusion to bellicose statements by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiyev, the statement deplored "militaristic statements threatening the use of force and creating the dangerous illusion that war is an option for resolution of the conflict." Speaking in Baku on July 16, presidential administration department head Novruz Mamedov rejected the Minsk Group co-chairs' affirmation that progress is contingent on the political will of both sides, reported. Mamedov argued that a solution to the conflict depends exclusively on the political will of the Armenian president and his entourage, and should comprise the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied districts of Azerbaijan, after which the status of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh will be determined in a way that preserves Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. LF

Azerbaijan parliament deputy Zahid Oruj was quoted on July 17 by as arguing that Russia's withdrawal from the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty (CFE) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 16, 2007) constitutes a threat to international security and will impede the search for a solution to the Karabakh conflict. In a commentary published on July 17 by the online daily, Rauf Mirkadyrov predicted that Russia's move bodes ill for Azerbaijan and is aimed at "giving Russia a free hand" to try to restore its influence over the former Soviet republics, in particular the Baltic states and the South Caucasus. In Tbilisi, the Georgian Foreign Ministry released a statement on July 16 appealing to all states that are signatories to the CFE Treaty to begin negotiations as soon as possible to resolve the dispute, Caucasus Press reported. The statement described the treaty, the 1999 amendments to which most signatories have not yet ratified, as an important international instrument for maintaining security and stability in Europe. At the same time, Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Levan Nikoleiishvili said he does not anticipate that Russia's withdrawal from the CFE treaty will create obstacles to the ongoing Russian military withdrawal from Georgia. Some signatories have pegged ratification to the withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia and Moldova, although there is no such explicit linkage in either the amendments or the so-called Istanbul declaration of November 1999. In Tskhinvali, Mikhail Mindzayev, who is interior minister of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia, told journalists on July 16 that the Russian withdrawal was "a well-reasoned and justified step," and one that Russia should have taken long ago, Caucasus Press reported. LF

The Georgian Foreign Ministry on July 16 proposed that the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) establish an observation post in the upper Kodori Gorge, including radar equipment, to prevent a recurrence of the March 11 incident in which unidentified helicopters overflew the villages of Azhara and Chkhalta and a building in the latter village was hit by an antitank missile, Caucasus Press reported. UNOMIG released a report last week summing up its investigation into that incident. The report did not unambiguously confirm Georgian claims that the helicopters in connection were Russian and that the villages in question were simultaneously subjected to artillery fire from mobile trucks, but conceded that explanation was possible (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 16, 2007). The Georgian Foreign Ministry statement affirmed that the UNOMIG report "completely ruled out" the possibility that Georgia could have staged the attack to implicate Moscow. The U.S. State Department released a statement on July 16 hailing the findings of the UNOMIG investigation and condemning "the attack with the use of force on the territory of sovereign Georgia." LF

De facto South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity held a working meeting in Vladikavkaz on July 16 with his North Ossetian counterpart Taymuraz Mamsurov, and Caucasus Press reported. The talks focused on the ongoing tensions in the unrecognized republic and how to establish "effective control" over its territory, an implicit admission of concern at Georgia's campaign to secure the backing of the international community for its efforts to oust Kokoity and recognize in his place as the region's legitimate leader Dmitry Sanakoyev. Mamsurov and Kokoity agreed on the need to coordinate the activities of all agencies engaged in seeking to "stabilize" the situation in South Ossetia. LF

In a statement issued from Vienna and posted to the website on July 16, Rakhat Aliev, the former son-in-law of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, announced that an Austrian court has dismissed all criminal charges against him, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. Aliev, who until recently served as the Kazakh ambassador to Austria, has remained in Vienna pending an Austrian decision on his possible extradition to Kazakhstan to face outstanding criminal charges of corruption, money laundering, and kidnapping. Despite the Austrian court's ruling, Aliev faces charges in Kazakhstan stemming from the alleged abduction and assault of two senior officials of Nurbank, a bank Aliev controlled until the authorities recently seized it along with several of his other business interests. That incident was reportedly linked to an attempt to coerce the executives to sell their interests in a real-estate project in Almaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 4, 6, 13, and 19, 2007). Nazarbaev's eldest daughter, Darigha Nazarbaeva, divorced Aliev last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2007), although he claims he never signed any divorce papers. RG

Kazakh Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairman Kuandyk Turgankulov met in Astana on July 16 with Lubomir Kopaj, the head of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) election-observer mission, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. Kopaj discussed the preparations for monitoring the August 18 elections to the Majlis, or lower house of the Kazakh parliament, and said the ODIHR plans to deploy a team of 400 short-term election observers. He also assured Turgankulov that the monitors will conduct a "fair and unbiased" mission, "in line with the OSCE's principles and mandate." The Kazakh CEC has already begun the accreditation process for foreign observers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 13, 2007), following a formal requested for an ODIHR observer mission to monitor the election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 2, 2007). The election is viewed as crucial for Kazakhstan's bid to assume the rotating OSCE chairmanship in 2009. RG

In a press release issued in Almaty on July 16, the unregistered Alga (Forward) party pledged to support the opposition Social Democratic Party in Kazakhstan's August 18 parliamentary elections, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. The party announcement said that decision was prompted by "the need to ensure the unity of democratic forces" and followed the inability of the party to gain formal registration by the Kazakh Central Election Commission (CEC), despite the CEC's approval of the party-list candidates of the country's seven main parties the day before (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 16, 2007). RG

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev met with visiting Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev on July 16 in the Cholpon-Ata government residence in the northeastern Issyk-Kul Region, Kabar reported. The meeting was also attended by Kyrgyz Security Council Secretary Tokon Mamytov and Interior Minister Bolotbek Nogoybaev. Bakiev hailed Russia's "effective cooperation" and noted that bilateral relations continue to expand "in all areas at the highest level." The meeting also included a briefing by Nurgaliev on a recent visit to St. Petersburg by a group from the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry that resulted in the signing of an agreement on cooperation to combat international terrorism and transnational organized crime. Bakiev then reviewed detailed security plans with the Russian minister in preparation for Kyrgyzstan's hosting of the annual Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit meeting set for August 16. Opening a recent SCO foreign ministers meeting in Bishkek, Bakiev hailed the SCO as an "important foreign-policy priority" for his country and noted the organization has become an "effective tool for ensuring security and stability" well beyond its initial mandate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 11, 2007). RG

Kyrgyz Border Service Chairman Zamir Moldoshev announced in Bishkek on July 16 the imposition of new presidentially ordered security restrictions in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, in preparation for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit next month, Interfax reported. The new security measures include tight restrictions limiting access to Bishkek, enhanced security at border-crossing posts, and an increase in the number of soldiers deployed at checkpoints. Moldoshev added that although the measures are temporary, they went into effect immediately, timed exactly one month prior to the August 16 summit, and said further restrictions are due to be imposed 10 days prior to the event. He also noted that "remembering the lessons" from an incursion of Islamist extremists through the Kyrgyz-Tajik border in May 2006, special units of the Border Service will be deployed in border areas to "carry out search and reconnaissance activities" in mountain passes. RG

On an official visit to Tehran, Kyrgyz Deputy Foreign Minister Kadyrbek Sarbayev met on July 15 with Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki to discuss opportunities for expanding bilateral trade and investment, AKIpress reported. Mottaki suggested that the two sides focus on easing customs and improving the infrastructure to allow for increased trade and cargo transport. The two officials also discussed unspecified issues related to regional security and stability, with Mottaki criticizing "Western intervention" in Afghanistan as resulting in "nothing except an increase in drug trafficking and extremism." RG

Speaking at a press conference in Dushanbe on July 13, Tajik chief prosecutor Bobojon Bobokhonov denied "having any information" regarding recent reports in the Tajik media claiming that Tajik security forces arrested a group of supporters of fugitive Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev on the Tajik-Uzbek border, Asia-Plus reported on July 16. Tajikistan has long sought the capture of Khudoiberdiev, a former Tajik army officer who led about 1,000 fighters in a 1998 attack against government forces in the Soghd region. Because Khudoiberdiev is widely believed to be in hiding in Uzbekistan, the case has tended to complicate Tajik-Uzbek relations in recent years, with tit-for-tat spying allegations and Tajik accusations that Uzbekistan has allowed training camps for Khudoiberdiev's supporters to operate freely on Uzbek territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31, 2006). RG

Tashkent District Court Judge Zokir Isaev has reportedly resigned his position, complaining of "interference" from high-level officials, RFE/RL reported on July 16, citing the independent Uzbek information website The report said Isaev dispatched a letter to Uzbek President Islam Karimov, in which he accused unnamed government officials of using the president's name to "destroy anyone who is in their way." Isaev was the presiding judge in the trials of alleged organizers of the violence in the eastern city of Andijon in May 2005. RG

Former opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich has sent a letter to State Security Committee (KGB) Chairman Stsyapan Sukharenka urging him to stop pressuring Belarusian students involved in Poland's educational-assistance program, Belapan reported on July 16. "KGB officers invite students to private apartments for 'conversations,' meet them at railroad stations as they return to Belarus on vacation, visit students and their parents at their home or workplace. KGB agents often try to cow students into so-called cooperation," the agency quoted Milinkevich's letter as stating. Last year, Poland offered scholarships to some 300 Belarusian students who were expelled from universities in Belarus for opposition activities, mostly for their participation in street protests in the wake of the presidential election on March 19, 2006. JM

Waclaw Radziwinowicz, a staff writer with the Polish daily "Gazeta Wyborcza," was not allowed to enter Belarus on July 16, Belapan reported, quoting Andrzej Poczobut, a Hrodna-based correspondent of the daily. "They didn't put any entry-ban stamps into Mr. Radziwinowicz's passport. He was just advised to go to Moscow by plane or travel there through Ukraine," Poczobut said. Radziwinowicz, who was heading to Moscow, was kept at the border for five hours and was ordered to board a train back to Poland later in the day. Radziwinowicz, now a "Gazeta Wyborcza" correspondent in Moscow, had worked in Minsk until he was denied accreditation by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry in September 2006. JM

The Ukrainian Emergency Situations Ministry has evacuated 815 people from an area in Busk Raion in Lviv Oblast, following the derailment of a cargo train carrying poisonous yellow phosphorus on July 16, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Fifteen tanker cars of phosphorus derailed and overturned near the settlement of Ozhydiv. They were part of a 58-car train traveling from Kazakhstan to Poland. Six tankers caught fire after the phosphorus leaked out. Two dozen people from the accident area reportedly sought medical help, and some of them were hospitalized. JM

French UN Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere indicated on July 16 that Western members of the UN Security Council will present for a vote a draft resolution on the future of Kosova despite Russia's objections. De la Sabliere said the latest draft "is our final attempt to try to reach agreement of all members," international media reported. "We went as far as we could to accommodate the concerns of some members," he said, adding that "we can improve the text, but we cannot change what is the core of the text." Western ambassadors to the UN have indicated they plan to push for a decision on the final status on Kosova within days, but the decision to press ahead has yet to be made by national governments. The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on July 13 that the United States is "determined to move forward either within the [Security] Council or otherwise." Diplomats representing the six countries leading efforts to find a solution -- Britain, France, German, Italy, Russia, and the United States -- are due to meet in Berlin on July 25, AP reported. AG

Russia made clear on July 16 that it will veto the UN resolution on Kosova in its current form, with Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin telling journalists on July 16 that the chances of Moscow approving the draft "are zero." "Almost the entire text and maybe particularly the annexes are permeated with the concept of independence for Kosovo," Churkin said. "That is not a concept that will solve the problem" of Kosova's status, he said, adding that the sponsors of the draft were on the "wrong track" by trying to keep some "gray areas." He did not specify what those gray areas were. Russia would not contribute to "drafting a document that does not provide a clue to the core problem," Churkin said in comments carried by the Russian news agency Interfax. An AP report cited Churkin as saying "the core of the matter is the Security Council must encourage the parties to continue negotiations, and those must be serious negotiations." Russia argues that any resolution of Kosova's status must be acceptable to Serbia and must be the result of open-ended bilateral talks between Belgrade and Prishtina. According to Radio-Television Serbia (RTS), the Chinese ambassador to the UN, Wang Guangjia, supports fresh talks -- as called for by the draft's sponsors -- but expressed skepticism about any imposed solution. RTS reported that the South African ambassador objects to the degree of responsibility passed from the UN to the EU in the proposal. Earlier on July 16, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Security Council to vote soon on Kosova's future. "I am deeply concerned about the lack of progress," he told journalists, reiterating his view that any further delay is "not desirable, not only for Balkan states, but also for all European countries" and again stating that independence for Kosova would not be a precedent. AG

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said on July 16 that "many officials, many politicians" from EU countries have suggested that Serbia can only gain membership of the EU if Kosova is granted independence, Reuters reported the same day. "The offer is like this: if you want Europe, you can forget Kosovo; if you want Kosovo, you can forget Europe," Kostunica said. "Things cannot be like that. It's an indecent offer." Kostunica was speaking in Lisbon, where he was meeting with Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating Presidency. It is unclear whether Kostunica was including Portugal among the countries linking Serbia's EU future with Kosova's future status. EU officials have said publicly that Serbian membership is not contingent on Kosova's independence, but French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on July 12 linked Serbia's EU prospects with stability in Kosova, saying "it is not possible to enter the EU with an ethnic conflict" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 12, 2007). Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic on July 13 said he hopes Serbia will join the EU between 2012 and 2014, Serbian media reported the same day. Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic is visiting Slovenia, Austria, and Spain this week in an effort to secure European support for Serbia's case. AG

Vlastimir Djordjevic, a former Serbian police commander, on July 16 pleaded not guilty in The Hague to five charges of war crimes against ethnic Albanians in Kosova, international media reported the same day. Djordjevic served as Serbia's assistant interior minister and chief of the Public Security Department from 1997 to 2001, a period that spanned the separatist conflict in Kosova. Prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) accuse Djordjevic of a commanding role in the expulsion of Kosovar Albanians and the killing of hundreds of ethnic-Albanian civilians, charges that, if proven, could result in a life sentence. According to AP, Djordjevic told the court that he stayed in "a number of foreign countries" in the six years he was on the run, but did not say whether one of them was Russia. Djordjevic was arrested in mid-June in Montenegro, but local media speculated that he may have been transferred from Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19 and 22, 2007). The ICTY had long maintained that Djordjevic was hiding in Russia. AG

Australia has extradited to Croatia a Croat accused of murders that may have been contributed to the outbreak of war between ethnic Croats and Serbs in 1991, local and international media reported on July 15-16. Antun Gudelj, who holds dual Croatian-Australian citizenship, was transferred on July 15 to the eastern Croatian city of Osijek, the site of the crimes he allegedly committed at the beginning of the 1991-95 conflict. Gudelj is accused of killing a police chief and two other police officials in an attempt, prosecutors believe, to stoke the ethnic tensions that eventually led to the war. The local police chief, Josip Reihl-Kir, had been seeking to broker talks between local Croats and Serbs when he was killed. Gudelj was sentenced to 20 years in jail for the killings in 1994, but was freed in 1997 as part of a broader amnesty. Croatia's Constitutional Court ordered a retrial in 2001, by which time Gudelj had returned to Australia. Gudelj has previously denied speculation that he was acting on behalf of a faction of the party of the late President Franjo Tudjman opposed to reconciliation efforts. AG

Macedonia and Greece on July 14 connected the two countries' power networks with a new power line between Bitola in Macedonia and Florina in Greece, the news agency MIA reported the same day. Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister Zoran Stavreski said Macedonia plans to add two other cross-border power lines in the near future, one to Bulgaria and the other to Serbia, as part of a broader effort to stabilize the country's energy supplies. Macedonia consumes more electricity than it produces. The entire Balkan region is being affected by an energy squeeze, a problem that Balkan leaders have addressed on several occasions this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 23 and June 25, 2007). Russian President Vladimir Putin called in June for the creation of a "Black Sea electricity energy ring that would link all European countries in the Black Sea region" and that would establish "the main aspects of a common energy market" linking Russia and Europe. Greece imposed an embargo on Macedonia in 1994-95 as part of its dispute over Macedonia's name, but trade between the countries rose by 15 percent in 2006 and Greek companies now employ 20,000 people in Macedonia. AG

A leading official in the Transdniester has expressed disappointment with the results of the privatization process in the separatist region. "There are many promising enterprises, but the owners are not developing their businesses," Eugen Sevciuc, the head of the Supreme Soviet, the region's parliament, said in comments reported on July 13 by the Moldovan news agency BASA. "Not all the companies successfully realized" the aims of privatization, which he said were to boost and modernize the region's industry and preserve jobs. "Some of them go bankrupt; others end up destroying technical equipment and turning it into scrap metal," Sevciuc said. BASA reported that Transdniester has sold 122 companies since the privatization process began in 2002. Just seven of the 80 sales planned for this year have been completed. BASA reported in April that the privatization process as a whole has generated income of $108 million for Transdniester. AG

Russia's July 14 announcement that it is suspending its participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty has been criticized in the United States and Europe. But Russia did leave some room for negotiation on the agreement, considered to be the foundation of peace and stability in Europe. RFE/RL correspondent Michael Scollon asks Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defense analyst and columnist for the Russian newspaper "Novaya gazeta," what he believes Russia hopes to achieve by threatening to scrap the CFE.

RFE/RL: What are Russia's main problems with the CFE Treaty?

Pavel Felgenhauer: Basically about the Istanbul commitments [commitments Russia made in Istanbul in 1999 under the CFE II Treaty to remove its troops from Georgia and Moldova] -- the Russian presence in the former CIS, and that is the main problem. The main sticking point now is Moldova, where Russia is adamantly refusing to withdraw its troops from the Transdniester region. And President [Vladimir] Putin and other Russian officials have said that they do not recognize the right of the West to impose on Russia such limitations and basically do not want to withdraw their troops, and Moscow said they have a right to keep them there.

There are other, more minor, problems. Russia wants a ratification of the adapted treaty [CFE II] and wants further changes, mostly to fully abandon right off the 'flank' limitations [The CFE Flank Agreement retained limits on equipment such as tanks and armored personnel carriers, but applies them to a smaller area] that were in the original treaty and now Russia believes that there should not be any flank limitations. That's again a sticking point, especially with Turkey and Norway.

RFE/RL: Why has Russia said it will wait for 150 days officially to leave the treaty, and during this period what is the status of its commitments?

Felgenhauer: So right now, this 150 day period, this is a legality. So Russia right now is still complying to CFE. Actually, last month the Russian Defense Ministry refused two requests -- or postponed them, actually, as it was -- for inspections from Bulgaria and Romania. I was told several days ago by an American diplomat here in Moscow that Russia has changed its mind, and now the inspections are going ahead, including also an inspection that was demanded by the United States. So Russia is right now complying for 150 days more, beginning from July 14. That's a legal requirement. Of course there can be consultations during this period, but right now both sides have dug in their heels and it doesn't seem that anything might budge.

RFE/RL: Russia says it is not "closing the door" on negotiations on the CFE treaty. What concessions will Russia be seeking in the next 150 days?

Felgenhauer: The main Russian concession -- what Russia is demanding is -- is a swift ratification of the adapted treaty (CFE II), adapted in 1999 in Istanbul, which the West is refusing, demanding that Russia should first fully withdraw troops from Moldova and Georgia. Russia is, of course, right now withdrawing its bases from Georgia, but it's not clear if it would fully withdraw because there is a base in Abkhazia, in Gudauta, which apparently has not been fully withdrawn. Then there is the problem of Russian peacekeeping troops, whose presence Georgia doesn't like.

RFE/RL: What makes the CFE treaty so significant, and how closely were the two sides abiding by its terms in the first place?

Felgenhauer: More or less the treaty was adhered to. It helped to create an unprecedented in history disarmament in Europe, when right now we don't have any -- the American forces before CFE were 600,000 men and women in arms in Europe; now there's only 60,000 left -- that's a 10 times reduction. And there were many other reductions, so this created a network of peace and trust in Europe, which right now are being undermined by Russia withdrawing from the treaty.

RFE/RL: What changes can we expect if Russia withdraws from the CFE?

Felgenhauer: No one right now is expecting a buildup of any forces anywhere, like it was during the Cold War when two great armies faced each other in mid Europe. Such a thing is impossible. But lost of trust, and since there are many other different issues that create ill feeling between Russia and the West -- it's missile defense, the Kosovo problem, the slaying of Aleksandr Litvinenko in London -- I mean, lots of other things. And this is another thing that will decrease trust and increase tension, creating a confrontation that some call the "new Cold War."

RFE/RL: How does the CFE affect Russia's ability to address security on its own territory, and how will dropping the treaty affect its relations with the West?

Felgenhauer: The CFE did not play any significant role in actual military operations in the North Caucasus or military deployments because everyone more or less is way below quotas. What's being lost with Russia withdrawing from the CFE is trust and transparency, which will create much ill feeling between Russia and the West -- especially between Russia and Europe, because the United States has its own capabilities to monitor Russian military movements from satellites and so on. But the United States does not fully or eagerly share this information with its European allies.

The CFE did not play any significant role in actual military operations in the North Caucasus or military deployments because everyone more or less is way below quotas.

RFE/RL: Could Moscow's decision in any way be tied to the Sochi Olympics in 2014? For example, if Russia sought to boost security by bringing in more troops, would the treaty have hampered such an effort?

Felgenhauer: No, it's not connected to the Sochi Olympics -- only maybe Russia was waiting for the formal announcement of its withdraw after the vote to get the Olympics. Just tactical things.

RFE/RL: Is there anything about the timing of Russia's announcement that is significant? For example, do you think it was intended to counter the July 16 talks in Washington between the U.S. and Polish presidents, seeing as they are expected to discuss the contentious plans to set up parts of a missile-defense system in Central Europe?

Felgenhauer: I don't think that that [was the case]. President Putin announced his intention to do what was done in April. Since then, how to do it legally was being very hotly discussed in Moscow.

RFE/RL: Are any other countries likely to follow Russia's lead by suspending their participation in the CFE treaty?

Felgenhauer: Well, Belarus might. Hardly anyone else right now, and I'm not totally sure that Belarus will, because actually dropping this treaty doesn't give Belarus anything.

Several reconstruction projects in Afghanistan were finalized and the foundations for several others laid on July 15, Pajhwak Afghan News reported the next day. Deputy Communications Minister Hamidullah Qalandari inaugurated the new communications department in central Kapisa Province. In Taloqan, capital of northern Takhar Province, workers began construction of a maternity clinic to be completed within six months, said Abdul Hakeem Azizi, director of the public-health department. Education Minister Muhammad Hanif Atmar told a gathering on July 15 that three madrasahs for a total of 800 students will be constructed in Zabul, Oruzgan, and Panjshir provinces, in addition to another school being built in northern Balkh Province over the next six months. Madrasahs will be constructed in 10 other provinces, including three in Kabul, at a cost of $6.3 million, said Atmar. Meanwhile, a new building constructed for the Rural Rehabilitation and Development Ministry (MRRD) was unveiled in Kabul in an inauguration ceremony presided over by First Vice President Ahmad Zia Masoud. JC

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) issued a press release on July 14 stating that it has opened an office in Chaghcharan, capital of central Ghor Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on July 16. The office opening is part of UNAMA's efforts to reach out to the citizens, the statement said, adding that the aid agency has nearly doubled its presence across the country over the past year. UN Representative in Afghanistan Tom Koenigs said at the opening that he hopes the office will revive development and reconstruction efforts in the isolated region, which has "suffered greatly" from relentless violence and conflict. "It is our hope that the days of Ghor being overlooked are slowly drawing to a close," said Koenigs. According to the statement, UNAMA works to coordinate development and humanitarian efforts, monitor human-rights issues, and strengthen good governance, particularly in local communities. JC

An Interior Ministry statement released on July 16 said that President Hamid Karzai fired the Kapisa Province governor for "sowing discord" within the government, only days after the governor publicly criticized Karzai's government in an interview with "Newsweek," Reuters reported that day. Abdul Sattar Murad was removed following complaints from Afghans that he was ineffective, created discord, and persuaded coalition forces to carry out raids without justification, the ministry claimed. Murad, however, says he was sacked because of his comments, in which he said there is a "vacuum of authority" in remote parts of Afghanistan. "All the political parties are now drifting away from the national leadership. The people are distancing themselves from the government," Murad was quoted as saying. The government says the decision to sack Murad came before the interview, but Murad insists his remarks led to his removal. JC

Iran is to broadcast on July 18 television "confessions" by Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, two Iranian-Americans detained in Tehran and accused of involvement in subversive activities against the Iranian regime, Radio Farda reported, citing a state television report or program trailer. Their purported confessions are to be shown on a program called "In The Name Of Democracy," Radio Farda reported. It added that the trailer of the two detainees seemed to show them in a house, talking separately to a camera. Iranian authorities have accused the U.S. government of using rights groups, research bodies, and civil-society initiatives to foment a "velvet revolution" or peaceful overthrow of Iran's government. State television did not give information on the fate of another detained Iranian, Ali Shakeri, Radio Farda reported. VS

Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, a senior theologian who has fallen afoul of the Iranian authorities, described the recent stoning of a man in the Qazvin province west of Tehran as "against norms," Radio Farda reported on July 13 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 11, 2007). Montazeri, who in the 1980s was the designated successor to the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as Iran's paramount leader, told Radio Farda in writing that the Islamic religion has set down specific conditions to prove adultery has been committed, making it very difficult to do so beyond doubt. He added that sentences such as stoning should not be carried if they disgraced religion, referring perhaps to the international outcry over the stoning. He said stoning was really designed as a "scarecrow" or deterrent for the vice of adultery. The head of the Tehran-based Iran Human Rights Headquarters, Mohammad Javad Larijani, told state television in Tehran on July 15 that stoning is a "very harsh" penalty designed as a deterrent, but is in line with Islam and does not violate Iran's international human-rights commitments, "Etemad-i Melli" reported on July 16. He said Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi may have opposed the recent stoning in Iran, but this was probably on procedural grounds, not because he opposes the penalty in principle. Larijani admitted there are "special conditions" under which a stoning sentence may be imposed and carried out. He said Iran has signed four human-rights documents and "none of these are against stoning." VS

Tehran's deputy prosecutor for security affairs, Hasan Haddad, told ISNA on July 15 that three students arrested in May over the publication in late April of purportedly indecent journals at Tehran's Amir Kabir University were released on bail late on July 14. The released students were Puyan Mahmudian, Majid Sheikhpur, and Meqdad Khalilpur, he said, adding that two others, Abbas Hakimzadeh and Ali Saberi, may also be released soon on bail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 3, and 10, 2007). The detainees have rejected charges that they were involved in the publication of the indecent journals and have said these were forgeries of publications they help run at the university. Haddad said 16 recently arrested student-movement activists are now in Tehran's Evin prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 10, 12 and 13, 2007). One recently detained student, Ezzat Qalandari, who worked with Iran Graduates Organization, whose offices were shut down in the recent wave of arrests, was apparently released on July 13 or 14, "Etemad" reported on July 16. VS

The head of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) told a gathering in Tehran on July 15 that Iran has strictly peaceful intentions toward regional states, and the United States is deceiving them by presenting Iran as a threat, "Kayhan" reported on July 16, citing agencies. Yahya Rahim Safavi said the Middle East is a "global heartland" and important strategic and economic zone and source of energy, and "has always been the object of the attention and greed of the great powers." He said U.S. democratization plans for the region have failed, as proven by the election of a "popular" prime minister and government in Iraq and the drafting of an Islamic constitution. He said the IRGC has begun to restructure and reorganize its combat units and "prepare itself for a variety of plots and threats." VS

Three bombings in the northern city of Kirkuk on July 16 killed at least 85 people and wounded more than 150, international media reported the same day. According to local police, the first attack was a suicide truck bomb that targeted the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the main political parties that make up the Kurdish Alliance. Police said the blast was so powerful that it left a crater several meters deep and completely destroyed several buildings. Approximately 20 minutes later, a second bomb detonated at an outdoor market near the town's bus station. Several hours later, a car bomb in southern Kirkuk killed one police officer and wounded six others. Kirkuk Governor Abd al-Rahman Mustafa issued a statement strongly condemning the bombings, the PUK website reported. "Yet again, we strongly condemn these criminal acts and call on all people to cooperate and work together in order to combat terrorism and the terrorists and to provide security for our dear city," Mustafa said. This is the second major attack in northern Iraq in over a week. On July 7 a massive suicide truck bombing at a market in Tuz Khurmato killed 150 people and wounded more than 240 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 9, 2007). SS

Falah Shanshal, a lawmaker from Muqtada al-Sadr's political bloc, announced on July 16 that the bloc will return to parliament after a deal was reached to form a parliamentary committee to investigate the June 13 attack on the Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, the independent Voices of Iraq news agency reported. "The parliamentary committee met with the al-Sadr bloc and agreed on a number of measures, such as activating investigations concerning the Al-Askari shrine bombing, informing the parliament of the investigation results, sending Iraqi security and defense forces to guard the Shi'ite sacred shrine and to secure the road leading to it, and allocating sufficient financial resources for its reconstruction," Shanshal said. On June 13, the al-Sadr bloc announced it will boycott the parliament until the Iraqi government takes appropriate steps to safeguard and reconstruct the Al-Askari Mosque. The mosque's minarets were destroyed by the June 13 attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2007). In February 2006, insurgents partially destroyed the mosque's golden dome, setting off a massive wave of sectarian violence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22, 2006). SS

Adnan al-Dulaymi, the leader of the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front, met with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on July 15 in an effort to end the front's boycott of parliament and the Iraqi government, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. "I met with the prime minister for more than an hour, and we discussed all issues pertaining to the political process," al-Dulaymi said. "Among these were the issues of parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani and Culture Minister As'ad al-Hashimi. Hopefully, we will be able to solve all the problems in the coming few days. We want to work with all our wisdom and reasoning to calm the situation down in Iraq." The front began a boycott after al-Mashhadani was removed from his position and an arrest warrant was issued against al-Hashimi for murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 11 and 27, 2007). The Front is the largest Sunni political bloc in parliament with 44 seats. SS

Al-Dulaymi survived an assassination attempt on July 15 when a roadside bomb exploded near his motorcade in western Baghdad, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. There were no reports of injuries. Al-Dulaymi shrugged off the attempt, saying it would not deter him from helping his country. "I came under assassination attempts more than once while I was on my way to the Council of Representatives, the government, or any other place," he said. "More than once, I was subjected to such attempts. I commit my affairs to God, and I fear nothing. I beseech God Almighty to make us succeed in order to work for the sake of Iraq and Iraqis." The independent Voices of Iraq reported the same day that the assassination attempt occurred as al-Dulaymi and his entourage were on their way to meet with al-Maliki. A source at al-Dulaymi's Iraqi People Conference said it was the seventh attempt on his life. SS

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned during a July 16 news conference that any abrupt U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq would lead to a further deterioration of the security situation, international media reported the same day. His comments come as U.S. lawmakers have been increasingly vocal in urging the Bush administration to carry out some form of a U.S. troop withdrawal or reduction. "At this time, it is not my place to inject myself into these discussions taking place between the American people, the administration, and Congress," Ban said. "However, I'd like to tell you that great caution should be taken for the sake of the Iraqi people. The international community cannot and should not abandon them. Any abrupt withdrawal or decision may lead to further deterioration of the situation in Iraq." Ban stressed that the Iraqi people have suffered tremendously during the last four years, and he urged the international community to stand by them in their time of need. "The international community, the UN, should help the Iraqi people and government so that they can overcome these difficulties as soon as possible," Ban said. SS

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said on July 16 that if it was found that the United States had supplied weapons to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels in northern Iraq, then "all relations between Turkey and the United States would be shattered," the "New Anatolian," reported the same day. Gul made the comments during an interview with Channel A TV. "We are studying the matter. The U.S. listed the PKK as a terrorist organization. We are also conducting joint efforts [with the United States] to cut the financial resources of the PKK. That's why it would be strange to provide weapons to the terrorist organization. These claims might be a game to harm relations between the two countries," Gul said. On July 1, Turkish media widely reported allegations by four former PKK fighters who had "escaped" from a PKK-run base at Mount Qandil in northern Iraq that they had seen U.S. military vehicles delivering arms to the camp. The Turkish government did not provide any further details and the U.S. Embassy in Ankara vehemently denied the allegations. SS