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Newsline - August 15, 2007

Investigators probing the blast that derailed the Neva Express train running from Moscow to St. Petersburg on August 13 have concluded that it was the work of "amateur terrorists," the daily "Kommersant" reported on August 15 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2007). Officials are seeking information about two suspects seen on the rail line by passengers prior to the blast, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Experts have drawn sketches of the suspects based on eyewitness descriptions. In Moscow, Nikolai Patrushev, who heads the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the National Counterterrorism Committee, told the committee on August 14 that the train blast shows that "the threat of terrorism and extremism has not yet been eliminated," Interfax reported. He added that "these events again are evidence that the [committee] made the timely decision to examine the question of taking antiterrorist security measures" in the run-up to the parliamentary elections slated for December and the presidential vote scheduled for March 2008. Speaking by telephone from the Republic of Tyva (Tuva) near the Mongolian border, President Vladimir Putin told Transportation Minister Igor Levitin on August 14 that his and other agencies should "do everything possible to help people -- everything that you consider has not been done," Russian media reported. Putin added that Levitin should "do whatever is necessary to restore [train] traffic as soon as possible. Stay in touch with the law-enforcement agencies. The FSB has opened a criminal case. Help them in the course of their work." PM

Russian Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said in Moscow on August 14 that opposition activist and independent journalist Larisa Arap should be released from the psychiatric hospital near Murmansk where she has been held since early July, and placed in outpatient care, Russian news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 30 and 31 and August 1, 10, and 14, 2007). Lukin and Yury Savenko, who is the president of Russia's Independent Psychiatric Association, earlier examined Arap and concluded that there is no medical basis to confine her. Arap claims authorities placed her in the hospital in reprisal for a statement she gave to a newspaper, alleging that patients at a psychiatric clinic were beaten and sexually abused. Her family maintains she is being forcibly held and drugged. PM

Speaking in Moscow on August 14, Human Rights Ombudsman Lukin appealed to President Putin to condemn Josef Stalin's Great Terror to mark the 70th anniversary of the launch of the campaign of repression, Russian news agencies reported. Lukin said that he hopes that Putin "will not forget this subject." No senior Russian government official went to any of the commemorative events in late July and early August, which were attended primarily by several hundred activists and relatives of the victims. State-run media paid little attention to the meetings and Russian Orthodox services connected with the anniversary. Putin recently sought to downplay the importance of the purges and other unsavory aspects of Russian and Soviet history, claiming that German Nazism and the U.S. use of nuclear weapons in 1945 were far worse (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22, July 10, and August 9, 2007). PM

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said in Tallinn on August 14 that some current pro-Kremlin Russian youth groups remind him of the Hitler Youth movement of Nazi-era Germany, Reuters reported. He told the news agency that "we cannot close our eyes when we see what is happening now in Russia." Ansip added that "we have to be worried" about groups like Nashi and the Young Guards. In the spring, Nashi organized a blockade of Estonia's Embassy in Moscow after Estonia moved a Soviet-era World War II monument out of central Tallinn to a military cemetery. At the same time, Estonia was the target of a massive cyberattack, which Russia is widely suspected of orchestrating, although it denies any involvement. Russia recently imposed economic restrictions on Estonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7, July 17 and 24, and August 8, 2007). Ansip also told Reuters on August 14 that "for the Estonian people, [Adolf] Hitler and Stalin are both murderers." He called nonetheless for "neighborly and pragmatic relations" between Tallinn and Moscow. Ansip added that he hopes that "one day, one lovely day, the Russian people will understand it is a great shame when they think such a small country as Estonia or Latvia or Georgia is an enemy of Russia." He appealed to unnamed EU member states not to make deals with Russia independently of a unified EU policy toward that country. "When EU states have...negotiations with Russia separately, there will be 27 losers and one winner. When we speak with one voice, there will be a win-win situation." He was presumably referring to Germany, which frequently speaks out in favor of a common EU foreign and security policy but often pursues its own policy toward Moscow. PM

On August 14, Interfax reported that the estimated cost of the Nord Stream gas pipeline linking Russia and Germany via the Baltic seabed has risen from $5.4 billion at the end of 2005 to just over $8 billion now, according to Gazprom's latest quarterly report. The Baltic states and Poland regard Nord Stream as a particularly odious deal cut by Moscow and Berlin at the expense of and without consulting with their smaller neighbors. That 2005 agreement between former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who now is a top official of the pipeline project, and President Putin has been dubbed in Estonia "the Schroeder-Putin Pact" by analogy with the Hitler-Stalin Pact on the eve of World War II. PM

Polish Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga was quoted by the "International Herald Tribune" on August 15 as saying in Warsaw that Russia, Germany, and some other, unnamed EU states do not treat her country as a full-fledged member of NATO or the EU. She noted that some West European countries have missile-defense agreements with the United States, but that "so many countries discuss our right to have [such a] system." She stressed that Poland "wants to engage in discussions with the U.S. [about missile defense] with the same rights as other countries." Fotyga also said that the Nord Stream pipeline project "undermines European solidarity and questions our ability to have an equal voice." She said that attempts within the EU to develop a common energy policy toward Russia have been disappointing. Fotyga also pointed to several recent developments that reinforce Polish fears that Germany seeks to dominate Poland within the EU. The "Financial Times" of March 6 quoted Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek as saying that "as for the 18 EU member states who host U.S. military bases, it is not up to them to comment on the existence of a similar presence in the Czech Republic" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 9, 2007). He was responding to comments by German Social Democratic leader Kurt Beck that his party will not agree to setting up a proposed U.S. missile-defense project in Poland and the Czech Republic without Russia's approval. PM

Police in Maikop, capital of the Adygeya Republic in southern Russia, are holding an unidentified suspect in connection with a video recently posted to some nationalist websites, which allegedly shows the execution-style killing by neo-Nazis of one man from Tajikistan and one from Daghestan, RIA Novosti and Interfax reported on August 15 (see "Russian Video Shows Apparent Extremist Killings,", August 14, 2007). The news agencies noted that the suspect is being held for his alleged role in distributing the video, and not for having been involved in the killings or in producing the video. One local police official noted that the man has a history of distributing Russian nationalist materials and of links to extremist groups. quoted unnamed local police sources as describing him as an "unemployed man." The Interior Ministry is investigating the origins of the video and how it was circulated. PM

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref told city council members in Sochi on August 14 that the government will set up a state-run company to carry out all construction work for the 2014 Winter Olympics there, for which the authorities have budgeted $12 billion, "The Wall Street Journal In Europe" reported on August 15. Gref did not indicate when the firm will be set up or what it will be called. He said, however, that he expects a law to be passed by the end of the year that will formally establish the company and set down its operating rules. "The law will need to guarantee transparency and accountability of this corporation...but this should not be so bureaucratic that it hampers finishing construction work on time," he added. President Putin has already discussed providing security for the games and preventing embezzlement of funds earmarked for them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 10 and 12, 2007). PM

Rasul Kudayev, who was detained at his home in Nalchik in October 2005 on suspicion of having commanded one of the detachments of young militants who attacked police facilities in Nalchik earlier that month, has embarked on a hunger strike after he and several other detainees were allegedly beaten by prison guards on August 10, reported on August 14. Kudayev, who was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2001 and held for three years at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba before being released for lack of evidence, addressed a formal complaint four months ago to Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika, alleging that he is subjected to repeated torture and abuse in detention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 16, 2007). LF

Respected Ingush writer Issa Kodzoyev has addressed an open letter to international organizations, including the United Nations, the European Parliament, and the Arab League, and to the presidents and legislatures of Russia, the United States, Turkey, Japan, and almost two dozen European countries, appealing for support to end the arbitrary violence and reprisals to which the population of Ingushetia is subjected on a daily basis, reported on August 14. Kodzoyev construed that violence as a concerted effort to provoke a popular uprising in Ingushetia that would serve as a pretext for armed intervention to "restore constitutional order." Kodzoyev raised the possibility, as have other Ingush commentators, that President Putin's entourage deliberately misinforms him about the situation in Ingushetia. LF

Two men charged with shooting Russian Army Lieutenant Dmitry Yermolov in a village on the outskirts of Yerevan on August 6 have denied responsibility for his death, their lawyer, Yenok Azarian, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on August 14. Prosecutors claim the two men halted a car in which five Russians were traveling and started a fight, then shot at the vehicle with a hunting rifle (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 8, 1007). Azarian said the two accused know who shot Yermolov but he did not divulge the putative killer's identity. LF

A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Baku denied on August 14 that Yana Amelina, a journalist for the Russian agency RosBalt, was recently expelled from Azerbaijan, reported. Amelina claimed to have been detained and interrogated by police and security officials in the southern region of Lenkoran, where she met with representatives of the Talysh minority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 13, 2007). LF

Members of the Abkhaz government and parliament-in-exile attended a memorial service on August 14 in honor of those killed during the 1992-93 Abkhaz war that was triggered by an incursion into Abkhazia by the Georgian National Guard on August 14, 1992, Caucasus Press reported. Several thousand Georgians who fled their homes in Abkhazia during that conflict attended a rally on August 14 outside the Georgian parliament building in Tbilisi and vowed that they will one day return to Abkhazia. The Georgian television station Rustavi-2 on August 14 quoted former President Eduard Shevardnadze, who in 1992 co-headed the ruling State Council, as saying the war in Abkhazia could have been avoided if National Guard commander Tengiz Kitovani had not ignored his injunction not to enter the Abkhaz capital, Sukhum(i). Speaking there on August 14, de facto Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh paid tribute to those who fought to defend Abkhazia and accused Georgia of engaging in a military buildup as a prelude to a new war, the website reported. The website quoted Bagapsh as also saying that "Abkhazia and Georgia can never again co-exist within a single state," but that affirmation does not figure in the text of his remarks as posted on his official website ( LF

Jondi Baghaturia, who heads the opposition Kartuli Dasi (Georgian Group), on August 14 implicated Bacho Akhalaya, head of the agency that oversees Georgia's prisons, in the unrest during the night of August 12-13 at the Avchala penal colony for juvenile offenders on the outskirts of Tbilisi, Caucasus Press reported. Baghaturia alleged that Akhalaya and members of his entourage forced their way into the facility while drunk and beat up inmates. At least 12 people were injured in the ensuing fighting, of whom six were hospitalized. Akhalaya was said to have similarly provoked a riot at a prison in Tbilisi in March 2006 in which at least six prisoners died (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 27, 28, and 29, and "End Note," March 30, 2006). LF

Roza Zhaukimova, an official with the regional administration in South Kazakhstan Oblast, reported on August 14 that the number of HIV-infected children in the region has increased to 123 after four more children were found to be infected with the virus, Interfax reported. Zhaukimova added that the infections were most likely a result of unsanitary blood transfusions performed by medical workers who reused disposable syringes. Two months ago, a district court in Shymkent sentenced 16 doctors and medical workers to prison terms of between three and eight years on charges of negligence for administering transfusions of tainted blood to some 120 children, 10 of whom have subsequently died of AIDS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 11, 2006, and March 19, June 28, and July 19, 2007). RG

The press service for the Kyrgyz State Airport Administration announced on August 14 that all daytime flights will be banned on August 15 and 16 at the country's Manas International Airport just outside of Bishkek, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and the website reported. The ban, which will allow nighttime air traffic, is the latest move to step up security ahead of the August 16 summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Bishkek. The ban also applies to aircraft from the U.S. military base located at the Manas Airport, although airport officials said that U.S. military personnel were "adjusting themselves to the new timetable." RG

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev met in Bishkek on August 14 with visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The two presidents signed a new "joint declaration on neighborhood [relations], friendship, and cooperation" on August 14, pledging to maintain bilateral cooperation in the areas of "state sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity," ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking at press conference in Bishkek on August 13, Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Ednan Karabaev noted that Kyrgyzstan is China's second-largest trading partner in Central Asia, with a total volume of bilateral trade of $2.26 billion last year, representing an increase of more than 128 percent over the previous year, AKIpress reported. Karabaev also stressed that Bakiev's June 2006 visit to China marked "the start of a new period of development" in relations between the two countries. Hu arrived in Bishkek ahead of the August 16 opening of a SCO summit, and plans to attend military exercises in Russia on August 17 with other heads of SCO states before traveling on to Kazakhstan. RG

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov met on August 14 in Ashgabat with visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs Daniel Sullivan, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. Berdymukhamedov briefed Sullivan on the status of economic reform in Turkmenistan and discussed bilateral economic cooperation and trade. He also thanked Sullivan for participating in an inauguration ceremony for the opening of a new checkpoint on the Turkmen-Afghan border, which was constructed and equipped with assistance from the United States and UN, Turkmen Television reported. After the meeting, Sullivan delivered a policy speech to Turkmen government officials, foreign diplomats, academics, and the media in which he stressed the importance of issues such as transparency, the rule of law, and transportation and communications links in advancing the development of Turkmenistan and other countries in the region, according to a press release from the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat. RG

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad arrived on August 14 in Ashgabat for a two-day official visit to Turkmenistan, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. Turkmen President Berdymukhammedov welcomed Ahmadinejad in an official ceremony at the presidential palace. The two leaders later discussed the outstanding dispute over the delineation of the Caspian Sea, and reviewed plans to expand bilateral energy cooperation. A set of bilateral agreements, including new accords on bilateral cooperation in the trade and economic sectors, water resources, and cultural exchanges, was also examined and signed, Turkmen TV reported. Ahmadinejad arrived in Turkmenistan after a one-day visit to Kabul, where he met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He is due to travel on to Kyrgyzstan to attend the August 16 opening of the SCO summit. Before Ahmadinejad's visit, which follows Berdymukhammedov's state visit to Iran in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 18, 2007), the joint Turkmen-Iranian commission on consular, border, and customs issues also met in Ashgabat, ITAR-TASS reported. Iran is the second largest importer of Turkmen gas, after Russia, and Turkmenistan is expected to supply Iran with some 8 billion cubic meters of gas this year, double the amount exported last year. RG

An international conference devoted to Islamic culture and society opened on August 14 in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, AFP and Uzbek Radio and Television reported. The conference, which includes participants from some 30 countries and officials from the Arab League, the Organizationof the Islamic Conference, and the United Nations, is taking place in the city designated as the 2007 "capital of Islamic culture" by the Morocco-based Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Uzbek President Islam Karimov hailed the conference as proof of the "large contribution Uzbeks have made to the development of Islamic culture," and invited the dozens of visiting Islamic scholars, religious leaders, and public figures to celebrate Uzbekistan's centuries-old Islamic heritage. RG

The Belarusian opposition on August 14 formally asked the Minsk City Executive Committee for permission to stage a demonstration called the "European March" in the Belarusian capital on October 14, Belapan reported. Viktar Ivashkevich, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF), told journalists that the main objective of the march is to show the Belarusian opposition's orientation toward Europe. "The pro-democratic forces [want to] send a signal to the Belarusian civil servants that the opposition is ready to hold talks for carrying out democratic reforms with due regard for their interests," Ivashkevich said. Along with Ivashkevich, the official organizers of the demonstration include BNF Chairman Vintsuk Vyachorka; Anatol Lyabedzka, chairman of the United Civic Party; Alyaksandr Milinkevich, leader of the Movement for Freedom; and opposition youth leaders Zmitser Fedaruk and Yauhen Afnahel. Milinkevich, a former opposition presidential candidate who in May rejected a decision at an opposition congress to introduce a collective opposition leadership, on August 14 stressed his full support for the planned march. "Talk of a split in our ranks is greatly exaggerated... There is much we can do together. Our joint aim is to live in a democracy," Reuters quoted Milinkevich as saying. JM

The Kyiv District Administrative Court on August 14 ordered the Central Election Commission to reconsider no later than August 15 the registration of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc's (BYuT) list of candidates for early parliamentary elections on September 30, Ukrainian media reported. The BYuT last week was barred from running on the grounds that its candidates had provided incomplete home addresses, provoking a formal complaint from the bloc (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 13 and 14, 2007). "I believe this will put an end to all provocative actions against our bloc. It is now clear that the election commission was simply wrong," Yulia Tymoshenko said after the court decision. The ruling may be contested at the Higher Administrative Court within two days. JM

At a cabinet meeting in Kyiv on August 15, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych proposed that the Verkhovna Rada in September pass a bill stripping high-ranking officials -- including the president, the prime minister, lawmakers, and judges -- of immunity from prosecution and other privileges, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "Let's make this historic step; let's convene a session in early September and unanimously vote to strip everybody of immunity," Yanukovych said. Yanukovych's proposal seems to be the ruling Party of Regions' response to the opposition Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense election bloc, which is campaigning ahead of early polls in September with calls to abolish parliamentary immunity and cancel privileges for lawmakers. JM

Serbian politicians and the Kosovar president, government, and war veterans have lined up in the past few days to rule out any possibility of the nominally Serbian, UN-administered, and predominantly ethnic-Albanian region being divided. Their declarations were triggered by a comment on August 12 by the EU's representative in talks on Kosova's future, Wolfgang Ischinger, that "all options" -- including partition -- are up for discussion. Ischinger made clear, though, that his statement does not indicate support for a territorial division (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 13, 2007). The possibility of partition has met with differing responses from European diplomats with a long history in the region. The Austrian dailies "Der Standard" and "Wiener Zeitung" on August 14 quoted Wolfgang Petritsch, the international community's high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1999 and 2002, as warning about the influence partition could have on southern Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro. A territorial division is "surely not the best solution," he said. "Der Standard" also reported on August 14 that Erhard Busek, the special coordinator of the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, called partition a "probable solution," adding that it is "completely clear that Kosovo is a specific case." Former EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten wrote in a widely syndicated article on August 10 that he believes "Belgrade is also working toward partitioning the province as a fallback position, a continuation of [the late Serbian leader] Slobodan Milosevic's policy, and hoping that by stalling and delaying Kosovo independence, the Albanians will resort to a unilateral declaration of independence that splits the international community or violence that makes the Serbs look good." AG

Zivan Berisavljevic, the leader of one of several regionalist parties in the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina, the Vojvodina Union of Socialists, said on August 13 that federalization is the "only solution" for Serbia. "We will demand that Vojvodina attain a status equal to the other entity, Serbia, or maybe the third entity, should Kosovo remain within Serbia's borders," he told the daily "Dnevnik." Berisavljevic also indicated concern at the impact on Vojvodina if Kosova gains independence. "The political elite in Belgrade will try to compensate for the possible loss of Kosovo by negating Vojvodina's autonomy," he said. He acknowledged Serbia's sovereignty over Vojvodina, but fired a shot across Serbia's bows, warning that "the option of internationalization of the Vojvodina issue should not be ruled out if Belgrade's political elite continues to turn a deaf ear to demands" from Vojvodina. Berisavljevic's comments carry little political weight -- his party has no seat in the regional parliament -- but they come at a time of considerable debate about greater political decentralization in Serbia and of concern about the impact of possible independence for Kosova. The possibility of an internationalization of Vojvodina's status was controversially raised in April by the German ambassador to Serbia, who warned Serbia that its ethnic Hungarians in Vojvodina might seek independence if Serbia rejected independence for Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 13 and 16, 2007). Some Serbian politicians have called for a review of a proposal dating from 2001 to divide Serbia into six regions (including Kosova), and the new government has promised dialogue on the future of Vojvodina. However, the speaker of the Serbian parliament, Oliver Dulic, said in May that "we must be realistic, which is to say it seems to me that what we have today when it comes to autonomy for Vojvodina is in fact as much as is possible right now." An advocate of greater decentralization and a prominent figure in the governing Democratic Party (DS), Bosko Ristic, has said that "people in southeastern Serbia [a particularly impoverished part of the country] would be quite happy to have what Vojvodina has," which includes a significant measure of political and economic autonomy. AG

The head of the State Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Meddzida Kreso, on August 13 accused Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the Republika Srpska, of exerting unacceptable pressure on the court by manipulating data about its caseload and the ethnic background of convicted criminals. "Politicians' attacks and unfounded accusations of bias in certain cases...represent open pressure on the work of independent state judicial bodies," Kreso said in a statement carried by local media. On August 10, Dodik claimed that 170 of the 180 guilty verdicts passed by the court were against ethnic Serbs. He also claimed that no Bosnian Muslim was convicted, the news agency SRNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 21, 2007). In the same statement, Dodik demanded the indictment of a wartime commander of Bosnian Muslim forces, Atif Dudakovic, and compared the court's alleged unwillingness to try Dudakovic with the "one or two days" needed for the court to respond to "media" pressure to bring charges against men suspected of involvement in the Srebrenica massacres. The State Court was created by the UN's envoy to Bosnia to establish a central judicial authority over Bosnia's two entities, the Bosnian Serb-dominated Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation. AG

Zdravko Tolimir, a former commander of Bosnian Serb forces in the 1991-95 war, intends to defend himself in court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) announced on August 13. Tolimir was arrested in late May on the border between Serbia and the Republika Srpska. Tolimir was the third-most-wanted man on the ICTY's list at the time of his arrest. The charges against Tolimir relate chiefly to his allegedly major role in the massacre at Srebrenica, recognized by the UN as an "act of genocide." Tolimir was one of seven deputy military commanders directly answerable to Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serbs' military commander and the man whose forces killed about 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 2007). In other news, another suspected war criminal, Milan Lukic, said on August 13 that he too may defend himself, Serbian media reported. Lukic has asked for his lawyer to be stripped of his brief, but indicated that he may consider using the services of another lawyer. Lukic is accused of numerous atrocities committed in 1992 in the northeastern Bosnian town of Visegrad, the site of some of the most systematic ethnic cleansing of the war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 13 and 23, 2007). Others who have represented themselves at the court include Slobodan Milosevic, the late Serbian president. AG

Stjepan Mesic, Croatia's president since 2000, said on August 11 that he is willing to testify at the ICTY in the trial of six ethnic Croats charged with ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Mesic told Croatian media that he does not know whether his testimony will be asked for, but said it would be his legal duty to heed any summons. Mesic has previously given testimony at the ICTY against Slobodan Milosevic and in a case against a Bosnian Croat commander, Tihomir Blaskic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 16, 2007). During the 1990s, Mesic was a leading opponent of the nationalist regime of the late Franjo Tudjman, who the ICTY says it would have indicted for war crimes had he not died in 1999. The ICTY indicted the six defendants in the upcoming trial in March 2004, alleging that they were party to an ethnic-cleansing plan devised by Tudjman. The men are: Jadranko Prlic, prime minister of the self-declared Croatian republic of Herceg-Bosna in 1993; the "republic's" defense minister, Bruno Stojic; two commanders of the Herceg-Bosna army, Milivoj Petkovic and Slobodan Praljak; a commander of the Herceg-Bosna police force, Valentin Coric; and a member of a commission on prisons, Berislav Pusic. Their trial began in April 2006. While critical of Tudjman and while he has condemned war crimes committed by ethnic Croats, Mesic has maintained the political legitimacy of two other campaigns in which Croatian soldiers were allegedly responsible for war crimes, Operations Flash and Storm, which ended the war with ethnic-Serbian separatists in Croatia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 2, April 16 and 30, and May 2 and 31, 2007). AG

Albania's second-largest opposition party, the Socialist Democrats (PSD), on August 11 called on the president to force the government to declare a state of emergency to help resolve the country's current energy crisis. The PSD warned that failure to act could aggravate the crisis, which has prompted the government to shorten the working day in the public sector and to ration electricity. Energy problems are chronic in Albania and even in the best of circumstances it struggles to cope with demand that is growing at nearly three times the European average, but a lack of rain has meant the country's key energy generators, hydroelectric plants, have proved incapable of meeting a sharp rise in demand caused by exceptionally hot weather. Albania, which ranks 110th in the world in terms of electricity generated per capita, has also had difficulty importing electricity because of the heat wave. The PSD also called for investigations into the role played by poor management. The party's deputy leader, Pajtim Bello, predicted that "Albanians will very soon understand that they have lost much more than they lost in the pyramid crisis of 1996 and 1997." That crisis resulted in a breakdown of law and order lasting months, and the electoral defeat of Sali Berisha, the president at the time and now prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 8, 2007). Political commentators quoted by the daily "Koha jone" on August 13 called the energy crisis "a scandal of historic proportions" and "a real threat to the credibility of this government." The severity of the problems prompted Albania's Confederation of Industry to call on August 2 for a political pact between the opposition and governing parties and an agreement between three social partners: the government, employers' organizations, and trade unions. In July, Genc Ruli, the minister of economy, trade, and energy, warned that energy problems could be even greater this winter. AG

Speculation about Russia's "2008 question" -- meaning who will be Russia's president one year from now -- is shifting into high gear. Russian pundits suggest both that the presidential term will be extended to seven years, and that incumbent President Vladimir Putin will again be elected president in 2012 (or 2015 in the case of an extended term.) Others claim that Putin will step down, but will continue to play a major role "behind the scenes," in the manner of the late Chinese Communist Party leader Deng Xiao-Ping. A more likely scenario is that Putin will indeed step down, but quickly assume the leadership of a multinational regional organization: either a revamped Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) or a more empowered Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Putin's future role could have a negative impact on his successor's ability to consolidate power and rule effectively. The Russian political elite routinely engages in intense disputes over the division of assets and power. The idea that any successor could referee these conflicts while deferring to a former president is questionable. Putin has built his popularity on an image as a strong leader. For him to retain a major leadership role would make it impossible for any successor to establish similar credentials.

Putin might still remain in office, but this is not the most likely scenario. There have been suggestions that a crisis comparable to the invasion of Daghestan by radical Islamic militants and the subsequent apartment bombings in August 1999 would make it imperative for Putin to serve another term, but this scenario ignores the important role that stability plays in explaining his success to date. If Putin's eight years in office culminate in a crisis requiring constitutional change, then his presidency could be judged a failure. A massive public demand for him to remain might be another matter. But Putin has repeated his intention to be bound by the constitution so many times that it would be difficult to justify such a change.

Assuming Putin does step down, how could he continue to play a major role without undermining his successor? The most plausible scenario is that mentioned at a conference in Yerevan in May by "Moscow News" editor Vitaly Tretyakov, who suggested that Putin will become the leader of a revived CIS, with the precise arrangements to be worked out and divulged later this year. Given the difficulty of negotiating multinational agreements and Russian leaders' penchant for surprises in international affairs (most recently the Qabala radar proposal at the Group of Eight [G8] summit), it makes sense that mainstream Moscow pundits are not discussing this option. Tretyakov himself more recently wrote that Putin would assume the leadership of a strengthened Security Council.

Having Putin head a multinational organization certainly fits with the rhetoric coming from Moscow in recent months regarding international institutions.

In his speech at the 43rd annual Munich Conference on Security Policy in February, Putin bluntly laid out his concerns about unipolarity. He accused the EU and NATO of seeking to replace the UN as final arbiters of the use of force to settle international disputes, and asserted that wealthy countries sabotage their economic assistance efforts by maintaining agricultural subsidies, favoring their own corporations, and impeding technology imports. He attacked the OSCE for interfering in countries' internal affairs. His final words directly challenge existing international institutions: "We would like to interact with responsible and independent partners with whom we could work together in constructing a fair and democratic world order that would ensure security and prosperity not only for a select few, but for all." In a subsequent interview with Al-Jazeera, Putin added that "the future architecture of international relations should be balanced and should meet the interests of all participants in international interaction."

In his Munich speech, Putin advanced an argument for the economic importance of Russia and other emerging powers based on purchasing power parity (PPP) valuations of these economies. Russian officials have since cited rankings of countries based on PPP. This is consistent with the project undertaken by the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) to develop an alternative set of indicators to the UN Human Development Report, Freedom House, or Davos measurements of economic and political status. Not surprisingly, these data include "stateness" as an important measure, and place Russia among the global "Leaders of Influence."

Speaking at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in June, Putin reiterated the need for a new international economic and political architecture, suggesting that "Russia could become home to financial centers and the decision-making centers of new global corporations." In the view of Russia's leaders, the UN, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank all require substantial overhaul, as does the G8. Putin proposed creating a Eurasian regional equivalent of the World Trade Organization and designating the ruble as a global reserve currency to provide a "secure" alternative to the declining U.S. dollar.

In the wake of the St. Petersburg Forum, Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Moscow's leading foreign-policy journal, "Russia in Global Affairs," stated that "Moscow will strive to play a direct role in establishing new rules to govern the world order." In an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" in early August, Politika Foundation President Vyacheslav Nikonov emphasized the importance of expediting the creation of a common economic space that would comprise Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Armenia, and Uzbekistan. Nikonov also discussed the "strategic triangle" of China, India, and Russia, noting that Russia does not have a major economic relationship with these two countries, so future relations "will directly depend on Russia's activism." Nikolai Bordyuzha, the secretary-general of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), proposed that the CSTO and the SCO conduct joint military exercises.

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was quoted by the "Financial Times" in July as suggesting that Russian politicians' careers could extend beyond their service in a top post. "Very often in Europe a person who worked at the very top returns to politics in a different capacity," he said. Leadership of an "alternative" multinational institution would enable Putin to retain an important place in Russian political life without directly constraining his successor. His recent success in winning the 2014 Olympics for Sochi certainly suggests he has developed the skills required for such a role. He has added passable English to his fluent German.

While a revised and revitalized CIS might be one vehicle for accomplishing the twin purposes of providing a new challenge for Putin and advancing Russian geopolitical interests, it could prove to be both too small a pond and too risky a venture. Another possibility would be for Putin to become the leader of an "upgraded" SCO. At the Valdai Club luncheon in September 2006, Putin spoke eloquently and at length about the "pleasant surprise" of the SCO evolving from a group of countries engaged in border delineation to a more substantive economic and security community.

Data collected by the Institute of Economic Analysis show that over the past two years, the pattern of Putin's summit meetings has shifted markedly away from OECD countries and toward nondemocratic states. On August 16, Putin will join other leaders for an SCO summit in Bishkek. He will also attend the "Peace Mission 2007" military exercises to be held in two stages, near Chelyabinsk and in Xinjiang. During a preparatory meeting for military exercises in Chelyabinsk, General Yury Baluyevsky, chief of the Russian General Staff, reiterated Russia's view that the organization should assume a more significant role in security issues.

Assuming that the team Putin has created shares his views on the state's role in the economy (even while battling each other over the spoils) and supports his efforts to restore Russia's status as a Great Power, putting Putin's talents and experience to use within a multinational forum would be a way to advance their project. Doing so would elevate him to a senior position that would allow him a voice in Russian affairs, without emasculating his successor.

Among Russian political leaders, Putin is the one with the best credentials to enhance the status and clout of either the CIS or SCO. Leading a multinational group of countries that align with Russia to counterbalance U.S. power would therefore be an ideal occupation for him in the next stage of his political career.

(Harley Balzer is an associate professor at Georgetown University.)

Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomed Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on August 14 on his first visit to Afghanistan since taking office, Reuters reported. The two leaders signed six cooperation agreements in a demonstration of solidarity. The meeting follows talks last week between Karzai and U.S. President George W. Bush, during which Bush warned that Iran's influence in Afghanistan is not necessarily positive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 7, 2007). At a joint news conference in Kabul, Ahmadinejad rejected U.S. accusations that Iran has supplied arms to Taliban insurgents, blaming "superpowers" for supporting terrorism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 19, 2007). "The Afghan and Iranian governments are both victims of terrorism," he said, adding that Iran "strongly" supports Afghanistan's political process. Karzai acknowledged Afghanistan's unique position as a country close to Iran and a strategic partner of the United States. "It will be a great happiness for Afghanistan" if Kabul can bring the two foes closer, a possibility which "depends on both sides," Karzai said. JC

Intelligence officials in Afghanistan's Balkh Province on August 14 claimed to have found 100 Iranian-made improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in a town on the Afghan-Iranian border, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. An intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Pajhwak that authorities confiscated the weapons late on August 13. Qazi Najibullah, a senior official from the city of Hairatan, confirmed the find. The source described the IEDs as land mines used to demolish gas and oil installations in the region, and said that initial investigations indicated the devices were smuggled into Afghanistan from Uzbekistan. In June, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that Iranian weapons are flowing into Afghanistan and into the hands of Taliban insurgents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2007). Two weeks before that, coalition forces discovered a powerful explosive device in Kabul of a type used frequently by insurgents in Iraq. JC

A spokesman for the South Korean Embassy in Kabul said on August 14 that two South Korean women released by Taliban kidnappers the previous day are in good condition and undergoing medical testing in Afghanistan before heading home "very soon," Reuters reported. "They are in good condition and staying in a safe place under our protection," the spokesman said. The women were among 23 South Korean aid workers abducted last month while traveling in Ghazni Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 21, 2007). Two male hostages have been killed, and 19 South Koreans remain hostage as South Korean officials and Afghan tribal elders attempt to negotiate their release. Taliban insurgents say they released the two women on August 13 because they were ill, although officials said both were in relatively good health. The hostage takers have threatened to kill the remaining captives if their demand for the release of imprisoned insurgents is not met. JC

A Polish soldier died on August 14 after his vehicle came under attack in southeastern Afghanistan during a joint NATO-Afghan army patrol, dpa reported. It was the first fatality for Poland since it began its stabilization mission in Afghanistan in March 2002. Second Lieutenant Lukasz Kurowski, 28, was wounded by a grenade when his vehicle came under attack by unknown assailants near Gardez, the capital city of Paktia Province, AFP reported. He died while being airlifted by helicopter to a nearby field hospital, the Polish Defense Ministry said in a statement. There are approximately 1,200 Polish troops deployed in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Polish troops in Afghanistan recently complained that their vehicles are insufficiently armored to protect against attacks, AFP reported. Nearly 80 percent of the Polish population opposes the deployment of Polish troops in Afghanistan, according to a recent survey. JC

Iranian government spokesman Gholamhussein Elham said in Tehran on August 13 that the government will dissolve and merge dozens of state councils, including the Money and Credit Council, a body affiliated with the Central Bank that deliberates on banking and interest-rate issues, Radio Farda reported on August 14, citing Iranian agency reports. Elham said 28 state councils will be merged into four higher state councils. The Money and Credit Council, the Economy Council, and the board of trustees of the country's hard-currency reserve fund are apparently among 11 bodies to be merged into the Higher Council of Economic Management and Planning (Shura-i ali-yi modiriat va barnamerizi-yi eqtesadi), Radio Farda reported, adding that reports of the planned mergers have been circulating for some months. The Money and Credit Council was formed along with the Central Bank in 1960-61 and is one of its five principal departments. The council recently disapproved of a presidential decision to fix interest rates for state and private banks, Radio Farda reported. VS

A state aviation council voted on August 13 to raise domestic plane fares by 15-17 percent on August 13, stating that the decision was made in response to the government's cancellation of fuel subsidies and in line with the annual state budget approved by parliament, "Kayhan" reported on August 14. Iranian media have not reported typical domestic flight prices, but "Kayhan" quoted the head of the State Aviation Organization, Deputy Transport Minister Hussein Khanlari, as saying that Iranian passengers are still paying far less than the unregulated market price. "Kayhan" reported that some plane fares rose above the approved increase on August 13; for one route -- a return flight from Tehran to Kish, a resort on the Persian Gulf -- the increase was 25 percent. Khanlari said ticket prices to less developed areas of Iran will rise about 10 percent, and noted that Iranian companies must now improve their services to meet the standards set by the State Aviation Organization. Referring to new additions to Iran's passenger fleet, Khanlari said the aviation body has since March given permission for companies to lease six Boeing 747 planes, some of which may be purchased; to purchase or lease three Airbus 300 planes and four helicopters for use in the area of the Persian Gulf; and to purchase 10 planes for training purposes. He also mentioned a contract to buy 10 locally made "Iran 140" passenger planes, which he said meet the aviation body's quality standards, "Kayhan" reported. VS

Lawyers for the detained head of the Tehran bus drivers' union, Mansur Osanlu, met with him in Tehran's Evin prison on August 14, and believe he is being held in satisfactory conditions, Radio Farda reported, citing Iranian news agencies. One of the lawyers, Yusef Molai, told ISNA that Osanlu is in good spirits, and seems to have no signs of physical abuse other than injuries sustained in the scuffle when he was arrested. Molai said Osanlu was surprised that the state should view his efforts to increase bus drivers' wages as a security threat. VS

Tehran's deputy chief prosecutor for security affairs, Hasan Haddad, told IRNA on August 12 that union head Osanlu is not being detained for his labor activism but for creating "security problems" for Iran's government. He said Osanlu was arrested by security agents while distributing unspecified "antistate" pamphlets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, July 26, and August 3, 2007), and that the bus drivers' union headed by Osanlu is an illegal body. Haddad said he earlier told Osanlu that his actions were creating "security problems" for Iran, and that he must change his approach. But Haddad said Osanlu "paid no attention" and believed after going on two foreign trips that "he can do anything he likes." Haddad separately commented on the cases of three students detained for their alleged role in the publication of impious student journals in Tehran's Amir Kabir University in March, saying the students are in good health and are facing "certain charges" that will be formalized in the next few days. He named the three as Ahmad Qassaban, Ehsan Mansuri, and Majid Tavakkoli (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 10, June 18, and July 25, 2007). He said the detention of Iranian-American peace activist Ali Shakeri is unrelated to those of two other Iranian-Americans, Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, who have been accused of engaging in antigovernment activities, but gave no details. VS

Prosecutor Haddad rejected reports that he uses or approves of the use of torture, and said he has "never raised his voice" to a detainee. He referred to torture as a "medieval instrument" and said information is so easily obtained that torture is unnecessary, IRNA reported. Haddad said his department uses all legal means to fight the Iranian government's "enemies," but added that "we shall never allow ourselves or our colleagues to resort to inhumane means." He said the authorities have thorough information on events or gatherings before they take place, although it was not clear if he meant Iranian security agents in general, or the Tehran deputy-prosecutor's office specifically. Commenting on Section 209 of Evin prison in Tehran, a facility with reputedly brutal conditions where political or national-security detainees are kept, Haddad told IRNA "it is one of the best detention centers in the world," adding that prisoners sometimes ask to be transferred there. VS

Four coordinated gasoline truck bombs targeted Kurdish Yezidi villages in northwestern Iraq on August 14, killing at least 200 people and wounding some 300 more, international media reported. The bombings, which occurred in villages around the town of Sinjar close to the Syrian border, were likely carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq; according to media reports, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated group warned Yezidis last week that an attack against them was imminent, claiming the Yezidis are enemies of Islam. The Islamic State of Iraq has targeted the Yezidi community in a number of attacks in recent months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 6, 2007). Yezidis worship an archangel figure named Malak Taus, often represented as a peacock, which is considered to be the devil by some Muslims. KR

Sinjar Mayor Dhakil Qassim Hassun told AP on August 15 that rescue crews are continuing to search for victims of the bomb attacks, which leveled houses in the villages they targeted. "We are still digging with our hands and shovels because we can't use cranes because many of the houses are made of clay," he said. "We are expecting to reach the final death toll tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, as we are getting only pieces of bodies," Hassun added. Meanwhile, a total curfew has been imposed in the area of the attack, Reuters reported on August 15. Hassun said that only vehicles involved in rescue efforts will be allowed on the streets. Mosul police chief Major General Wathiq al-Hamdani told Al-Iraqiyah television on August 15 that Iraqi Army and police and multinational forces are on the scene, and rescue crews are transporting the victims to hospitals in Tal Afar, Dahuk, and Mosul. KR

Oil Ministry Undersecretary Abd al-Jabbar al-Waqqa and four ministry staffers were abducted from the General Company for the Distribution of Oil Derivatives in the Al-Zayyundah district of Baghdad on August 14, Iraqi media reported. Iraqi Oil Minister Husayn al-Shahristani told state-run Al-Iraqiyah television that about 100 gunmen dressed in Interior Ministry uniforms took part in the abductions. "The Iraqi forces are currently conducting a well-planned search operation," al-Shahristani said. "The initial investigation results show that we are dealing with a criminal gang. We do not believe that there are any political or sectarian motives. In fact, the abductees belong to both sects," he added, referring to the Sunni and Shi'ite branches of Islam. Meanwhile, Al-Sharqiyah television claimed in an August 15 report that "well-informed sources" claimed the abductions were carried out by Interior Ministry commandos working alongside an "armed militia in Baghdad," at the instruction of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. The sources said al-Waqqa was abducted because of his refusal to turn a blind eye to the illegal smuggling of oil from Iraq to Iran, the news channel reported. KR

Sunni Arab Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi announced on August 14 that members of the Iraqi Islamic Party's political bureau will hold talks with the leaders of the two main Kurdish parties on August 15, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Al-Hashimi said the talks will pave the way for an expanded meeting of the heads of major political blocs. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has been trying to organize a summit to address the current political crisis, but no date has been set for the talks, which were initially expected to get underway this week. Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Mas'ud Barzani met informally with Arab Sunni and Shi'ite political leaders on August 14, according to media reports. Meanwhile, Iraqi Accordance Front leader Adnan al-Dulaymi told Al-Jazeera television in an August 14 interview that the Sunni-led Accordance Front has yet to receive an invitation to the anticipated summit. KR

Accordance Front leader al-Dulaymi told Al-Jazeera on August 14 that it is unlikely that the government will appoint Sunni Arabs from the Al-Anbar Awakening Council or the Al-Dulaym tribes to replace Accordance Front ministers who withdrew from the cabinet. "I do not think our brothers in the Al-Anbar tribes will offer to replace the Accordance Front's ministers," al-Dulaymi said. "There is a constitutional restriction in this regard because no ministers can replace the Accordance Front's ministers or any other front unless [the replacements] belong to a political bloc in parliament. The government is called a national-unity government and as such it should [comprise representatives from] the parliamentary blocs present in the Council of Representatives." Prime Minister al-Maliki told reporters on August 12 that he may replace the Sunni Arab ministers with members of the Awakening Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 13, 2007). When he was reminded that the Accordance Front joined the national-unity government knowing it was based on a sectarian quota system, al-Dulaymi said: "We joined the government for the sake of national reconciliation.... Nothing of what we wanted was carried out. We have repeatedly asked the government to abide by [a 23-point program it committed to] but it did not. Therefore, the road between us and the government was closed." KR

Abd al-Karim al-Samarra'i, a spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic Party's political bureau, said on August 14 that neither the party nor the Iraqi Accordance Front to which it belongs will join the so-called moderates' front being organized by the two main Shi'ite and two main Kurdish political parties, Al-Arabiyah television reported the same day. Al-Samarra'i reportedly claimed the Accordance Front will assume an independent stance, rather than align itself with any parties in the political process. Meanwhile, Accordance Front spokesman Salim Abdallah al-Juburi told Al-Arabiyah in an interview from Damascus: "We believe the issue of the moderates' front is one of the topics that could be examined. However, introducing this issue as an important topic or as the basis for finding solutions is something unacceptable by the front and its components, including the Iraqi Islamic Party." KR