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Newsline - September 17, 2007

President Vladimir Putin told a group of foreign Russia-watchers known as the Valdai Club in Sochi on September 14 that Russia will not reduce, but may possibly increase, gas and oil production, Britain's "The Independent" reported on September 17. He denied, however, that this will make Russia more dependent on energy earnings and argued that the economy is "proportionally" less dependent on them than it was in 2000. The daily said that Putin was responding to recent comments by an unnamed "senior official" to the effect that administering Russia's oil and gas wealth is more trouble than it is worth. Putin also said on September 14 that Russia "wants to behave responsibly" because it wants "harmonious relations" with the rest of the world and sees nothing to be gained in speculating over energy prices. He claimed that Russia never "blackmailed" foreign energy consumers and argued that "we don't have the level of state monopoly over energy production that most OPEC countries have." He noted that Russia has Gazprom and Rosneft, but stressed that "the rest [of Russia's energy companies] are all private ones with foreign investors..., a free market and open sector." Putin said that the state maintains a monopoly on pipelines and that this will remain the case as long as there are different tariffs for foreign and domestic energy buyers. He added, however, that "the domestic price will rise, and we will also try to diversify energy sources at the same time." PM

State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachyov said on September 17 that no pressure should be exerted on Iran regarding its nuclear program, Interfax reported. He was referring to remarks by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who said on September 16 that "we must prepare for the worst. That means...war.... We saying we won't accept the building of [an Iranian nuclear] bomb." Kosachyov also said on September 17 that Kouchner's remarks "echo a similar, recent statement by U.S. President George W. Bush and are instances of clear political pressure on Iran." PM

Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen demanded an explanation from Russia on September 14 after the latest of what several of Russia's neighbors say have been recent violations of their airspace by Russian long-range aircraft, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 4, 12, and 14, 2007). An Il-76 transporter reportedly stayed in Finnish airspace for three minutes. Vanhanen stressed that "these kinds of [violations] must not happen...and when they do happen, then they need to be sorted out between the countries in question. That has to be done this time." Russian authorities replied that they have set up a commission to investigate the Finnish charges, but maintained that the plane was in neutral airspace. A Finnish military spokesman said that "there's a lot of Russian airborne activity above the Gulf of Finland, especially between Kaliningrad and the Russian mainland. This didn't really come as a surprise." Also on September 14, Norwegian and British planes intercepted and shadowed two Russian Tu-160 (White Swan or Blackjack) bombers in NATO airspace. A British Defense Ministry spokesman said that the shadowing continued for a few minutes until the White Swans changed course. PM

Major General Aleksandr Yakushin, who is first deputy head of Russia's space forces, said in Moscow on September 15 that Russia insists that the United States abandon its missile-defense plans in Central Europe, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10 and 11, 2007). He stressed that this will be the Russian delegation's "key goal" in talks with U.S. and Azerbaijani officials in Baku on September 18. Officials of the three countries will discuss President Putin's offer of joint Russian-U.S. use of Azerbaijan's Qabala (Gabala) radar station, which Russia leases. Russia considers the Qabala proposal a substitute for Washington's plans to station 10 interceptors in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic, while the United States regards Qabala as a possible supplement to its firm plans to proceed with the Central European project. In Prague on September 14, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said after meeting with a U.S. congressional delegation that U.S.-Czech negotiations on the possible stationing of a radar base in the Czech Republic are moving along without "any serious problems," CTK reported. PM

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on September 14 that Russia welcomes German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's recent proposal for an international conference to rescue the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, compliance with which President Putin "suspended" in April, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 26 and September 13, 2007). The spokesman added that Moscow is pleased that "our partners make such suggestions." The Russian nationalist paper "RBC Daily" wrote on September 14 that Moscow hopes that Steinmeier can persuade those NATO countries that have not ratified the treaty to do so and not make any additional demands on Russia in the process. The paper noted that "Russia's ultimatum [about scrapping the pact] is having an effect." Russia takes the ambiguous position of both claiming that the treaty is outdated and demanding that all NATO members ratify it. PM

Interfax quoted an unnamed "well-informed military source" on September 17 as saying that Colonel General Aleksandr Kolmakov has replaced General Aleksandr Belousov as first deputy defense minister. Kolmakov has been head of the Airborne Forces since 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 16, 2003). Lieutenant General Valery Yevtukhovich, who commands the Airborne Forces headquarters, will reportedly succeed him in that post. The source suggested that Belousov might become Russia's ambassador to NATO. The Defense Ministry has not confirmed the report. It is not clear if these changes are in any way linked to reported recent ones in the navy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13 and 14, 2007). PM

President Putin on September 14 met in Sochi with leading Western journalists and Russia scholars, Russian media reported. Putin said "now there are at least five people who have a claim to become president and could be elected," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on September 17. "It is good that one more person has appeared [meaning newly named Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov,] and the citizens of Russia will have people to choose from." Harvard University professor Marshall Goldman told "The Moscow Times" that Putin mentioned Zubkov, Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov by name. Asked specifically about acting First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, Putin reportedly said, "Yeah, yeah. Ivanov too." He did not mention acting First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Opinion polls show that neither Yavlinsky nor Zyuganov has sufficient public support to be considered serious candidates. Goldman said that Putin was effusive in his praise of Zubkov during the meeting. Putin also confirmed again that he intends to remain politically active in some capacity after his term expires and did not rule out running for the presidency again in 2012. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that Putin also spoke about the importance of building a strong "social-democratic" structure in the country, seeming to lend support to the left-leaning pro-Kremlin A Just Russia party. RC

Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky on September 16 told reporters that the party has determined who will hold the top three spots in the party's list for the December 2 Duma elections, Interfax and other Russian media reported. Zhirinovsky said that he will head the list, while businessman Andrei Lugovoi -- who is the main Scotland Yard suspect in the November 2006 murder in London of former security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko (see "U.K. Slams Russia's Refusal To Extradite Murder Suspect,", July 10, 2007) -- will take the second place. The third spot will be held by Zhirinovsky's son, LDPR Duma faction leader Igor Lebedev. Zhirinovsky told journalists his speech to the party's national preelection congress on September 17 will be entitled "Global Civil War," and will focus on the conflict between nationalism and internationalism around the world. Also on September 17, the Tverskoi Raion Court in Moscow will begin hearings in a defamation suit brought by Lugovoi against the daily "Kommersant." Lugovoi is seeking 20 million rubles ($790,000) in damages for an article published on July 9. RC

Yabloko on September 16 completed its national preelection congress, at which the party's list of candidates for the December 2 Duma elections was confirmed, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Party leader Yavlinsky will head the list, followed by human-rights activist and former Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalyov, and deputy party leader Sergei Ivanenko. "Including Sergei Adamovich [Kovalyov] means that Yabloko is presenting itself to the public as a party of truth, a party of principles," Yavlinsky told the congress. Yavlinsky criticized the current authorities for creating a "semi-feudal" state system and argued that Yabloko must stand for the rule of law and the protection of the rights of individuals. He added that many of the country's most serious issues -- growing corruption, instability in the North Caucasus, and deteriorating relations with neighboring states -- are not discussed in the state-dominated mass media. RC

The Other Russia opposition movement continued holding regional conferences with events in Kaliningrad and Samara on September 15, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. The movement is not an officially registered party and cannot participate in the December 2 elections; however, it is meeting to select its own "people's duma" and to select a candidate for the March 2008 presidential election. According to RFE/RL, only some 50 people attended the Samara event and when it came time to vote for a presidential candidate, it was revealed that as many as 25 of them were from the pro-Kremlin New People movement. The interlopers wrote in the candidacy of Prime Minister Zubkov on the ballots, forcing the presidium to rule that votes for Zubkov would not be counted. That decision gave the local victory to former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. In Orenburg, Other Russia activists are alarmed by the September 13 arrest of fellow activist Lyudmila Kharlamova, RFE/RL reported. Kharlamova is being charged with possession of narcotics, in a development Other Russia leaders say is intended to intimidate the opposition. A local court on September 15 denied her request for bail and refused to consider character references submitted by her relatives, employer, and Other Russia. Other Russia intends to ask local Duma deputies to file an official inquiry into the arrest. RC

The Duma on September 14 passed in its first reading a bill that would limit foreign control of enterprises in "strategic sectors" of the economy, "The Moscow Times" reported on September 17. The bill, which passed by a vote of 330-1, would block foreign firms from acquiring majority control of enterprises is in some 39 sectors, including aerospace and defense. One clause in the bill, however, notes that it does not apply to ventures already regulated by international agreements. RC

The "Nezavisimaya gazeta" editor arrested on September 13 on suspicion of blackmail has been identified as Deputy Editor in Chief Boris Zemtsov, "The Moscow Times" reported on September 17 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 2007). A spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office told "The Moscow Times" that accusations the government is trying to pressure the newspaper are "complete stupidity." RC

In a statement posted on September 14 on its website (, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed "serious concern" at reports that the Georgian authorities plan to stage a Peace March by Ossetians of Georgia to Tskhinvali, capital of the breakaway unrecognized republic of South Ossetia. The statement claimed that the Georgian authorities are trying to bribe or intimidate several thousand Ossetians to participate in that initiative, which it brands "extremely dangerous" in light of rising tensions over the past several months. It suggests that Tbilisi hopes to provoke an armed clash between the march participants and the peacekeepers deployed in the conflict zone, which would serve as the pretext for pro-Georgian South Ossetian leader Dmitry Sanakoyev to call for Georgian military intervention. The statement warns Tbilisi against "playing with fire," and implies that international organizations, including the OSCE, should seek to persuade Tbilisi to abandon the planned march. LF

Shamil Burayev, a former administration head in Chechnya's Achkhoi-Martan Raion who ran against Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov in the October 2003 Chechen leadership elections, has been arrested in Moscow, where he has lived since late 2003, on suspicion of commissioning the murder in October 2006 of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on September 14. Burayev's home has been searched, and mobile telephones and the hard drive of his computer confiscated, reported on September 16. Burayev is said to have illegally obtained, approximately one month before the killing, from a second suspect, Federal Security Service (FSB) Lieutenant Colonel Pavel Ryaguzov, the address of the apartment Politkovskaya rented in Moscow. Burayev has denied any connection with the killing, according to on September 16. "Komsomolskaya pravda" quoted Burayev as saying he knows Ryaguzov but never discussed Politkovskaya with him or sought to ascertain her address. In the run-up to the 2003 Chechen ballot, Politkovskaya wrote on August 15, 2003 in "Novaya gazeta" that the private security force loyal to Kadyrov's son Ramzan was intimidating the 12 challengers to Kadyrov, who went on to win the ballot with over 80 percent of the vote. According to the official results, Burayev polled fourth with 3.3 percent of the vote. Burayev warned during the election campaign that Kadyrov's election would lead to the destabilization of the political situation in Chechnya, according to on September 16, and after the vote he alleged widespread fraud (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 18 and October 10, 2003). Six months ago, five former members of the now disbanded Gorets armed unit headed by Movladi Baysarov accused Ramzan Kadyrov of sending three of their former colleagues to Moscow, where they said they allegedly murdered Politkovskaya on orders from an FSB Colonel identified as Igor Dranets. Dranets is not among the 11 persons identified as having been detained in connection with the murder. On their return to Chechnya, the three Gorets members reported personally to Kadyrov on their mission, after which they were purportedly executed by members of Kadyrov's security guard. Baysarov protested the killing of his men and then left for Moscow, where he was gunned down in the street on November 18 by police sent by Kadyrov from Grozny (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 20 and 29, 2006, and March 26, 2007). LF

Moscow-based Chechen businessman Malik Saidullayev was quoted on September 16 by as telling Ekho Moskvy he doubts Burayev had anything to do with Politkovskaya's murder. Saidullayev characterized Burayev as "an exceptionally decent person" who would "never have committed such a crime," and who did not have the contacts and means to commission a contract killing. Saidullayev was elected in 1999 to head a Moscow-based Chechen State Council; his registration for the 2003 election for Chechen Republic head was annulled after many of the signatures he collected in his support were deemed invalid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 8, 1999 and September 12 and 26, 2003). Usam Baisayev, who works for the human rights NGO Memorial in Ingushetia, was similarly quoted as telling Ekho Moskvy that Burayev began collaborating with the Russian authorities when Djokhar Dudayev was still Chechen president and consistently opposed the idea of an independent Chechen state. Baisayev also recalled that Burayev was among the signatories to a letter to Russian President Putin in 2000 begging Putin not to name Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov Chechen Republic head. On September 17, the daily "Kommersant" quoted Nikolai Koshman, who served as Chechen prime minister in 1996 and as Moscow's administrator in Chechnya from 1999-2000 (when Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov took over), as recalling that he nominated Burayev for a state award. LF

Addressing Chechen parliament deputies in Grozny on September 15, Federation Council Chairman and A Just Russia party leader Sergei Mironov said he believes Chechnya should be allocated additional funds from the federal budget, reported the following day. Chechnya received a total of 30.6 billion rubles ($1.2 billion) over the period 2002-06, and 11.85 billion rubles in 2007. A new federal program for 2008-10 increases funding to between 27-30 billion rubles per year, according to "Vedomosti" on September 4 as cited by Of that sum, 17.8 billion rubles is earmarked for the construction of housing and administrative buildings; 16 billion rubles for reconstruction of hospitals and clinics; 14 billion rubles for schools; and 7 billion for the agricultural sector. LF

A group of young Ingush men arrested on September 2 in Karabulak on suspicion of the murder of a Russian family during the night of August 30-31 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 4, 2007) and unspecified acts of terrorism has been released, reported on September 15. Armed militants opened fire during the night of September 15-16 for the second time in 72 hours on the central police headquarters in Nazran, but inflicted no casualties, and the Chechen resistance website reported on September 16. During the same night, militants opened fire on a military convoy in Sunzha Raion. LF

Speaking on September 14 in Barnaul at a formal ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the formation of Altai Krai, Altai Republic head Aleksandr Berdnikov affirmed that "there cannot be two Altais," and "soon there will be one Altai," the daily "Kommersant" reported on September 17. Plans to merge the Altai Krai and Altai Republic have been under discussion for several years, but were placed on hold 11 months ago after some 5,000 people took to the streets in Gorno-Altaisk, capital of the Altai Republic, to protest the proposed merger (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," January 30, 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," December 5, 2002, March 31, 2003, and November 2 and 7, 2006). The sparsely populated Altai Republic has less than one-10th of the population of the neighboring krai. Vladimir Kydyyev, who heads a public organization that advocates preserving the Altai Republic as a separate federation subject, was quoted by "Kommersant" as suggesting that Berdnikov, who previously opposed unification, changed his mind following a meeting on September 3 in Moscow with Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the Russian presidential administration. LF

Armenian President Robert Kocharian, who is barred by the constitution from seeking a third presidential term when his current term expires in early 2008, was quoted on September 14 by his spokesman, Viktor Soghomonian, as saying he considers Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian the most worthy candidate to succeed him, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. "It is obvious that there is no other politician in Armenia who has that much experience and is capable of performing [presidential] duties," Soghomian told journalists. LF

Executives announced in Yerevan on September 14 that Russia's Mobile Telesystems (MTS), one of the world's largest mobile-phone companies, will pay $430 million for an 80 percent stake in Armenia's largest mobile-phone operator, K-Telecom, with the option of acquiring the remaining 20 percent within five years, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. MTS already owns mobile-phone operators in Ukraine, Belarus, and Uzbekistan. LF

Unidentified men forced their way during the evening of September 15 into the editorial offices of the small opposition publication "Iskakan iravunk," (True law) and severely beat its editor Hovannes Galadjian, Interfax and reported. Galadjian was hospitalized with serious injuries; he told colleagues he believes the attack may be connected with the yearlong standoff between the rival factions of the opposition Union of Constitutional Rights (SIM) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 21, 2006, and February 2 and 20, 2007). Prior to the split within SIM, Galadjian served as editor of its weekly, "Iravunk." LF

The parliament of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (NKR) unanimously approved on September 14 the candidacy of Arayik Harutiunian as prime minister, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13, 2007). Addressing the legislature the same day, Harutiunian pledged to "battle corruption, clans, protectionism, and other social problems," to focus on agriculture, health, social security, and education, and to promote "healing the moral and psychological climate...and restoring people's confidence in the government," according to KarabakhOpen as cited on September 16 by Groong. Harutiunian must present his proposed cabinet lineup within 20 days, and its program 20 days after that, RFE/RL's Armenian Service noted on September 14. LF

Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine were among 11 states that abstained on September 13 from endorsing a UN General Assembly Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Caucasus Press noted on September 14. The declaration states that native peoples have the right "to the recognition, observance, and enforcement of treaties" concluded with states or their successors. It also prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them, according to a UN press release. LF.

In an article entitled "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie" published on September 15 in the online daily, the authors reported that Azerbaijan's new military doctrine, which is to be presented to the parliament for discussion shortly, allows for the use of the armed forces within Azerbaijan to "avert a situation that could lead to the paralysis of state structures." They noted that a similar provision within the constitution of the Turkish Republic enabled the Turkish military to seize power on three occasions (1960, 1971, and 1980). They also cited Defense Ministry spokesman Eldar Sabiroglu as refusing to clarify the wording of specific provisions of the military doctrine or to say which state agencies were involved in drafting it. LF

The Georgian Foreign Ministry rejected on September 14 as "incomprehensible and inadmissible" a repeat protest by its Russian counterpart on September 13 at the detention by Georgian police in the South Ossetian conflict zone in late August of two members of the Ossetian peacekeeping force deployed in the conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 2007). Russia demanded the immediate release of the two men, Tariel Khachirov and Vitaly Valiyev, whom it claims are Russian citizens. The Georgian Foreign Ministry claims the men are citizens of Georgia. LF

Georgia's parliament approved on September 14 by a vote of 131 to seven a bill on armed forces manpower that provides for creating an additional fifth brigade numbering 2,500 men, Caucasus Press reported. That move would bring the total strength of the armed forces to 32,000, which is more than twice the optimum figure of 13,000-15,000 recommended in its report for 2005 by the International Security Advisory Board. Meanwhile, the parliamentary Defense and Security Committee approved on September 10, and the legislature is scheduled to vote on September 25 on, a proposed 315 million-lari ($190.4 million) increase in budget funding for the military in 2007. Responding on September 7 to opposition criticism of that proposed increase, Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli said the armed forces constitute a priority for the state and will receive as much funding as they need, Caucasus Press reported. LF

An unspecified number of Kazakh pensioners staged a protest on September 14 at the offices of the ruling Nur Otan party in Almaty demanding state action to meet the recent surge in bread prices, Kazakh television reported. In an interview with local television reporters, the pensioners noted that the recent price rise has reduced the purchasing power of their 7,000-tenge ($56) pension and they expressed concern over reports that the government intends to increase tariffs for utility services. The protesters ended their demonstration after discussing their complaints with Nur Otan party official Galiaskar Dunaev and submitting a collective letter to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev. RG

The Kyrgyz Constitutional Court overturned on September 14 a set of constitutional amendments that were adopted in November 2006, according to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. The ruling by the country's highest court, issued in response to an appeal challenging the amendments, effectively nullified the new constitution and restored the February 2003 version of the constitution. The constitutional amendments that were adopted in late 2006 imposed new limits on presidential authority in the wake of widespread demonstrations in Bishkek, but were later significantly modified and watered down by pro-government parliamentarians in December 2006, restoring much of the power to the presidency. The ruling further held that in both cases, the amendment process was conducted "in violation of the requirements of the constitution" and ignored the requirements that "changes or amendments to the constitution could be made only through a referendum," the website reported. One of the main authors of the appeal that triggered the ruling, opposition lawmaker Melis Eshimkanov, welcomed the ruling and added that "we do not have to be afraid" that the ruling will lead to "chaos or political disorder." He further said that "it would be better if we -- the power branches, led by the president, as well as the opposition -- define the best, democratic, and fair constitution, and we need to adopt the amended and renewed constitution by referendum." RG

Responding to the decision by the Constitutional Court to overturn the 2006 constitutional amendments, presidential adviser Bektur Zulpiev argued on September 14 that the "prime minister of Kyrgyzstan will not be dismissed in connection with the revocation of the November and December editions of the constitution," the website and Kyrgyz television reported. Zulpiev, who formally represented the government's side in the appeal before the Constitutional Court, explained that Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev was appointed by the president with parliamentary consent and in accordance with the procedures stipulated by the 2003 constitution. He noted, however, that the same protection does not extend to other members of the government, because their appointments were made in accordance with the now overturned versions of the constitution, suggesting that parliament will again be required to approve all other cabinet-level officials. RG

A special Kyrgyz parliamentary commission announced on September 14 that President Kurmanbek Bakiev should be charged with involvement in the fatal shootings of antigovernment protesters in the southern Aksy district in 2002, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Bakiev was prime minister at the time of the March 2002 incident, in which security forces shot dead at least six unarmed protesters. According to Dooronbek Sadyrbaev, the chairman of the commission, the findings also call for the arrest of then-President Askar Akaev and the current chairman of the Supreme Court, Kurmanbek Osmonov, then first deputy prime minister, according to the website. Sadyrbaev added that the commission is in possession of documentary evidence, including video files, which confirm the involvement of police and authorities in the protesters' deaths. The authority of the special commission to investigate the incident was affirmed by the Supreme Court, which endorsed a petition filed by the Prosecutor-General's Office requesting a new independent probe and that annulled prior court decisions acquitting police officers accused of shooting at the protesters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 29, 2007). RG

The Supreme Court on September 14 jailed four Belarusian army officers for up to 10 years, after finding them guilty of "espionage and damaging Belarus's external security and defense capability," Belarusian and international news agencies reported. The closed-door trial began on September 4. The officers allegedly gathered intelligence on military facilities operated jointly by Belarus and Russia as well as on S-300 surface-to-air missile systems in Belarus. Uladzimir Ruskin was punished with a 10-year sentence, Viktar Bahdan was given nine years, while Syarhey Karnilyuk and Pavel Pyatkevich received seven years each. All four were stripped of their military ranks. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on September 15 called on Ukrainian voters to cast ballots for the pro-presidential Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc in the September 30 early parliamentary polls, Ukrainian media reported. "I ask you to support my team," Yushchenko told an election gathering of some 10,000 people in Lviv. Yushchenko also said he believes in the creation of a cabinet by Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc. "I welcome and treasure the cooperation between Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc -- it is a guarantee of our victory," Yushchenko stressed. Yuriy Lutsenko, one of the leaders of Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense, assured the gathering in Lviv that "We have no other plans apart from creating a pro-Ukrainian democratic coalition with our ally -- the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc." Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on September 16 criticized Yushchenko for campaigning on the side of the Orange Revolution forces. "The constitution does not allow him to campaign for any party," Yanukovych noted. JM

Top EU officials who attended an EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv on September 14 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 2007) urged Ukraine to quickly form a government after the September 30 elections and turn to reforms needed for integrating further with the EU, Ukrainian and international agencies reported. "It is important to achieve stability so that Ukraine can concentrate its energy and efforts on reforms, both economic and political," EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a news conference after the summit. But he added, however, that discussions on creating a free-trade zone between Ukraine and the EU wil become possible only after Ukraine completes the process of joining the World Trade Organization, which has been under way since 1993. President Yushchenko expressed confidence that the September 30 polls will be free and fair and will lead to the swift formation of a government. "There is no technical problem in forming a majority and a government. I believe these things will be done in a timely fashion based on the political outcome of the election," Yushchenko said. JM

The Serbian authorities have ordered the son of the war-crimes indictee Radovan Karadzic to leave the country after discovering that he was using fake Serbian identity documents, local and international media reported on September 14-15. Aleksandar Karadzic was banned from reentering the country for a year and ordered to pay a fine of 375 euros ($520). The news was broken by Aleksandar Karadzic's sister, Sonja, who said her brother was questioned about their father's whereabouts. Aleksandar Karadzic lives in Pale, which served as the base for the Bosnian Serb wartime government that his father led, but, according to his sister, had been in Belgrade since late August visiting his 5-year-old son in hospital. Sonja Karadzic and her mother, Ljiljana, were questioned several days earlier by police in the Bosnian Serbs' autonomous region of Republika Srpska. Earlier on September 14, Republika Srpska police in Pale briefly detained Kosta Cavoski, a family friend, and questioned him about Radovan Karadzic's whereabouts. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has said on several occasions that Karadzic has "disappeared from the radar screen" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2007). AG

The man heading Serbia's effort to find fugitive war criminals, Rasim Ljajic, said on September 13 that Serbia's security service "has increased its activity" in its search for suspected war criminals and should explore fresh ways of applying pressure on them. Ljacic linked the increased effort to Serbia's desire to win a favorable report from the chief prosecutor of the ICTY, Carla Del Ponte. The capture of Karadzic's military commander, Ratko Mladic, is now the only hurdle to Serbia starting along the path to membership of the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13, 2007). Del Ponte's assessment is seen as having a potentially critical bearing on whether the EU signs a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Serbia. Del Ponte gave Serbia its first positive assessment this summer after the new Serbian government proved instrumental in the capture of two war-crimes indictees, Zdravko Tolimir and Vlastimir Djordjevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 6, 2007). Ljajic said, however, that there are "indications" that Del Ponte will give a negative appraisal when she visits Belgrade on September 24. Ljacic said Serbia is "searching for three suspects," referring to Mladic, a former leader of Croatian Serb forces Goran Hadzic, and Stojan Zupljanin, a Bosnian Serb police commander during the war. AG

The UN Security Council on September 14 officially extended the mandate of ICTY chief prosecutor Del Ponte until the end of the year. Russia abstained from the vote, making it the only one of the council's 15 members not to back the Swiss prosecutor. Del Ponte, who had intended to step down at the end of September, said already in June that she had been asked and agreed to stay in office until December 31 while the UN seeks a replacement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28 and August 27, 2007). The UN did not say who will replace Del Ponte, who has already served two four-year terms. Speculation has centered on Serge Brammertz, a Belgian lawyer who was once a senior figure in the International Criminal Court. Brammertz is currently heading a UN investigation into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, but his mandate expires at the end of the year. Del Ponte will serve as Switzerland's ambassador to Argentina when she leaves her post at the ICTY (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 27, 2007). AG

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica on September 15 rejected the idea of Serbia joining NATO. "Serbia should retain full military neutrality," local media quoted him as saying. "Its state and national interest is to remain outside any military alliances," he said at a meeting of the leadership of his party, the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS). A series of DSS leaders have said in the past month that they believe the United States wants to make Kosova a "puppet state" of NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 20, 21, and 24, and September 4, 2007). "How could Serbia join a military alliance which first bombards us, then comes to Kosovo using military forces and in the end, evades the UN's Security Council and recognizes the unilaterally declared independence of an organic part of our country?" Kostunica asked. AG


NATO-led forces in Afghanistan on September 6 intercepted Iranian arms destined for the Taliban in western Farah Province, the third shipment of its kind interdicted by the international force in what appears to be an increasing arms transfer between the two countries, "The Washington Post" reported on September 16. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) seized smaller weapons shipments coming from Iran into Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold, on April 11 and May 3 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18 and June 5, 2007). All three shipments included explosively formed projectiles (EFPs), a type of bomb capable of piercing armored vehicles and frequently used against troops in Iraq. While the transport of EFPs is troubling to officials, it was the size and location of the shipment that gave reason for increased concern, a U.S. official said in Washington. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the "large people's attention," adding that the change of location to the less populated Farah Province indicated the smugglers are varying their routes in an attempt to avoid capture. A senior Iranian official called the allegation baseless, contending that Tehran has no interest in an unstable Iraq or Afghanistan. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was unauthorized to comment on the incident, said Iran has "good neighborly relations" with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "Why should we send weapons to the opposition?" the official contended. In June, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns publicly accused Iran of aiding the Taliban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 14, 2007), and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it is unlikely Iranian officials were not aware of the shipments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2007). Karzai has publicly downplayed the allegations, referring to the two countries as "brothers," yet other Afghan officials have privately expressed concern over the intercepted weapons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 2, 2007). JC

A Bangladeshi aid worker involved with administering poverty alleviation programs was kidnapped from his office on September 15 in a brazen daytime attack, "The Washington Post" reported the next day. Noor Islam, who works for the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), was forcibly taken from his office in Logar Province just south of Kabul by at least four men dressed as police officers, who also stole $600, Logar Governor Abdullah Wardak told Reuters. AFP reported that six men broke into the Pul-e Alam office, where Islam was working on a microfinancing project. Gunendu Roy, the director of BRAC's Afghan mission, said it is unclear who is behind the kidnapping. Wardak said he does not believe there is a political motive behind the kidnapping, but that the kidnappers are probably criminals seeking to secure a ransom. JC

Afghan and coalition forces on September 16 killed more than a dozen suspected militants during clashes in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand Province, AP reported. Coalition forces used small-arms fire and air strikes during the early-morning operation in Garmsir district, a coalition statement said. The clash was instigated by an afternoon insurgent strike on September 15 in which an estimated 40 militants armed with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades attacked an Afghan police and coalition patrol in Helmand's Musa Qala district. At least 10 insurgents were killed when the joint forces called in air strikes as part of a counterattack. No civilians were reported injured in either battle, the coalition said. Meanwhile, four rebels were killed and five others wounded in an overnight battle that erupted on September 15 after insurgents attacked a police post in the eastern province of Paktia, provincial police chief Esmatullah Alizai told AFP. Five other rebels were wounded in that attack, he added. Elsewhere in Ghazni Province, Andar district chief Abdul Rahim Desewal was wounded on September 15 after a remote-controlled bomb hidden in a bag on a bicycle outside his home exploded. Two bodyguards and 12 civilians were also wounded in the attack, police official Hayatullah Khan said. JC

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said in Tehran on September 15 that fuel due to be delivered by Russia to the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran is ready, and has been sealed and inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Radio Farda reported, citing news agency reports. Mottaki was speaking at a press conference with his Belgian counterpart Karel de Gucht. The power plant is being built by Russia but has been subject to repetitive delays, due to payment problems according to Russia, though Iran denies it owes any money. Mottaki said the fuel-delivery problem was recently discussed by telephone between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and Iran hopes the "fuel delivery will be carried out soon." Mottaki was in Moscow last week to discuss bilateral agreements and the Bushehr project with the head of the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), Sergei Kiriyenko, and officials of Atomstroieksport, the Russian contractor, Radio Farda reported, citing ISNA. Mottaki said cooperation over Bushehr is now "moving ahead," AP reported on September 16, citing a state television report. VS

Interior Minister Mustafa Purmohammadi was in China on September 13 and 14, where he reportedly "finalized" various oil and gas deals, "Kayhan" reported on September 16, citing news agency reports. Purmohammadi said the two countries intend to bring the level of trade exchanges "this year" to $20 billion. Purmohammadi told reporters in Beijing on September 14 that China supports talks and disapproves of sanctions in resolving the dispute over Iran's nuclear program, and he said Iran will adopt "other means" if the UN Security Council imposes more sanctions to curb its nuclear activities. He met on September 14 with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and senior foreign-policy adviser Tang Jiaxuan, AP reported, citing Xinhua. Purmohammadi did not give details of the energy deals signed with China but this apparently encompassed projects with oil and gas fields, related investment, and fuel transportation, Bahrain's "Gulf Daily News" reported on September 15. Purmohammadi is to appear before the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee on September 19 to answer legislators' questions, IRNA reported on September 16. VS

France is working discreetly to forge a EU consensus on imposing sanctions on Iran outside the framework of the UN Security Council, reported on September 13. The daily noted this as a sign of closer diplomatic positions between France under its new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush. The daily noted that in the absence of a EU consensus, France and Great Britain would seek the support of "volunteer" states for sanctions -- in response to Iran's ongoing refusal to suspend sensitive nuclear fuel-making activities. Sarkozy reportedly discussed these sanctions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on September 10 in Meseberg; she is reportedly in favor, but not assured of the backing of some of her coalition partners in the cabinet, notably Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "Le Monde" added that specific sanction proposals have not been officially discussed yet among EU members in Brussels, but that France may be envisaging an expansion of the list of Iranian firms, personalities, and banks whose assets would be frozen or which would be banned from transactions in the EU. "Le Monde" opined in an editorial the same day that while "Iran is scary" and must provide the assurances the world requires on its program, Sarkozy's new diplomatic direction might provoke China and Russia or certain European states to challenge the positions of a "new Washington-London-Paris" axis. Alignment with the "Bush administration, which is also at times frightening and whose diplomacy is strongly contested, would tarnish" the image of France with states opposed to Bush administration policies, added. VS

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told a French television audience on September 16 that the international community or Western states should prepare themselves "for the worst" -- specifically war -- if Iran continues with its contested nuclear activities, even if negotiations must continue as far as possible, AFP reported. Kouchner said Iran has to be told, "we shall not accept the construction of this bomb," referring to Iran's suspected bid to produce nuclear weapons. "Suspend uranium enrichment and you will see we are serious," he added, in a hypothetical message from the international community to Iran. He said nevertheless that "we have to negotiate to the end." He referred to the possibility of expanded sanctions against Iran beyond any approved by the UN Security Council, while negotiations with Tehran continue. "Our German friends have proposed this," he said, adding that enhanced sanctions would target financial and banking transactions, AFP reported. VS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said in Tehran on September 16 that Iran favors a "gradual and planned" withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and that a "sudden withdrawal...will certainly lead to insecurity. But there is no doubt on the need for their departure," Radio Farda reported, citing Iranian news agency reports. The broadcaster reported that Hosseini was corroborating previous comments made to the Al-Jazeera network by Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani. Larijani said that "we do not want an immediate departure," and the United States should work out a timetable with the Iraqi government, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on September 16. Hosseini said Iran is ready to hold another round of talks on security in Iraq with U.S. diplomats if the Iraqis ask for it. VS

Radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's political bloc announced on September 15 that it is withdrawing from the ruling Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), Al-Jazeera satellite television reported the same day. "The political committee has declared the withdrawal of the Al-Sadr bloc from the alliance because there was no visible indication that the demands of al-Sadr's bloc were being met," the bloc said in a statement. The group has bitterly complained that the Iraqi government has sidelined it in the political process and refused to consult with it in the decision-making process. Salah al-Ubaydi, a spokesman for al-Sadr's bloc, stressed that the refusal of the UIA to make the political process more inclusive left the bloc with no alternative but to withdraw from the alliance. "We tried hard to make the UIA pay attention to the affairs and concerns of ordinary citizens and give this matter top priority, but the coalition failed to show seriousness in this regard," al-Ubaydi said. Other officials from al-Sadr's group have called on government and U.S. forces to stop targeting the group's militia, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, which was widely blamed for the violence during a Shi'ite religious festival in the holy city of Karbala last month that killed 52 people. The Al-Sadr bloc has 32 seats in the 275-seat Iraqi parliament and its departure from the UIA leaves the alliance with only 83 seats. SS

Abd al-Karim al-Anzi, leader of the Al-Da'wah Party-Iraq Organization, warned on September 16 that if the current Shi'ite rift is not healed, then his party may leave the UIA and form an alliance with al-Sadr's group, the independent Voices of Iraq news agency reported the same day. "If our attempts prove unsuccessful, we will seriously consider forming an alliance with the Al-Sadr movement, Al-Fadilah Party, and others," al-Anzi said. He also blamed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for triggering the current crisis within the UIA when he initiated a four-way political alliance without consulting all UIA parties. On August 15, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party formed a moderates' front as a means of ending months of political paralysis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 2007). SS

The U.S. military announced in a statement on September 16 that it has captured an Al-Qaeda in Iraq suspect in the assassination of Sheikh Abd al-Sattar Abu Rishah, the leader of the Al-Anbar Salvation Council. The military said it arrested Fallah Khalifa Hiyas Fayas al-Jumayli, also known as Abu Khamis, during a September 15 operation west of Balad. Intelligence reports indicated al-Jumayli has close ties to senior Al-Qaeda leaders in the region, and was also involved in several car bombings and suicide attacks in Al-Anbar Governorate. "The Iraqi people have made great strides toward securing their country, and we will not tolerate Al-Qaeda in Iraq's attempts to derail that progress," U.S. military spokesman Major Winfield Danielson said. Abu Rishah and one of his bodyguards were killed by a roadside bomb in Al-Ramadi on September 13 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 2007). Al-Qaeda in Iraq issued an Internet statement on September 14 claiming responsibility for the attack. SS

The Iraqi Islamic Party announced on September 15 that it has dismissed Planning Minister Ali Baban from the party after he decided to rejoin Prime Minister al-Maliki's cabinet on September 13, KUNA reported the same day. The Iraqi Islamic Party issued a statement describing Baban's return as conflicting with the stance of the party and the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front to continue the boycott of the al-Maliki government. "He disregarded the fact that he was one of the makers of the boycott decision. Baban's move goes counter to the national interests of Iraq. We cannot accept such a move from an Iraqi Islamic Party member, especially after we preferred him [Baban] to other members and nominated him to the post," the party said in a statement. On August 1, the Accordance Front withdrew its six ministers from al-Maliki's cabinet after he failed to meet the front's list of 11 demands (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2007). The Iraqi Islamic Party is one of the main components of the Accordance Front. SS

The Kurdish regional government (KRG) issued a statement on September 14 calling for the removal of Iraqi Oil Minister Husayn al-Shahristani, after he described recent oil contracts by the KRG as "illegal," international media reported the same day. The KRG claimed that al-Shahristani's comments were tantamount to interfering in the internal affairs of the Kurdish region and accused him of favoring contracts with companies that operated under the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "But once again, he [al-Shahristani] has repeated his false mantra of 'it is illegal.' Unfortunately this has been his way of dealing with the legitimate concerns of the hard-working oil-union members in the south, with the achievements of the KRG, or with any other organization that he does not like," the statement said. On September 8, the KRG signed a production-sharing contract with the U.S.-based Hunt Oil Company and Impulse Energy Corporation to conduct petroleum exploration in northern Iraq. In response, al-Shahristani described the deal and all previous contracts between the KRG and foreign firms as illegal, since a federal oil law has yet to be passed in parliament. The Kurdish parliament passed its own hydrocarbon law in early August. SS

Iraqi High Tribunal prosecutor Ja'fari al-Musawi announced on September 16 that the three death sentences in the Anfal case have been referred to Iraqi Federal Court, Voices of Iraq reported the same day. Al-Musawi said the Federal Court will determine whether the executions can be carried out without a presidential decree, as stated in Iraqi law. He also noted that no date has been set for the executions and the sentences are not likely to be carried out during the holy month of Ramadan. An Iraqi appeals court upheld the death sentences for Ba'ath Party official Ali Hasan al-Majid, former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, and the former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi armed forces, Hussein Rashid Muhammad, for their roles in the Anfal military campaign in 1987-88 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2007). Prosecutors contend that more than 180,000 Kurds were killed in the campaign. The death sentences created a controversy after Iraqi President Jalal Talabani called for al-Tai to be spared because he engaged in unofficial contacts with the Kurdish community while serving under the former regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10, 2007). In response, Judge Munir Hadad, a member of the High Tribunal, said the executions will take place even without a presidential decree (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 11, 2007). SS