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Newsline - January 25, 2008

Outspoken nationalist politician Dmitry Rogozin, who is Russia's new ambassador to NATO, said at a Moscow news conference on January 24 that the concessions the Western countries are offering to Serbia in conjunction with Kosova's expected declaration of independence are "shameful and defective," Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 10 and 11, 2008). He compared Serbia's current situation with the restrictions imposed on Germany by the punitive 1919 Versailles Peace Treaty. Rogozin stressed that Russia will not send any peacekeepers to Kosova, but did not indicate who, if anyone, might have asked it to do so. He argued that Russian policy is not directed at protecting Serbia, but rather at preserving "the rules of decent behavior and the architecture of international relations." Rogozin said that the plans of Georgian and Ukrainian leaders to join NATO amount to "ritual and politicized dances." Referring to the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, compliance with which Russia recently "suspended," Rogozin argued that any new agreement should include a naval component that would reflect NATO's preponderance over Russia at sea. He accused NATO of turning a blind eye to factories in unnamed new member states that continue to make Kalashnikov rifles as they did during the Cold War, but without a current license from Russia. Rogozin suggested that Russia might seek compensation for its presumed losses in profits as a result of the sale of "illegal" Kalashnikovs. He added that "if we find out that Russia needs to be compensated, then this subject will be discussed." The daily "Trud" wrote on January 25 that Rogozin's press conference confirmed his reputation as a hard-liner. The paper noted that, asked why he was posted to NATO, he responded with the "laconic" comment that "it is a job for either a traitor or a patriot." PM

Officials responsible for the foreign relations of the Russian Orthodox Church said in Moscow on January 24 that Patriarch Aleksy II has rejected an invitation from the Vatican for him to meet with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome, Interfax reported. The officials said that such a meeting would be "premature" and would require "extensive discussions" to prepare it. The German-born Pope Benedict, who took office in April 2005, clearly hopes to obtain the meeting with Aleksy that eluded his Polish-born predecessor, Pope John-Paul II. Despite repeated overtures from Rome, the Russian Orthodox Church remains wary. PM

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on January 25 that Russia has not decided whether to sign any international agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, Interfax reported. He said that Russia ratified Kyoto only for the period of its validity. He added that "we will decide what happens after this depending on how we advance socially and economically, what our economic needs are, and what the positions of other emitters are. This has been clear to everybody from the very beginning." PM

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov on January 24 announced that he has written to First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev urging him to participate in televised presidential-campaign debates, "Vremya novostei" and other Russian media reported on January 25. Zyuganov told journalists that if Medvedev ignores the appeal or refuses to debate, he will ask the Communist Party to consider withdrawing his candidacy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 23 and 24, 2008). Many analysts continue to believe it is unlikely that the party, which is one of just two non-Kremlin parties with seats in the Duma, would place itself in such direct opposition to the Kremlin. RC

Democratic Party of Russia leader Andrei Bogdanov was officially registered as a candidate in the March 2 presidential election on January 24, Russian media reported. Bogdanov is widely viewed as a Kremlin-backed pseudo-opposition figure. "Vremya novostei" reported on January 25 that Bogdanov has a long record of supporting the Kremlin's ideology of so-called sovereign democracy (see "The Soft-Power Foundations Of Putin's Russia,", November 9, 2007). In the 1990s, he worked in two political organizations supported by businessman Sergei Mavrodi, infamous as the instigator of the MMM pyramid scheme. In 2002-03, he was a senior official in Unified Russia. He became head of the Democratic Party in 2005 after a scandalous leadership battle against former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Reports at the time indicated that the Kremlin helped Bogdanov organize a hasty party congress of his supporters that elected him party leader (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 19, 2005). Bogdanov has never participated in any of the March of Dissent political events and has never publicly criticized the Kremlin or President Putin. RC

Politicians and analysts continue speculating about why the Central Election Commission seems bent on denying former Prime Minister Kasyanov registration as a candidate in the March presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 23 and 24, 2008), Russian media reported on January 25. Communist Party Deputy Chairman Ivan Melnikov told "Vremya novostei" that the Kremlin has decided to "show [Kasyanov] his place" by not allowing him to run. Both Melnikov and A Just Russia Duma Deputy Ivan Grachyov called the move to bar Kasyanov "a political decision." "It is clear that collecting 2 million signatures in a month and a half is not possible," Grachyov said. "Even Unified Russia can't do it without the use of administrative resources. This means that allowing [economist Sergei] Glazev and [Irina] Khakamada to run in the last election or, in this one, barring Kasyanov while admitting [Democratic Party leader] Bogdanov are purely political decisions." Political analyst Dmitry Badovsky told the daily that allowing Kasyanov to run would turn the Kremlin's effort to use the campaign to present First Deputy Prime Minister Medvedev's social program into an unwanted ideological battle. He added that even if he is not allowed to run, Kasyanov has a real opportunity to solidify his standing as the leader of Russia's "radical opposition." Analyst Mikhail Vinogradov agreed that the task of gathering 2 million signatures is impossible for "an outside candidate." "That is why the requirement was introduced," he told "Vremya novostei." RC

Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov on January 24 set up a special governmental working group to deal with inflation to be headed by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, Russian media reported on January 25. The group has been tasked with presenting, by January 31, a coordinated plan for dealing with recent increases in prices of foodstuffs and other basic consumer goods. In late 2007, following a major series of price hikes, the government agreed with producers on a voluntary price freeze, but that agreement is due to expire on February 1. "The Moscow Times" reported on January 25 that the consumer price index rose 1.8 percent in the first three weeks of this year. RC

Ingushetia's two main Internet providers have blocked access to the independent website in the run-up to the mass demonstration in Nazran scheduled for January 26, reported on January 24. The website predicted on January 23 that "virtually the entire population" of the republic (some 480,000 people) plans to attend that meeting, but the organizers have informed the Interior Ministry that they will seek to limit participation to 10,000 people and requested that police not resort to violence against the participants. The official rationale for the meeting is to express support for President Putin's antiterrorism policy, but participants also intend to register their anger at corruption within the current Ingushetian leadership and its failure to prevent ongoing abductions of and reprisals against the civilian population. Ingushetia's Cossack community has announced that it will send representatives, according to on January 23, and the organizers have also invited Ingushetia's representatives in the State Duma (Belan Khamchiyev) and Federation Council (Issa Kostoyev and Vasily Likhachev). The office of Ingushetia's prosecutor alleged on January 24 that preparations for the demonstration are being conducted in violation of the law and that the organizers have not informed either the republic's government or the Nazran municipal authorities where precisely it will take place, reported on January 24. Meanwhile, police in Ingushetia have identified the man killed when a car packed with some 20 kilograms of explosive detonated in Nazran late on January 22 as Khamzat Dachiyev, who lived in the North Ossetian village of Arkhonskaya, reported on January 24 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 23, 2008). Senior Ingushetian Interior Ministry official Bagaudin Yevloyev said a search of Gachiyev's home yielded ammunition and other materials that could be used in preparation for an act of terrorism. Security officials believe Gachiyev intended to detonate the car bomb during the planned January 26 demonstration in Nazran, according to on January 23. LF

Daghestan's President Mukhu Aliyev, Prime Minister Shamil Zainalov, and Deputy Prime Minister Rizvan Gazimagomedov participated on January 24 in a 90-minute parliament discussion of the ongoing power shortages in Makhachkala and other cities that have triggered repeated protest demonstrations in recent weeks, and reported on January 24 and 25, respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 2, 8, 10, 14, and 17, 2008). Both Aliyev and Zainalov argued that responsibility for the disruptions lies with the city authorities; Aliyev set a deadline of January 28 for the restoration of normal supplies, and said the persons directly responsible should answer before the law for the chaos and misery caused. That argument raises questions about the political future of Makhachkala's legendary mayor Said Amirov, whose resignation the protesters have called for. Amirov, who has survived several assassination attempts, is the last prominent Dargin in a leadership otherwise dominated by Avars. The Avars account for the 29.4 of Daghestan's population; the Dargins are the second largest ethnic group (16.5 percent). LF

Opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian continued campaigning in central Armenia on January 24 for the February 19 presidential election, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Speaking in the town of Charentsavan, Ter-Petrossian implicitly accused incumbent President Robert Kocharian and the frontrunner in the presidential race, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, of being behind the Armenian parliament killings in October 1999, which he described as "the greatest state disgrace in the entire history of the Armenian people." Among the eight victims were parliament speaker Karen Demirchian and Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian; Demirchian's son Stepan and Sargsian's brother Aram, also a former premier, both support Ter-Petrossian's presidential bid and accompanied him to Charentsavan. Ter-Petrossian further criticized Prime Minister Sarkisian's imputed addiction to gambling, telling voters that if elected president, he would gamble away the entire country in the casinos at Monte Carlo. LF

Ilham Aliyev met on January 24 on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos with the prime ministers of Hungary and Albania, Ferenc Gyurcsany and Sali Berisha, and the foreign ministers of Iran and Israel, Manuchehr Mottaki and Tzipi Livni, Azerbaijani media reported. Aliyev also discussed on January 24 with his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko the proposed extension to the Polish port of Gdansk of the Odessa-Brody oil export pipeline, and the planned creation of a single energy transit space encompassing Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria. LF

Mikheil Saakashvili told the spring session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg on January 24 that the January 5 preterm presidential election, in which according to official returns he won 53.47 percent of the vote, was "successful" and demonstrates the existence of democracy in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Opposition parties, including the nine aligned in the National Council, claim the outcome was rigged to preclude a runoff between Saakashvili and National Council candidate Levan Gachechiladze, and refuse to acknowledge Saakashvili as Georgia's legitimate president (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," January 25, 2008). Saakashvili also said that despite the ban imposed by Russia on imports of Georgian produce, Georgia registered 12 percent GDP growth in 2007. He reaffirmed Georgia's commitment to further Euro-Atlantic integration, noting that in a plebiscite held concurrently with the presidential ballot, 77 percent of those who cast ballots registered approval of Georgia joining NATO. As during his inauguration speech on January 20, Saakashvili again affirmed his hopes for an improvement in strained relations with Russia, saying he is "always ready" to travel to Moscow for talks with the Russian leadership. LF

Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze on January 24 unveiled the composition of his new government, Caucasus Press reported. The powerful interior and defense ministers, Vano Merabishvili and David Kezerashvili, both retain their posts. In the most significant changes, Gela Bezhuashvili relinquished the foreign-policy portfolio to return to private business; he is succeeded by Minister for Conflict Resolution David Bakradze, who headed Saakashvili's presidential-election campaign and accompanied him to the January 21-25 PACE session in Strasbourg. Bakradze's former ministry has been renamed the State Ministry for Reintegration, and Temur Yakobashvili, executive vice president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, has been selected to head it. Deputy Prosecutor-General Nika Gvaramia was named justice minister in place of Eka Tkeshelashvili, who has been appointed prosecutor general. State Minister for Economic Reforms Kakha Bendukidze will take over as head of the government chancellery; the ministry will be abolished. Political scientist Ghia Nodia was named education minister. Gurgenidze explained that ministers were chosen for their professional qualities rather than their political affiliation. President Saakashvili on January 24 termed the new government the most professional Georgia has ever had, according to Caucasus Press. In February 2004, Saakashvili similarly described the new cabinet, most of whose members had never previously held a ministerial post, as "unique in terms of its...professional experience" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," February 24, 2004). LF

During a visit to Beijing, the speaker of the upper house of the Kazakh parliament, Kasymzhomart Tokaev, on January 24 welcomed the two countries' expanding trade and economic cooperation, which he hailed as the "core of bilateral cooperation," according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. Tokaev stated that "mutual trade between our countries is increasing dynamically," and pointed to the expansion of bilateral trade to over $11 billion for the first ten months of 2007, an increase of roughly 65 percent compared with the same period of 2006. He further noted that trade between Kazakhstan and China has posted growth of over 96 percent, and that the volume of Chinese investment in Kazakhstan has surpassed $8 billion. Since 2007, China has become Kazakhstan's fourth largest trading partner. Tokaev also highlighted the significance for Kazakhstan of the "Chinese experience of social and economic reforms," including China's "obvious achievements" in economic development and the "rapid development of science, innovative technology, and education." RG

Meeting with leading businessmen in Astana, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev on January 23 announced the continuation of a program of small business loans, Kazakh Television reported. He also called on the business sector to support the government's fight against corruption by reporting officials seeking bribes. The head of the Atameken Union of businessmen, Azat Peruashev, called for greater "financial support from the state." Peruashev said the "high interest rates of bank loans impede the development of the manufacturing sector," and stressed the need for "small preferential loans" aimed at bolstering the private sector and the country's textile industry. RG

Kazakh Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Kazhimurat Mayermanov and a French delegation led by Defense Ministry official Alain Costes on January 24 in Astana discussed the two countries' military cooperation and reviewed plans for the Kazakh purchase of French military equipment, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Costes formally invited Kazakhstan to send a delegation to an arms exhibition in Paris in the coming months, and expressed his appreciation for a recent Kazakh decision to continue procuring weapons and advanced military communications equipment from France's Tales arms producer. Mayermanov also discussed the planned acquisition of modern artillery systems to supplement Kazakhstan's existing arsenal of Semser D-30 howitzers and Aybat 120-mm mortars. RG

At a press conference in Bishkek, the leader of the Kyrgyz opposition Asaba (Flag) party, Azimbek Beknazarov, on January 24 announced the formation of a new "revolutionary body" intended to force the resignation of President Kurmanbek Bakiev, according to AKIpress and ITAR-TASS. Beknazarov, the country's former prosecutor-general, explained that the decision to create a new body, known by the Soviet-style name "Revcom" or "revolutionary committee," was a last resort, reached only after the opposition "exhausted the political methods of fighting." He added that the committee will coordinate "mass protest campaigns" by the opposition. He said that the opposition has been forced to demand Bakiev's resignation because the leader has not earned the trust of the people, and called on Bakiev "not to repeat the mistakes of [former president] Askar Akaev, and to quit voluntarily." RG

Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General Elmurza Satybaldiev on January 24 announced a decision to uphold a recent law restricting public demonstrations in the capital Bishkek, according to AKIpress. The announcement sparked a protest rally later the same day in front of the prosecutor's office; the protest was organized by Tolekan Ismailova, the director of the Bishkek-based organization Citizens Against Corruption. Several Kyrgyz human rights groups, led by Ismailova, have challenged the new restrictions, which were adopted by the Bishkek city council in late November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 3, 2007), and threatened on January 24 to fight the law in court. According to the revised law, all public "rallies, pickets, demonstrations, and manifestations" are restricted to just three designated locations in Bishkek. RG

Tajik Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Larisa Kislyakova and Klid Kull, the head of a special working group empowered to assist Tajikistan's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), announced on January 23 that Tajikistan is "on the right track" to join the WTO, Asia-Plus reported. Both officials noted that although Tajikistan has "to date performed many requirements to join the WTO," there remain "many issues that require additional work." According to Kull, the outstanding issues include greater conformity in the "standardization of goods and services, licensing, taxes, as well as issues related to sanitary conditions for production in compliance with the WTO requirements." Kull met earlier in the day with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, who emphasized his readiness to push for new measures to bring the country's legislation into compliance with the requirements of WTO standards. Kull also told reporters that the WTO appreciates Tajikistan's "important stabilizing role" in the region. RG

Fathiddin Mukhsiddinov, a senior official of Tajikistan's state-owned natural gas distributor TojikGaz, said on January 24 in Dushanbe that Uzbekistan has cut its supplies of natural gas by one-third, Asia-Plus reported. Mukhsiddinov explained that the Uzbek decision to cut off gas supplies was due to the roughly $7 million in arrears that TojikGaz owes Uzbekistan. But he noted that the arrears arose from the fact that TojikGaz is owed some $5 million by the Tajik state-owned Barqi Tojik energy company, another $2.5 million by the Dushanbe cement factory, one of the country's largest industrial factories, and an estimated 144 million somonis ($41.5 million) in outstanding debt from domestic consumers. The Uzbek cutoff effectively reduces the daily supply of natural gas to Tajikistan from 3 million to 2 million cubic meters. The move will only exacerbate an already serious energy crisis in Tajikistan, and comes only days after an announcement that an electricity shortage has forced the closure of many of the country's largest industrial plants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 24, 2008). RG

Uzbek President Islam Karimov on January 24 met in Tashkent with the visiting head of the U.S. Central Command, Admiral William Fallon, and discussed the issues of terrorism and instability in the region, Uzbek Television reported. Karimov hailed Fallon's visit as a "significant event" in bilateral relations and "a good opportunity to discuss and exchange views on issues of mutual interest." Karimov and Fallon discussed "issues of terrorism, illegal drug trafficking, organized crime, the fight against proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as well as issues of securing stability in the region," according to an official statement from the Uzbek president's office. Fallon, the commander of all U.S. military forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, is among the highest-level U.S. officials to visit Uzbekistan in several years. The visit is part of a regional tour that included a meeting with Tajik President Rahmon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 23, 2008) and planned visits to Turkmenistan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. After a sharp deterioration in U.S.-Uzbek relations over the deadly confrontation between Uzbek security forces and civilian demonstrators in the city of Andijon in May 2005, Uzbekistan evicted U.S. forces from a military airbase that was used to support operations in nearby Afghanistan. RG

Zmitser Dashkevich, the leader of the unregistered organization Youth Front, said on January 24 that his early release from prison represents "a sort of game with the West," Belapan reported. A day earlier, Dashkevich was released from a correctional facility after serving 16 months of an 18-month sentence for running an unregistered organization. "There are no signs of liberalization in public life. Some people are being jailed and others are being released," Dashkevich told a press conference. He said that his release came as a surprise not only to him, but also to the authorities of the correctional facility, who "were unaware that I would have to be released." Dashkevich believes that his release "is the result of public pressure both from within Belarus and abroad." He described his time in prison as "a 16-month rest," adding that he now intends "to start vigorous civil society activities." AM

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said on January 24 that Kyiv is ready to discuss issues of collective security with Russia, but that Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspirations are exclusively an internal matter, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. "The issues of what model of national security to choose or what model of defense policy to pursue" are exclusively for Ukraine to decide, Yushchenko said. "Ukrainians are able to answer the questions of how they see the prospects for their security," he said. Yushchenko said that Ukraine will never provoke a conflict with Russia, and that it is possible to reach an agreement with Russia on issues of collective security. "We will find dozens of ways to treat our mutual issues with deference, and to respect each country's decisions," Yushchenko added. AM

Verkhovna Rada speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk said on January 25 that "there are no grounds today to conduct a nationwide referendum on Ukraine's accession to NATO," the Ukrayinska Pravda website ( reported. Yatsenyuk was responding to demands for a referendum by the opposition Party of Regions. Disagreement over the issue led the Party of Region's lawmakers last week to block the rostrum of the Verkhovna Rada, thus preventing the parliament from working for several days. Yatsenyuk said that "nobody expects Ukraine to join NATO either today or tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow," adding that Ukraine's possible membership in NATO is "a five- or 10-year prospect." AM

A three-day visit to Brussels by Kosova's prime minister, Hashim Thaci, ended on January 24 with no public statement by the EU on the date when Kosova will declare independence, local and international media reported. Thaci said prior to leaving for Brussels that a date for a declaration has been agreed and coordinated with the international community, and will "be made public very soon" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 24, 2008). He struck a similar note at the conclusion of his visit, saying "independence is only a matter of days," a statement that suggests he expects the move to be made shortly after Serbs choose a president on February 3. Thaci said as he headed for Brussels that "everything will be clarified after the visit to Brussels," but none of the four major EU officials with whom Thaci met indicated either that a date has indeed been set or that it is imminent. The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn restricted themselves to expressing the EU's commitment to Kosova and to a quick change to the status quo, while Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country holds the EU presidency, said the two discussed "very important issues." Thaci also met with Peter Feith, a Dutch diplomat who will head the EU mission expected to replace the UN as Kosova's administrator. None of them responded critically to Thaci's statement -- which has also been echoed by Kosovar President Fatmir Sejdiu -- but Rehn's spokeswoman, Krisztina Nagy, appeared to criticize Kosova's approach when she told a news conference that the date of a declaration of independence "is a very sensitive issue in a very sensitive political context in which it is better to resort to diplomatic means than to public statements." There was also no public comment on the EU's planned mission to Kosova, a subject that will -- along with Kosova's status and the EU's relations with Serbia -- be a key item for discussion at a summit of EU leaders on January 28. Thaci is also due to meet with Jaap De Hoop Scheffer, who, as NATO's secretary-general, is responsible for the international force providing security in Kosova. AG

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated on January 22 that delaying a decision on Kosova's status "doesn't make tough decisions easier." There is "some danger in continuing to wait for what needs to be done," she warned, in comments reported by AP. "We are going to have to resolve the status of Kosovo." Her comments do not mark any shift in U.S. thinking, but their timing is important as they come at a point when Kosovar leaders are raising expectations of an imminent declaration of independence. Moreover, a recent report in "The New York Times" quoted EU officials as saying that behind the scenes, Washington is "aggressively" pushing the EU to recognize Kosova as a state soon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 14, 2008). Rice made her comments at a meeting in Berlin with foreign ministers from Britain, France, and Germany, all of whom also met and discussed Kosova on January 19 without the participation of U.S. or Russian officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 22, 2008). Rice suggested that Brussels and Washington are fundamentally the same in their Kosova policy, saying, according to AFP, that "I don't think we have a gap with Europe on Kosovo. What we are really now trying to do is to see if there is anything more that can be done to smooth the transition." A somewhat different picture was painted by an unnamed senior U.S. official quoted by AFP on January 22, who indicated there is some way to go before there is an agreement. He described discussions at the Berlin meeting as "good," and said the meeting saw the U.S. and EU positions "move closer to each other." "We have seen a gradual coalescence. We are converging," he said. AG

Recent reports in the international and Kosovar media contain little indication that a consensus on a date has been reached. The head of Kosova's parliament, Jakup Krasniqi, said on January 22 that he hopes the date will be in February, which would match Washington's reported timeline. However, a Reuters report quoted unnamed EU officials as saying that the EU is considering a date after March 9, when Spanish voters cast their ballots in a general election. Spanish diplomats have in the past voiced concern about the impact within Spain of Kosova's secession from Serbia. Reuters on January 24 quoted a "senior Western diplomat" as saying the "cut-off date" is Easter, which falls on March 23. In an interview with Japan's Kyodo News on January 23, Kosovar President Sejdiu echoed the position of Prime Minister Thaci, saying that a declaration of independence is a matter of days away. Likewise, he said any move will be coordinated both with the EU and the United States. AG

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic on January 21 visited two EU states -- Romania and Greece -- that have largely aligned themselves with Belgrade on the issue of Kosova's status, and secured their continued backing. In Romania, Foreign Minister Adrian Cioroianu said Kosova's status should be acceptable to both Belgrade and Prishtina and should be approved by the UN Security Council. He also reiterated that Romania will not recognize Kosova as a state if it declares independence unilaterally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6 and December 13 and 17, 2007). Romania aligned itself with the majority EU view on one issue, by supporting the deployment of an EU mission to Kosova, but also argued that the mission should not be deployed after a declaration of independence by Kosova. "An eventual deployment of a European mission, following an eventual declaration of independence by Kosovo, would implicitly mean a recognition of Prishtina as a partner," Romanian news agencies quoted Cioroianu as saying. Cioroianu said January 11 that Romania is worried that statehood for Kosova could lead to an "avalanche" of secessionist campaigns ("RFE/RL Newsline," January 16, 2008). According to the Kosovar Albanian newspaper "Koha ditore," Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bokayannis said on January 22 that Belgrade and Prishtina should return to the negotiating table. Greek diplomats in Prishtina said that Greece supports an EU mission in Kosova. Kosovar President Sejdiu told Japan's Kyodo News on January 23 that unity within the EU is Kosova's "biggest wish," but added that if "we have a country or two with reservations, then they should keep those reservations to themselves, because we will move forward with the support of the rest of the countries." AG

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on January 23 amplified Russia's long-standing claim that independence for Kosova could be a dangerous precedent, arguing that as many as "200 territories" could be affected, AP and Reuters reported. The United States and the EU contend that Kosova is a unique case, but Lavrov said independence for the disputed Serbian province would be seen by separatists around the globe as a precedent. He also denied that Russia would rush to recognize as states three breakaway regions of the former Soviet Union: the Moldovan region of Transdniester and the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. "Many think that Russia is anxiously waiting for that to happen to start recognizing everyone around it, but it's absolutely wrong," Lavrov said. "We clearly understand the destabilizing effect of any separatist movements." Lavrov reiterated that Russia is supporting Serbia's claim to continued sovereignty over Kosova because it wants to defend international law, and not because of "egoistic interests." During a visit to Bulgaria on January 18, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that "a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo and its eventual support from the international community would be illegal and immoral." AG

The roughly 16,000-strong NATO-led international force in Kosova (KFOR) will be reinforced by the deployment of 560 Italian troops starting February 4, a KFOR spokesman, Bertrand Bonneau, said on January 23. The deployment is short-term, however, with the reinforcements expected to be in Kosova for just one month. They will be stationed in central and northern Kosova, areas where concerns about tensions between the ethnic Albanian and Serbian populations are particularly high. KFOR commander Xavier Bout de Marnhac told local journalists in recent days that "KFOR does not expect any problems in Kosovo." In related news, AP reported that Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitri Rogozin, said on January 24 that Russia will not dispatch peacekeepers to join the international force in Kosova. Russian troops served in KFOR between 1999 and 2003. AG

Celebrations to mark the elevation of Novi Pazar, the capital of Serbia's southern Sandzak region, to the status of a city on January 23 were marred by a rally calling on the mayor to resign, local media reported. The organizer of the protest, the nongovernmental organization Initiative for Changes, said the hundreds of demonstrators were expressing "their disapproval of the overall economic, social, and security situation that has developed" under Mayor Sulejman Ugljanin. As a city, Novi Pazar will now be eligible for greater public funding than in the past and will have a range of other special rights. There is no indication that the protest against Ugljanin was connected with tensions within the region's Muslim community. Ugljanin, who is a member of Sandzak's Bosnian Muslim majority, has been accused of siding with a leading cleric, Adem Zilkic, who split the community by pledging allegiance to the Muslim leadership in Belgrade rather than in Sarajevo, the seat of the cleric traditionally seen as the chief Muslim leader in the Western Balkans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10 and 12 and December 3 and 28, 2008). The dispute within the Muslim community is unconnected with the threat of militant Islamism that allegedly surfaced in 2007 with the discovery of a supposed terrorist camp. The trial of 15 alleged militants captured in Sandzak last year began in Belgrade on January 14 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 16, 2008). AG

"More reform needed" was the message that Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was forced to take away from a January 23 visit to Brussels. According to international and local media, NATO Secretary-General de Hoop Scheffer said that NATO particularly wants to see better party relations forged across the political spectrum. De Hoop Scheffer also said that there is no guarantee that NATO leaders will decide to invite Macedonia to join the alliance when they meet in April. "The tickets have not been punched yet. It is a performance-based process," he said in comments reported by the local media. "It is important to keep up the pace, to have a foot on the accelerator, so the reforms become irreversible." Macedonia's hopes also hinge on a last-minute change of position by Greece, which is threatening to veto Macedonia's bid unless it agrees to change the country's name. Macedonia and Greece have stepped up their dialogue as the summit approaches, but while the UN, which is brokering talks, has noted progress, there is no hint that a breakthrough is imminent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 23, 2008). Gruevski received a similar message from the EU's enlargement commissioner, Olli Rehn, who also named as particularly "problematic areas" the rule of law and the state of the judiciary, police, and civil service. Earlier, on January 17, Rehn said in an interview with a Bulgarian television channel that the EU may decide this year on a date for the start of membership talks with Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 22, 2008). AG


Major General David Rodriguez, the commander of U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, said on January 23 that he doubts Taliban insurgents will be able to mount a spring offensive this year in the country's east, the Pakistan-based news website "Dawn" reported. He told reporters at the Pentagon that Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants have shifted their focus to targeting sites in Pakistan rather than Afghanistan, resulting in a decrease in cross-border operations and attacks in eastern Afghanistan. "The enemy will try to take advantage of some of the challenges they are having over there [in Pakistan] right now," Rodriguez said, suggesting that the Taliban's capacity will be consumed with fighting Pakistani security forces in the volatile tribal areas near the Afghan border. "The political turmoil in Pakistan is one reason that fewer militants are crossing the border this year compared to last," Rodriguez said. He added that the Pakistani military is working to improve its capacity to conduct counter-insurgency operations against Taliban and foreign militants presumably hiding in the tribal areas. MM

Afghan and international media reported on January 24 that at least eight Afghan policemen and two civilians were killed during U.S.-led military operations in central Afghanistan. Afghan provincial official Habeb-ul Rahman, said that the policemen died in the village of Ghariban in Ghazni Province during military operations that included ground raids and air strikes. It is unclear how the casualties occurred. Coalition spokesman Major Chris Belcher told AFP that the operations targeted a Taliban commander associated with suicide bombings in Ghazni, and that several insurgents were killed and nine detained. Separately, Mohammad Nashir, a spokesman for the provincial governor, told reporters that "the coalition forces opened fire at them [the policemen]. Nine policemen including a police district chief, Abdul Wakeel Kamiab, were killed.... A civilian woman was also killed." The issue of civilian casualties remains a serious political issue for the Afghan government and public, and in the past, violent antigovernment demonstrations have followed incidents in which military operations killed civilians. MM

In his opening remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on January 23 that Afghanistan and the region risk seeing the further spread of terrorism and instability, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. "It seems like the mutant of extremism is dangerously unleashed across the region," he said, warning that "a rapidly spreading war is engulfing the wider region." While Afghanistan remains a critical battlefield, Karzai said, its neighbors and allies must also rally their forces to combat terrorism. "Our strategies in this war have often been short-changed by a host of deceptive rhetoric," he said. "Governments in the region need to move beyond rhetoric and cease [supporting] extremist politics." Karzai emphasized the need to crack down on the origins of terrorism and its infrastructure and finances. MM

The Afghan government has appealed to the international community for $81 million in aid to help more than 2.5 million Afghans suffering from food shortages and harsh winter conditions, the Bakhtar news agency reported. The joint appeal by the Afghan government, the World Food Program (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations children's fund (UNICEF) is intended to provide urgent food aid and nutritional supplements to those Afghans most at risk during the next five months. Bo Asplund, the acting special representative of the UN secretary-general, urged donor countries to respond to the appeal, and said poor families, and especially women and children, "will be unable to meet their most basic [food] needs...especially during the current harsh winter months, until the next harvest season." Most of Afghanistan is dealing with rising prices for wheat flour and fuel amid heavy snow and cold winter temperatures. MM

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns suggested on January 24 that sanctions being drafted by the great powers against Iran's nuclear program are "meant to be punitive," apparently contradicting earlier Russian comments downplaying their gravity, AP reported. He said in Jerusalem that he discussed Iran's contested nuclear program with Israeli officials that day, though the subject of possible military strikes on Iran did not come up. Few details have been released on the contents of the third set of UN sanctions that Iran may face for its suspected violation of nuclear non-proliferation rules. Burns said the latest draft sanctions would increase travel restrictions on Iranian nuclear scientists, freeze more assets, and ban trading in some items that can be used in the nuclear industry. He said the five permanent members of the UN Security Council have approved the draft resolution, and that he is confident it will be approved by the full Security Council after "several weeks" of debate. Ambassadors of the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany met at the United Nations on January 24 to "fine tune" the text of the resolution, AFP reported. VS

Iran's government announced on January 24 that it has received a sixth consignment of fuel for the nuclear power plant in Bushehr, on Iran's southern coast, Radio Farda reported. The state-owned Iran Atomic Energy Production and Development Company reported that the consignment weighed 11 tons and arrived at the Bushehr facility on January 24. Russia has suggested that Iran should stop its fuel-making program now that it is being supplied with fuel from Russia, but Iran insists it needs to have an independent supply for its developing civilian nuclear program. Iranian officials say Russia has so far delivered 66 of the 82 tons of fuel it has agreed to provide for Bushehr, in a series of deliveries made since December 2007, Radio Farda reported. The broadcaster quoted unnamed officials as saying they hope the full amount will be delivered by the end of February. Russia has agreed to supply fuel to Bushehr for 10 years, and Iran has agreed to return nuclear waste and byproducts to Russia. VS

Iranian lawmakers voted on January 24 to make a top priority a debate on a bill to ban the publication and distribution of election posters and candidates' photos in the upcoming elections, Radio Farda reported. Elections for Iran's eighth parliament since 1979 are scheduled for March 14. If the bill is approved by the Guardians Council -- the body of jurists that checks legislation to ensure that it respects religious laws and the constitution -- posters, large photos, banners, and similar materials will be banned during campaigning. Kazem Delkhosh, a lawmaker who supported the motion, told the Mehr news agency that the measure strengthens previous bans on posting campaign posters by blocking the printing, publication, and distribution of such items. He said the measures are intended to cut waste. Another representative, Reza Talai-Nik, who opposed the motion, said the legislation is not in the country's interests now that campaigning is about to start, and that candidates' photos give voters an idea of their identities. Another representative, Hossein Ali Shahriari, told Mehr that voters should make decisions based on candidates' abilities, not their "faces and photos," Radio Farda reported. VS

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in Tehran on January 23 that candidates disqualified by an Interior Ministry executive board -- or those who have not yet been approved or rejected -- deserve to be "chided" for registering when they should not have, Mehr reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 22-24, 2007). Ahmadinejad told the press after a cabinet meeting that the registration of candidates he termed "unsuitable" was part of a "pre-determined program and related to a particular current." Most candidates who have been disqualified so far have been reformists or centrists. "The basic question here is: why do they send forward certain people who don't meet the right legal conditions? These people should be aware that we have to abide by the law." Addressing those who he said "pushed" forward the unsuitable candidates, Ahmadinejad asked, "Why are you doing this? Read the law and don't come forward." He said the disqualified candidates were not "bad people," and can live freely and enjoy their civil rights. Separately, Deputy Interior Minister for Political Affairs Alireza Afshar told IRNA on January 23 that rejected candidates or those whose eligibility has not been determined can take their cases to the Guardians Council supervisory boards, which has the final say on who can run. He said the supervisory boards can reverse the decisions made by the Interior Ministry executive boards. Afshar urged rejected candidates not to provoke a "political scandal" or take their stories to the press. VS

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced on January 25 that additional Iraqi forces will be moved to Mosul in an effort to deal with insurgent attacks purportedly carried out by Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The announcement comes two days after a major bomb attack allegedly carried out by the insurgent group that led to the collapse of a building and, according to Governor Durayd Kashmula, 100 surrounding homes. A second attack on January 24 killed Mosul's police commander, who was targeted by a suicide bomber as he toured the wreckage of the initial attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 24, 2008). "Today, the troops have moved to Mosul...and the fight there will be decisive," al-Maliki said during an address in Karbala, AP reported. Multinational Force-Iraq announced on January 24 that 34 people were killed in the previous day's attack and 135 wounded. The Iraqi government said 34 were killed and 224 wounded in the attack. Three people died in the January 24 attack. KR

Sheikh Abd al-Mahdi al-Karbala'i, an aide to Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, was wounded in a roadside bomb attack in Karbala on January 24, Iraqi media reported. Al-Karbala'i was apparently returning home from evening prayers at the Imam Husayn shrine when his vehicle was attacked. Two bodyguards were killed in the incident, while al-Karbala'i sustained minor injuries, Reuters reported. Al-Karbala'i, who leads the Friday prayer sermon in Karbala for al-Sistani, called on government officials in his January 18 sermon to put the interests of the Iraqi people over "the sectarian interests of every party, trend, or group" or their own personal financial gain. He told officials: "Each side should make concessions in the interest of the other." He also called on Iraqi officials to accept the constructive criticism of those who highlight the mistakes at certain departments or ministries, saying accepting such criticism serves the country's interests. Several aides to Ayatollah al-Sistani were targeted for assassination in 2007 (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," August 17, 2007). KR

Oil Minister Husayn al-Shahristani told Reuters in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 25 that he expects oil output could increase by some 400,000 barrels per day in 2008. Shahristani said output, which currently sits at around 2.3 million barrels per day (bpd), could rise to between 2.6 and 2.7 million bpd in 2008. The minister credited the improved security environment for the expected increase, and said the government's 2008 production plan is specifically aimed at the export market. Shahristani also said that the first round of bidding is under way for development of Iraqi oil fields. "These are the super-giant Iraqi fields, the brown fields -- we're going to sign contracts for the development of those fields by the end of 2008," he said, adding: "We'll go through a second round of bids in 2009." He said the government expects to sign technical support contracts in the first quarter of 2008. KR

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said at the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 24 that a secure, stable and democratic Iraq is within reach, AFP reported the same day. "A year ago many people deemed Anbar lost. I dare say if we could win Anbar back, our winning of the whole of also possible," Salih said. Speaking about recent security achievements, he told the forum: "I can say for the first time in a long, long time that maybe Iraq is on the road to win the battle against Islamic fanaticism and religious extremism," AP reported on January 24. "The lesson of last year is that military might is not enough to defeat terrorism. It is about politics, it is about inclusiveness and it about giving the community a stake in the fight against terrorism," Salih added. KR

A key route connecting Baghdad to Ba'qubah has been cleared of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) according to a January 24 Multinational Force-Iraq press release. The road, particularly the stretch connecting Khan Bani Sa'd and Ba'qubah was so heavily covered in IEDs that vehicles had to take other routes to travel between Ba'qubah and Baghdad. Khan Bani Sa'd sits just north of Baghdad. "In addition to the route-clearance mission, [the Iraqi Army and coalition forces] cleared Al-Qaeda in Iraq from many of the route's surrounding villages and engaged the enemy in Khan Bani Sa'd," the statement noted. The mission was part of Operation Blackhawk Harvest, which falls under the countrywide operation called Phantom Phoenix, and was carried out earlier this month, according to the announcement. An estimated 41 Al-Qaeda insurgents were killed under Blackhawk Harvest, though the number could be far higher due to unknown casualties of bombing raids. Twelve booby-trapped houses were also found and cleared, as well as 11 rigged cars, six weapons caches. Nine suspected insurgents were detained and two Iraqis freed from a torture center. KR