Accessibility links

Breaking News

Central Asia Report: August 3, 2005

3 August 2005, Volume 5, Number 29

WEEK AT A GLANCE (25-31 JULY 2005). Central Asia continued to see repercussions from the violence that struck Andijon, Uzbekistan, on 12-13 May. On 29 July, 439 Uzbek refugees who had fled to Kyrgyzstan after the unrest in Andijon were airlifted to Romania in an operation conducted by the UN and strongly supported by the United States. Meanwhile, 15 Uzbek refugees and asylum seekers remained in detention in Osh. Kyrgyzstan is holding them on the basis of materials received from Uzbek authorities, who charge them with crimes in Uzbekistan, including the murder of a prosecutor in Andijon. Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov has urged their extradition to Uzbekistan, while international organizations and Western governments have supported their evacuation to a third country. As the refugees arrived in Romania, a courier delivered a note from the Uzbek Foreign Ministry to the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent giving the United States 180 days to vacate the air base at Karshi-Khanabad that it has used to support operations in Afghanistan since late 2001. Some observers viewed the move as a response to U.S. support for the refugee evacuation, as well as calls for an independent inquiry into allegations that government forces committed a massacre in Andijon. Others saw it as a sign that Uzbek President Islam Karimov has come to view the U.S. presence as a threat to his rule in the wake of recent events in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan.

Kazakhstan reported an outbreak of avian flu after 600 geese died suddenly at a poultry farm in Pavlodar Oblast. And Economy Minister Kairat Kelimbetov announced that the country notched year-on-year GDP growth of 9.1 percent.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Kyrgyzstan in the course of a three-day trip to the region that also brought him to Tajikistan but not Uzbekistan. After Rumsfeld met with Kyrgyz Defense Minister Ismail Isakov, the latter announced that the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan will remain until the situation in Afghanistan normalizes. The statement stood in contrast to a recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan) call for a timetable for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan to withdraw from military facilities in Central Asia. On the same trip, only days before Uzbekistan effectively served the United States with an eviction notice from Karshi-Khanabad, Rumsfeld addressed the possible loss of a U.S. base in Central Asia, saying, "We're always thinking ahead. We'll be fine."

In Tajikistan, where the United States has no official military presence, Rumsfeld met with President Imomali Rakhmonov. Rumsfeld thanked the Tajik president for granting overflight rights and pledged greater U.S. assistance to Tajikistan to fight terrorism. And a court in Tajikistan's Sughd Province sentenced Jumaboy Tolibov, a journalist and local government official, to two years in prison for hooliganism and abuse of office, prompting expressions of concern from media watchdog organizations.

Former Turkmen Deputy Prime Minister Rejep Saparov received a 20-year prison term on corruption charges. The sentence is the latest in a series of falls from grace that have afflicted one-time allies of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

In Uzbekistan, former presidential adviser Vyacheslav Golyshev was named minister of economics, investments, and trade. He replaced Rustam Azimov, who will take charge of a newly created Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations, Investment, and Trade. The head of the Prosecutor-General's Financial Crimes Directorate, Ramazon Polatov, announced that 14 former officials of the National Bank for Foreign Economic relations have been sentenced in absentia to prison terms for corruption. The 14 fugitive bankers have been placed on an international most-wanted list. And OSCE Secretary-General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut visited, meeting with President Islam Karimov to discuss regional security and the fight against terrorism.

UZBEKISTAN: KARIMOV BATTENS DOWN THE HATCHES. On 29 July, Uzbek President Islam Karimov informed the United States that it has 180 days to vacate the Karshi-Khanabad air base it has used to support operations in Afghanistan since late 2001. Initial reactions linked the move to worsening U.S.-Uzbek relations in the wake of the reported massacre in Andijon and increasing coziness between Tashkent, Peking, and Moscow. These are relevant, but secondary factors. The primary driving force behind Karimov's initiative is his belief that the United States has gone from a useful strategic partner to a meddlesome plotter that threatens his hold on power.

A deep chill has taken hold of U.S.-Uzbek relations since the violence in Andijon on 12-13 May, when Uzbek police are reported to have fired on unarmed demonstrators in the wake of an attack on government facilities by armed militants. (For complete coverage of the Andijon events and their aftermath, click here.) The United States joined European nations in expressing deep concern at the massacre allegations and calling for an independent international investigation, a call President Karimov and his government have angrily refused.

More recently, the United States played a prominent role in the evacuation of 439 Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan, where they fled after the violence in Andijon. On 29 July, the refugees were airlifted to Romania in preparation for transfer to final destinations variously reported as Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States. Fifteen refugees remain in detention in southern Kyrgyzstan at the request of Uzbek authorities, who want them returned to Uzbekistan for alleged crimes, including the murder of a prosecutor in Andijon. A U.S. State Department official told "The New York Times" on 30 July that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was on the phone with Kyrgyz President-elect Kurmanbek Bakiev on 28 and 29 July arranging flights out for the refugees. As for the remaining 15 Uzbeks, the official said, "Our position is that they all have to come out."

The first reports on the Uzbek decision on the U.S. base at Karshi-Khanabad seized on this context. The Associated Press noted, "Uzbekistan's ties with Washington have deteriorated after the Bush administration joined other Western nations in urging an international investigation" into the Andijon events. The "Financial Times" wrote that "relations with the U.S. have become strained after the Uzbek government suppressed a rebellion" in Andijon. "The New York Times" specifically linked the eviction to the refugee crisis, leading its story, "Uzbekistan formally ordered the United States to leave an air base that has been a hub for operations in Afghanistan in protest over a predawn United Nations operation on [29 July] to spirit out refugees who had fled an uprising in Uzbekistan in May, senior State Department officials said [on 30 July]." And "The Christian Science Monitor" wrote, "Yet when the Bush administration called for an international inquiry into the deaths of at least 173 political dissidents in May, the relationship soured."

But while calls for an international inquiry and the operation to evacuate the refugees from Kyrgyzstan undoubtedly angered the Karimov government, they are not the root cause of the U.S.-Uzbek rift. The real reason lies in the official Uzbek interpretation of what occurred in Andijon. Western journalists present in Andijon on 13 May and interviews with survivors conducted in the immediate aftermath by international organizations such as Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group have depicted an armed uprising and prison break followed by a sizeable demonstration in the city center that Uzbek security services used lethal force to disperse, killing hundreds. The official Uzbek view is entirely different -- an Islamist coup attempt supported by foreign sponsors in line with "regime change" experiments in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan with the ultimate aim of establishing outside control over Uzbekistan. (See "Spontaneous Popular Uprising In Andijon, Or Terrorist-Led Upheaval?")

An overview of the government-controlled Uzbek press compiled by Arena ( on 25 July provides some insight into the official view. A 14 June article in the flagship state-run newspaper "Narodnoe slovo" stated, "Certain countries of the West, which would like to see the Central Asian countries fall into line with their expansionist policy, are using any and all means to export to this region forms and principles of democracy acceptable to them." Another article in the same newspaper the same day went further, claiming, "There is no doubt that the West is using the drama in Andijon in its great, dirty game to 'advance democracy,' in fact, to seize new staging grounds in the post-Soviet space, to surround the potential rivals of Russia and China, which Western propaganda is ceaselessly portraying as 'bad guys.'"

A 16 June article in "Narodnoe slovo" stated that the people who died in Andijon were deceived by their "'leaders' and those who carried out the orders of their foreign patrons and sponsors. All of us have witnessed the consequences of the so-called colored revolutions taking place before our eyes in post-Soviet space. We see that they don't bring anything good. What positive changes have there been in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan?" An article in "Pravda vostoka" on 24 June argued, "Under the pretext of concern for human rights, there are unceasing attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of the independent state of Uzbekistan. Especially active in this respect is the United States, which uses the cover of the United Nations and the creation of an international commission to destabilize the situation. The lives and rights of ordinary Uzbek citizens should not become small change in the grand geopolitics of the United States."

The Uzbek official press also insisted that the United States advanced its purported evil designs through NGOs. The editor in chief of the newspaper "O'zbekiston ovozi" explained in an interview on Uzbek TV on 17 July that the "Soros Foundation may seem very fair and protective of democracy and human rights on paper but, in reality, what they are involved in is evil things, coups, destruction in countries where they operate, and so on." (For a related story on opposition to foreign funding of NGOs in Russia and Kazakhstan, see "Will Putin Follow In Nazarbaev's Footsteps?")

Television conveyed the message more strongly than print media. A 16 July documentary on state-run Uzbek television boldly claimed, "There are those who have a keen geopolitical interest in the region. Attempts by some major powers to make Central Asia dependent on them are aimed first of all at bringing Uzbekistan under their control. A show aimed at overthrowing the strongest legitimate constitutional system in Central Asia began under the orchestration of outside forces in the middle of May 2005." Against this backdrop, the Uzbek refugees who fled to Kyrgyzstan were simply described as escaped extremists. A 27 July documentary described them as follows: "The aggressors -- who committed grave crimes in Andijon and escaped their due punishment -- settled in the neighboring Jalal-Abad Province's Suzak District."

This view is not unique to Uzbekistan. Russian observers in particular have reveled in sordid tales of U.S.-sponsored NGOs spinning plots across the former Soviet Union. One of the baldest statements of this conspiracy theory -- shorn of the NGOs and presented purely as a military intervention by proxy -- came in a 29 July comment to MiK from Igor Panarin, identified as a professor at the Russian Foreign Ministry's Diplomatic Academy. "Andijon was a purely American operation," Panarin said. "According to some information, [the Americans] and the British even transported militants from Afghanistan through their military bases in Uzbekistan when they conducted this operation."

None of this should be construed as having anything to do with what actually happened in Andijon on 12-13 May. But as an indication of what Karimov and his confidants believe took place, it does more to explain the decision to evict the U.S. air base than mere ire at the demand for an international inquiry. For if they feel that the United States and its efforts to advance democracy are a threat to their power, as the statements from government-controlled newspapers and television indicate, their decision was driven by the most powerful of all instincts -- that of self-preservation.

This instinct will likely continue to drive Uzbekistan's foreign-policy decisions, as Karimov and his inner circle seek to minimize perceived threats to their rule by closing off possible channels of malign Western influence. A similar impulse has governed the tightening of Uzbekistan's ties with Russia, the embodiment and self-appointed defender of the post-Soviet status quo, and China, a strong supporter of the status quo in Central Asia. Yet the geopolitical significance of this emerging alliance may not live up to its advance billing. For while its short-term prospects are as good as those of any convergence of convenience, its long-term prospects depend on the durability of a post-Soviet status quo that recent crises have shown to be hardly more stable than the late-Soviet stasis that preceded it. (Daniel Kimmage. Originally published on 1 August 2005.)

CENTRAL ASIA: WHAT DOES CLOSURE OF U.S. MILITARY BASE IN UZBEKISTAN MEAN? Uzbek authorities have asked the United States to pull all military forces out of the Karshi-Khanabad air base in the country's south. The decision came only days after U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited neighboring Kyrgyzstan and received assurances from Bishkek officials that the U.S. air base can remain there as long as needed.

Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, told RFE/RL that Uzbek President Islam Karimov did not make a wise decision in demanding the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

"Well, I think, Karimov probably thinks he's been quite smart," Murray said. "But I think in the long term he'll discover he's been pretty stupid, because the United States have been doing an awful lot on the international [scene]. And at the end of the day, the U.S. has a lot more resources available to it than Russia or China."

Observers said the government's decision to demand the withdrawal from the Karshi-Kanabhad base, known as K-2, was not a complete surprise. Relations between the United States and Uzbekistan have arguably been deteriorating since the Orange Revolution in Georgia. Karimov appeared to believe that Washington encouraged or had a hand in the ouster of President Eduard Shevardnadze, and possibly feared a similar fate.

"This, I mean turning against the U.S., started before the Andijon events," said Farkhod Inogombaev, a former financial adviser to Uzbek President Islam Karimov's daughter, Gulnara. "First of all, as relations with the U.S. worsened, Islam Karimov started rapprochement with Russia and China. The vector of Uzbekistan's politics started changing not before Andijon but right after revolutions in the former [Soviet] republics. But this trend, obviously, climaxed after the Andijon events."

Other factors also contributed. In early July, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, whose membership comprises four Central Asian states together with Russia and China, asked the United States to set a deadline for the withdrawal of its troops from the region. The decision is widely believed to have come at the prodding of Russia and China.

"Karimov understands that he has no chances [to win] a direct confrontation with Americans," Sergei Mikheev of the Center for Political Technologies, a Russian think tank, told RFE/RL from Moscow. "Russia is the only country he can appeal to. And it's absolutely obvious that Russia has no interest in [seeing] the presence of the U.S. in Central Asia. Karimov's decision to confront the U.S. is basically his struggle to survive. In this struggle, the first thing he decided to do is to get rid of [U.S.] military presence."

U.S. criticism of the Uzbek government's crackdown of peaceful protesters in eastern Uzbek city of Andijon in May is another major factor. In June, following Washington's criticism and its request for an independent probe, Tashkent limited overnight flights out of K-2.

Karimov was also apprehensive of the role of U.S. companies that invested in the Uzbek economy. Ex-Ambassador Murray suggested that Karimov found them to be too independent.

"Karimov decided that having Western companies coming was building up alternative power bases in the country," Murray said. "He likes to keep the entire country, including the entire economy, strictly under his control. The companies like Coca-Cola, Newmont, British American Tobacco, have been treated very badly. And he decided for the development of Uzbekistan's gas field, to turn to [Russian] Gazprom."

Finally, Uzbekistan received far less in rent for its base than did Kyrgyzstan. Washington reportedly paid $15 million annually for rent of the K-2 facility, while Kyrgyzstan received $50 million for the Ganci air base. Both bases housed about 1,000 U.S. troops. After last week's visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to Bishkek, Washington reportedly agreed to double its payment for the Ganci air base as well as to provide a $200 million interest-free loan to Kyrgyzstan.

Toshpulat Yuldoshev, a Tashkent-based independent political analyst, said he believes that President Karimov has decided to play "va banque" and diminish U.S. influence in the region.

"Uzbekistan's government has played a �love-and-hate' foreign policy game with the U.S.," Yuldoshev said. "That's why it sent a diplomatic note [to the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent demanding a troop withdrawal]. But I think it is the first signal of ending the relations with the U.S. I can conclude that after this, Uzbekistan will do its best to end cooperation with the U.S. and limit the U.S. influence [in the region]."

Murray said he believes that Kyrgyzstan will benefit politically and economically from Uzbekistan's decision. Ganci will be the main American base in Central Asia.

"If I was a government of Kyrgyzstan, what I would do now is to revise that and demand a very large rent for the base, because that base becomes essential to the United States," Murray said. "They should be talking in terms of a couple of a hundred million dollars a year, which to Bishkek, a desperately impoverished country with a small population, would make a huge difference. But it's very, very important that the West now stand by Kyrgyzstan, because Uzbekistan has the ability to strangle Kyrgyzstan economically, particularly to blackmail it over energy supplies and that kind of thing."

Murray said Tajikistan might also gain. He said it is not unlikely that the U.S. would deploy its troops in Tajikistan and thus help to control the borders and fight drug trafficking.

A number of Central Asian states became allies in the U.S.-declared war on terror after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States and the subsequent international invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime. Uzbekistan agreed to host U.S. troops in October 2001, neighboring Kyrgyzstan did the same two months later, in December. United States forces also used the Ayni airport in Tajikistan for refueling purposes. (By Gulnoza Saidazimova with contributions from RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. Originally published on 1 August 2005.)

CENTRAL ASIA: TREATY ON NUCLEAR WEAPON-FREE ZONE ADVANCES. Five Central Asian states appear on schedule to sign a treaty this year establishing a zone free of nuclear weapons. The treaty has been welcomed by experts as a rare bright spot during a time of strain on global nuclear nonproliferation. If adopted, it would also be the first security-related treaty concluded among Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan since their independence from the Soviet Union.

Leaders of those five states announced at a meeting in Tashkent in February their intention to sign the treaty on a Central Asian nuclear free zone as soon as possible.

It now appears it will be signed by October, said Tsutomu Ishiguri, a facilitator of the talks for the UN's department of disarmament affairs. The signing ceremony is to take place in the Kazakh city of Semipalatinsk, the site of nearly 500 Soviet nuclear tests.

Ishiguri, who directs the UN's center for peace and disarmament in Asia and the Pacific, told RFE/RL that aside from a 2002 agreement reducing U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear warheads, the October signing would mark one of the few successes in nuclear nonproliferation in the past five years.

"Except [for the] Moscow Treaty, nothing happened during then in the field of nuclear disarmament," Ishiguri said. "This is only one concrete result and it should be really highlighted, the importance of this agreement."

The Central Asian zone, which would still require parliamentary ratification in each of the countries, would be the fifth in the world and significant for a region which once housed thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons.

It forbids the development, manufacture, stockpiling, acquisition, or possession of any nuclear explosive device within the zone. Peaceful uses of nuclear energy are permitted, under enhanced safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

One unsettled issue is whether the five nuclear powers in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) -- China, Russia, France, Britain and the United States -- will sign a protocol on security assurances for the Central Asian signatories.

The five powers have voiced support in principle for nuclear weapons free zones but in nearly every case have raised practical concerns.

Ishiguri said this highlights the effectiveness of such zones.

"I think it works very well, because the nuclear weapon states in general don't like nuclear-weapon-free zones because -- if I really simplify it -- because they have to make a commitment not to threaten to use nuclear weapons," Ishiguri said. "In other words, as far as they are concerned, [the] zones, the areas where they can use nuclear weapons really [are] shrinking."

Ishiguri said China and Russia support, in principle, the text agreed on by the Central Asian states. Britain, France, and the United States, he said, have raised concerns about issues of transit and the relationship of the treaty with existing treaties.

It was not immediately clear whether the issues will be resolved before the treaty signing. The deputy director for the U.S. State Department's office of multilateral nuclear affairs, Dean Rust, declined to discuss the details but said more talks were sought.

"I think we're in the position of hoping that there will be additional consultations between the Central Asian states and the P-5 (ed's note: the five permanent members of the UN Security Council) prior to any decision, but nothing has been scheduled," Rust said.

The security assurances, while important, do not seem to be the chief concern of the Central Asian states, said William Potter, director of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the independent Monterey Institute.

Potter, who has advised the Kyrgyz government on nuclear nonproliferation issues, told RFE/RL that Central Asian officials are more focused on alleviating the environmental consequences of their roles in Soviet-era nuclear testing, mining and production.

"They see the zone, among other things, as serving an important purpose in trying to marshal international assistance in remediating the environmental consequences of various stages of the nuclear weapons production process," Potter said.

Potter said that when discussions on the zone were announced in early 1997, a primary purpose was to address environmental issues. While that remains a key concern, Potter said, the zone has also become magnified in importance for other reasons.

"What's happened since these negotiations began is that what was an abstract concern has become a very real one," Potter said. "You now have many of the nuclear weapons states in the region. You have U.S. and Russian forces and bases in the region, you do have nuclear weapons states on the borders of many of the five states in the region and the world has changed, I think, for the most part in a negative direction, in terms of the security concerns of the states in the region."

There are currently treaties for nuclear weapons free zones in Latin America, Southeast Asia, the South Pacific, and Africa, although not all have been fully ratified. (Robert McMahon. Originally published on 29 July 2005.)

RUSSIA: WILL PUTIN FOLLOW IN NAZARBAEV'S FOOTSTEPS? Russian President Vladimir Putin recently spoke out strongly against the foreign funding of Russian nongovernmental organizations that engage in political activities. The presidential press service has not issued any follow-up statements explaining what Putin meant by "political activities," nor has Vladimir Lukin, the presidential ombudsman for human rights, offered an explanation.

In the absence of any official clarifications, Russian NGOs have been left to parse the president's words for deeper meaning. During a call-in show with RFE/RL's St. Petersburg bureau, Pavel Slapak of the Ivanovo Oblast branch of Memorial suggested that what really matters is not what Putin said but how his loyal followers will interpret his words. Yurii Vdovin of Citizens' Control agreed, stating that he is "afraid that the bureaucrats will want to be more Catholic than the pope in their efforts to fulfill Putin's orders."

If Putin's followers are looking for a model of what to do, they need look no further than Kazakhstan. In what has widely been interpreted as a reaction to the "colored revolutions" in countries in the former Soviet Union, Kazakh legislators loyal to President Nursultan Nazarbaev drafted legislation that would severely hobble the work of the republic's tiny NGOs community if enacted. One of the authors of the bills, lower parliament member Valerii Kotovich, told his colleagues that he was suggesting increasing control over the finances of NGOs in the interest of strengthening national security, "Ekpress K" reported on 9 June. In his remarks on the legislation, Communist lawmaker Yarosyl Abylkasymov sounded a similar theme: "We do not hide the fact that these bills are being adopted for the upcoming [presidential] election and for the defense [of Kazakhstan] against pseudo-revolutions," according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 10 June.

One opponent of the legislation, Senator Svetlana Dzhalmagambetova, asked Kotovich whether he had any data showing how many foreign NGOs over a certain period engaged in activities directed at overthrowing constitutional order and weakening the defense of the nation, "Ekpress K" reported on 29 June. Kotovich admitted that he and his fellow authors didn't have any statistics; however, he said that they know various examples of how this or that international organization operates.

The bills passed Kazakhstan's upper chamber last month with some modification of its harsher features. Originally the bills called for NGOs to report at least 10 days in advance to local executive organs about any new measures that they were preparing. NGOs were also originally required to send a detailed report to local executive organs about any financial transaction with a foreign donor; under the current version they only need to alert local authorities about the direction of the financial flows, "Ekspress K" reported on 29 June. An additional requirement that the NGOs publish information in official sources about their financing was kept despite one senator's objection that this stipulation "would cost an NGO more than a $1,000, the cost of two wheelchairs for handicapped people."

The NGOs themselves have been watching the bills' progress through Kazakhstan's lower and upper chamber with great concern. Zhemis Turmagambetova, deputy director for the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Observance of the Law, told "Ekspress K" on 9 June that the lawmakers "are trying to regulate everything. They [want to] put NGOs [in the situation] of justifying everything in advance, they want to make us guilty in advance. What about the presumption of innocence? We should report every time that we are planning on doing something. This is so that they can find out what we are doing, but the government [already] has many resources, specialized agencies, which can uncover crimes, in particular the Committee for National Security [KNB] and law-enforcement agencies." Turmagambetova predicted that if the laws are adopted in their present form, international foundations will no longer consider applications from Kazakstan.

The NGO community is hoping that President Nazarbaev will veto the legislation, "Ekspert-Kazakhstan" reported on 18 July, commenting that Nazarbaev has sent the bills to the Constitutional Council. Some observers hope that the legislation will experience the same fate as similarly controversial draft media law did last year. In April 2004, the council ruled that draft media law unconstitutional and, since then, no new media bills have so far been put forth.

In the meantime, Russian NGOs like Memorial's Ivanovo branch are left to question their next move. Slapak reported that Ivanovo Oblast Governor Vladimir Tikhonov announced on television on 20 July that all local government organs should not under any circumstances criticize the activities of federal government organs. "If we speak out against this, will this be considered political activity?" he asked. "All this is leading to a situation where only [the pro-Kremlin youth group] Nashi will remain." (See, "New Youth Movement To Foil U.S. Plot To Take Over Russia")

President Putin recently met with Nashi members in his Tver Oblast residence. During a televised meeting with several dozen well-groomed Nashi youth clad in white short-sleeved shirts on 27 June, Putin was asked what he thought about the crisis in education and the problem of "more and more less-educated" people appearing in Russian universities. He replied that "the problem is in you thinking that you are smarter than those people." He smiled indulgently, patting the knee of the young woman who asked the question as the youths, all paying rapt attention, laughed and applauded. (Julie A. Corwin. Originally published on 29 July 2005.)