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Russia Report: July 7, 2006

July 7, 2006, Volume 6, Number 12
As Russian Security Council secretary under Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Ivan Rybkin played a key role in transforming relations between Russia and Chechnya after the end of the first Chechen war (1994-96). But like an Old Testament prophet crying in the wilderness, his advice to Russia's current leaders on how to end the war in Chechnya has fallen on deaf ears. In a June 27 interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Rybkin again called on Moscow to embark on peace talks with the Chechen resistance.

On June 28, 2002, former Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin addressed an open letter to President Vladimir Putin urging him to embark on peace talks with then-Chechen President and resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov on ending the war in Chechnya, and warning in detail of the anticipated adverse consequences for Russia if Putin declined to do so.

Three years later, he openly challenged Putin to "begin peace talks or resign!" And in an extensive interview last week with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Rybkin affirmed that his prognoses have proved accurate. He pointed not only to the perceived radicalization of the Chechen resistance, but also to the decline of political and economic freedoms in Russia and its ham-handed and inconsistent policies in the South Caucasus, trends that he said have combined to alienate both Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Rybkin characterized the current situation in the North Caucasus as "contradictory and tense." He compared the spiraling violence in that region to a pernicious disease that is spreading throughout the entire organism, but which the patient -- Russia -- chooses to ignore. Moreover, he affirmed that the army, Interior Ministry, and Federal Security Service are now extrapolating the experience they gained in the course of two successive Chechen wars on to the entire country, and Russian citizens "from Kamchatka and Sakhalin to our westernmost borders, are experiencing that arbitrary brutality in full measure."

As he did in an interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service in August 2005, Rybkin argued that the Russian leadership should have sought years ago to reach a lasting agreement with those Chechen leaders whom he termed "the most sane and responsible," meaning the late President Djokhar Dudayev (who was killed in April 1996) and Aslan Maskhadov, both of whom, as Rybkin stressed, served, and were promoted to senior ranks, within the Soviet army.

Rybkin noted that Moscow's failure to bring to the negotiating table men who represent what he termed the moderate wing of the armed resistance, in the first instance Maskhadov and U.K.-based Chechen Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakayev, has contributed to a "radicalization" of the resistance in that each successive slain Chechen leader has been followed by an even more radical figure -- culminating in the selection last week by President Doku Umarov of radical field commander Shamil Basayev as his vice president and designated successor. The Russian authorities, Rybkin argued, are themselves largely to blame for that radicalization.

Rybkin, who was born in southern Russia and spent the first 30 years of his career there, stressed the significance of the "terrible scar left on the [collective] memory, on the heart" of the North Caucasus peoples deported by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin during World War II.

He said that deportation is one of the reasons why young leaders in the North Caucasus embraced the "revolutionary changes we lived through in the early nineties" even more enthusiastically than people in some other parts of Russia. But instead of respecting and deferring to the North Caucasians' desire to live according to the customs they inherited from their ancestors, Moscow has moved to circumscribe their freedom by, among other things, introducing the practice of imposing regional governors "like a pig in a poke" rather then permitting free elections.

And, Rybkin continued, Moscow has demonstrated in other ways, such as opening fire on demonstrators in Daghestan in April, that it does not consider the lives of its citizens in the North Caucasus worth "a brass farthing." Those moves, Rybkin said, have totally alienated the peoples of the North Caucasus from the Russian leadership, and it is therefore not surprising that some of the former resort to armed resistance.

Rybkin also spoke at some length of the impact of Russian domestic policies on the South Caucasus. He pointed out that people in Georgia and Azerbaijan -- and in other former Soviet republics -- see how political and economic freedoms are being systematically curtailed in Russia, how economic competition is being destroyed and a corporate state is being imposed, with the most important business concentrated in the hands of some 10 companies run by six or seven of the president's closest friends.

The ensuing monopolization of the economy in turn is destroying political competition, he argued, given that political parties need to be funded by people who are financially independent and have serious money at their disposal.

But it is not only Russia's economic policies that are alienating Georgia, Rybkin continued. He pointed to the annoyance that builds up in Georgia when people see how on the one hand Russia proclaims that no one has the right to interfere in Chechnya -- neither the Council of Europe, nor the OSCE -- while at the same time Russia blatantly meddles in Georgia's breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Summing up, Rybkin agreed with the interviewer that it is largely due to Russia's own actions that it is being "squeezed out" of the North Caucasus, and that blaming the erosion of its influence in that region on the United States or "the West" is misplaced.

Rybkin professed himself both skeptical and suspicious of the approach taken by international organizations to the war in Chechnya. "Unfortunately I watch with bitterness how the position of many observers from the OSCE and the Council of Europe undergoes a transformation the closer they approach to Grozny."

He explained that when flying from Strasbourg to Moscow those officials express one position, but between Moscow and Grozny they adopt a different position, which they modify again on arrival in Grozny. In short, Rybkin quipped, they arrive with their own opinion and depart with someone else's. "Something extremely dubious is going on here," he commented.

Rybkin was even more scathing in his assessment of the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership, in particular Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, whom he dismissed in his 2005 interview with RFE/RL as an uneducated "whippersnapper." Commenting on the announcement in late June that Kadyrov has been awarded the degree of candidate of economic sciences from an Institute in Makhachkala, Rybkin, whose own academic credentials as a cyberneticist are far more impressive, commented: "I can say only one thing. Two Chechen campaigns have led to a situation in which an entire generation of these fighting lads has been unable to get a decent education, including Ramzan Kadyrov."

The fact that Moscow has taken to showering "former captains, majors, and lieutenant colonels" with promotions and prestigious awards, Rybkin continued, does not augment either the professionalism or the intelligence of those singled out for such treatment. He contrasted the "very modest" potential of the current generation of North Caucasus leaders with those who preceded them.

Asked what he personally would do, given a free hand to tackle the problems besetting the North Caucasus, Rybkin said that his detailed proposals -- drafted in close cooperation between the central leadership and the previous generation of elected North Caucasus leaders -- are gathering dust on a shelf in the Security Council. The two most effective steps Moscow could take, Rybkin said, would be, first of all, "to sit down at the negotiating table with all those in the resistance, especially the moderate wing of the armed resistance in Chechnya" and other North Caucasus republics, and "stop pretending that nothing is happening there." Second, Rybkin advocated giving the entire North Caucasus the maximum of autonomy and of economic freedom with the aim of encouraging small business and private investment, which he considers the key to reversing economic stagnation. (Liz Fuller)

Religious leaders from around the world tell the G8 that the "voice of religion" needs to be heeded in efforts to counter terrorism and end armed conflicts.

MOSCOW, July 5, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Religious leaders gathered in Moscow have condemned the use of religion to justify terrorism and violence and urged political leaders to be more environmentally responsible.

The declaration, which came at the end of a World Religious Summit organized by the Russian Orthodox Church, will be delivered to leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) most industrialized nations when they meet in Saint Petersburg in mid-July.

However, unlike international human rights campaigners who on July 4 issued a series of recommendations to the upcoming G8 summit, the religious figures said their intention was not to influence the G8's political agenda.

The three-day World Religious Summit sought to highlight the importance of religion in tackling terrorism and armed conflicts, and in protecting moral values -- or, as Metropolitan Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church put it, to make the "voice of religion" heard.

Russia's chief mufti, Ravil Gainutdin, told journalists that politicians need to pay more heed to the opinions of religious leaders, warning that if they fail to do so "mistakes are made and then society ends up turning to religious leaders."

In the three-page declaration to be sent to the G8 summit, the religious leaders, who came from 49 countries, said they condemned "terrorism and extremism in any forms as well as attempts to justify it by religion," adding that they regretted "the actions of pseudo-religious groups and movements that are ruining the freedom and health of people as well as the moral climate in society."

Metropolitan Kirill, one of the leading figures in the Russian Orthodox Church, said "under no circumstances should religion be used to sustain, let alone inspire, anything that goes against religious moral laws, including violence, blood, terrorism, bombings and military actions. I think that this appeal, if it is met, will really help reduce the degree of conflicts, including military conflicts."

Jewish and Muslim leaders called on Israelis and Palestinians to end hostilities and Metropolitan Kirill said religious leaders had sought to defuse violence in war-torn Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim republic, by warning against interreligious hatred.

Religious representatives also stressed that religion had played a key role in launching the ecological movement in the 1960s and urged world leaders to be more environmentally responsible.

Energy security issues will take center stage at the Saint Petersburg G8 summit, reflecting Russia's role as a key energy supplier.

German Protestant leader Bishop Wolfgang Huber said he hoped environmental protection would also have a place on the G8 summit's agenda.

He welcomed the debate among the religious leaders about the environment, saying "it was absolutely necessary that at this point in time the contribution of religions to ecological awareness, to the wise use of resources, should be emphasized. I think that includes a message for the G8 summit because not only energy security but also the way in which we use energy in all our societies has to be taken into account."

Despite its desire to stress positions that religious leaders hold in common, the summit reflected some tensions.

Pope Benedict XVI was not invited due to the ongoing conflict between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which accuses the Catholics of proselytizing in Russia. This long-standing rivalry continues to block a papal visit to Russia.

The Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, was also conspicuously absent, reflecting Russia's fears of antagonizing China. (Claire Bigg)

The European Commission on July 3 held out the prospect of a free-trade area with Russia as part of talks that will be launched later this year on the future of EU-Russia cooperation. Meeting in Helsinki today, commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen also discussed the EU's incoming Finnish presidency's other challenges.

HELSINKI, July 3, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The EU today said it is seeking a free-trade agreement with Russia as part of the two sides' consultations on long-term relations.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said after his first meeting with the EU's incoming Finnish presidency that this is a "strategic" goal for the EU as "Russia is a European country."

Barroso said a free-trade area would form part of the talks the EU and Russia will need to launch later this year as their current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement will run out next year. He said the commission has already asked the EU's 25 member states for a mandate to start negotiating a new treaty.

"We are proposing [that] member states give us a mandate for negotiating with Russia a comprehensive agreement that will bring a new quality to our relationship," Barroso said. "In particular, we propose to move towards a free-trade area, to be completed once Russia accedes to WTO [the World Trade Organization]."

Barroso said, however, that it is "too soon" now to elaborate on the details of a possible EU-Russia free-trade agreement. The EU, and other leading Western countries would like Russia to complete its WTO accession agreement this year.

Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said on July 3 after a joint meeting between the European Commission and the Finnish government that he will give relations with Russia center stage during the Finnish EU presidency that runs from July to December this year.

Russian President Putin has been invited to attend an informal EU summit in the central Finnish city of Lahti in October, and Finland will also host a separate EU-Russia summit in November.

Finnish officials have told RFE/RL Finland hopes to come to a "political" understanding with Russia over the long-term future of its relations with the EU. Finland will also use its presidency to relaunch the EU's so-called Northern Dimension, a policy of engagement with northwestern Russia. The policy has attracted relatively little interest among other EU member states and Russia has complained it is not being treated as a full partner.

Finnish officials also say they want Russia to prove it remains a reliable supplier of energy for the EU. Russia supplies 25 percent of the EU's gas, but made a "big mistake" in the words of one Finnish official in January when a decision to cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine temporarily affected EU member states.

Vanhanen said the Finnish presidency will give energy issues high priority.

"Energy is high on Europe's agenda," Vanhanen said. "External instruments must be more effectively used in advancing our energy objectives."

Barroso said today the EU seeks an "energy partnership" with Russia which is based on mutual interest and internationally accepted principles.

The EU is also looking for other suppliers of energy to reduce its dependence on Russia.

A key foreign policy challenge for the Finnish presidency will be the management of accession talks with Turkey, which got under way earlier this year.

Finnish officials warn of a "train wreck" as Turkey is continuing to refuse to recognize the Greek government of Cyprus, an EU member state. Cyprus has threatened to veto further talks.

Vanhanen said Turkey must normalize relations with Nicosia soon.

"Turkey should act already during [the] Finnish presidency and [this] is of course because the commission will give its report about the progress of Turkey already in October, and, of course, Turkey should get progress before that," Vanhanen said.

A key step would be Turkey's implementation of the so-called Ankara protocol, which commits it to admit Cypriot ships and planes.

Both Vanhanen and Barroso made clear today the EU has no intention to mediate in the conflict between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.

Barroso sent a positive signal to both Romania and Bulgaria today, saying he hopes both can join the EU early next year. The EU has threatened to postpone the two countries' accession due to an excess of organized crime and corruption.

Croatia was also told it may be able to join the EU before the end of the decade despite the collapse of the EU constitution last year, which has put a question mark over further EU enlargement. (Ahto Lobjakas)