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Russia Report: September 26, 2005

26 September 2005, Volume 5, Number 30
By Claire Bigg

Controversial Russian tycoon Boris Berezovskii confirmed on 19 September allegations made last week by former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk that he financed Viktor Yushchenko's 2004 presidential election campaign. Berezovskii has lived since 2001 in exile in London, and under Ukrainian law, candidates are barred from using foreign funds to bankroll their campaign. Yushchenko's team strongly denies Kravchuk's allegations, dismissing them as politically motivated. They have likewise denied any contact, financial or otherwise, with the Russian magnate during the Orange Revolution that brought Yushchenko to power.

Berezovskii, in turn, has confused matters by publicly vouching for the authenticity of alleged bank transfers published on the Internet. But he declined to comment on what the money had been destined for specifically. On 16 September, he went a step further, telling Reuters he spoke regularly to Yushchenko on the phone during Ukraine's presidential race. The tycoon, who is an outspoken Kremlin foe, said Yushchenko's aides approached him with requests to help Yushchenko become Ukraine's president. "I was really surprised that the people who are around Yushchenko lie so much," he said, referring to claims by Yushchenko's team that Yushchenko had no dealings with him.

Yushchenko's opponents are already talking about impeachment if the accusations are substantiated. But acting Justice Minister Roman Zvarych was quick to pour cold water on their hopes.

"The word 'impeachment' is not a political term and the president cannot be impeached for any political action," Zvarych said. "Only a crime can be a reason for starting impeachment procedures. If you talk about corpus delicti [body of crime] that gives a reason for impeachment, please refer to a specific article of the Penal Code."

The scandal is likely to fuel the political crisis, which erupted after Yushchenko sacked his prime minister and former ally, Yuliya Tymoshenko, on 8 September.

Meanwhile, observers are speculating on the motives behind Berezovskii's statements. Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, suggests Berezovskii has decided to throw his weight behind Tymoshenko and is now bent on discrediting Yushchenko.

"This [statement by Berezovskii] weakens the position of Yushchenko and, accordingly, strengthens the position of Tymoshenko in the political conflict currently unfolding in Ukraine," Petrov told RFE/RL. "To all appearances, he [Berezovskii] has now made a choice and this choice is a bet on former Prime Minister Tymoshenko as the more promising figure."

Petrov also suggested that Berezovskii's decision could be inspired by more obscure, long-term financial considerations. "Concerning Berezovskii's active participation in post-Soviet politics, it took place before his emigration and it continues now," he said. "This is obviously linked to the fact that Berezovskii has many political, and partly economic, interests in the post-Soviet region."

But some political experts say Berezovskii is merely a protagonist in an artificial crisis staged by the Ukrainian government itself to minimize its responsibility for severe economic shortcomings. Aleksei Mukhin, the director of Moscow's Center for Political Information think tank, told RFE/RL: "To a certain extent, heating up the situation around the dismissal of Tymoshenko's government benefits all sides, including Yushchenko, as paradoxical as it may sound. The crisis justifies all of the 'orange' government's failures on the economic front. I actually believe this crisis was created artificially."

Berezovskii, for his part, says his ties with Yushchenko have been made public by Moscow-backed opponents eager to damage the Ukrainian president's reputation.

By Claire Bigg

Jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii's appeal against his fraud conviction was adjourned for the second time on 20 September as wrangling over his defense team continued. Khodorkovskii, who was sentenced in May to nine years in prison for fraud and tax evasion, has been refusing to start his defense, urging the court to wait until his main appeal lawyer, Genrikh Padva, is discharged from hospital, where he is receiving treatment for an unspecified ailment. Prosecutors accuse Khodorkovskii of deliberately delaying the appeal process to prepare a parliamentary election bid. Judges relented, adjourning court proceedings until 22 September. Khodorkovskii promised that both Padva and Yurii Schmidt, another defense lawyer currently on a business trip abroad, will appear in court on this date.

In the latest row between prosecutors and Khodorkovskii's defense team, the court ruled on 19 September that a new defense team replace Padva. Three defense lawyers -- Anton Drel, Yelena Levina, and Denis Dyatlev -- say they were ordered to appear in court on 19 September and sign an agreement to present the appeal.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Russian Service on 20 September, Drel slammed the move as unlawful. "The outcome of today's hearing is that all legal norms are violated," he said. "Lawyers are forced to take part in the hearing although Khodorkovskii himself declared he wanted only lawyer Padva and lawyer Schmidt to take part in the appeal. But the court forces other lawyers, including me, to participate in this appeal. It says Khodorkovskii requested this, although he has not, as all those present heard. Thank God the hearings are public."

All three lawyers turned up in court but wrote a declaration saying they will not defend Khodorkovskii in court at this stage, according to their client's wish.

State prosecutor Dmitrii Shokhin this week accused Khodorkovskii and his lawyers of deliberately dragging out his appeal. Khodorkovskii's lawyers have in turn blamed the court for trying to rush through the process. Khodorkovskii has an interest in delaying the appeal -- he intends to run in the State Duma elections on 4 December and can only run as long as his appeal is under way. He has already started procedures to register as a candidate. The local election commission, however, has yet to accept his application, saying it has not received the signed notification of his intent to run."

His lawyers argue that the prison administration posted the notification on 15 September, and have accused the authorities and the Moscow City Court of seeking to thwart Khodorkovskii's election bid. Once this document is submitted, the election commission has 10 days to consider to application. Khodorkovskii and his lawyers also complain they have been barred from seeing each other since 13 September. Khodorkovskii claims a sick prisoner was transferred to his cell and the cell of co-defendant Platon Lebedev, after which jail authorities declared them under quarantine.

"After the 14 September court hearing, on the very next day, possibly because of that hearing or my latest article, a person with an infectious disease was moved through three out of 10 cells on our floor and was later taken away," Khodorkovskii told reporters outside the court on 19 September. "Maybe you can say it was a coincidence, but I happened to be in one of those three cells, and I think [Platon] Lebedev was in one of them, too. The following day those three cells were put under strict quarantine and that quarantine was still on when I was being taken to court. So I was unable to meet with my lawyers or receive any information from them."

Although observers agree Khodorkovskii has virtually no chances of winning a seat at the Duma, his successful registration alone could be enough to embarrass the Kremlin.

By Julie A. Corwin

Russian politicians' love affair with youth movements continues to deepen with the emergence of new youth groups seemingly every other month. Parallel with this trend has been a growing -- but less visible -- cooperation with soccer fan clubs.

At the formal level, a Moscow city government committee approved a decree last week providing an estimated $3.5 billion rubles ($123 million) in 2006 for the creation of an association of fans of various sports clubs, the Civil Transition patriotic youth movement, and a youth television channel. At an informal level, the pro-Kremlin youth movements Walking Together and its successor, Nashi, have been linked with various soccer fan clubs, whose members they reportedly use for security and other purposes.

Why soccer? One reason is that soccer attracts a young following, while politics in Russia does not. Most sociological research has shown over the past 10 years that less than 1 percent of Russian youth participate in public movements, according to "Profil" of 20 December 2004.

With their courtship of soccer fan clubs, Russian political authorities may be stepping where earlier counterparts feared to tread. In the early 1980s, Soviet law-enforcement officials were so alarmed by the growing zeal of Russian soccer fans and their adoration of British soccer hooligans that they started to crack down on any emotional displays by audiences during games. According to "Novye izvestiya" on 15 April, during matches, fans were banned not only from chanting or singing songs, but even applauding too fervently. Young people wearing the scarves of the clubs they favored were immediately under suspicion by the law-enforcement agencies. The disintegration of the Soviet Union helped dampen any remaining passion for soccer until the mid-1990s, when fan clubs experienced a rebirth.

One of the first Russian political leaders to see the political possibilities for an alliance with soccer fans was Vladimir Zhirinovskii, head of Liberal Democratic Party of the Russia (LDPR). Speaking on the basis of anonymity, a young Moscow-based soccer hooligan identified only as Vasilii told "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 20 December 2004 that Zhirinovskii's team actively courted devotees of Dynamo Moscow. "They financed trips for out-of-town matches, published several fan books, paid for parties," Vasilii said. "LDPR figured that attracting Dynamo fans to their enterprise would raise their party's rating among youth." Vasilii said that LDPR never tried to use the fan club to provide security, although Walking Together did.

According to Vasilii, fans of CSKA (Central Sporting Club of the Army) participated for money in the riot that occurred in central Moscow in June 2002 following Russia's loss to Japan in the World Cup. The riot happened just before the first reading in the State Duma of the law on political extremism. "The media was full of talk about youth extremism. And suddenly before the second reading there was disorder on Manezh Square with attempt to break into the State Duma building," Vasilii said. "Who brings a sledgehammer to watch a soccer match?" -- Russian police officer

Of course, Vasilii, if he indeed exists, was speaking anonymously, but suspicions about the violence have been voiced by any variety of different people. Soon after the incident, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov called the event a "well-planned escapade" and Communist legislator Vasilii Shandybin said that he believed the riot was a "specially planned action, timed to coincide with the Duma's discussion of the law on political extremism. "Izvestiya" on 11 June 2002 reported comments by a police officer, who was on the scene during the rioting, in which he wondered where rioters procured the sledgehammers and gasoline that they used to vandalize cars and storefronts. "Who brings a sledgehammer to watch a soccer match?" the unnamed officer said.

And suspicions persist two years later. In a talk show on Ekho Moskvy on 19 May, soccer trainer and player Aleksandr Shmurnov said he felt the incident "was to some measure a planned political action." "If it had only been about soccer, then it would have continued for 15 minutes and then everything would have dispersed or run out of steam."

In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 8 September, Oleg Pilshchikov, director the Moscow city's Committee for Family and Youth Affairs, dismissed any possibility that Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's government wants to use soccer fans for any nefarious purpose. "There were suspicions that we are gathering soccer fanatics under our banner in order use them as fighters during the [upcoming] Moscow City Duma elections," he admitted. However, he explained that their goal is more innocent. "Our aim is to make every young Muscovite an active member of society," he said.

Meanwhile, officials from the Nashi youth movement and its predecessor, Walking Together, deny having any connection to soccer fans at all. Konstantin Lebedev, press secretary for Walking Together, told "Komsomolskaya pravda" in December 2004 that his organization "does not cooperate with any kind of fan grouping." However, Aleksei Mitrushin, leader of the CSKA fan group Gallant Steed, has been identified in a number of articles as the director of the northeast branch of Walking Together and as a Nashi coordinator ("Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 April, "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 14 March, and "Ekspert," on 5 September).

From its very beginning, stories about Nashi have been heavy with references to brawny soccer hooligans, and activists at competing organizations have been more than willing to name names. Sergei Shagrunov, head of the Motherland party's youth group, and Vladimir Abel, a top official with the National Bolshevik Party (NBP), both identified Roman Verbitskii, the head of Spartak Moscow's Gladiator fan club, as the head of Nashi's regional-development department in articles in "Kommersant-Daily," "Moskovskii komsomolets," and "Vedomosti." "Ekspert" reported on 5 September that Verbitskii and another leader of the Gladiators, Vasilii Stepanov, aka Vasya the Killer, have attended meetings at the Kremlin with other Nashi members. However, Nashi press secretary Ivan Mostovich told "Kommersant-Daily" on 31 August that he does not know any Roman Verbitskii.

Despite these denials, media stories alleging a connection between soccer hooligans and Nashi continue to proliferate. Verbitskii's name in particular has featured in recent stories about a 29 August incident in central Moscow. About 30-40 masked men armed with baseball bats and some wearing symbols of the Nashi youth organization attacked members of the NBP, Avant-Garde Red Youth, and youth organizations from the Motherland and Communist parties. Aleksandr Averin, an NBP activist who was a victim in the incident, said he saw Verbitskii among the attackers. NBP official Abel told "Kommersant-Daily" on 31 August that this is not the first attack on the NBP in which Verbitskii has played a part. "Criminal charges involving a certain Roman Verbitskii have been filed in connection with three previous incidents," he said. The daily also cited an anonymous police source that Verbitskii was present at the attack.

Neither Verbitskii nor anyone else has been charged in this attack. Also, reports in and "Novaya gazeta" this week suggested that they are not likely to be. Writing in "Novaya gazeta," No. 68, Yabloko youth-branch head Ilya Yashin, citing an anonymous police source, reported that presidential-administration official Nikita Ivanov visited the police station where the group of men suspected of taking part in the attack were being held and arranged for them to be quickly released without following regular police procedures. According to Yashin, Ivanov, 31, is nominally the deputy head of the administration for interregional and cultural relations with foreign countries at the presidential administration, but his department is in fact primarily concerned with youth policy and preventing an Orange Revolution. So far, only has echoed Yashin's claims about Ivanov's activities that day, and Ivanov's office has declined to comment.

According to most detailed accounts of the Russian soccer fan clubs, the young men share certain prejudices, such as a hatred for persons from the Caucasus, but they lack any broader political agenda. Their role models are British soccer hooligans. Bill Buford, an American journalist who went undercover with fans of Manchester United's Red Devils, suggested that British hooligans seek an ecstatic, sex-like release in mass violence. Similarly, "Komsomolskaya pravda" wrote that Russian soccer fanatics "are directed not by political convictions but by the search for strong sensations." In their search for an adrenaline rush, they aren't likely to be easily controlled by anyone -- regardless of their bureaucratic rank within the Kremlin or without.

By Liz Fuller

Valerii Kokov submitted his resignation as president of the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria (RKB) to Russian President Vladimir Putin on 16 September, citing his deteriorating health, Russian media reported. Kokov, who is 66, has headed the republic for 14 years. He has undergone at least one operation for throat cancer, and at the time of his resignation he was reportedly hospitalized in Moscow. In line with an unwritten law, the next president will almost certainly, like Kokov, be a Kabardian -- Kabardians are the republic's largest ethnic group and account for 46 percent of the RKB's total population of some 897,000.

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 September named two potential candidates to succeed Kokov. The first is Arsen Kanokov, the head of a Moscow firm, who was elected to the Russian State Duma as a candidate for Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia but subsequently defected to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia. The second is Moscow-based lawyer Albert Kadjarov, who ran unsuccessfully against Kokov in the January 2002 presidential ballot. Kokov was reelected for a third term with 96 percent of the vote; Kadjarov finished in third place with a paltry 1.8 percent. While Kanokov enjoys the support of the "party of power," Kadjarov can reportedly rely on that of many members of the RKB's Muslim clergy, whose relations with Kokov's administration Mufti Anas Pshekhachev can be defined as infused by "personal animosity."

"Kommersant-Daily" on 17 September identified several other possible choices, first and foremost Gennadii Gubin, who served for years as Kokov's vice president until his appointment as RKB prime minister 18 months ago. Gubin, said to be "an extremely competent specialist," will serve as interim acting president until the republic's parliament proposes a successor to Kokov. (In the event that Gubin, a Russian, is chosen as president, then the post of prime minister would go to a Kabardian.) Also in the running to succeed Kokov, according to "Kommersant-Daily," are Khachim Karmokov, who represents the RKB in the Federation Council, and RKB Security Council Secretary Oleg Shandirov. But RKB parliament speaker Khuseyn Chechenov was quoted on 17 September by as saying that "it is already clear" that Kanokov will be selected. Chechenov described Kanokov as a successful businessman, with an excellent grounding in economic and budget issues (he is deputy chairman of the Duma's Committee on the Budget and Taxation).

If elected, Kanokov will need to draw on that expertise as he gets to grips with Kokov's economic legacy. According to, of the RKB's total 6.43 billion rubles ($226.3 million) in budget expenditures in 2005, 3.37 billion rubles were subsidies from the federal center. The average monthly wage is 3,685 rubles ($130). Registered unemployment as of early 2005 was 20.5 percent; the crime rate was the fourth highest in the entire Russian Federation.

Nor is the ailing economy the only, or even the most serious problem, the new RKB president will face. He must also find a way to counter the growing alienation of the Balkar minority, some of whom are again demanding their own separate republic, and to stem the increasing popularity and influence of clandestine Islamic djamaats that according to one Russian commentator seek "to create a separate social space where Russian social and legal norms no longer obtain." While some of those radical Islamic groups eschew violence, one -- Yarmuk, which had close links with the Chechen resistance -- launched a deadly raid in December 2004 on the Nalchik office of the federal antidrug agency. Four of Yarmuk's members were surrounded and killed in Nalchik in late April. But the Chechens may well be planning to launch more such attacks in conjunction with local militants: among the commanders Chechen President and resistance leader Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev named in early May of this year was one with responsibility for military activity on the so-called "Kabardino-Balkar sector."

21 September: Federation Council reopens

22 September: Cabinet of Ministers to discuss educational reforms and preparation of the public housing and state utilities for the coming winter

23 September: State Duma will discuss amendments to the Tax Code

24 September: The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) will hold a party congress in Moscow

29 September: Parliamentary commission investigating Beslan to release their report, according to commission head Stanislav Kesaev on 13 September

1 October: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its economic-development plans for the Far East, the North Caucasus, and Kaliningrad Oblast

4 October: President Putin to visit London for Russia-EU summit

9 October: State Duma by-election in single-mandate district in Rostov Oblast

23 October: Referendums to be held in Kamchatka Oblast and the Koryak Autonomous Okrug about the merger of the two federation subjects

23-26 October: Third anniversary of the Moscow theater hostage crisis

25 October: Second anniversary of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii's arrest at an airport in Novosibirsk

1 November: Public Chamber expected to hold first session

1 November: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its proposals for limiting foreign-capital participation in the defense sector and strategic-resource development

1 November: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its proposals for judicial reform and combating crime, especially terrorism

27 November: Chechnya to hold legislative elections, according to President Putin on 21 August

1 December: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its plans for reducing traffic accidents, alcoholism, and drug addiction, as well as its proposals for improving health care

1 December: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its plan to increase state-sector wages by 50 percent within three years

4 December: Moscow City Duma elections to be held

4 December: State Duma by-election to be held in single-mandate district in Moscow

28 December: Federation Council will hold its last session in 2005

2006: Russia to host a G-8 summit in St. Petersburg

1 January 2006: Date by which all political parties must conform to law on political parties, which requires at least 50,000 members and branches in one-half of all federation subjects, or either reregister as public organizations or be dissolved.