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Russia Report: October 24, 2002

24 October 2002, Volume 2, Number 35

Due to the developing hostage crisis in Moscow, "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly" is diverting from its usual format this week and is providing on-the-scene reports translated directly from the RFE/RL's Russian Service and Moscow bureau.
By Ivan Trefilov of RFE/RL's Russian Service

The lower house of the Russian parliament tried on 24 October to discuss as carefully as possible the hostage situation in Moscow. Prior to the session, many lawmakers were saying that politicians should not interfere in the activities of the special services and should not bother them with advice. The most important thing right now, in their opinion, is to save people's lives.

Moreover, politicians from the left and right wings of the State Duma were united in this. The leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Gennadii Zyuganov, had the following to say: "We have to understand that we live in a multinational country, and here every word must be carefully thought out and very precise. That's why I am calling on you, the heads of the mass media, to show good judgment and restraint. Along with this, we think that it is very important in the near future to use all measures so that the authorities can be strong and up to the task, because we have all turned out to be hostages of weak and helpless authorities. Therefore, it is necessary to do everything to save people, and then to take measures so that everyone feels safe."

The centrist factions of the Duma are also thinking about the lives of the hostages. The head of the Unity faction, Vladimir Pekhtin, had the following to say: "The most important thing, we think, and this was reflected in our resolution, is that, first and foremost, it is necessary to protect the lives of those people who, by chance, became hostages. We think that this is the most important condition, the most important thing that the law-enforcement agencies should be doing."

This, however, is where the unity of the opposition and pro-presidential deputies ends. If Zyuganov thinks that responsibility for the crisis needs to be placed on the authorities, then, in Pekhtin's opinion, the so-called "power structures" of the state need to be given more money to carry out antiterrorist operations.

However, the disagreement among parliamentarians did not enter into the final resolution, and moreover, an absolute majority of them agreed that right now the unconditional priority for the authorities should be the protection of the lives and health of the hostages. Besides this, the deputies have asked those responsible for the hostage taking to show good judgment and free innocent people, in the first place, women and children. The Duma said that no demands can be met through extralegal actions in relation to peaceful citizens. At the same time, State Duma deputies warned that the dramatic Moscow events should not be used to provoke conflicts in the country on ethnic, national, or religious grounds. This could have very negative consequences in the sphere of international relations and could threaten Russian statehood.

Deputies are, however, certain that one resolution will not solve the problems between Moscow and Grozny. As the leader of the Agro-Industrial group in the Duma, Nikolai Kharitonov, said, lawmakers must finally define the legal status of the Chechen Republic. "We cannot avoid making a decision about where and how and in what territorial, economic, and geographic space Chechnya should be located. We shouldn't just pass a resolution to get it done and over with, but we do actually have to define our role, our role in guaranteeing the contemporary territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. Variants have been suggested, and there have been several discussions, even in a meeting with President [Vladimir Putin].... Perhaps [Chechnya] could be given special autonomous powers. At least, I consider, I think that deputies will also agree that Chechnya is an integral part of the Russian Federation," Kharitonov said. Nonetheless, so far they have decided to limit themselves only to the passing of a resolution that, in the end, deputies supported almost unanimously. (Translated by Curtis Budden)

Vladimir Baburin of RFE/RL's Russian Service spoke on 24 October with human rights activist Yelena Bonner in Boston about the ongoing hostage crisis in Moscow.

BONNER: It would be better, perhaps, if [the authorities] stopped thinking about "killing people in the outhouse" and began negotiating. I think that the tragedy of today is really not related to the hostage taking at all but was caused by the policies of Moscow and the Kremlin, and the Kremlin is the only authority that I blame for today's taking of 1,000 hostages. Because, whenever or whatever sort of war has begun [doesn't matter], wars end with negotiations, and negotiations are carried out not with fictitious, puppet governments but with the enemy. In this case, Moscow considers its enemy to be armed Chechen formations and the president of the Chechen Republic [Aslan Maskhadov], which means, with these people, if they value their own people and their soldiers -- I'm no longer talking about the Chechens, who are being subjected to genocide -- they have to negotiate with these people. Negotiations can last a long time, but the war and the "bespredel" [unjust and inhuman treatment of people] that is going on every day in Chechnya must be stopped. The only guilty parties in today's tragedy are Moscow and the Kremlin.

RFE/RL: Yelena Georgievna, nonetheless, Russia already has experience in negotiating with terrorists. This happened in Budennovsk, where even the head of the Russian government, Viktor Chernomyrdin, took part in the negotiations. Everyone remembers the well-known phrase, "Shamil Basaev, speak up" -- and we remember how it all ended.

BONNER: It ended in that Moscow did not live up to a single one of its promises. And the rubbish about the supposed rebuilding of Chechnya was a complete lie. And Moscow has already broken the Khasavyurt agreements in the most brazen manner. And all of these provocations, which it pains me to talk about, have fallen on the Daghestanis and the Chechen and the Russian peoples. This is all the result of the Kremlin's dishonest politics.

RFE/RL: Yelena Georgievna, people in Russian love to talk about their special path, and they tend to neglect world experience, but nonetheless, particularly in the fight against terrorism, there is experience, perhaps, a great wealth of experience. The state of Israel has for many years waged a fairly successful battle against terrorism, but the Israeli experience says, "[there should not be] any negotiations with terrorists." Do you think the Israeli experience can be applied in any way in the current situation on Russian soil?

BONNER: You know, Volodya, I know that several [Russian] historians and journalists, whom I respect very much, have compared the [conflict between] Palestine and Israel with [that of] Russia and Chechnya. I think that here, historically, ethnically, and emotionally, none of this is justified. This would take a long time to explain -- it can't be done in this interview -- but the tragedy in Chechnya began following Stalin's deportations of national groups when Chechnya was not recognized as a region with the same rights as Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, or Kazakhstan. This is where the whole problem lies. We took the path of the Stalin Constitution.

RFE/RL: There was an explosion last week in Moscow near a McDonald's restaurant, and nearly all of the Russian mass media were unanimous in citing the official point of view of the Interior Ministry that this was not a terrorist act, that this was some sort of dispute between criminal groups. Only one newspaper, "Kommersant," as far as I know, hinted that there could be any sort of disputes between criminal groups about McDonald's because this restaurant has never had the protection of a criminal organization and that this was most likely a terrorist act after all. And [the paper] put forward a careful supposition that if this was a terrorist act, then, as experience has shown, as well as explosions on trolleybuses in Moscow and of apartment buildings, one sign of terrorism is [that acts happen in] succession. And so, unfortunately, last night's events have confirmed that if the explosion near McDonald's was a terrorist act, then this is the next terrorist act, and it's possible that we should expect another one as well.

BONNER: I'm afraid to draw a similar conclusion. I don't know. I don't have enough personal experience to judge, and the information that I do have, i.e., information [that is available] to the public, is also insufficient.

RFE/RL: Yelena Georgievna, one last question. The only American [television] station that I have in front of me is CNN, which, of course, has this as its top story, as, in general, the American mass media are covering what is happening in Moscow. Has this taken attention away from those terrible events that are happening in America -- I mean the Washington sniper?

BONNER: [The Americans] have the evening news from 6:30 p.m. until 7:00, and then until 11 p.m. they have "tra lya lya" [rubbish], so it's hard to say. With respect to the Virginia sniper -- they call him the Washington sniper, but he has, in general, been shooting [people] in Virginia -- [this story] has not been moved off the front page. (Translated by Curtis Budden)

By Andrei Babitsky of RFE/RL's Russian Service

Movsar Baraev is the man in charge of the so-called "Islamic Battalion," a division he inherited from his late uncle, Arbi Baraev, one of the fiercest and cruelest Chechen field commanders who was known for kidnapping and for his particular cruelty in his treatment of hostages, as well as for his active participation in resisting federal forces at the beginning of the second military campaign in Chechnya. Movsar Baraev and his people are those who call themselves "mujahedin." Their detachments are religious communities -- they are both military detachments and religious communities, or jamaats. These people propagate extreme, fundamentalist Islam and fight under the slogan of jihad. These are people who are usually called religious fanatics. I think that when we try to find a direct connection to the events in Budennovsk, we should also say that the situation [in Moscow on 24 October] is much worse, since at that time, [the hostage takers] who were in the hospital had attended Soviet schools, and they could find a common language with those who tried to negotiate with them from outside the hospital. One characteristic detail is that, in accordance with the information available, [Aslanbek] Aslakhanov was unable to reach an agreement with Baraev. It is true that it is very difficult to reach agreements with these people. Their political demands are similar to those made by [Shamil] Basaev on previous occasions. Only the tip of the iceberg can be seen in this wave of events. We must also understand that these people will not hesitate to fulfill their threats. If they promise to blow up the concert hall, they will do it. If they are attaching explosives to the columns, then these explosives are not fake. These are real explosives that will explode and kill people. (Translated by Yulia Aleksandrovskaya)

This week, the State Duma gave its final approval to a new version of the Civil Procedure Code. The vote was 302 in favor, RIA-Novosti reported. The code establishes procedures for settling civil disputes, such as those in the workplace and among family members. According to Legislation Committee Chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov (Union of Rightist Forces), the existing Civil Procedure Code came into effect at the end of the 1960s and does not take into account the majority of problems that have arisen with the redistribution of property and establishment of new market relations (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 10 July 2002). If signed into law, the code would come into effect in 1 February 2003, according to JAC

Also on 23 October, deputies passed amendments in their second reading to the laws on mass media and on the struggle against terrorism, Russian agencies reported. The vote was 259 in favor, with 34 against and two abstentions, according to ITAR-TASS. Under the bill, the mass media would be forbidden to publish statements by persons hindering antiterrorist operations or any kind of information about counterterrorist operations. According to, supporters of the bill say it will discipline the media, while opponents believe it will constitute a new means for authorities to pressure the press. Also approved in the second reading were amendments to the Family Code, which lower the minimum age for marriage to 14 years of age under special circumstances such as pregnancy, on condition that the local mayor or head of the relevant local self-government body gives his permission. Under the previous version of the bill, young brides-to-be had to appeal to the governor. JAC

Approved in its first reading was a federal law strengthening the Central Bank's control over commercial banks, ITAR-TASS reported. The vote was 309 in favor with one against and no abstentions. Under the bill, the bank will have the right to conduct repeat audits of banks and their branches or of banking groups during a given reporting period. Mikhail Zadornov, deputy chairman of the Duma's Budget Committee, said that the bill would improve the Central Bank's ability to regulate and improve its oversight abilities. JAC

The State Duma approved the 2003 federal budget in its second reading on 18 October, Russian news agencies reported. The vote was 280 in favor with 112 against and no abstentions, Interfax-AFI reported. In between the first and second readings, expenditures were redistributed through various items. Spending on international activities was reduced by 5.03 billion rubles ($158 million) to 44.3 billion rubles, while spending on industry, agriculture, fishing, transportation, law enforcement, and culture were increased correspondingly. Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin noted that the Duma approved of all the government's proposed priorities, adding that the second reading "demonstrated a new, more civilized budget-consideration format." He noted that the budget process has therefore become "more boring" for journalists but more interesting for international rating agencies. Under the budget, expenditures are set at 2.346 trillion rubles and revenue at 2.418 trillion rubles. Oil prices are projected to average $21.5 per barrel. JAC

On 16 October, legislators approved in its first reading amendments to the law on authors' rights. The vote was 299 in favor with no votes opposed, according to ITAR-TASS. According to Nikolai Gubenko, chairman (independent) of the Committee on Culture and Tourism, the amendments, if enacted, would bring Russian law into conformity with the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, which Russia joined in 1995. The bill would also bring certain trade aspects of intellectual-property rights into correspondence with World Trade Organization requirements. JAC


Name of law______________Date approved_____________# of reading

Civil Procedure Code________23 October_________________3rd

Family Code_______________23 October_________________2nd
(marriage ages)

On the mass media__________23 October_________________2nd

On the struggle against_______23 October_________________2nd

On the Central Bank_________23 October_________________1st
(Article 73)

2003 Budget_______________18 October_________________2nd

On author's rights___________16 October_________________1st

UP: State Duma Deputy Sergei Shishkarev (People's Deputy) has been named head of Rogozin's Kaliningrad office, BNS reported on 22 October. Rogozin, who is also chairman of the Duma's Foreign Relations Committee, is a member of the People's Deputy faction. It was not clear from the BNS report whether Shishkarev will give up his Duma seat or will continue in both capacities as Rogozin has.

IN: The mayor of Urai in Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug, Aleksandr Safonov, was elected to the State Duma in by-elections held on 20 October in a single-mandate district in the okrug, reported. Safonov, 39, will replace Aleksandr Lotarev, who was named head of the State Duma's apparatus (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 9 April 2002)

23-26 October: Fourth World Congress of the Russian Press will be held in Berlin

24-25 October: EU summit meeting to discuss Kaliningrad issue among others

25 October: State Duma to consider law on elections to the Duma in its second reading, according to "Prospekt novosti"

26-27 October: Putin to attend APEC summit in Los Cabos, Mexico

27 October: Amnesty International Secretary-General Irene Khan will visit Russia

27 October: Russians will switch their clocks back one hour for winter time

28 October: National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov's trial in Saratov will resume

31 October: State Duma will consider legislation reforming the public-housing and utility sectors

3 November: Anatolii Kvashnin, chief of the Russian Army General Staff, will visit Brussels to participated in the Russia-NATO Permanent Joint Council

3-4 November: Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov will visit Armenia

5 November: Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov to visit the U.S. to observe elections

5 November: Justice and interior ministers for Russia and EU-member countries to meet in Moscow

6 November: Tenth anniversary of the adoption of Tatarstan's Constitution

11-18 November: Representatives of Khabarovsk Krai will present the region's economic potential and the possibilities of its transportation infrastructure to potential trade and investment partners in Shanghai, China, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 October

14 November: Meeting of united political council of Union of Rightist Forces and Yabloko is scheduled

14 November: Government will meet to consider Russia's energy strategy through the year 2020

15 November: Russian and French foreign and defense ministers to meet in Paris for the Russia-France Security Cooperation Council

16-17 November: Former Yabloko party member and State Duma Deputy Vyacheslav Igrunov will hold a founding congress for his new party called the Union of People for Education and Science (SLON)

22 November: State Duma to consider draft 2003 budget in its third reading

25 November: The Energy Ministry and the State Construction Committee will present a report on their preparations of the country's energy and heating infrastructure for the winter

29 November: State Duma will consider package of electricity-sector reforms in their second reading

end of November: President Putin will visit Yekaterinburg, reported on 3 October

December: Armenian President Robert Kocharian to visit Russia

1 December: Date by which Gennadii Seleznev's Russian Revival Party will be registered at the Justice Ministry, according to party spokesman Sergei Kostornoi on 30 September

8 December: Parliamentary elections in the city of St. Petersburg

26 December: Deadline by which regions should form permanent election commissions in order to comply with new federal legislation, according to Region-Inform-Perm on 10 October

1 January: Date by which Unified Energy System plans to redeem 80 percent of its debts to Russian coal companies, according to company statement on 29 August

1 January: Jury trials will begin to be held in St. Petersburg, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service

3 January: Date until which Colonel Yurii Budanov will remain in custody on charges of murdering a young Chechen woman

26 January: Gubernatorial elections will be held in Taimyr Autonomous Okrug to replace Aleksandr Khloponin, who is now governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai

1 February: New Labor Code will come into effect.