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Security Watch: January 7, 2003

7 January 2003, Volume 4, Number 1
ANALYSTS PREDICT QUICK VICTORY FOR U.S. IN IRAQ... In the event of a U.S. military intervention against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, "the most probable scenario" would be "a quick and decisive victory by the United States," "Trud" reported on 3 January, quoting an analytical report prepared by experts of the Institute of International Security Issues of the Russian Academy of Sciences. According to this scenario, which was given a 60 percent probability rating, the military action would last about four weeks. Another scenario, which the report considers 30-40 percent probable, envisages the Iraqi use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) against Israel and against U.S. forces. However, the use of such weapons would be inefficient and Iraq would nonetheless be defeated in six to 12 weeks. The least likely scenario, which is given a probability of 6-8 percent, predicts the massive Iraqi use of WMD, leading to widespread destabilization in the Middle East. In this case, the experts estimate, it would take the United States up to 25 weeks to achieve its objectives.

...BUT DEFENSE MINISTER WARNS AGAINST UNILATERAL U.S. MILITARY ACTION. Speaking to journalists in Chita on 5 January, Sergei Ivanov said Moscow considers any military action by the United States and its allies against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein without UN approval illegitimate and unjustified, reported. He added that the deployment of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf could be either real preparations for military action or just a show of force. "I believe, however, that before making a final decision, the United States will take into account the results of the work of international weapons inspectors in Iraq and UN decisions based on those results." Ivanov said he is skeptical that Baghdad possesses nuclear weapons and that he prefers to wait for inspectors' reports before drawing conclusions about possible chemical and biological weapons

KREMLIN OPPOSES UN INTERVENTION IN NORTH KOREA... Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov has said that Russia opposes a UN Security Council discussion of North Korea's nuclear-weapons program, and other Russian news agencies reported on 4 January. "We think such a step would be premature. Now is not the time for tough statements and decisions on the North Korea problem. We should give quiet diplomacy a chance to work," Losyukov said. He added that the Foreign Ministry believes the economic situation in North Korea continues to deteriorate, although catastrophe does not appear imminent.

...AS SOUTH KOREAN DIPLOMAT HOLDS KREMLIN TALKS. South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Hang-kyung arrived in Moscow on 5 January for talks with Deputy Foreign Ministers Losyukov and Georgii Mamedov on rising tensions following North Korea's decision to end international control over its nuclear program, and ITAR-TASS reported. Both Russia and South Korea have stated that any violation of international nonproliferation agreements is unacceptable.

RUSSIA, IRAN AGREE ON ACCELERATED NUCLEAR COOPERATION. Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev and his Iranian counterparts have signed in Tehran an accord on accelerated cooperation in the construction of the nuclear-power plant in Bushehr, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 24 and 25 December. The two countries also agreed that Moscow will supply uranium for Iran's nuclear reactors for the next 10 years and that the spent nuclear fuel will be returned to Russia for reprocessing. The return of the fuel to Russia should help ease U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear program, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 December. In addition to political differences about Iran, Russia and the United States are engaged in economic competition over the Iranian energy market, the daily added. The paper claimed that the United States has hinted that if Russia grants U.S. companies a share of the Iranian market, Washington will give Russia a piece of the market for reprocessing nuclear fuel, which is currently dominated by the United States.

TWO EXPLOSIONS ROCK GOVERNMENT CENTER IN GROZNY... More than 30 people were reported killed and at least 40 injured when two car bombs devastated the administrative center of Chechnya's pro-Kremlin government in Grozny on 27 December, Russian and Western news agencies reported. According to, two trucks loaded with explosives rammed into the building within minutes of one another at about 2:30 p.m. local time. About 250 people were in the building at the time of the blasts, reported, although administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and Chechen Prime Minister Mikhail Babich were both elsewhere. Russian television reports showed that the top floors of the building, which was one of the only buildings in the Chechen capital to be completely rebuilt after federal forces recaptured the city, were totally destroyed, while windows throughout the building were broken and the square in front of it was littered with debris. ITAR-TASS quoted a Chechen Interior Ministry official as saying that the two drivers of the trucks were killed in the explosions. Rescue workers from the Emergency Situations Ministry continue to work at the scene and a security cordon has been established around the building.

...AS DEATH TOLL RISES... The number of victims of the 27 December car-bomb attack on the government building in Grozny rose to 80, dpa and other news agencies reported on 30 December. Some 150 people were injured. Several Chechen administration officials were reportedly injured in the attack, including Deputy Prime Minister Zina Batyzheva and Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev. A report that Dudaev died in the attack has not been confirmed.

...AND CHECHEN, RUSSIAN OFFICIALS CONDEMN INCOMPETENCE... Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov said on 27 December that the bombing was the result of inadequate security precautions, Interfax reported. Russian presidential representative to the South Russia Federal District Viktor Kazantsev likewise claimed that "irresponsibility" on the part of the Chechen government ministry charged with security made the blast possible, but at the same time predicted that "the crime will be solved very soon." Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii said on 29 December that investigators had established that security regulations at the government building were violated, Interfax reported. He added that those deemed responsible for security lapses will face criminal charges. "This tragedy again clearly demonstrates that Kadyrov's team has no control over the situation in the republic or in the center of Grozny," "Novye izvestiya" editorialized on 28 December.

...BUT DISAGREE OVER IDENTITIES OF BOMBERS... The Foreign Ministry and presidential envoy for human rights in Chechnya Abdul-Khakim Sultygov both blamed the Grozny bombing on "international terrorists" intent on undermining President Vladimir Putin's efforts to resolve the Chechen conflict, Interfax reported. Colonel Ilya Shabalkin, who is a spokesman for the joint federal forces in Chechnya, told ORT on 27 December the bombing was organized by Chechen field commanders Abu al-Walid and Shamil Basaev. Shabalkin had told Interfax on 24 December that the two commanders were planning "large-scale attacks" in Grozny and elsewhere. Administration head Kadyrov, for his part, accused Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov of masterminding the attack, Reuters reported on 28 December. But Chechen Deputy Interior Minister Akhmed Dakaev told Interfax the three men who drove the two trucks did not seem to belong to any Caucasian ethnic group, while Interior Minister Ruslan Tsakaev said on 29 December that two of them were fair-haired and that all spoke Russian without accents. Dakaev said the trucks displayed on their windshields official passes similar to those issued by the Russian military, that the drivers had other documentation apparently issued by the Chechen administration, and that they drove to Grozny from Nadterechnyi Raion in northwestern Chechnya passing through three checkpoints en route.

...AND PUTIN SAYS ATTACKS WILL NOT THWART CHECHEN PEACE PROCESS. President Putin told government ministers on 30 December that the 27 December car-bomb attack on the Chechen administration building in Grozny was an attempt by "terrorists" to sabotage the search for a political settlement in Chechnya, but added that such attempts are doomed to failure, Reuters and Interfax reported. Meanwhile, the Chechen Committee for National Salvation reported in a 31 December press release posted on that the population of Grozny is convinced the Russian military was behind the assault. The press release notes that a rocket or a mine -- but not car bombs -- could have left a crater 4 meters in diameter. On 1 January, quoted field commander Ruslan Gelaev as saying he is again in Chechnya and fighting under the command of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Gelaev added that Maskhadov has ordered his field commanders to refrain from any military activities either in Chechnya or elsewhere that could result in the deaths of civilians.

LEFT-WING WEBSITE CHARGES MOSCOW WITH COMPLICITY. The left-wing website commented on 28 December that corrupt circles in Moscow could be behind the Grozny blast, citing an unidentified source in the pro-Kremlin administration. The website speculated that the explosion might have been organized by people within the General Staff or the presidential administration who are interested in further destabilizing the situation in Chechnya. They could have been motivated by a desire to loot the federal funds that will be allocated to rebuild the administration complex. They might also have wanted to outrage federal troops in Chechnya and to frighten the civilian population with the threat of reprisals, the website quoted its source as saying.

RUSSIA HANDS OVER TERRORISM SUSPECTS TO GEORGIA... Soso Toria and Vepkhia Durglishvili, who are suspected of involvement in the February 1998 attempt to assassinate Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, were flown to Tbilisi on 28 December, Interfax quoted Georgian Deputy State Security Minister Irakli Kotetishvili as saying. Both men were close associates of deceased Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. They were apprehended in Russia on 19 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002).

...DEMANDS EXTRADITION OF CHECHEN GUNMEN. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko accused Tbilisi on 27 December of "playing into the hands of terrorists" by repeatedly delaying the extradition to Moscow of a group of Chechen fighters apprehended in August after having entered Georgia illegally from Russia. On 25 December, the Georgian Supreme Court overturned a Tbilisi district court decision upholding a request by the Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office to extradite three of the Chechens to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 27 December 2002).

NAVY FACING 20 PERCENT CUT. Fleet Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov, commander of the Russian Navy, has stated that the navy will be slashed by one-fifth over the next few years, "Krasnaya zvezda" reported on 6 January. Kuroedov said that since 1995 the navy has received about 12 percent of the funding it needs, and the underfunding has forced the navy to decommission ships it cannot afford to maintain. He also revealed that from 1992 to 1997, the navy received 10 new nuclear submarines and that one additional nuclear submarine was commissioned in 2002. He said the navy will be reviewing its maintenance and modernization priorities with an eye toward refurbishing and upgrading existing ships and weapons systems.

PRESIDENT SACKS SECOND HIGH-RANKING OFFICER IN CAUCASUS... President Putin fired Colonel General Yevgenii Bolkhovitin, chief of the North Caucasus Directorate of the Federal Border Guard Service (FPS), "Izvestiya" and other Russian news agencies reported on 26 December. Officially, Bolkhovitin was dismissed "as part of a planned rotation of personnel," but "Izvestiya" and linked the dismissal with Bolkhovitin's failure to stop Chechen fighters from crossing the border with Georgia. One such crossing came this summer, when forces allegedly led by Ruslan Gelaev staged an attack that left more than 20 Russian servicemen and 40 Chechen fighters dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 2002). However, other analysts linked Bolkhovitin's dismissal with that of Colonel General Gennadii Troshev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2002). "Argumenty i fakty", No. 52, reported that Troshev was sacked at the insistence of Kremlin insiders Gleb Pavlovskii and Simon Kordonskii, who reportedly regularly submitted reports to Putin alleging that Troshev and other generals are resisting any policy changes in Chechnya.

...AND GRANTS CITIZENSHIP TO VETERAN WHO PHONED IN. On 25 December, President Putin signed a decree granting Russian citizenship to army veteran Oleg Orlov and his immediate family, RTR reported. Orlov, a citizen of Tajikistan who was awarded the Hero of Russia medal for his service on the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, was one of 51 people selected to ask Putin a question during the president's live call-in show on 19 December. During that show, Putin promised to help Orlov and, when pressed by a journalist, also advocated amending Russia's law on citizenship so that noncitizens wishing to serve in the Russian armed forces would be able to receive Russian citizenship during or shortly after their military service.

ANOTHER HAZING-RELATED MASS DESERTION REPORTED. Twenty-four soldiers from a railroad troops unit in Leningrad Oblast have deserted their unit because of systematic persecution and humiliation by officers and other soldiers, reported on 5 January. The soldiers have asked the local Soldiers' Mothers Committee in St. Petersburg for assistance and told journalists that they were severely beaten by officers in their unit. One soldier said that an officer had fired a signal pistol into his face. Military Prosecutor Igor Lebedev said that a criminal investigation into the soldiers' accusations has been launched. He added that most of the soldiers have been returned to their unit. In response, officers at the unit charged that activists at the Soldiers' Mothers Committee provoked the soldiers into deserting and that they were drunk when they left.

KREMLIN TO DISCONTINUE PEACE CORPS AGREEMENT UNDER FSB PROMPTING. Moscow has informed Washington that it intends to discontinue a 1992 bilateral agreement concerning the work of Peace Corps volunteers in Russia, RIA-Novosti and other news agencies reported on 28 December. The Kremlin explained its decision by saying the situation in Russia has changed drastically since 1992 and that Russia can no longer be considered a developing country in need of such assistance. However, analysts note that the decision accords with a recent statement by Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev accusing Peace Corps volunteers of espionage. There are currently about 200 U.S. volunteers teaching English and business management in about 30 Russian cities.

DUMA PASSES BILLS TO REFORM RAILWAYS SYSTEM. The Duma on 24 December approved in their third reading a packet of four draft laws to reform the railways system, Russian news agencies reported. The bills would create a joint stock company called Russian Railroads to manage the railroad system, which is currently managed by the Railways Ministry. The government and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) wanted the new company to take possession of the land underneath the railway system. However, the draft laws that were adopted would transfer to the company only the 200,000 hectares of land underneath railroad tracks. The federal government would retain ownership of 1.1 million hectares of land underneath railroad stations and other "strategically important objects." The Railways Ministry would manage that land and monitor the work of Russian Railroads.

WHAT IS DELAYING DUMA CONSIDERATION OF EES REFORMS? The Duma Council on 23 December delayed for at least one month a vote on the second reading of draft laws to restructure the electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems (EES). People's Deputy faction leader Gennadii Raikov linked the delay to a law amending state regulations on heat and electricity tariffs, "Vedomosti" reported on 24 December. Raikov said that if the Federation Council rejects that law on 27 December or if the president refuses to sign the law, the Duma will continue to hold up consideration of the EES reforms. However, Yabloko Deputy Sergei Ivanenko asserted that a "battle within the executive branch" is the real source of the delay. Some Kremlin officials fear the reforms will lead to sharp hikes in electricity tariffs, according to "Vedomosti."

NEWSPAPER: COST-OF-LIVING RISE WILL EXCEED GOVERNMENT EXPECTATIONS. The government has estimated that inflation in 2003 will be between 12-14 percent, but there are reasons to believe the figure will actually be much higher, "Izvestiya" speculated on 3 January. The paper argued that the government's prediction is based on an ideal consumer in an ideal economy rather than on actual circumstances. Independent experts whom the paper surveyed believe the prices of meat and related products will rise from 15-20 percent, while the prices of vodka and beer will increase by at least 20 percent. Likewise, the experts predicted that the cost of gasoline will rise by 45 percent and the prices of tobacco products will jump by 80 percent.

INTERIOR MINISTRY CONFISCATES MILLIONS OF COUNTERFEIT DOLLARS... The Interior Ministry's (MVD) Investigations Committee has announced that more than 600 MVD agents together with officers of the Alfa antiterrorism unit participated in an operation to break up a ring of counterfeiters that had a virtual monopoly on the production of fake U.S. dollars within Russia, RTR and other Russian news agencies reported on 26 December. During the operation, tens of millions of counterfeit dollars were seized and more than 30 offices and apartments were searched in Moscow. An unspecified number of people were arrested. MVD spokesmen said the fake dollars were of very high quality and have all the built-in security measures that real dollars have, making them virtually impossible to detect using normal anticounterfeiting equipment.

...AS MVD SAYS MOST CONSUMER GOODS IN THE COUNTRY ARE FAKE. Nikolai Bobkov, head of the Interior Ministry's Economic Crimes Directorate, said that 90 percent of the goods for sale on the Russian consumer market are counterfeit, RTR and other Russian news agencies reported on 26 December. Bobkov added that most counterfeit goods are brought to Russia from Southeast Asia, while Russia itself produces counterfeit food products, clothes and shoes, chemicals and medicines, and video and audio products. The main centers of the counterfeit production in Russia are Moscow and St. Petersburg, and Sverdlovsk, Ryazan, and Yaroslavl oblasts. Bobkov said 2002 his agency investigated about 2,000 suspected intellectual-property crimes in 2002.

MEDIA-MOST CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER CONVICTED, AMNESTIED. A Moscow raion court on 24 December convicted former Media-MOST Chief Financial Officer Anton Titov of embezzlement and sentenced him to three years in prison and then immediately amnestied him, TVS reported. The court did not find him guilty of money laundering or using forged documents. Titov spent nearly two years in pretrial detention since his arrest in January 2001. At that time, the struggle between Gazprom, a major Media-MOST creditor, and oligarch Vladimir Gusinskii's allies for control over the media holding was escalating. Titov was the most senior Media-MOST executive who had not moved abroad. Court hearings in Titov's case were repeatedly postponed over the past year. According to the 25 December edition of "Gazeta," Gazprom filed a civil lawsuit against Titov as well but dropped it around the time Gusinskii agreed to sell his remaining shares in Russian media companies to the gas monopoly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2002).

EXPERT HAILS DEMISE OF SOVIET VALUES. "Izvestiya" on 30 December marked the 80th anniversary of the official founding of the Soviet Union on 30 December 1922 by writing that the Soviet system of values is disappearing and the so-called Soviet Man faces extinction. Nikolai Lapin, director of the Center of Social and Cultural Change of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that in 1990, 54 percent of the Soviet people were dissatisfied with their lives. In 1994, nearly 80 percent of Russians expressed such dissatisfaction. However, at present, only 44 percent say they are dissatisfied, indicating real improvements in social self-perceptions over the last decade. From 1990-94, survey respondents said that the main dilemma facing the country was the choice between individual freedom and government control. From 1998-2000, this dilemma was eclipsed by the choice between freedom and security, Lapin said. In 1990, 47 percent rated individual freedom as the highest value, while 17 percent chose personal security. In 1994, those figures were 47 percent and 31 percent, respectively. In 1998, 20 percent of respondents said that individual freedom is a higher value than security, while 50 percent rated security higher. In 2000, the number of respondents ranking freedom above security remained at 20 percent, while those ranking security above freedom had increased to 58 percent.

SARATOV COMMUNISTS TO ERECT STALIN MONUMENT. Valerii Rashkin, first secretary of the Saratov regional organization of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, told journalists his organization has decided to erect a monument to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in a Saratov park, "Sovetskaya Rossiya" reported on 29 December. An announcement about the monument signed by several local public figures was published in the 18 December issue of "Saratovskie vesti." The party is apparently still split on who should pay for the monument, with some calling for a collection of public donations and others arguing the party should use its own funds.