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Security Watch: January 28, 2003

28 January 2003, Volume 4, Number 4
PUTIN PROPOSES NEW BODY TO MONITOR REGIONAL INTERNATIONAL CONTACTS... Speaking to a 21 January State Council session devoted to coordinating the international contacts of the Russian regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003), President Vladimir Putin noted that 46 of the federation's 89 subjects are on the country's frontiers and that Russia has 22,000 kilometers of borders with foreign countries, Russian news agencies reported on 22 January. Putin proposed the creation of a council of regional heads attached to the Foreign Ministry that would participate in determining the course of Russia's foreign policy and its international strategies. He also said the country's foreign missions should do more to monitor the foreign relations of the regions, noting that the foreign colleagues of Russian diplomats have already been working for years on the level of regional cooperation.

...MOLLIFIES CONCERNS OVER CHINA. President Putin also told the State Council that the issue of border delimitation between Russia and China will be resolved in the near future, RIA-Novosti reported on 22 January. He said that talks on the issue are under way but noted that both sides still need to make compromises. Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev, speaking after Putin, said that China is carrying out a policy of active expansion in his region. "The political and business elite of China believes that Russia has annexed 1.5 million square kilometers of [Chinese] territory," Ishaev was quoted as saying. Ishaev claimed that the border-delimitation process is linked with Chinese domestic problems, including the fact that the number of unemployed people in China exceeds the entire population of Russia. He also noted that 1.2 million people left the Russian Far East in recent years, and he called for a reevaluation of "the strategy of relations with China." Putin responded to Ishaev's remarks by saying that such a strategy already exists and the cornerstone of it is the Chinese-Russian friendship treaty that was signed in July 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2001).

PUTIN, BUSH DISCUSS IRAQ, NORTH KOREA. President Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush spoke by telephone on 23 January at Putin's initiative, Russian news agencies reported. The presidents reportedly discussed the crisis over North Korea's recent withdrawal from international nuclear controls and the situation in Iraq. Putin briefed Bush on the results of Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov's recent trip to Pyongyang and Beijing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003) and expressed confidence that a political resolution to the North Korea crisis can be found. Regarding Iraq, Putin told Bush that Moscow was reserving judgment until reviewing the preliminary report of international weapons inspectors that was presented to the United Nations on 27 January.

MOSCOW MAYOR JOINS CAMPAIGN AGAINST WAR IN IRAQ. Yurii Luzhkov has joined a petition signed by the mayors of several European capitals urging a peaceful resolution to the Iraq situation, reported on 26 January. The petition says that military action in Iraq would cause more problems than it would solve, including increasing the tension between the West and the Islamic world and provoking an increase in terrorism. "[Unilateral military action] would also lead to a dangerous weakening of international organizations such as the United Nations, the role of which should be being strengthened," Luzhkov was quoted by his press office as saying. The petition had already been signed by the mayors of Paris, London, Brussels, and Vienna.

RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS TO LEAVE THE BALKANS? The military command of Russia's ground forces has issued a secret directive to the Russian peacekeeping contingents in Bosnia and Kosova ordering them to curtail their activities and to be prepared to return to Russia, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 22 January. The daily speculated that the order might have been prompted by the Kremlin's perception that the current deployment there is not bringing the desired political advantages and does not justify the annual expenditure of about $20 million. Moscow currently maintains about 1,000 troops in the Balkans. The article argues that Russia has failed to gain political leverage vis a vis NATO through its deployment in Kosova and that that deployment is pointless because most of the Serbian population of Kosova has left the province. General Valerii Yevnevich, deputy commander of Russia's ground forces, told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 January that the training of Russian peacekeepers in the Balkans has been suspended because of the malfeasance of two senior Russian officers responsible for that training. Yevnevich added that he does not see any sense in continuing the peacekeeping mission, although only President Putin can initiate a withdrawal from the Balkans. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists on 22 January that no decision has been made regarding the peacekeepers, although "various options have been considered," Interfax reported.

ANALYSTS PREDICT RUSSIA'S RUIN. Speaking at a St. Petersburg conference entitled "Globalization and National Self-Determination," political scientist Sergei Kurginyan said that "the integration of Russia into the international community and the preservation of Russia's integrity as a state are mutually exclusive goals," RosBalt reported on 21 January. "If we strive for a global community, we will lose Russian values," added St. Petersburg State University Professor Aleksandr Kuropyatnik.

LITHUANIAN-TRANSIT SQUABBLE FLARES UP. Lithuania has decided to halt transit through its territory for Russian military personnel traveling between Kaliningrad Oblast and the rest of Russia as of 1 February, reported on 21 January, citing a Russian Foreign Ministry statement. As of that date, Lithuania will stop recognizing military identification cards and birth certificates as legitimate travel documents. The Foreign Ministry charged that the new policy violates the agreement reached by Moscow and Vilnius concerning Russian access to Kaliningrad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2002). However, the Lithuanian Bureau for European Integration responded that that agreement contains a complete list of acceptable travel documents and that list does not include military identification cards or birth certificates, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 January. A spokesman for the Kaliningrad Oblast-based Baltic Fleet said that 95 percent of its servicemen do not have foreign passports, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 January.

DEFENSE MINISTER LAYS OUT NUCLEAR-DEFENSE CONCEPT. At a meeting of the Academy of Military Sciences in Moscow on 18 January, Sergei Ivanov said Russia's nuclear forces should serve as security against aggression, reported. "After 11 September 2001 and [the 23-26 October hostage drama in Moscow], it has become completely clear that the Cold War has been replaced by a new type of war, the war against international terrorism," Ivanov was quoted as saying. "No state has declared this war on us, but there are people and organizations that are carrying on hostile activities against Russia, including informational warfare."

PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON MISSILE DEFENSE. President Putin met in Moscow on 23 January with Russian-American scientist Roald Sagdeev and said that Russia might cooperate with the United States in the development of a missile-defense shield, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. Putin stressed, however, that such cooperation must be carefully coordinated in order to prevent missile-technology leaks. The latter statement could lead to the creation of a joint coordination center that will track data about missile launches for transmission to command centers in the United States and Russia, Aleksandr Pikaev, an expert with the Moscow Carnegie Center, told on 23 January.

PUTIN URGES END TO 'ESPIONAGE SYNDROME.' Speaking to a 21 January State Council session devoted to coordinating the international contacts of the Russian regions, President Putin called on regional leaders to put an end to the "manic espionage syndrome" that has gripped the bureaucracy, especially in regard to nuclear security and the processing of nuclear waste, reported on 21 January. The president endorsed a proposal by Murmansk Oblast Governor Yurii Yevdokimov that would delegate the right to grant inspection access to nuclear facilities from the federal center to the regions. "Excessive bureaucracy and espionage mania only make it difficult to work," Putin said. He added that officials "should accept the criticisms of human rights organizations and be more careful in observing the rights of foreigners in the Russian Federation."

ECO-JOURNALIST FREED. Jailed military journalist and ecologist Grigorii Pasko was released from prison on 22 January after an Ussuriisk court reduced his four-year sentence on the grounds of "good behavior," Russian and Western news agencies reported. Pasko, who was convicted by a military court in December 2001 of passing classified information about the Russian Pacific Fleet to Japanese journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001), served two years and eight months of his sentence, including his time in pretrial detention. In 2002, he refused an offer of a state pardon, saying that accepting it would be tantamount to admitting his guilt. RFE/RL reported on 22 January that one of Pasko's lawyers, Ivan Pavlov, said the authorities have been pressuring Pasko for the last month to admit his guilt in exchange for an early release. "We will continue to fight to clear Grigorii's name," Pavlov said. "We have submitted an appeal to the chairman of the Supreme Court, who has not yet ruled on the case." A spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office criticized the Ussuriisk ruling, dpa reported on 22 January, saying that only prisoners who accept the legitimacy of their sentences are eligible for early release. Pasko said that he will resume work as a journalist, Reuters reported.

PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER SAYS FOREIGN DEBT COULD BE PAID IN 10 YEARS. Presidential economics adviser Andrei Illarionov said that Russia could pay off its foreign debts completely within a decade if it continues to follow its current economic course, reported on 25 January. In 1998, Russia's foreign debts amounted to $158 billion, but that amount has now fallen to $110 billion. Illarionov noted that in the intervening years, some debt has been paid, some has been restructured, and some has been written off. He added that if Russia pays off its debts, that would open up new paths of economic and political development for the country and alter its standing in the international arena.

RUSSIA TO BANK ON THE EURO... Russia will reduce the percentage of its hard-currency reserves that it holds in U.S. dollars, "Vedomosti" and other Russian news agencies reported on 24 January, quoting Central Bank Deputy Chairman Oleg Vyugin. Russia's gold and hard-currency reserves currently stand at $47.9 billion, about one-half of which is denominated in dollars. The bank will increase the percentage of euros, British pounds, and Swiss franks that it holds. According to Vyugin, the changes are not only dictated by the relative weakness of the dollar on international markets, but by the fact that Russia's hard-currency reserves have increased by a factor of four since 1999. Vyugin declined to specify what the precise percentage of Euro-denominated reserves will be, saying the bank's policy is to withhold such information.

...AS EXPERTS SAY STRONG EURO WEAKENS THE RUBLE. Valerii Petrov, chief analyst of Rosbank, said that now that the Central Bank has indicated heightened interest in the euro, other Russian financial institutions and the general population will follow suit, reported on 24 January. Meanwhile, the rising value of the euro will lead to increases in the costs of imported goods and a relative devaluation of the ruble on domestic markets, quoted chief financial analyst for MegaTrustOil Aleksandr Razuvaev as saying. The depreciation of the ruble will eventually increase the competitiveness of Russian producers as the prices of their goods declines. Gazprom, which supplies natural gas to Europe in euro-denominated sales, also stands to gain if the ruble falls.

INTERIOR MINISTRY TO MANAGE WATER INFRASTRUCTURE. By the end of the year, the Transport Ministry will transfer control over Russia's water infrastructure -- including bridges, canals, dams, and dikes -- to the Interior Ministry, RosBalt reported on 22 January, quoting Transport Ministry official Nikolai Smirnov. Smirnov revealed that the Interior Ministry in 2002 took over responsibility for the Volga-Don Canal and that this year it will take control of the Volga-Baltic Sea and the White Sea-Baltic Sea canals. All in all, about 65,000 objects comprise Russia's water infrastructure, and many of them are in extremely poor condition, Smirnov said. Some analysts believe that the transfer of responsibility to the Interior Ministry is part of the country's new antiterrorism measures.

RUSSIA A HAVEN FOR HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF STOLEN EUROPEAN CARS. Speaking to reporters in Moscow on 23 January, Walter Schmoelzing, a representative of the leading European insurance companies operating in Russia, said that as many as half of the 1.5 million cars illegally imported into Russia in recent years were stolen in Europe, mainly in Germany, Ekho Moskvy and "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 23 and 24 January, respectively. However, only a few hundred of the vehicles have been recovered because the stolen cars have been registered in Russia, making it difficult to take them away from their new owners. Schmoelzing said the situation is further complicated by the fact that many state officials, including high-ranking Interior Ministry officers, are using stolen cars. "Komsomolskaya pravda" noted that no Interior Ministry representatives attended Schmoelzing's press conference.

CELLULAR OPERATOR'S DATABASE STOLEN, PIRATED. The database of cellular-telephone operator MTS, which contains the telephone numbers of more than 5.5 million cell-phone users, is being sold illegally on CD-ROM at Moscow markets, and other Russian news agencies reported on 21 January. The database, which is selling for about $150, contains the names, home addresses, and telephone numbers of all MTS clients. The pirated CD-ROM also contains a search function that links clients to their bank accounts. An MTS spokesman said that an investigation into the apparent theft is under way but emphasized that the accounts of MTS clients have not been compromised. Under Russian law, security agencies have access to such databases, leading to speculation that corrupt security agents might be responsible, reported on 23 January.

ZHIRINOVSKII NO LONGER AN ANTI-SEMITE? Nationalist politician and State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii, who heads the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, arrived in Israel on 21 January for his first-ever visit to that country, Russian and international news agencies reported. Zhirinovskii renounced his many notoriously anti-Semitic remarks, saying, "they are in the past, [and] I now think differently." "I am not anti-Semitic, fascist, or a provocateur," Zhirinovskii said. He also denied that he has Jewish roots, although the "Jerusalem Post" on 21 January quoted one of his books in which he writes that his father was an ethnically Polish Jew. It is not clear who invited Zhirinovskii to Israel, which is currently in the throes of an election campaign, but the Israeli Foreign Ministry has warned local and national officials to avoid contacts with him.

NGO EQUATES MARRIAGE MIGRATION WITH HUMAN TRAFFICKING. Speaking to journalists in Moscow on 24 January, Olga Makhovskaya, director of the Moscow Center for Social Aid to Migrants, said her organization intends to present to the Duma draft legislation aimed at preventing Russian women from migrating to the United States to marry, "Izvestiya" and reported on 24 January. Makhovskaya estimated that 75,000 Russian women have gone to the United States over the last decade for the purpose of getting married. The same amount has gone to that country on other types of visas but also with the intention of marrying, she said. Makhovskaya said that the reason for the mass migration is the collapse of the traditional model of the family in Russia and "the Western stereotype of Russian beauty, which has stimulated the demand for Russian brides." However, she said that 80-90 percent of these marriages last less than two years because the women encounter "an unexpectedly harsh reality" in the United States. She said her organization's bill will include legal penalties for agencies that arrange "mail-order" marriages.