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Security Watch: February 12, 2003

12 February 2003, Volume 4, Number 6
PUTIN, BUSH CONFER ON IRAQ... President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush on 4 February discussed the Iraq crisis by telephone, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Bush reportedly called Putin to express Washington's opinion that the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein continues to resist international efforts to disarm it. Putin repeated Moscow's position that United Nations weapons inspections should continue and that the reports of inspectors should serve as the basis for further action, which must be initiated and approved by the UN Security Council. Bush reportedly also previewed for Putin U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's 5 February presentation to the United Nations, in which he argued the U.S. position for further action against Baghdad, TVS reported on 4 February. The station commented that Moscow will not resist the seemingly inevitable U.S. military action against Iraq but is continuing its efforts to delay it.

...AS ECONOMIC ADVISER SAYS WAR IN IRAQ WOULD HARM RUSSIA. President Putin's economic adviser Andrei Illarionov told journalists in Moscow on 5 February that a war in Iraq would have unfavorable consequences for the Russian economy, RIA-Novosti reported. If Iraq's oil infrastructure were damaged, already high global energy prices would rise further, and Russia and the rest of the world would experience "sticker shock." Illarionov said that a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis would be much better for Russia, particularly one that led to the gradual opening of the Iraqi oil market over a period of 12-18 months. Under such a scenario, Russia would experience short-term problems as energy prices declined but over the long term would move toward diversifying its economy and overcoming its "addiction to oil," Illarionov said.

RUSSIAN, GERMAN LEADERS DEMONSTRATE JOINT STAND ON IRAQ... President Putin arrived in Berlin on 9 February at the beginning of a European tour to consult with the leaders of France and Germany to find a "peaceful solution" to the Iraq crisis, ORT and RTR reported. Putin, who was officially in Berlin to launch the "Year of Russian Culture in Germany," said after meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that "the positions of Russia, France, and Germany practically coincide" on the Iraq issue, Russian and Western news agencies reported. "We are convinced that efforts for a peaceful resolution of the situation regarding Iraq should be persistently continued," he added. "Our foreign ministers and UN representatives are coordinating their actions. China also has such a position," he said.

...AS PUTIN, CHIRAC AGREE ON PEACEFUL SOLUTION TO CRISIS. President Putin said following his talks with French President Jacques Chirac in Paris on 10 February that Russia and France have a "moral and measured position on Iraq" aimed at exposing weapons of mass destruction but in such way that the civilian population will not be harmed and international law will not be violated, Russian news agencies reported. Coercive action against Iraq could lead to an "unpredictable escalation and growth of tension," he said. Putin also said Russia's and France's position of seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis is supported by most UN Security Council members. Putin advised against overdramatizing the different approach the United States and some European countries are taking on the Iraq issue. He declined to answer a journalist's question regarding the position Russia would take should the United States invade Iraq without approval from the UN Security Council. "You are trying to push me into a debate, but I do not want to discuss this topic," quoted Putin as saying on 11 February.

RUSSIAN, ITALIAN DEFENSE MINISTERS DISCUSS IRAQ. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said after his talks in Rome with his Italian counterpart Antonio Martino on 10 February that any initiative on Iraq should originate from international inspectors, reported on 11 February. "We have only one authority, the international inspectors, whom we completely trust," Ivanov said. He also said Russia wants to increase military-technical cooperation with the European Union and is banking on the support of Italy, which is slated to take over the EU Presidency later this year. "We believe that Italy, France, and Germany can be the driving force for cooperation with Russia," he said. Ivanov stressed the importance of the antiterrorism coalition and warned, "In some regions neighboring Afghanistan there are camps for training terrorists who are prepared to use weapons of mass destruction and toxic materials in any place in the world, including Europe."

PUTIN SAYS UNILATERAL ACTION AGAINST IRAQ WOULD BE A MISTAKE... Without naming the United States, Putin said in Berlin on 9 February, "We are convinced that unilateral use of force will only lead to the suffering of millions of people and an escalation of tension throughout the region," international media reported. In a 9 February interview with France 3 television, Putin said unilateral U.S. military action against Iraq could cause a "split in the UN Security Council and the antiterrorism coalition," RIA-Novosti reported. "This could lead to the breakup of Iraq with difficult-to-predict consequences for its neighbors." He reaffirmed the need to solve the current Iraq crisis through peaceful, political, and diplomatic methods, relying on the work of the UN inspectors.

...AS HE AVOIDS ANTI-AMERICANISM. President Putin on 9 February dismissed a question on whether a joint Russian-German-French position could effectively counter the United States in global affairs. "I do not want to incite anti-Americanism in connection with the Iraq situation," Germany's ntv television quoted him as saying. He said the same day that a split between Europe and the United States "would be a bad option for world development -- bad for the United States and for Europe," reported. In his 9 February interview with France 3 television, Putin said: "Practically all leaders of the countries that are permanent members of the UN Security Council, including [U.S. President George W.] Bush, have told me they believe the Iraq problem can be solved peacefully. And [Bush] does not want a war." RTR commented on 9 February that despite his differences with the United States on the Iraq issue, Putin is being careful not to harm the country's still-fragile partnership with the United States or the expanded international role Russia gained from its participation in the antiterrorism coalition.

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SUPPORTS FRENCH-GERMAN PLAN... Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on the sidelines of the 39th International Conference on Defense and Security in Munich on 9 February that Russia might back a reported French-German plan that is intended as an alternative to a possible U.S.-led military campaign against Iraq, RTR and ORT reported. According to this initiative, the United Nations would send several thousand peacekeepers to Iraq, the number of international inspectors would be tripled, and Baghdad would allow international reconnaissance aircraft to be used over all of Iraq's territory. Ivanov said that if the UN Security Council approves the plan, Russia would be prepared to send reconnaissance planes, observers, and experts to Iraq.

...AS EXPERT SAYS MOSCOW SHOULD SIDE WITH THE UNITED STATES... Foundation for Effective Politics head Gleb Pavlovskii commented in "Russkii zhurnal" on 6 February that Russia should not exhibit compassion for the Iraqi regime. He said that Iraq in the 20th century -- using support from the Soviet Union, the United States, and Europe -- unleashed aggressive campaigns in the region. Pavlovskii wrote that by invading Kuwait in 1990, Iraq dealt the first blow to the world order that had existed since World War II and gave the United States the opportunity to form and lead a coalition of countries from the East, West, and "south." While Russia discovered in the early 1990s that there was no role for Russia in the "new world order," Pavlovskii argued, that situation changed following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Pavlovskii noted that Russia is a member of the international antiterrorism coalition, which he said could help Russia regain its political standing in the future world order.

...AS ANOTHER SAYS RUSSIA CAN USE SITUATION TO ITS ADVANTAGE... Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the Council for Defense and Foreign Policy, wrote in the 10 February "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that Russia should look out for its own interests regarding Iraq. He said that while much of Europe differs with the United States on the crisis, Russia has no great differences with the U.S. position. He said the negative economic impact Russia stands to suffer from a war in Iraq is exaggerated. In addition, Karaganov said Russia cannot tolerate allowing states near its borders to possess weapons of mass destruction, adding that Iraq does possess some types of bacteriological weapons. He said Russia should think about its long-term strategy regarding a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq and should start to bargain with United States before a war begins.

...AND RUSSIAN MEDIA REACT TO KREMLIN'S AMBIGUOUS POSITION ON IRAQ. "Izvestiya" commented on 11 February that President Putin's trip to Europe to discuss the Iraq crisis has placed him at the epicenter of the trans-Atlantic rift that has emerged because of France, Germany, and Belgium's opposition to possible military action against Iraq. The newspaper said Putin's main task in the current situation is to avoid quarreling with all sides at once and that he should not return to the Soviet-era ploy of playing on controversies between the United States and Europe. Arguing that the latter tactic never panned out for Russia, the daily noted that France, for example, will be able to preserve its oil interests in Iraq regardless of the outcome of the current situation. Thus, "Izvestiya" commented, one should not exclude the possibility that if Russia were to enter the fray involving the United States and "Old Europe," it could be "depicted as the main anti-American force" on the continent. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 11 February stressed that each side in the internal NATO dispute sparked by France, Germany, and Belgium's 10 February veto of an initiative to begin planning for Turkey's defense in the event of a war with Iraq interprets Russia's position in its own way. The daily said some NATO states "believe that Putin is on the side of Paris and Berlin and is very negative to possible U.S. military intervention in Iraq; the others think that his approach is, in fact, closer to Washington's." Such ambiguity should please Putin, the newspaper opined.

RUSSIA, PAKISTAN SEEK CLOSER TIES. President Putin met in the Kremlin on 5 February with Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Putin noted that relations between the two countries have developed rapidly since Pakistan joined the international antiterrorism coalition following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. Moscow is interested in closer military ties with Pakistan, whose main military suppliers at present are China and Ukraine. Pakistan's trade volume with Russia in 2002 was about $98 million, compared with $1 billion in trade with Ukraine.

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT VISITS MOSCOW. Russian President Putin met with his Moldovan counterpart Vladimir Voronin in Moscow on 7 February to discuss bilateral economic and political relations, ITAR-TASS and Moldovan news agencies reported. Putin said he and Voronin agreed that negotiations on settling the Transdniester conflict must continue with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Russia, and Ukraine serving as mediators. He also said Russia wants the Transdniester to be granted special status, while Moldova's sovereignty and territorial integrity must be strictly respected. Putin also said Russian investors should participate in the privatization process in Moldova. Voronin told journalists after the talks that the nature of relations between the two countries is one of a "long-term strategic partnership." He also said Moldova has no plans to join NATO, as its constitution defines it as a neutral state, but that the country will strive to achieve EU integration. "In April, I will go to Brussels. The sooner we begin this work, the better the results will be," he said. Voronin also insisted that the "backbone" of future CIS efforts must be geared at establishing an economic free-trade zone among its members. He said Moldova insists on the immediate evacuation from or the on-the-spot destruction of the obsolete Russian arsenal in the Transdniester, because it poses a danger to the population. Voronin also said he hopes that the Russian language will be granted official status in Moldova in 2003.

PUTIN CLAIMS SUCCESS IN BATTLE WITH CAUCASUS SEPARATISM. Putin claimed in his 9 February interview with France 3 television that Russia has practically succeeded in quashing attempts by "international extremist Islamic forces" to separate the North Caucasus from Russia and establish an Islamic state on that territory, Russian news agencies reported. He said the upcoming referendum on a new draft Chechen constitution and election legislation will mark the first step toward a political settlement of the Chechen conflict under which Chechnya will have "broad autonomy" within the Russian Federation.

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ACCUSES GEORGIA OF ABETTING CHECHEN TERRORISTS... Defense Minister Ivanov told the International Conference on Defense and Security in Munich on 8 February that "the whole of Georgia has turned into a haven for terrorists" and that nationals of more than 40 states, including Georgia and Azerbaijan, are funneling aid to the Chechen resistance, an RFE/RL correspondent in Munich reported. Ivanov further claimed that Chechen gangsters operating in Georgia have taken control of some Georgian cargo companies and use them to transport arms, drugs, and gunmen to Chechnya, Caucasus Press reported. He added that during the Moscow hostage crisis in October 2002, the hostage takers held telephone conversations with accomplices in Georgia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Ivanov also claimed that a base for manufacturing toxins, including ricin, exists in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge and that the terrorism suspects arrested last month in London and France underwent training in Pankisi. He said there is "irrefutable evidence" that Chechen militants remain in Georgia.

...BUT RULES OUT MILITARY INTERVENTION... Ivanov told journalists in Munich on 9 February that Moscow has no intention of using military force against "terrorists" located on Georgian territory, ITAR-TASS reported. Responding to Ivanov's allegations, Georgian National Security Council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze said on the sidelines of the defense and security conference in Munich on 9 February that Georgia has "largely succeeded" in eliminating the terrorist infrastructure and criminal armed groups in the Pankisi Gorge, an RFE/RL correspondent in Munich reported. Djaparidze admitted that "we still have to destroy some criminals...and the operation is still in progress," but nonetheless insisted that "Pankisi represents no problem for Georgia anymore and no threat to the international community," Caucasus Press reported. In Tbilisi, Georgian State Border Department Chairman Lieutenant General Valeri Chkheidze denied on 8 February Ivanov's claims that Chechen militants are taking control of Georgian transportation companies, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Interior Troops commander Giorgi Shervashidze said in Tbilisi the same day that there could be up to 50 "criminals" still in Pankisi but that they are not Chechens, Caucasus Press reported. Shervashidze added that all "terrorist leaders" left the region during the operation last fall to restore order in Pankisi.

...OR TALKS WITH MASKHADOV. Ivanov also said in Munich on 9 February that Moscow will never agree to negotiations with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, whom he described as "a terrorist, just like [field commander Shamil] Basaev or international terrorist Abu al-Walid," Russian news agencies reported. At the same time, Ivanov said Moscow "has never rejected the possibility" of embarking on the process of seeking a political settlement to the Chechen conflict.

RUSSIA CREATES ITS OWN LIST OF TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS. The Federal Security Service (FSB) on 4 February handed over to the Prosecutor-General's Office a list of 15 Russian and international organizations that have been officially deemed "terrorist organizations" by the Russian government, RIA-Novosti reported. Most of the organizations on the list are based in the Middle East, and at least seven of them are also on a similar list compiled by the U.S. State Department, including Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Russia's list, however, does not include some U.S.-listed Palestinian organizations. The FSB list does include two Chechen extremist organizations: the Supreme Military Majlisul Shura of United Mojaheds of the Caucasus, which is headed by Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev, and the Congress of Peoples of Daghestan and Ichkeria, whose co-leaders are Basaev and his ideologue Movladi Udugov.

INTERIOR MINISTRY CREATES ANTIEXTREMISM UNIT. The Interior Ministry's Main Organized Crime Directorate has formed a subunit to monitor extremist youth organizations, including skinheads and groups of sports fans, Russian news agencies reported on 5 February, citing a press conference by the directorate's head Valerii Komarov. The new unit is headed by Aleksandr Grichanin, Ekho Moskvy reported. Komarov told reporters that police have registered an increase in violent crimes -- particularly in crimes targeting foreigners -- committed by such groups over the last year. Komarov estimated that there are 15,000-20,000 skinheads in Russia, including about 5,000 in the Moscow area and 3,000 in St. Petersburg, where there are also an estimated 40-50 "aggressively oriented" sports groups, reported. He said that extremist groups committed 140,000 crimes in 2002; 71 criminal cases were filed; 31 of them were brought to trial; and 16 people were convicted, reported. Komarov also alleged that there are forces in Russia that "try to gain political capital" by attracting young people to join informal extremist groups and that these efforts are often supported by mass-media outlets. The new Interior Ministry subunit will focus on preventing extremist crimes, Komarov said.

RUSSIA, NATO SIGN ACCORD ON JOINT SEA-RESCUE OPERATIONS. Defense Minister Ivanov and NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson inked an agreement in Munich on 8 February regarding joint sea-rescue cooperation, Interfax and other Russian news agencies reported. Both sides agreed to standardize search-and-rescue procedures, make equipment compatible, and to cooperate in exchanging information and the training of personnel. Ivanov said the August 2000 sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine led to the idea of the agreement on sea-rescue cooperation.

RUSSIA PLAYS HARDBALL WITH LATVIAN OIL TERMINAL. Russia has halted the shipment of oil to the Latvian port of Ventspils until April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2003), "Finansovye izvestiya" reported on 7 February, quoting Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko. Western analysts cited in the report believe the step was taken in order to lower the value of, or even bankrupt, the oil-terminal operator Ventspils Nafta, because Russian state oil-pipeline operator Transneft is hoping to acquire a stake in the company. Transneft Vice President Sergei Grigorev confirmed his company's interest in Ventspils Nafta and said the moratorium on oil shipments will be lifted if management of the terminal is handed over to Russia in exchange for $143 million offered by a group of Russian oil majors, reported on 7 February. Representatives of the Latvian side are insisting on payment of at least $200 million. However, Grigorev retorted, with no Russian oil passing through it, the terminal is worthless.

PUTIN SUPPORTS INCREASING STATE ROLE IN CULTURE. Addressing a meeting of the Presidential Council for Culture and Art on 6 February, President Vladimir Putin said that he supports calls for "reviving the so-called state-order system for the creation of culture and works of art that have an indisputable social value," RTR and reported on 6 February. Putin said that the state can create conditions to ensure creative freedom and provide sufficient compensation. "The market approach to culture is not very good, and sometimes it is not good at all," Putin said. "But it is impossible to exist without the market." The president also praised the state-controlled Kultura television channel but said that it must increase programming content from the regions. However, this must be done in such a way as to avoid providing a propaganda platform for regional administrations, Putin warned.

CITIZEN TRIES TO FIGHT GOVERNMENT MOTORCADES. Ufa resident Yevgenii Kareev on 5 February filed suit in a Moscow court against the Russian government for allegedly illegally blocking traffic for government motorcades, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 6 February. Kareev declared the government has "persistently and demonstratively violated Russian citizens' constitutional rights of equality before the law and freedom of movement" by blocking streets to ensure speedy passage for high-ranking government officials' motorcades. Kareev filed a similar lawsuit against the Bashkir government two days earlier and decided to take his fight to the next level following the positive reaction of the mass media and the public. Leonid Olshanskii, vice president of the Russian Automobile Movement, told Ekho Moskvy on 3 February that Kareev has little chance of winning on the case's legal merits. However, State Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov (independent) said he hopes Kareev will prevail and that a legal precedent will be set.

SCIENTISTS SAY THEY ARE READY TO CLONE A MAMMOTH. Petr Lazarev, a researcher with the Institute of Applied Ecology of the North in Khabarovsk, has announced that Russian scientists believe they have isolated a mammoth cell that is suitable for cloning, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. He said that a well-preserved fragment of mammoth bone was discovered in permafrost in the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic by a joint Russian-Japanese expedition last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2002). He said the cell is now being preserved at a biotechnology center in Novosibirsk and that the first-ever effort to clone a mammoth will be undertaken in Japan if scientists there confirm the opinion of their Russian colleagues.