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Security Watch: February 19, 2003

19 February 2003, Volume 4, Number 7
PUTIN SAYS RUSSIA READY TO USE SECURITY COUNCIL VETO... In an interview with French national television on 11 February, President Vladimir Putin said Russia might use its United Nations Security Council veto to block a military intervention against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Russian and Western news agencies reported. "Although we highly value the unity of the Security Council, if something is initiated that could lead to the unfounded use of force against Iraq, we will [impose a veto], either with France or alone," Putin said. He added, however, that Russia, France, and Germany still hope to persuade U.S. President George W. Bush not to launch a military strike against Baghdad. Putin said that Russia has no information about possible links between Iraq and Al-Qaeda but is checking data provided by the United States. He agreed with Bush's recent statements that Russia is not an adversary of the United States and added that he is pleased to call Bush his friend.

...URGES POLITICAL SOLUTION TO IRAQ CRISIS... Speaking to journalists in Bordeaux, France, on 12 February, President Putin said he is not concerned by the recent audiotape purportedly made by Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2003), RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. Putin said that the tape does not provide evidence of any links between Al-Qaeda and the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He also iterated his statement that Russia is prepared to use its UN Security Council veto to prevent what Moscow considers an unfounded military intervention in Iraq. "We have used [the veto] many times and will use it again if necessary," Putin said. However, he stressed that he does not want to exacerbate tensions by engaging in polemics because "that would make it difficult to come to terms with other Security Council members who now disagree with Russia." Putin again stated that a U.S. military operation against Hussein would weaken the international antiterrorism coalition and split the Security Council but pledged that Russia will, in any event, work to maintain the coalition and preserve Security Council unity on key issues. "Russia will never return to a policy of confrontation with our partners in Europe and North America," Putin said.

...AND HAILS ADVANCE OF 'MULTIPOLAR WORLD'... In the same interview, President Putin called the 11 February joint statement by Russia, France, and Germany on Iraq "the first brick in the construction of a multipolar world," RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. He hailed the effort "to resolve an acute security crisis by thinking outside of [political] blocs." The joint statement signed in Paris says "there is an alternative to war with Iraq" and that Russia, France, and Germany are determined to work together toward that alternative. Putin said the joint statement was adopted spontaneously on the initiative of French President Jacques Chirac. "Paris is the best place for it," Putin said. "If it had been done in Russia, everybody would be saying that we are trying to split Europe and the United States." The joint statement does not, however, mark the emergence of a new political axis, Putin remarked. "We are not working against anybody but for a peaceful resolution to this problem," Putin said.

...AS U.S. OFFICIAL SAYS IRAQ THREATENS RUSSIA AS WELL AS U.S.... U.S. national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice, in an exclusive interview with ITAR-TASS on 13 February, expressed the hope that Russia will eventually adopt the U.S. position on Iraq. Rice said that the Iraq dispute should be viewed through the prism of the war on terrorism and combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. She added that the international terrorists allegedly succored by Iraq threaten not only the United States but Russia as well. "We should not allow the situation in Iraq to mar our relations [with Russia]," Rice added. She noted that the United States is prepared to declare that some Chechen militant groups are terrorist organizations but added that Washington remains committed to finding a political settlement in Chechnya and urges Moscow to work toward peace talks with legitimate Chechen leaders.

...AND FRENCH ANALYST WARNS THAT MOSCOW AND PARIS WILL SPLIT ON IRAQ. Isabel Facon, director of the French Strategic Research Foundation, was quoted by on 11 February as saying that the joint position on Iraq expressed by Paris and Moscow could shatter if fighting breaks out. Facon said that the present harmony is helping cement the partnership between Russia and France and enabling both countries to demonstrate their political independence from Washington. If a war begins, however, the two countries will have substantially different reactions. Facon noted that, although the French leadership saw the joint position on Iraq as a way of creating a positive background for President Putin's trip to France this week, the French public continues to view the Russian president negatively through the prism of the ongoing conflict in Chechnya.

DUMA DEPUTY OUTLINES MOSCOW'S POSITION ON IRAQ... Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Lukin (Yabloko) said that the Communists are supporting President Hussein because they have forgotten that his regime suppresses opposition; represses all dissent, including Iraqi communists; has unleashed two aggressive wars; and used weapons of mass destruction against Iraqi civilians, TV-Tsentr reported on 15 February. Moreover, Lukin added, Iraq's ruling Ba'ath Party is essentially a national-socialist organization. Lukin added that Russia supports Baghdad's unconditional disarmament and the international antiterrorism coalition and continues to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Moscow's position is closer to that of France, which has not ruled out the eventual use of force against Iraq, than it is to that of Germany, which opposes the use of force from pacifist considerations. Lukin said that he does not support unilateral U.S. action against Iraq. "Both policemen and bandits use coercion, but the difference is that policemen do it with a mandate," Lukin remarked.

...AS COMMENTATOR DESCRIBES PUTIN'S IRAQ DILEMMA. President Putin is proceeding cautiously on Iraq because the price of a mistake could be very high, commented TV-Tsentr anchorman Aleksei Pushkov on 15 February. A wrong move threatens to destroy Russia's oil interests in Iraq and could transform the current "cool friendship" with the United States into a "cold peace." Moreover, Moscow runs the risk that Europe, China, and the Islamic world could begin to view Russia as a "vassal of the United States," Pushkov added. Therefore, Putin has chosen the least risky option: an alliance with "old Europe," represented by France and Germany. Pushkov argued, though, that the chances of avoiding a war in Iraq are slim since the United States has already advanced quite far with its military deployments and preparations. Any peaceful solution would have to look like a victory both for those who oppose war and for the United States, Pushkov added, and this has become virtually impossible.

DUMA DEPUTIES VISIT BAGHDAD... A delegation of 42 State Duma deputies, primarily representing leftist and centrist factions, arrived in Baghdad on 17 February to show solidarity with the Iraqi people and to discuss ways of preventing a war, RTR and other Russian news agencies reported. The deputies were accompanied by about 30 scientists and other public figures. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who is heading the delegation, declined to say whether the deputies will meet with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, reported. Delegation member Deputy Vasilii Shandybin (Communist) proposed the creation of a committee "to save us from George Bush." Deputy Oleg Korgunov (People's Deputy) said the delegation will urge Hussein to comply fully with its international obligations and to increase his regime's transparence in order to avoid a war, reported.

...AND VOLUNTEERS TO DEFEND IRAQ STEP FORWARD IN RUSSIAN CITIES... Some 2,500 Russian citizens have told the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow that they are interested in volunteering to defend Iraq against a possible U.S. military action, Ekho Moskvy reported on 13 February. In Chally, Rafis Kashapov, head of the local Tatar Public Center office, said that several dozen Chally residents have appealed to his group to help them fight in Iraq. However, Kashapov informed them that his group does not involve itself in military-recruitment efforts, "Trud" reported on 13 February. Kashapov told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service that the would-be recruits belong to many ethnic groups, including Russians, Chavash, Tatars, Maris, and Udmurts. In Sverdlovsk Oblast, at least 10 residents between the ages of 30 and 40 have also expressed their desire to assist Iraq, reported, citing the local branch of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. The volunteers include not only Muslims but also ethnic Russians "who are ready to fight against American commands and force," according to the agency.

...AS COMMUNISTS PROTEST ACROSS RUSSIA... Demonstrations against a possible U.S.-led military action in Iraq were held across Russia on 15 February as part of a coordinated global public action, NTV reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003). About 1,000 people gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, and some 5,000 people reportedly gathered in the southern city of Krasnodar. An estimated 1,000 people attended a rally organized by the Communist Party in Voronezh's central square, reported. An effigy of U.S. President George W. Bush with a swastika on his sleeve was burned next to a statue of Vladimir Lenin. Pskov and Yekaterinburg hosted rallies of about 100 people each at which effigies of Bush were also immolated, reported on 15 February. In Krasnoyarsk, heavy snow prevented demonstrators from setting the U.S. flag on fire, but each of the orators at the protest wiped his feet on the flag, according to NTV. At the end of the rally, at which about 100 people attended, the flag was torn up. Rallies were also held in St. Petersburg and other Russian cities.

...AND SO DOES CHIEF MUFTI. On 11 February, the head of the Ufa-based Central Religious Board of Muslims of Russia and the European countries of the CIS, Supreme Mufti Telget Tajetdin, said during his morning sermon that he opposes the use of force to resolve the crisis in Iraq, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported the next day.

MOSCOW AUTHORITIES HOLD ANTITERRORISM DRILL... Major General Aleksandr Yeleseev, head of the Moscow Municipal Civil Defense and Emergency Situations Administration, announced that his agency on 14 February conducted an exercise in the Moscow metro "on the liquidation of the consequences of a terrorist act involving chemical and bacteriological weapons," ITAR-TASS and other Russian news agencies reported. Rescue teams had three hours to identify what type of weapon had been used, to decontaminate the affected metro station, and to evacuate all those injured in the mock attack. Yeleseev added that the drill was a success.

...AS GENERAL SAYS RUSSIA IS NOT READY FOR TERRORIST ACTS. Speaking to reporters in Moscow on 13 February, Duma Defense Committee Chairman General Andrei Nikolaev (People's Deputy) said Russia is not able to prevent terrorist attacks, RosBalt and other Russian news agencies reported. Nikolaev added that he believes any U.S. military intervention in Iraq would produce an increase in terrorist acts globally. "The threat of terrorism comes from places where no one expects it, and it is impossible to guarantee that there will be no terrorist attacks," Nikolaev said.

DEPUTIES TO DEBATE TOUGH AMENDMENTS TO ANTITERRORISM LAW. Leaders from all the main pro-Kremlin centrist factions in the Duma have introduced harsh draft amendments to the law on combating terrorism, "Vedomosti" reported on 12 February. The amendments were presented by deputies Vladimir Pekhtin (Unity), Vyacheslav Volodin (Fatherland-All Russia), Oleg Morozov (Russian Regions), and Vladislav Reznik (Unity). They would allow security and police agencies to make arrests without court warrants under the antiterrorism provisions of the Criminal Code. They would also allow the authorities to transfer terrorism-related trials from zones of "antiterrorism operations" to other regions of the federation. Deputy Pavel Krasheninnikov (Union of Rightist Forces), a former justice minister, also endorsed the amendments. Human rights lawyer Pavel Astakhov was quoted as saying the amendments would amount to the suspension of the constitution in zones where antiterrorism operations are being carried out.

RUSSIA, INDIA TEST NEW MISSILE... India and Russia have announced the successful test of the new Brahmos sea-launched missile in the Bay of Bengal, Russian and Western new agencies reported on 12 February. The jointly produced supersonic cruise missile is based on the Soviet-era Yakhont (Onyx) missile and has a range of about 300 kilometers, making it capable of hitting any major city in Pakistan, AP reported on 12 February. Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said that the nuclear-capable missile will enter the two countries' arsenals in 2004 and will be sold to other countries, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported.

...AS PAPER CALLS OBSOLETE MISSILES A THREAT TO NATIONAL SECURITY. The 1 February "Columbia" space shuttle disaster highlights the dangers posed by the growing obsolescence of Russia's nuclear and missile arsenals, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on 12 February. The newspaper argues that it is likely that whatever caused the "Columbia" explosion, which killed seven astronauts, probably stemmed from the fact that the "Columbia" was originally built in 1981. The same problems are now being faced with regard to the more than 700 combat-ready strategic ballistic missiles currently based throughout Russia. General Aleksandr Yashin, former deputy commander of the Strategic Missile Force, told the daily that the problems have been exacerbated by the fact that the service lives of many Russian missiles have been repeatedly extended by upgrades. However, such modernization does not really affect a missile's basic technical specification or the parameters of the materials from which missiles are made. The daily concludes that Russia's strategic missiles have become a threat to the country's national security and urges the government to heed the warning of the "Columbia" disaster.

BP TO INVEST $6.75 BILLION IN RUSSIAN/UKRAINIAN OIL SECTOR. British Petroleum and the Russian financial-industrial concerns Alfa Group and Access/Renova have announced the biggest business partnership in Russia's postcommunist history, RTR and other Russian news agencies reported on 12 February. The partners will create a new company that will merge all the oil-sector assets of the three participants on the territory of Russia and Ukraine. According to the deal, 50 percent of the still-unnamed new company will belong to BP, and 50 percent will belong to the Russian partners. Alfa Group and Access/Renova control oil majors Tyumen Oil Company and Sidanko. The new company will be the third-largest player in the Russian oil sector, following Yukos and LUKoil. BP will invest $3 billion in cash and $3.75 billion in BP shares in the venture. Alfa Group CEO Mikhail Fridman said the deal would not have been possible without the support of the Russian government. He said the new company will serve as "a locomotive to pull the Russian economy," reported. Speaking to reporters during his trip to Paris, President Putin said the deal demonstrates the growing attractiveness of the Russian economy.

ELECTRICITY-SECTOR REFORMS PASS CRITICAL BARRIER... The State Duma on 14 February approved in its second reading a package of legislation reforming Russia's electricity sector, Russian news agencies reported. One of the key bills in the package, entitled "on electrical energy," sets up two open joint-stock companies, one that will manage the national electricity grid and another that will be the system operator of the unified energy system, Radio Rossii reported. The package of bills was adopted in its first reading in October. The legislation was opposed by the Yabloko and Communist factions, and, according to Interfax, the final bill in the package passed with 262 votes for -- just 36 more than necessary -- with 152 against and one abstention. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref hailed the passage of the bills, saying that a very important step has been taken in the market reform of the electricity industry. At the same time, Gref promised that the government will strictly control rates policies in the sector until at least 2008, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported.

...AS MEDIA, DEPUTIES CRITICIZE REFORM PACKAGE... The electrical-sector reform package proposed by Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais and strongly backed by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov could lead to a loss of control over the energy sector and unhindered rates increases, Duma Deputy Vyacheslav Volodin (Fatherland-All Russia) told TV-Tsentr on 15 February. Volodin said, however, that he voted for the reform package because the government promised to maintain control over tariffs and to halt the reforms if the Duma is unhappy with their progress. The breakup of EES "will beget a predatory herd of new monopolists that will appropriate billions of dollars in EES assets and gain new levers of political pressure over the government," said TV-Tsentr commentator Pushkov. Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin (Yabloko) said that the privatization of EES is being carried out like the privatizations of the early 1990s "when property was divvied up in the dark among those with insider information." Mitrokhin said that it is clear that only EES's top management will benefit from the privatization and that society will gain nothing.

...AND OLIGARCHS WAIT IN THE WINGS. Following his election more than two years ago, President Putin pledged that the "oligarchs will cease to exist as a class." Today, however, more than 70 percent of Russia's $330 billion gross domestic product is controlled by just 20 conglomerates, according to an assessment by "The Economist," "Figaro" reported on 11 February. Eight oligarchic clans control Russia's 64 leading companies, including the Yeltsin-era Family, which still controls more than 20 percent of the GDP, "Figaro" claims. One member of that clan, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, has business interests in oil, aluminum, airlines, automaking, media, and finance and maintains close ties to former President Boris Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko. Abramovich's associate, oligarch Oleg Deripaska, is married to the daughter of Valentin Yumashev, Dyachenko's husband and a former high-ranking official in the Yeltsin administration. All in all, "Figaro" argues that the oligarchs have grown more powerful during the Putin era and are now poised to gain control of the country's remaining state assets, including the electrical system and the oil pipelines.

PUTIN PLEDGES TO SUPPORT GAZPROM. Speaking at a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the founding of Gazprom on 14 February, President Putin described the company as "a powerful lever of political and economic influence in the world," Russian news agencies reported. Because of this, the government is very cautious regarding gas-sector reforms and will continue to be cautious in the future, Putin said. "The government will never support plans to break up Gazprom," Putin said. Under a liberal reform program drafted last year by the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, Gazprom would lose control of its transport, storage, and distribution networks.

MMM CO-FOUNDER SENTENCED. A Moscow court on 13 February sentenced Vyacheslav Mavrodi, younger brother of Sergei Mavrodi, founder of the MMM investment firm, to five years and three months in prison for his conviction on charges of conducting illegal banking and precious-commodities operations, and other Russian news agencies reported. After the collapse of MMM, which Vyacheslav Mavrodi founded with his brother, he formed two other pyramid-type investment companies called MMM-96 and MMM-97. The court ruled that by accepting "deposits" from investors, Mavrodi violated Russian banking laws and that the companies acquired gold from the Central Bank without having the necessary license. Mavrodi's lawyers said they will appeal the conviction. Sergei Mavrodi was arrested in Moscow on 31 January (see "RFE/RL Security and Terrorism Watch," 4 February 2003) after almost five years on the run and now faces fraud charges stemming from MMM's activities.

DOGGED BY SCANDALS, STATE FISHERIES HEAD IS DISMISSED. After temporarily suspending him the previous day, Prime Minister Kasyanov signed an order on 15 February dismissing State Fisheries Committee Chairman Yevgenii Nazdratenko from his post, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003). According to "Rossiya," the official reason for Nazdratenko's dismissal is the scandal over the uneven distribution of fishing quotas among Magadan and Khabarovsk oblasts and Primorskii Krai (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 23 January 2003). An unidentified source close to the White House told "Vremya-MN" on 16 February that the situation had taken on a "political character" because people had started to hold meetings calling for Nazdratenko's resignation. Nazdratenko took over at the State Fisheries Committee after a controversial career as governor of Primorskii Krai (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 12 March 2001).

COURT REJECTS APPEAL FOR MORE PRISON TIME FOR CONVICTED SPY... The Supreme Court's Military Collegium on 11 February rejected an appeal filed by Chief Military Prosecutor Aleksandr Savenkov in the case of former Military Intelligence (GRU) Colonel Aleksandr Sypachev, RosBalt and other Russian news agencies reported. Sypachev was sentenced in November to eight years in prison and stripped of his rank after being convicted of spying for the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2002). At his trial, prosecutors asked the court for a 15-year sentence, but the court ruled Sypachev was guilty of "attempted espionage" rather than of "espionage" and handed down the reduced sentence. In his appeal, Savenkov argued that the eight-year term is "too mild" and asked the court to increase it.

...AS ACADEMIC'S ESPIONAGE CASE GETS UNDER WAY. At a closed session of a Moscow court on 11 February, prosecutors asked for an eight-year prison sentence for Anatolii Babkin, a 72-year-old Moscow State Technical University professor who stands accused of espionage, reported. Babkin's trial opened on 16 December, and he is accused of helping retired U.S. Navy officer Edmund Pope obtain classified information about a high-speed Russian torpedo. Pope was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison but was pardoned by President Putin in December 2001. Babkin has pleaded not guilty and has said that the allegedly secret documents obtained by Pope were not provided by himself but by another Russian colleague. A naval officer testifying at the trial for the prosecution argued that Babkin should pay 26 million rubles ($700,000) to compensate for the harm to Russian national security that he allegedly caused.

YABLOKO INTRODUCES HUMAN-TRAFFICKING BILL. Addressing a Duma Legislation Committee hearing devoted to combating human trafficking, Deputy Chairwoman Yelena Mizulina (Yabloko) said that her faction has introduced a bill that defines human trafficking as "a form of organized crime and a source of terrorism," and other Russian news agencies reported on 17 February. She said that human trafficking in Russia is flourishing because of loopholes in existing legislation that make such crimes punishable only as "forced prostitution" or smuggling. In reality, Mizulina said, human trafficking constitutes a modern form of slavery that entails many other types of crimes and human rights violations. Yabloko's bill includes new legal concepts such as "debt slavery" and "human-trafficking victim." It would introduce seven new articles into the Criminal Code dealing with all aspects of human trafficking and includes the creation of a special commission and public centers dealing with the issue. She said that public oversight is necessary because human trafficking thrives on official corruption.

PRO-PUTIN YOUTH GROUP MOCKS COMMUNISTS, BEREZOVSKII. The pro-Putin youth movement Walking Together, which has undertaken a number of flamboyant public demonstrations in recent months, held a downtown Moscow event on 13 February to mark the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), reported. Demonstrators hung a large banner on the Moskva Hotel featuring portraits of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin, Gennadii Zyuganov, and self-exiled magnate Boris Berezovskii. Mikhail Myasoedov, spokesman and chief ideologue for the movement, said the point of the demonstration was to show that the KPRF has been transformed into something like a commercial brand, "just like a type of washing machine." Marchers also played a "musical present" for Zyuganov: Liza Minelli's "Money Makes the World Go Round."