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Security Watch: February 25, 2003

25 February 2003, Volume 4, Number 8
GENERAL STAFF SAYS WAR IN IRAQ 'INEVITABLE,' BUT RUSSIA WON'T PARTICIPATE... Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii, the first deputy chief of the General Staff, told a news conference in Moscow on 19 February that a U.S.-led military strike against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is inevitable, ORT and other Russian news agencies reported. He told journalists that the United States was ready for such a strike "already yesterday." Baluevskii said that General Staff analysts believe that the cost of the deployment of forces in anticipation of an attack on Iraq is "insignificant compared with the cost of returning them home without fulfilling the mission for which they were deployed." He added that the Russian military will not take part in any action against Hussein, and Russian forces will not be put on a heightened state of alert. Only those military units monitoring the situation would see increased activity, Baluevskii said.

...AS EXPERT PREDICTS IRAQI PRESIDENT'S OUSTER 'IN ANY CASE.' Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the influential Council for Defense and Foreign Policy, said in an interview published on on 20 February that no matter how the Iraq situation develops, Iraqi President Hussein will be removed from power. He added that, although war is not certain, there are only two possible political solutions to the crisis at this point: Either Hussein goes or the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush goes. Karaganov said that Russia should not use its UN Security Council veto on this matter. "[European opponents of U.S. policy] are dreaming that we will impose a veto so that they, as always, can hide behind our backs. But this is ludicrous, and we should stop doing the dirty work for others," Karaganov said.

MILITARY ANALYST PREDICTS QUICK U.S. VICTORY IN IRAQ. Major General Vladimir Slipchenko, a respected military strategist, has said that the United States would be able to defeat Iraq within six weeks after initiating a military operation, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 22 February. Slipchenko -- who offered relatively accurate forecasts of U.S. military operations in Iraq in 1991, in Yugoslavia in 1999, and in Afghanistan in 2001 -- said that a new generation of U.S. weapons will be able to destroy all of Iraq's missiles, tanks, and other weaponry and that the U.S. will be able to achieve victory without engaging Iraqi ground forces in battle. Slipchenko said that U.S.-led forces will enter Iraq virtually unopposed following the virtual destruction of all Iraqi forces. Destroying Iraq's political regime will be more difficult, but the U.S. will cope with this task as well, Slipchenko said. Asked what the postwar situation would be like for Russia, which is highly dependent on oil revenues, Slipchenko refused to speculate, noting that he is an expert on war, not peace.

FOREIGN MINISTER COMPLAINS OF 'PRESSURE' ON UN WEAPONS INSPECTORS... Igor Ivanov said on 20 February that Moscow is concerned about "pressure on the international inspectors in Iraq," ORT and RIA-Novosti reported. Ivanov said that those who are pressuring the inspectors are trying to force their departure, as was done in 1998, or "to induce them to present inspection results that can be used as a pretext for coercive action against this country." Russia has called on inspectors to ignore the pressure and to fulfill their responsibilities objectively and has urged the international community to support the inspectors without pressuring them, Ivanov said. He added that if the U.S. and Britain produce a new draft United Nations Security Council resolution on Iraq, Russia "will consider it."

...AS FIRST RUSSIANS EVACUATED FROM IRAQ... The first Russian citizens to be evacuated from Iraq arrived in Moscow on 19 February, ORT reported. They left Baghdad on commercial flights and the process of evacuating nonessential Russian personnel from Iraq will continue over the next week to 10 days. An unidentified spokesman for the Russian embassy in Baghdad was quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 February as saying no decision has yet been made to evacuate all Russian citizens. However, if such a decision is made, the Emergency Situations Ministry will arrange special flights to evacuate the estimated 700 Russian citizens still in the country. The source added, however, that the embassy only has information about citizens who are registered with it and that there might be other Russian citizens in Iraq on their own. He also said that Russia might undertake the evacuation of British citizens in Iraq, since Russia represents British interests in that country.

...AND COMMUNIST LEADER WARNS OF 'THIRD WORLD WAR.' Gennadii Zyuganov, who headed a delegation of more than 40 State Duma deputies visiting Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2003), said on 19 February that he believes a war in Iraq would unleash a "third world war" and destroy civil society in Europe, where the public opposes war even as their governments support it, Russian news agencies reported. Zyuganov met the same day with Iraqi President Hussein and told journalists after the meeting that Hussein "is very grateful to Russia for its clear position" on the crisis in the region.

U.S., RUSSIA TALK ABOUT IRAQ IN WASHINGTON... President Putin's chief of staff, Aleksandr Voloshin, arrived in Washington on 24 February to discuss Iraq with U.S. administration officials, Russian and Western news agencies reported. It is his first official trip to the U.S. capital. Voloshin met the same day with U.S. President George W. Bush and U.S. national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and the discussion reportedly centered on ways to extend and intensify bilateral relations, RIA-Novosti reported. Voloshin is also expected to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and with members of the U.S. Congress. Although the trip is officially described as a "working visit," commented that it is essentially the same as if Putin himself were visiting. According to the website, Putin sent Voloshin to Washington because he is considered a top-notch negotiator and a consummate politician. Voloshin is considered a primary architect of the recent agreement between Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan on the creation of a joint economic zone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003), the website noted. In Washington, Voloshin is expected to explain that Moscow's position on Iraq is not as categorical as those of Paris and Berlin and to seek a common position with the White House that will take into account Russian interests in Iraq, speculated.

...AND ABOUT IRAN IN MOSCOW. U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton arrived in Moscow on 24 February for talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov on a wide range of bilateral political and security issues, ITAR-TASS and other Russian news agencies reported. The talks will focus on Russian assistance to Iran's nuclear program and on the construction of the nuclear-power plant at Bushehr. The U.S. administration continues to argue that Tehran's interest in nuclear fuel-cycle technology proves that it intends to develop nuclear weapons, although both Russia and Iran have denied this. Washington is insisting that Russia refrain from further transfers of nuclear technology to Iran, particularly in the wake of a recent Iranian statement that Tehran will develop a uranium mine in Yazd Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2003).

PRIMAKOV VISITED HUSSEIN. Yevgenii Primakov, head of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, visited Baghdad briefly on 22 February for closed-door meetings with the Iraqi leadership, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Primakov, who is a specialist on Middle East affairs, is known for his close personal relations with Iraqi President Hussein and other Iraqi leaders, RIA-Novosti noted. It was not clear whether Primakov brought Hussein a message from President Putin. However, just prior to the beginning of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Primakov visited Baghdad at the request of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, reported.

PUTIN DECRIES GEOPOLITICAL 'IMBALANCE.' Speaking at a national conference of army officers in Moscow on 21 February, President Vladimir Putin said the current geopolitical situation in the world is complicated and that the global correlation of forces "is visibly unbalanced," ORT and RTR reported. He added that a new international-security configuration has yet to be created. "We cannot overlook the increasing aggressiveness of very influential forces in some countries of the world and the diminishing effectiveness of international security and conflict-resolution institutions," Putin said. "This is a cause for concern." He added that Russia needs a professional, efficient army that "is able to operate in the new geopolitical environment." The global and domestic situations demand a high level of professionalism from Russian officers, including a broad overall outlook and familiarity with international experience, Putin said. He noted that the national conference was the first event of its type in the post-Soviet period. Holding the event marks Putin's reinstatement of yet another Soviet-era tradition.

PUTIN SUPPORTS EUROPEAN UNION ON IRAQ... President Putin met on 18 February with European Commission President Romano Prodi, who came to Moscow to brief the Russian president on decisions regarding Iraq made at the summit of European Union leaders held on 17 February in Brussels, Russian news agencies reported. Putin said he "agrees in general" with an EU resolution adopted at the summit that does not exclude the possibility of military action against Iraq but describes such a measure as the "last resort" to solve the problem.

...AND DISCUSSES NON-VISA STATUS FOR RUSSIANS IN EU. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists that President Putin also discussed with Prodi the possibility of granting nonvisa status to Russian citizens in the EU and "received a positive reaction to this proposal," reported on 19 February. The two men decided to form a joint commission to consider the issue, Ivanov added. Ivanov also said that Putin expressed his concern "about problems linked to EU expansion, especially the creation of artificial barriers to the movement of Russian citizens and products." "Moscow is generally positive about EU expansion but does not want it to have negative consequences for Russia," Ivanov quoted Putin as saying.

RUSSIA, UKRAINE, BELARUS, KAZAKHSTAN AGREE ON JOINT ECONOMIC ZONE... President Putin and the presidents of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan held an unexpected meeting in the Moscow suburb of Novo-Ogarevo on 23 February, after which they announced that they had reached agreement in principle on the creation of a "joint economic space" covering the four countries, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said the countries will prepare an agreement on the project by September and take measures to coordinate their economic policies and legislative environments. Putin said the four countries have agreed to create a supranational commission on trade and tariffs that will be based in Kyiv and will be initially headed by a representative of Kazakhstan. He said this commission will not be subordinate to the governments of the four countries. The ultimate goal of the economic alliance will be the creation of a regional-integration organization that will be open to other countries that might want to join, Putin said. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev said the new economic zone will not replace the CIS, but represents a new form of integration under which economic ties will have priority over political relations.

...AS JOINT STATEMENT GENERATES MIXED REACTION. The declaration of a joint economic space could mark a milestone for these four countries that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union, NTV commented on 23 February. The network said that although the declaration could be interpreted as the kind of forced integration that the national elites of the former Soviet republics have long feared, it is in reality yet another effort to stimulate the economic revival of the CIS. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said that the creation of the joint economic zone will accelerate the fundamental economic restructuring being carried out in the countries involved. He said the zone will require uniform customs, currency, and budgetary policies and that the four countries enter the World Trade Organization as an integrated economic bloc, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 February. Gref added that such economic coordination will also stimulate increased political integration. RTR, however, commented on 23 February that political considerations might be playing the leading role. The station argued that the move was stimulated by international instability and particularly the situation concerning Iraq, which is pushing the four countries to integrate.

PRIME MINISTER BACKS RUBLE AS EES COMMON CURRENCY. Speaking at a session of the Eurasian Economic Commonwealth (EES) in Moscow on 19 February, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said he supports the idea of using the Russian ruble as the organization's common currency, reported. The idea was proposed earlier at the session by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who said, "It is nonsense that businessmen in these countries make deals in foreign currencies and part of their profits goes God knows where," ITAR-TASS reported. Kasyanov also proposed the creation of a Eurasian natural-gas consortium, which would create uniform trade and transit conditions for all members. Kasyanov stressed that Ukraine and Moldova -- which participated in the session as observers -- are especially interested in the gas-transit issue.

GOVERNMENT ADOPTS BILL ON NATIONALIZATION. The cabinet on 20 February adopted a bill on the nationalization of private property that it plans to submit to the Duma in the next two to three weeks, reported. Under the bill, the state would be authorized to seize private property only for reasons of national defense or state security. Even in those cases, seizures would only be allowed if the state is unable to meet its needs on the open market. The bill calls for an independent assessor to determine the value of any nationalized property and mandates compensation from a special, classified section of the state budget. The bill also states that nationalization can only be applied to "strategic objects," and it includes a definition of the term "strategic." It also specifically states that nationalization cannot be used as a form of punishment. Analysts believe this wording was included to ensure that nationalization is not used to reverse the privatization process of the early 1990s.

RUSSIA CELEBRATES ARMY DAY... Several leftist and nationalist organizations led by the Communist Party held demonstrations on 23 February to mark Defender of the Fatherland Day, Russian news agencies reported. President Putin decreed the day a state holiday last year, and this year marked the first time it was officially celebrated as a nonworking day. About 3,000 marchers in Moscow carried portraits of Josef Stalin and placards with anti-American slogans protesting a possible military action against the regime of Iraqi President Hussein. President Putin -- together with Ukrainian President Kuchma, Kazakh President Nazarbaev, and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka -- participated in several ceremonies feting the Russian Army, and the presidents declared the celebration "a joint holiday," RTR reported. Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov (independent) announced that he has introduced a bill in the Duma that would abolish the holiday, which in the Soviet era was known as Red Army Day and since 1993 has been called Russian Army Day, NTV reported on 22 February. On 23 February 1918, the Red Army suffered a defeat at the hands of German troops near Pskov, a fact that has long been kept from the public, Yushenkov said. Instead, he said, the holiday should be celebrated on 7 September to mark the anniversary of the Russian Army's victory over Napoleon near Borodino in 1812.

...AS LIBERALS SAY HAZING CLAIMS THOUSANDS OF SOLDIERS EACH YEAR. At a joint press conference in Moscow on 22 February, the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers announced that an estimated 2,000 Russian soldiers are killed each year in hazing-related incidents, reported. According to a press release, more than 40,000 soldiers appealed to the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers last year for help because of alleged mistreatment by officers and other soldiers. About 6,000 soldiers deserted their units last year, most of them complaining of humiliation, persecution, and beatings. SPS leader Boris Nemtsov said that activists are looking into a case in which a soldier with the elite Kremlin presidential regiment was reportedly severely beaten. Military Prosecutor Aleksandr Savenkov said that the data on the number of soldiers killed released at the press conference has been inflated by at least a factor of 30, reported on 23 February. Savenkov said the hazing situation in the military is not "catastrophic" and that the problem affects only about 10 percent of military units.

SHOOTING RAMPAGE LEAVES FIVE SOLDIERS DEAD. A soldier in a supply unit of the Strategic Rocket Force based near Krasnoyarsk on 19 February shot dead four fellow soldiers before committing suicide, RosBalt and other Russian news agencies reported. RIA-Novosti, citing the Defense Ministry's press office, identified the soldier as Private Sergei Khanov, a conscript from Perm. A delegation from the Military Prosecutor's Office has been sent to look into the incident and an investigation into charges of premeditated murder has been opened. NTV reported that investigators believe that hazing might have played a role in the incident.

PROFESSOR GETS EIGHT-YEAR SUSPENDED SENTENCE FOR ESPIONAGE. The Moscow Municipal Court on 18 February convicted Professor Anatolii Babkin of spying for the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002 and 12 February 2003) and handed down an eight-year suspended sentence, plus five years' probation, "Izvestiya" and other Russian news media reported on 19 February. The court also banned Babkin from conducting any research or working as a professor for three years, banned him from holding any administrative posts at his research center, and stripped him of his academic honors. Babkin's lawyers deny that he engaged in espionage and say he merely authorized the transfer of certain scientific papers to an American university under the terms of an approved contract. Babkin, 72, was arrested in May 2000 and accused of handing over classified information about the Shkval high-speed, liquid-fueled, rocket-propelled torpedo to U.S. naval specialist Edmund Pope. Pope was convicted of espionage and given a 20-year prison term but was pardoned by President Putin in December 2000. In a letter to the editor published in "The Moscow Times" on 19 February, Pope writes: "Throughout the time we worked together -- always with the oversight and supervision of higher authorities -- Professor Babkin was at all times sensitive to avoiding any infraction of rules or classification authority. At no time in my presence did he ever intimate or otherwise offer any classified information. Indeed, on several occasions he became angry when one of my colleagues would ask him for technical details that he considered too sensitive."

ANOTHER CATHOLIC PRIEST EXPELLED. The authorities have revoked the visa of Father Bronislaw Czaplicki, a Catholic priest working at a church in the town of Pushkin near St. Petersburg, and have ordered him to leave Russia within two weeks, Russian and Western news services reported on 24 February. Czaplicki has been working in Russia for 10 years and heads a project called New Catholic Martyrs of Russia. The authorities offered no explanation for the expulsion, but Igor Kovalevskii, secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia, noted that Czaplicki is the sixth Catholic priest to be expelled from the country since last April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 22 April 2002 and 10 and 11 September 2002). In previous cases, the authorities justified their actions by citing "activities incompatible with clerical status." Analysts believe the authorities are acting at the behest of the Russian Orthodox Church.

SUSPENDED FISHERIES HEAD APPEALS TO PUTIN... Suspended State Fisheries Committee Chairman Yevgenii Nazdratenko told Ekho Moskvy on 18 February that he has sent a letter to President Putin asking him to weigh in on Prime Minister Kasyanov's decision to suspend him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003). Nazdratenko said he would be willing to return to the committee if asked and that Putin has the last word in the matter.

...BLAMES 'FISH MAFIA' FOR HIS OUSTER... In the same 18 February interview with Ekho Moskvy, Nazdratenko said that the so-called fish mafia is behind Prime Minister Kasyanov's decision to suspend him. He alleged that Primorskii Krai Governor and controversial businessman Sergei Darkin are leading the effort and said that it is "not accidental" that his suspension occurred while Darkin was visiting Moscow. Nazdratenko said he opposes the present system of distributing fishing quotas, under which more than 50 percent of the catch goes to a handful of privileged operators with just a few fishing boats. ORT on 18 February broadcast footage of Darkin in the company of several alleged figures from the Far East's criminal world. Before becoming governor of Primorskii Krai, Darkin was reputed to have close ties with criminal structures and was allegedly given the nickname "Sergei the Mangy."

OLIGARCHS COMPLAIN ABOUT BURGEONING STATE APPARATUS... President Vladimir Putin met on 19 February with representatives of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), "Vremya novostei" reported the next day. The basic topics of discussion were corruption, administrative reform, and tax policy. Severstal Chairman Aleksei Mordashov delivered a report criticizing the country's "excessive" bureaucracy, "Vedomosti" reported on 20 February. According to Mordashov, one of his partners had to collect 137 signatures on various documents in order to open up a store in the Moscow area. "We are seeing the burgeoning of the state apparatus in the regions and in the [federal] center," Mordashov concluded. According to ITAR-TASS, the last meeting between Putin and RSPP was held on 23 May, at which time Putin said his meetings with the group had become "not only regular, but had assumed a working character."

...AND ABOUT CORRUPTION. At the same meeting, Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, who is considered the richest person in Russia, told President Putin that the government has failed to root out corruption, Russian news agencies reported. Corruption, Khodorkovskii said, costs Russia up to $30 billion annually, about 10-12 percent of the country's GDP. He pointed out that there are only two applicants for each opening at the prestigious Moscow Gubkin Oil Institute even though the average starting salary for its graduates is about $500 a month, while there are four or five applicants for each slot at the state tax academies, although starting salaries for their graduates range from $150-$200. He also noted that the Atomic Energy Ministry is no longer "the most corrupt department in the country" and suggested that reforms undertaken there might be attempted at other government agencies. In response, Putin said that Yukos has itself been accused of tax evasion in the past and that the company's undeclared oil reserves are also related to the topic of corruption.

'WANNA' BUY A KALASHNIKOV? Mikhail Kalashnikov, the man who designed the AK-47 assault rifle, has sold the rights to his name to a small German company that produces umbrellas, shaving razors, tennis rackets, and wristwatches, RTR reported on 20 February. Under the contract, Kalashnikov will receive a portion of the profits from sales of items bearing his name and will have the right to verify the quality of any products produced under the brand. Although more than 100 million AK-47s have been produced since Kalashnikov designed it, he has received no income from it and lives on a modest pension in Izhevsk. The German company reportedly hopes to use the brand to sell products from cars to mineral water. Kalashnikov told journalists that he is happy to have his name associated with products other than the AK-47, which has killed more people than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. "I wish I had invented a hay-mowing machine," Kalashnikov said on RTR.