Accessibility links

Breaking News

Security Watch: March 11, 2003

11 March 2003, Volume 4, Number 10
FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA WILL VETO IRAQ RESOLUTION... Igor Ivanov on 10 March told journalists before his departure for Tehran that Russia will not support the amended draft United Nations Security Council resolution on Iraq submitted by the United States, Great Britain, and Spain, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. "If [the resolution] is submitted to the UN Security Council, Russia will vote against it," Ivanov said. He added that the resolution contains "ultimatums" for Baghdad that are unenforceable and contradict the message formulated in UN Security Council Resolution 1441. In Tehran, Ivanov is expected to meet with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi to discuss policy coordination regarding Iraq, details of the possible evacuation of Russian citizens from Iraq through Iran, and the situation in Afghanistan, the BBC reported on 10 March.

...AND SAYS UNILATERAL ACTION AGAINST IRAQ WOULD VIOLATE UN CHARTER... Ivanov told RTR and ORT on 8 March that any U.S. military action against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein without United Nations' authorization would be a violation of the UN Charter. If this happens, he added, then the UN Security Council should discuss the matter and take action if necessary. He said that the 17 March deadline included in the amended Security Council resolution on Iraq put forward by the United States, Great Britain, and Spain is "an unjustified ultimatum." "Russia stands firmly for the continuation of the work of international inspectors," Ivanov said. He added that he doubts very much that the Security Council will approve the new resolution. Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov told NTV on 9 March that Russia and the United States might agree -- for very different reasons -- that another resolution is not needed. Russia wants to give the inspectors more time, Fedotov said, and the United States has lost faith in their mission altogether.

...AS RUSSIA COUNTS THE VOTES AT THE UN... As a seemingly crucial battle looms at the United Nations, Russian diplomats were scurrying to calculate the correlation of forces in the Security Council, ORT reported on 10 March. By Russian calculations, currently the United States, Great Britain, Spain, and Bulgaria firmly support the draft resolution, while Germany, France, Russia, China, and Syria are resolutely opposed. The remaining council members -- Mexico, Pakistan, Angola, Guinea, Cameroon, and Chile -- remain undecided. On 11 March, there were media reports that Pakistan would abstain if there were a vote. Moscow believes that Mexico and Angola will eventually support the U.S. position, while Chile, which has already said that "the inspectors need more time," would likely oppose the resolution. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin has been in Africa recently trying to persuade Cameroon and Guinea to vote against the resolution. In order to pass, a Security Council resolution must garner nine votes, including all the votes of the non-abstaining permanent members (the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, and France).

...BUT MOSCOW THINKS IRAQ WAR IS IMMINENT. The Emergency Situations Ministry announced on 6 March that it has brought an additional 150 Russian citizens to Moscow from Iraq and that another five flights are scheduled before 10 March that will evacuate virtually all the Russians remaining in that country, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. Russian oil majors Yukos, LUKoil, and Zarubezhneft have all reportedly summoned their employees home. commented on 6 March that the Emergency Situations Ministry's move is a sign that Moscow has few hopes that a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis will be found and that war appears imminent. The website commented that the only issue for Russia now is what role it will play in postwar Iraq. A high-ranking U.S. diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity told Interfax on 6 March that Russia's opposition to U.S. policy has not gone unnoticed and could have an impact on many aspects of bilateral relations, including U.S. support for Russia's rapid accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). In his evening commentary on ORT, Mikhail Leontev -- who is known for his hostile attitude toward the United States -- said the most important issue is not Iraq itself but the role of the United Nations. "The UN will be dead in any case. It will be suicide if it approves [a U.S.-led military action], and it will be its death if it does not approve [such an action] and its decision is ignored," Leontev said.

PUTIN PRAISES TURKEY'S POSITION ON IRAQ. Speaking at a cabinet session in Moscow on 4 March, President Vladimir Putin said the Turkish parliament's recent decision "to prevent U.S. forces from beginning a military operation against Iraq" was "the most important event of recent days," ORT and RTR reported. He added that the Kremlin was not surprised by the decision and that the deputies were guided by their understanding of the international and the domestic situations, as well as the overall situation in the Islamic world. "It would be difficult to expect a different decision from the Islamic Justice and Development Party, which has a majority in parliament," Putin said. RTR the same day broadcast an upbeat report from its correspondent accredited with U.S. forces in Kuwait. The morale of the troops is very high; they are ready to fight, and they are confident of victory, the correspondent said.

ATOMIC ENERGY MINISTER COMPLAINS OF LACK OF FUNDING... Speaking at a 5 March Duma hearing devoted to security at Russian nuclear installations, Aleksandr Rumyantsev said that his ministry's most urgent task is coping with the nuclear waste that accumulated during the massive production of nuclear weapons during the Cold War years, Russian news agencies reported. The country has millions of tons of low- and high-level radioactive waste that cannot be reprocessed because of funding shortages, Rumyantsev said. He also told deputies that the government will spend 6 billion rubles ($450 million) over the next six years to bolster security at nuclear facilities as part of its counterterrorism program. Rumyantsev said there are special Interior Ministry units guarding the country's nuclear facilities, although their numbers have been reduced because of funding shortages. He added that more funding is also needed for a program to use nuclear reactors from decommissioned submarines for civilian purposes.

...AND ANNOUNCES SHUTDOWN OF THREE REACTORS... Atomic Energy Minister Rumyantsev also told deputies that he will sign an agreement with U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham later this month on the shutdown of three Russian nuclear reactors that produce weapons-grade plutonium, RIA-Novosti reported on 5 March. Under the agreement, the United States will finance the construction of civilian nuclear-power plants to compensate for the supplies of electricity lost at the closed cities of Krasnoyarsk-26 and Omsk-7, where the plutonium reactors are located. Rumyantsev did not disclose the details of the agreement but added that the move will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

...AS NUCLEAR INSPECTOR SAYS BABUSHKAS ARE GUARDING RUSSIA'S NUCLEAR MATERIALS. Speaking at the same 5 March Duma hearing, State Nuclear Inspectorate Chairman Yurii Vishnevskii said he is not satisfied that citizens living near Russian nuclear installations are safe, reported on 5 March. He said that while the government focuses on the security of nuclear-power plants and the safety of personnel working at them, too little attention is paid to the populations of the areas surrounding them. He noted that in addition to the facilities under the purview of the Atomic Energy Ministry, his agency also monitors 7,000 enterprises under the purview of other agencies that handle nuclear and radioactive materials. Many of these enterprises are guarded only by unarmed, elderly women, Vishnevskii said. For security reasons, he declined to name any such facilities but urged that more be done to boost their security, in line with measures already taken at Atomic Energy Ministry facilities. He said that funding for security at non-ministry facilities is currently only 10 percent of what is needed. He noted that the government has a six-year plan to improve the situation but asked rhetorically whether the country really has six years to do this.

FSB DISCOVERS WEAPONS CACHE NEAR MOSCOW. Federal Security Service (FSB) agents on 6 March discovered a large cache of weapons and explosives in the Moscow suburb of Lobnya, ORT and ITAR-TASS reported. Agents found machine guns, handguns, artillery shells, landmines, grenades, and a significant quantity of explosive chemicals. An FSB spokesman said the explosives were the equivalent of about 200 tons of TNT. Residents of nearby buildings were evacuated while the explosives were removed. The FSB spokesman said that the weapons belonged to an unspecified criminal organization that was allegedly preparing a series of terrorist acts. He added that several criminal cases have been opened in connection with the discovery.

FSB PREVENTS SALE OF RADIOACTIVE ISOTOPE. The FSB's Omsk Territorial Directorate has detained an unidentified 67-year-old pensioner on suspicion of trying to sell 1.33 grams of the radioactive isotope osmium-187 to a Middle Eastern country, presumably Iraq, and reported on 3 March. On the black market, osmium -- a rare earth element of the platinum group -- costs from $60,000 to $200,000 a gram. Local FSB spokeswoman Natalya Grudtsyna said that following the pensioner's arrest, agents arrested an unidentified 50-year-old alleged accomplice, who was reportedly found to be in possession of 158,000 counterfeit Iraqi dinars. He was reportedly attempting to sell the dinars for $0.45 each. Grudtsyna said the two men are believed to be members of an international criminal organization, and agents are currently seeking other members of the group. reported that investigators believe the group was trying to sell the osmium through Azerbaijani middlemen to a Middle Eastern country. According to Major General Vladimir Yashkin of the General Staff, "there are considerable leaks of radioactive materials" throughout the former Soviet Union, reported.

PRESIDENT CONSOLIDATES SECURITY AGENCIES. In a series of presidential decrees issued on 11 March, President Putin initiated a major reorganization of the country's security agencies, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Putin disbanded the Federal Agency of Governmental Communications and Information (FAPSI) and the Federal Border Guard Service (FSP), incorporating both of these agencies into the FSB. Former FAPSI Director Vladimir Matyushin was named chairman of a newly created State Defense Procurements Committee at the Defense Ministry. Former FSP head Colonel General Konstantin Totskii has been named Russia's envoy to NATO. In addition, Putin abolished the Federal Tax Police Service (FSNP) and transferred its functions to the Interior Ministry. Former FSNP head Mikhail Fradkov was named Russia's envoy to the European Union. Putin also appointed former presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Viktor Cherkesov to head a new State Committee on Drug Trafficking. Cherkesov will be replaced by former Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko.

ELITE ANTITERRORISM OPERATIVES OUTRAGED BY AWARDS TO FSB GENERALS... An unidentified group of officers from the elite Alfa antiterrorism force that carried out the operation to resolve the 23-26 October hostage drama in Moscow has written to President Putin to protest the secret bestowal of state honors on the top FSB generals who oversaw the operation, "Novaya gazeta" reported on 4 March. The "Novaya gazeta" article was signed by State Duma Deputy Yurii Shchekochikhin (Yabloko), who serves as deputy chairman of the Duma's Security Committee, and addresses the text of the letter to Putin. The authors of the letter reveal that shortly after the beginning of the year, Putin awarded five Hero of Russia orders in connection with the hostage taking: One each went to officers of the Alfa and Vympel groups who actually participated in the storming of the theater, two were given to senior FSB officials, and one was given to the chemical specialist who released a sleeping gas into the theater. The Alfa officers wrote that First Deputy FSB Director Vladimir Pronichev and the head of the FSB Special Operations Center, General Aleksandr Tikhonov, should have been disciplined for allowing the Chechen fighters to penetrate the center of Moscow and take the more than 800 theatergoers hostage, but instead they were given awards that should rightly have gone to men who risked their lives to save the hostages. As for the chemical specialist, the Alfa officers wrote that he "was both the savior and the killer of many hostages."

...AS PAPER NOTES THAT NUMBER OF HEROES OF RUSSIA FROM CHECHEN CONFLICT CLASSIFIED. "Novaya gazeta" reported that only 58 Hero of the Soviet Union awards were given during the entire nine-year Soviet war in Afghanistan, according to the Association of Heroes of the Soviet Union and Russia. The association reported that the number of Hero of Russia awards given in connection with the military operation in Chechnya is a state secret but estimated that 90 percent of those honors are bestowed posthumously.

FINANCE MINISTER SAYS WAR IN IRAQ WOULD NOT BE TOO DAMAGING FOR RUSSIA. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told RTR on 9 March that the consequences of a military action against Iraq would not be too dramatic for the Russian economy. Although a war would certainly impact Russia and the global economy, its consequences would not be dire, Kudrin said. The U.S. dollar would remain the world's leading currency because of the strength of the U.S. economy, which constitutes about one-third of global economic activity, Kudrin said. He added, however, that high global oil prices are creating huge profits for a small number of Russian oil exporters and that this could stimulate inflation. To prevent this and to redistribute these profits, the government has decided to raise the export tax from $25.90 per ton to $40.30.

PUTIN CALLS FOR MORE OIL EXPORTS... Speaking to regional leaders and businessmen in Tyumen on 6 March, President Putin noted that western Siberia accounts for 90 percent of Russian natural-gas production and 65 percent of its oil production, Russian news agencies reported. "One can argue whether it is good or bad to be dependent on oil and gas exports, but this is an abstract dispute," Putin said. "The economic growth of the country has been achieved mainly because of the fuel and energy complex in Tyumen." He confirmed that Russia will increase oil and gas production and exports next year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2003). "We should conquer new positions in world markets and not lose them," Putin urged. He stressed that the state pipeline monopoly Transneft will remain in state ownership and confirmed that the government is making plans for its extension in the Far East; toward Murmansk, in the Baltic region; and in the south.

...AND SAYS THERE'S NO NEED TO FEAR WTO. While in Tyumen, President Putin said that Russia should enter the WTO "thoughtfully and deliberately" so as to avoid harming the Russian economy, reported on 6 March. Putin said that there is no need to fear that some sectors of the economy -- especially the agricultural sector -- will be unprotected from competition within the WTO. "We already have a free market and import everything and as much as we can, so what do we have to fear?" Putin asked rhetorically.

JAPAN READY TO INVEST IN EXPORT FAR EAST PIPELINE... Japanese Resources and Energy Minister Iwao Okamoto met in Moscow on 6 March with Energy Minister Igor Yusufov, ITAR-TASS reported. After the meeting, Okamoto told journalists his government is ready to extend favorable loans to finance the projected oil pipeline from Angarsk to the port of Nakhodka. He added that Japan would like the pipeline to have a capacity of 1 million barrels a day and that oil demand in Japan would ensure the project's profitability. "Izvestiya" on 7 March noted that Japan's eagerness to move forward with the project is in contrast to its normally slow decision-making process. This is not surprising, considering that Japan is anxious about its dependence on oil from the unstable Middle East, from which Japan currently imports 88 percent of its oil, the daily added.

...AS TRANSNEFT HEAD REJECTS PRIVATE PARTICIPATION IN MURMANSK PIPELINE PROJECT. Semen Vainshtok, head of the state oil-pipeline monopoly Transneft, said that the proposed pipeline from Western Siberia to Murmansk should be built without the participation of Russian oil companies, RosBalt reported on 4 March. Last year, oil majors Yukos, LUKoil, Tyumen Oil Company (TNK), Sibneft, and Surgutneftegaz proposed the project, although a similar project was proposed in the 1960s by U.S. oilmen and was rejected by the Soviet government. Vainshtok said the state should reject the recent proposal because it would enable the companies to establish oil-transport tariffs independently. He noted that all the country's pipelines remain in state hands and that handing this one over to private companies would be like ripping a hole in the state's border. In addition, he said, the companies have no experience building major pipelines, while Transneft, which has carried out $1 billion worth of such projects, does. Transneft was founded in 1992 on the basis of a division of the Soviet Oil Industry Ministry. It controls 48,000 kilometers of pipelines, through which 374 million tons of oil passed in 2002.

GOVERNMENT PLANS TO SHIFT ITS DEBT. Speaking to a 6 March cabinet meeting devoted to servicing the country's foreign debt, Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev said the government has approved in principle a plan to transform its "expensive" foreign debt into "cheaper" domestic debt, reported. The plan is pay foreign creditors with funds borrowed from domestic sources. At the beginning of this year, Russia's total debt was $144.9 billion, with domestic indebtedness accounting for just $21.3 billion, Ulyukaev said. He added that the country's foreign-debt payments this year total $17.3 billion, rising to $18.9 billion in 2004. To reduce that burden, the government plans to borrow $20 billion domestically over the next three years by issuing short-term bonds at 6 percent interest. Ulyukaev said that the goal is to reduce Russia's foreign debt to $113 billion by 2006.

COUNTRY CONTINUES TO MULL STALIN'S POPULARITY. Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalev (Union of Rightist Forces), a former Soviet-era political prisoner and longtime human rights activist, told TV-Tsentr on 5 March that the popularity of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin is on the rise because the current Kremlin leadership continues to propagate the idea that the country needs to be ruled by a strong hand. President Putin himself advocates this idea, Kovalev said. As recently as 1999, Kovalev said, Putin celebrated Stalin's 21 December birthday in a small circle of colleagues. Putin has shown himself to be devoted to the Soviet heritage and proud of his service in the KGB, Kovalev said. ORT political commentator Maksim Sokolov said on 5 March that the increasing support for Stalin is a "protest phenomenon" against those who some Russians believe are responsible for the hardships they face. The population continues to believe that Russian liberals, who occasionally speak out against Stalin, are responsible for their deteriorating living standards, Sokolov said.

SOVIET PRIME MINISTER TO BE FETED. The State Duma on 7 March approved a resolution introduced by deputies Gennadii Raikov (People's Deputy), Oleg Morozov (Russian Regions), and Nikolai Ryzhkov (independent) authorizing the official commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the former chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers, Nikolai Kosygin, reported. The resolution also establishes a government stipend in honor of Kosygin, who headed the Soviet government from 1964-80. The citation says that Kosygin made enormous contributions toward strengthening "the country's economy and its scientific and defense complex." It argues that officially commemorating the anniversary will "promote the consolidation of society and respect for historical traditions."

LIBERAL POLITICIAN BLAMES YELTSIN FOR RUSSIA'S DISILLUSIONMENT. Lyudmila Narusova, Federation Council member and widow of former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, told TV-Tsentr on 8 March that former President Boris Yeltsin bears the main responsibility for the degradation of democratic values in Russia. Yeltsin eroded the hopes and enthusiasm that appeared at the beginning of the country's democratic transition and transformed the state into "a den of oligarchs," Narusova said. Yeltsin's entourage used political power as a means of personal enrichment, which destroyed the public's enthusiasm for democratic ideals. Narusova added that when picking President Putin as his successor, Yeltsin was guided by the fact that given the crisis of public confidence in the government, the war in Chechnya, and the decline of the military, it was crucial to find a person who would be acceptable to the military and the security services. Putin's personal loyalty and honesty were also decisive factors, Narusova said.

SUICIDE RATE HIGH AND RISING. Almost 57,000 people committed suicide in Russia in 2000, and 57,200 did so in 2001, "Izvestiya" reported on 10 March. Those figures are the equivalent of 39.3 per 100,000 of population and 39.7 per 100,000, respectively. Although Russia stands in third place globally after South Africa and Colombia in terms of murder rate, more Russians die each year from suicide than from murder; the 2001 murder rate in Russia was 29.8 per 100,000 of population. The daily noted that the country's suicide rate also jumped following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and during the peak repression year of 1937 and in 1947, the peak of post-World War II hardships. Correspondingly, it decreased during the "thaw" initiated by former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and during Mikhail Gorbachev's "perestroika." The suicide rate began increasing again in 1988 and had doubled by 1994. Sociologists note that suicide victims are most often either single men between the ages of 20 and 59 who are inclined toward alcoholism or married women over the age of 60 who are in poor health and have low incomes. Alcohol plays a crucial role. Sixty percent of suicide victims are found to have alcohol in their bloodstreams, and 40 percent of those are legally drunk.

SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS BAN ON HEADSCARVES IN DOCUMENT PHOTOS. The Supreme Court on 4 March rejected an appeal by 10 Muslim women from Tatarstan who asked the court to overturn a Tatar Interior Ministry ban on wearing headscarves in photographs for their domestic passports and other official documents, and other Russian news agencies reported. The women argued that the ban on headscarves violates their constitutional right to freedom of conscience, and they asked the Supreme Court to overturn rulings by a municipal court in Kazan and the Supreme Court of Tatarstan that upheld the Interior Ministry's ban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002). Union of Tatar Muslim Women Chairwoman Almira Adiatulina said the Koran forbids Muslim women from appearing in front of strange men with their heads bared. In its ruling, the Supreme Court said that the Russian Federation "is a secular state that cannot give preference to any religious norm over other confessions." "The Koran is not a source of law" in Russia, said a Justice Ministry spokeswoman. Adiatulina said her organization will take its appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.