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Security Watch: March 18, 2003

18 March 2003, Volume 4, Number 11
RUSSIA TAKES FINAL STEPS ON THE EVE OF WAR. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko announced on 17 March that Russia's entire diplomatic mission to Baghdad -- except for 25 officers who will remain in Iraq even if war breaks out -- has been evacuated, reported. In Moscow, police and security forces have boosted security measures at the diplomatic missions of countries in the anti-Iraq coalition, RTR reported. On 17 March, a delegation of 25 Russian Orthodox and Muslim clerics headed by Telget Tajetdin, the supreme mufti of Russia and the European countries of the CIS, arrived in Baghdad for meetings with Iraq's leadership and "to pray for peace." In Moscow, Iraqi Ambassador to Russia Abbas Khalaf said that about 7,500 Russian citizens -- many of whom are reportedly from Daghestan -- have volunteered to go to Iraq and fight in support of President Saddam Hussein, "Izvestiya" reported on 17 March. Khalaf added, however, that Iraq does not need such volunteers, and he denounced as "CIA disinformation" reports that groups of Chechen fighters have arrived in Iraq. "Argumenty i fakty," No. 11, pointed out that Russians who go to Iraq as volunteers could be prosecuted under the Criminal Code and sentenced to three to seven years in prison as mercenaries.

'EVERYTHING IS READY FOR WAR.' All Russia's national television networks have sent correspondents to cover the U.S. and British military forces amassed in northern Kuwait, and they are producing glowing daily reports on the troops' morale. On 14 March, ORT broadcast a short interview with a U.S. Navy seaman of Russian ancestry who said that he and his shipmates are merely waiting for U.S. President George W. Bush to give the word to disarm Hussein. On 16 March, RTR broadcast a report from the U.S. aircraft carrier "Harry Truman" that emphasized how well-trained the crew is. The correspondent commented on "the lack of any censorship" and his "unrestricted access to everything except the ship's nuclear reactors." He contrasted these policies with the Iraqi government's strict control over foreign journalists in recent weeks. "Everything is ready for war," the correspondent said as he concluded his report.

RUSSIAN LEADERS URGE U.S. TO AVOID 'MISTAKE' IN IRAQ... Speaking to a 17 March gathering of pro-Moscow Chechen religious leaders in the Kremlin, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia considers military action against the regime of Iraqi President Hussein to be "a mistake" and continues to pursue a "peaceful resolution" of the crisis, ORT and RTR reported. "Russia has 20 million Muslims, and, in our position, we should take into consideration their opinion," Putin noted. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the same day that Iraq "poses no threat to global security" and therefore "there are no grounds for the use of force." Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Deputy Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Fatherland-All Russia) said that U.S. President George W. Bush's 17 March ultimatum to Hussein will increase the risks of international terrorism and ecological disaster, RTR reported on 18 March.

...AS FOREIGN MINISTER EMPHASIZES U.S.-RUSSIAN PARTNERSHIP. Russia has irreversibly abandoned the Cold War philosophy that the worse things are for the United States, the better they are for Russia, Igor Ivanov wrote in a commentary published in "The Washington Post" on 15 March. He said that partners do not automatically agree with one another but that they search for solutions in keeping with their mutual interests. "Regardless of what happens with Iraq, Russia hopes that Moscow and Washington will allow their actions to be guided by the spirit of Russian-American cooperation," Ivanov wrote.

U.S. AMBASSADOR WARNS RUSSIA OF CONSEQUENCES OF IRAQ DISAGREEMENT... U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow told "Izvestiya" on 12 March that Moscow's continued opposition to the draft U.S.-U.K.-Spanish UN Security Council resolution on Iraq could lead to a souring of bilateral relations. "There is a big difference between a Russian veto and a decision to abstain from voting," Vershbow said. "These steps would be interpreted completely differently by the American people and by Congress." Vershbow mentioned investment, security cooperation, cooperation in constructing an antimissile defense, and cooperation against international terrorism as areas that could be affected by Russia's opposition to the proposed resolution. "It would be very sad if progress in these areas was delayed or undermined by serious differences over Iraq," Vershbow said.

...AS MOSCOW TURNS DOWN U.S. REQUEST TO EXPEL IRAQIS. The Russian Foreign Ministry turned down a U.S. request that it expel Iraqi diplomats and citizens who might be involved in hostile actions against U.S. interests, Interfax and the "Financial Times" reported on 14 March. At the beginning of the month, the United States asked the governments of more than 60 countries, including Russia, to expel any Iraqi citizens who might commit hostile or terrorist acts against U.S. interests in the event of a U.S.-led military action against the regime of Iraqi President Hussein. Washington provided lists of those Iraqis it wanted expelled. Several countries, including Australia and Sweden, complied with the U.S. request, but Russia stated that it is unacceptable, the "Financial Times" reported, citing an unidentified Foreign Ministry official.

DUMA TO SUSPEND CONSIDERATION OF MOSCOW TREATY... Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) announced on 17 March that he will rescind his committee's endorsement of the U.S.-Russian Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, which was signed in Moscow in May, Russian media reported. The treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate on 10 March. Referring to the looming military operation against Iraq, Rogozin said, "There is a feeling that discussing this issue in such an inappropriate political atmosphere is irrelevant."

...AND U.S. WILL NOT COORDINATE MILITARY ACTION WITH MOSCOW. Brigadier General Kevin Ryan, U.S. military attache to Russia, told journalists in Moscow that the United States does not intend to coordinate any military operation against Iraq with the Russian Defense Ministry, reported on 15 March. The Russian government has stated that it will not participate in any military operations in Iraq and, therefore, coordination would not be appropriate, Ryan said. He added that Moscow has declined a U.S. invitation to send a staff representative to the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida, which is overseeing military operations in the Persian Gulf. However, a Russian liaison officer to the command of the antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan continues his work, Ryan said.

ANALYST LOOKS FOR RUSSIA'S INTERESTS IN IRAQ CRISIS... The pressure that the United States is exerting on the Arab world through the Iraq crisis is in Russia's national interests, Boris Makarenko, deputy director of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, told TV-Tsentr on 17 March. Makarenko said that the leading Arab oil-producing countries have long been interested in destabilizing Russia and preventing it from competing with them. Therefore, they have supported Islamic extremists in Russia, including Chechen separatists, Makarenko argued. On the other hand, he said, Russia is not interested in siding too closely with the United States during this crisis in order to avoid increasing its own risk of facing terrorist attacks. Russia -- like France and Germany -- has a large Muslim population and is much closer to the Arab world than the United States is. Therefore, any potential wave of international terrorism provoked by a U.S.-led military action against Iraq would more likely hit Russia and Europe than the United States, he said.

...AND SAYS UN WILL WEATHER THE CRISIS. In the same 17 March interview, Boris Makarenko said that despite the damage caused by the Iraq crisis to the prestige of the United Nations, Washington and its allies have chosen the lesser of two evils. Facing the choice of either opposing the will of the Security Council if the draft U.S.-U.K.-Spanish resolution had been rejected or pushing ahead with a military operation without UN authorization, the United States rightly chose the latter, Makarenko said. In doing so, Washington is paving the way for a resolution of the Iraq situation along the lines of what has been done in Afghanistan, he said. He noted that in Afghanistan in 2001, the United States also acted without UN authorization, and that after the Taliban were defeated, the UN was invited to play an appropriate role there. Russia's Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov told RTR on 17 March that despite the split in the Security Council over Iraq, the UN will maintain its role as the leading international institution.

FORMER AMBASSADOR URGES PURSUIT OF RUSSIA'S INTERESTS... Writing in "Izvestiya" on 12 March, journalist and former Russian Ambassador to Israel Aleksandr Bovin commented that Russia's Iraq policy should be guided by the maxim of 19th-century French diplomat Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand to the effect that politics is the art of cooperating with the inevitable. If France and China state that they will veto the proposed resolution on Iraq, then Russia should not join them, since the United States would perceive a Russian veto as a slap in the face. The U.S. reaction could have highly unfavorable consequences for Russia's national interests, Bovin writes. If it is impossible to prevent a war or to channel the crisis through "a legitimate, UN framework," then it is unreasonable for Moscow to pose as "the defender of international law." The best course is to defend one's own, albeit narrower, interests, Bovin concludes.

...AS DOES POLITICAL ANALYST. Politika foundation head Vyacheslav Nikonov, who formerly spoke out strongly against a military operation in Iraq, said in a 13 March interview with that the optimal resolution to the Iraq crisis would be if the Security Council did not vote on another Iraq resolution and if the U.S.-led coalition proceeded with a military action against President Hussein. Nikonov argued that the difficulties that the United States would face in such a scenario have been exaggerated. The United States would cope with any problems encountered with the Islamic world, and the countries now opposing military action would join the U.S.-led coalition once a military operation has begun, Nikonov argued. He said that the United States does not need an additional UN resolution and that it is merely acting in its own interests and those of its allies, first of all British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Imposing a veto in the Security Council would be the most destructive option for Russia, Nikonov said.

RUSSIAN MUSLIM LEADERS CONDEMN U.S. POLICY ON IRAQ. Telget Tajetdin told reporters in Moscow on 13 March that the "Muslim community of Russia condemns the actions of the United States and Britain, which are blasphemously attempting to assume the role of supreme rulers of the world's destiny," ITAR-TASS reported. Tajetdin called on Russia's Muslims to pray on 14 March for peace in Iraq and around the world. Also, on 13 March, Ravil Gainutdin, chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, declared that "20 million Russian Muslims are concerned that the United States is not heeding the opinion of the international community." He also noted that Russia's Muslim community "fully supports the position of President Vladimir Putin on the Iraq question," Interfax reported.

MINISTRY ISSUES NEW RULES ON DRAFT HEALTH EXEMPTIONS. The Defense Ministry has issued new medical standards for draftees that exempt several new categories of young men, NTV and other Russian media reported on 13 March. Major General Valerii Kulikov, head of the Central Military Medical Commission, announced that young men suffering from alcohol or drug addiction will be exempted, as well as those with psychological problems. Kulikov said that there is no special exemption for homosexuals, but that men who are HIV-positive should not be drafted. Valentina Melnikov, secretary of the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers, said that her group opposes the forced treatment of drug addicts and alcoholics who fail their military examinations.

U.S., RUSSIA SIGN AGREEMENTS TO SHUT DOWN RUSSIAN PLUTONIUM PLANTS. Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev and U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham signed agreements in Vienna on 13 March under which Russia will shut down three nuclear reactors in Tomsk Oblast and Krasnoyarsk Krai that produce weapons-grade plutonium, Russian and international news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2003). In exchange, the United States will provide assistance for the construction of thermoelectric fossil-fuel plants in Seversk and Zheleznogorsk to make up for the loss of energy incurred by the closures. "The nuclear reactors will be shut down only after the substituting energy facilities have been commissioned," Rumyantsev said, according to ITAR-TASS. The news service reported that the shutdown will be complete in 2009. Abraham declined to say how much the agreement will cost the United States, but he confirmed that it was included in the $1.3 billion allocated in the current budget for nonproliferation programs, Reuters reported.

AUDIT CHAMBER HEAD LAUDS CONSOLIDATION OF SECURITY SERVICES... Sergei Stepashin, who now heads the State Duma's Audit Chamber and who in 1991 chaired the investigative commission of the Supreme Soviet whose work led to the breakup of the KGB, said on 16 March that President Vladimir Putin's recent reorganization of the country's security organs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 March 2003) is "a necessary measure" for Russian security, RTR reported. Stepashin said that the 1991 dismantling of the KGB was a purely political decision and now is the time to consolidate all security functions into a single center. He noted that integrating the Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information (FAPSI) and the Federal Border Guard Service (FPS) into the Federal Security Service (FSB) will lead to substantial savings as well. He said that the previous budget of the FPS was twice as large as that of the FSB and that it had three times as many employees and 10 times as many generals.

...AS DOES KGB VETERAN... Lieutenant General Nikolai Leonov, former head of the KGB Analytical Directorate, appeared on TV-Tsentr on 15 March and rejected the suggestion that President Putin's decision to consolidate the security services is connected with the December Duma elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2003). "It is just the correction of a historical mistake made in 1991 by the erroneous policy of [former President] Boris Yeltsin and [then-KGB Chairman] Vadim Bakatin, for which Russia paid a dear price," Leonov said. On 16 March, RTR broadcast footage from FSB headquarters on Lubyanka Square in Moscow that showed that the FSB was physically separated from the FPS only by a single door with a single guard. "The only thing we need to do to merge the FPS with the FSB is to take away the guard from the door," an unidentified FSB officer said.

...AND MEDIA REPORTS LINK SECURITY RESHUFFLE TO UPCOMING ELECTIONS. President Putin's 11 March decision to disband FAPSI and to transfer its functions to the Defense Ministry and the FSB could have ramifications for the December State Duma elections and next year's presidential poll, and "Vremya novostei" reported on 12 March. Both publications reported that FAPSI formerly controlled GAS Vybory, the information system the Central Election Commission (TsIK) uses to accumulate data from polling stations during national elections. Earlier media reports have also said that FAPSI designed and maintains the system, although both TsIK and FAPSI have denied these reports. FAPSI spokesman Sergei Popov told "The Moscow Times" on 12 March that "[GAS Vybory] does not even use our communications lines." However, longtime former KGB and FAPSI official Aleksandr Kalinin, who now heads a private research institute called Voskhod, told the daily on 12 March that his institute designed the GAS Vybory system, although he denied that FAPSI was involved. According to the "Vremya novostei" and reports, control over the GAS Vybory system is one of the FAPSI functions that is now being handed over to the FSB.

PUTIN TELLS POLICE TO FACE THE FACTS... President Putin expressed his dissatisfaction with Russia's law-enforcement agencies on 12 March, ORT and other Russian news agencies reported. "An analysis of the situation last year does not give grounds for optimistic conclusions," Putin said at a federal conference of senior law-enforcement officers in Moscow. He noted that the Prosecutor-General's Office has reported that the number of reported crimes fell by 15 percent in 2002. But Putin also reported that experts estimate that nearly 40 percent of all crimes in Russia go unreported altogether and that 1.8 million Russians were the victims of crimes last year. "This means that there are criminals still on the loose, still wandering among our citizens," Putin said. The president also mocked official reports submitted by some Russian regions that claim those regions have no problems whatsoever with illegal drugs. "It is hard to imagine that these republics have no drug-related problems. It is impossible," Putin said. Putin named combating terrorism, drug trafficking, and crimes against individuals as law enforcement's top priorities, reported.

...AS PROSECUTOR-GENERAL URGES FOCUS ON CORRUPTION. Speaking at the same conference on 12 March, Vladimir Ustinov called law enforcement's reported successes in combating state corruption "greatly exaggerated," reported. He noted that police have mostly gone after petty corruption, including bribe taking among doctors, educators, and traffic-police officers. Ustinov said experts estimate that Russian officials accept $16 billion in bribes each year and that corruption indirectly causes the economy more than $20 billion in damage per year.

DUMA, GOVERNMENT MOVE TO EASE HARD-CURRENCY TRANSACTIONS. The Duma on 14 March approved in its first reading a new law on hard-currency controls that was introduced by the government, reported. Under the bill, citizens will be allowed to buy and sell gold and gems without restrictions. It would also allow the unrestricted import of currency into Russia and the unrestricted operation of foreign bank accounts by Russian citizens. In addition, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin announced on 13 March that the government will discontinue the practice of monitoring all transactions by individuals that exceed $10,000, Russian media reported. Under the current rules, banks, real-estate firms, antique dealers, and the like must report all such transactions to the financial authorities. Commenting on the initiatives, Kudrin said the current control measures are "inefficient."

BILL THAT GOVERNMENT OPPOSES ACTUALLY MOVES FORWARD. The State Duma on 12 March approved in its second reading a bill that defines economically depressed regions and the formula for setting the level of federal financial support they receive, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill passed in its first reading more than a year ago (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 15 October 2001). According to RBK, the bill received 236 votes in favor -- only 10 more than it needed -- with one against and no abstentions. The government has opposed the bill from the beginning, in part because the criteria by which a region qualifies as economically depressed are too broad and would require that almost 70 of Russia's 89 regions be granted financial assistance. According to ITAR-TASS, the bill stipulates that a region is economically depressed if output in the basic sectors of the economy has slumped by more than two-thirds during the past 12 years.

WHY WAS DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER SENT NORTH? During an interview with TV-Tsentr on 15 March, Lieutenant General Nikolai Leonov, former head of the KGB Analytical Directorate, refuted claims that President Putin had appointed former Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko to be his envoy to the Northwest Federal District because he would like her to become the next governor of St. Petersburg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2003). If Putin really wanted to oust current St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, he would not send Matvienko -- who was unable to successfully run against him in 2000 -- but would rely instead on the dynamic and ambitious Lyudmila Narusova, the widow of former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak who is personally close to Putin, Leonov argued. The real reason for removing Matvienko was the failure of her social policies, especially her recent, largely symbolic raising of pensions. Her move to raise pensions by 30 rubles ($0.92) angered thousands of pensioners, who began sending their "increase" by mail to President Putin in protest. Those protests provoked Putin's wrath, Leonov said.

TROPHY-ART CONTROVERSY FLARES AGAIN. Matvienko has called for a public discussion of the question of returning the so-called Baldin Collection to Germany (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2003), reported on 17 March. Matvienko said that she does not oppose the collection's return but advocates seeking "appropriate compensation." The collection consists of 364 drawings and paintings by artists such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian, Monet, and Van Gogh and has been valued by Russian experts at from $1 billion to $1.5 billion. Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi has argued that the collection should be returned because it does not fall under the jurisdiction of a law declaring all so-called trophy art confiscated from Germany during and after World War II to be national assets. Shvydkoi has argued that the collection was brought to the Soviet Union from Bremen by a Soviet officer named Viktor Baldin as his private possession. He has also said that the collection's value has been greatly exaggerated and is actually $30 million-$50 million. The Duma has adopted a nonbinding resolution asking President Putin to halt the collection's return to Germany, which is scheduled for 29 March. In response, Putin has asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to confirm the legality of the move. Duma Culture and Tourism Committee Chairman Nikolai Gubenko (independent) reported on 18 March that the prosecutor has written to Shvydkoi stating that the collection's transfer, as it is currently proposed, is illegal, according to and other media.