Accessibility links

Breaking News

Security Watch: March 26, 2003

26 March 2003, Volume 4, Number 12
WASHINGTON ACCUSES RUSSIA OF ILLEGAL MILITARY SALES TO IRAQ... Russian Ambassador to the United States Yurii Ushakov was summoned on 24 March to the U.S. State Department to receive an official protest alleging that Russia allowed illegal transfers of military equipment to Iraq in violation of United Nations-imposed economic sanctions, Russian and Western media reported. According to the reports, the equipment in question includes night-vision goggles, antitank rockets, and electronic jamming equipment. The U.S. protest specifically accused the Russian company Aviakonversiya of involvement. Aviakonversiya General Director Oleg Antonov admitted that Iraq had requested such equipment from his company but denied that it had been supplied, Ekho Moskvy reported on 24 March. He also told the radio station that his company has always strictly complied with the sanctions against Iraq, but he added that it is possible Iraq produced such equipment independently or with the help of individuals or firms in the former Yugoslavia.

...AND PRESIDENT BUSH COMPLAINS TO PUTIN ABOUT IT... U.S. President George W. Bush on 24 March telephoned President Vladimir Putin to express his concern about alleged transfers of high-technology military equipment by Russian companies to the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, U.S. media reported. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told journalists that the equipment is capable of jeopardizing troops in the U.S.-led anti-Hussein coalition. Putin, however, denied the accusations, RIA-Novosti reported on 25 March, citing presidential press spokesman Aleksei Gromov. "Such unsubstantiated and public accusations might harm bilateral relations," Gromov quoted Putin as saying. Putin reminded Bush that Russia has made similar inquiries about alleged U.S. equipment sales to Iraq but has received no official response from the U.S. administration.

...AND RUSSIA LEVELS ITS OWN ACCUSATIONS AGAINST U.S.... Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 24 March that Russia has been strictly complying with the sanctions regime imposed against Iraq by the UN Security Council and that Moscow has supplied no military equipment to Iraq since the early 1980s, RTR and other Russian media reported. Appearing together with former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, Ivanov also said the Russian government is ready to investigate any evidence the United States can produce to back up its allegations and that any Russian companies found to be in violation of sanctions would face serious consequences. Primakov, who is currently the head of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, quoted a statement that he attributed to former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who said the United Kingdom and the United States supplied sophisticated military equipment to Hussein's regime. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Kremlin's response to the U.S. charges "has not been satisfactory." The issue was also raised during a telephone consultation between Ivanov and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on 24 March, Reuters reported the next day.

...AS IRAQI MINISTER DENIES RUSSIA PROVIDED MILITARY EQUIPMENT... Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf on 25 March rejected U.S. claims that Russia provided Baghdad with military hardware in violation of UN sanctions, Reuters and RFE/RL reported. RFE/RL quoted al-Sahhaf as saying: "What the enemy has mentioned about the story that Russia has provided Iraq with some so-and-so technology or something like that, we inform you frankly that this is completely baseless. We don't have Russian experts in Iraq. We didn't ask, and we received nothing."

...AND OTHERS LAUNCH PREEMPTIVE INFORMATION STRIKE AGAINST U.S. The United States might "fabricate the discovery" of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or create "evidence" that Baghdad has been operating prohibited weapons programs, an unidentified Russian military expert was quoted by RIA-Novosti as saying on 24 March. Academician Yevgenii Velikhov, director of the Kurchatov Nuclear Center, told on 24 March that "if the United States finds no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it is possible they will drum up proof of their existence." Velikhov noted that it is very difficult to determine the origin of some nuclear-weapons components such as uranium-235, particularly because they are prepared "under the supervision of the security services."

FOREIGN MINISTER CONCERNED BY U.S. EFFORTS TO SEIZE IRAQI ASSETS. Igor Ivanov said on 21 March that the U.S. decision to confiscate the assets of Iraqi President Hussein's regime is extremely worrying, Russian media reported. Ivanov was speaking in Moscow to a session of the Council for Defense and Foreign Policy. "It could mean that after this is done, it will be announced that all previous treaties and contracts with Iraq are invalid, and we will lose our economic interests in the country," Ivanov said. He also expressed related concerns over Washington's efforts to persuade foreign countries to expel Iraqi diplomats. Ivanov also called for restoring the United Nations' leading role in international affairs and repeated Moscow's call for expanding the UN Security Council to include India and one new permanent member each from Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE CAREFULLY MONITORING IRAQ SITUATION. The local stations of Russian military intelligence (GRU) and the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) in Iraq have been on special alert status since the onset of the U.S.-led military operation against the regime of Iraqi President Hussein, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 March. They have been issuing bulletins to Russia's political leadership on a constant, rolling basis, according to the report. Russia's intelligence agencies have also activated their resources globally in order to monitor the military operation, the international situation, and U.S. and British plans for post-Hussein Iraq. TVS on 20 March quoted Igor Morozov, a former Soviet foreign-intelligence officer in Baghdad during the 1980s, as saying that Russia has very powerful intelligence assets in Iraq, including within its military commands, its political leadership, and its security services.

MOSCOW TO HOLD TO UN SANCTIONS REGIME AGAINST IRAQ. Responding to calls by some Duma deputies that Russia renounce the UN-imposed economic sanctions against Iraq, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said categorically that the sanctions were put in place by the UN Security Council and may only be lifted by that body, RIA-Novosti reported on 20 March. The main condition for lifting the sanctions is Iraq's disarmament, which must be verified by international inspectors, Ivanov said.

RUSSIA PROTESTS ALLEGED U.S. RECONNAISSANCE OVERFLIGHTS. The Foreign Ministry on 22 March handed U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow an official note of protest over alleged reconnaissance flights by U.S. U-2 aircraft near the borders of the Russian Federation, reported on 24 March. The ministry alleges that the flights are originating in Georgia and, according to the Russian note, "can hardly serve the interests of the fight against international terrorism." They "are reminiscent of the Cold War," the note charges.

DUMA ADVOCATES UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY EMERGENCY SESSION... The State Duma on 20 March adopted a nonbinding resolution condemning the U.S.-led military "aggression" against the regime of Iraqi President Hussein and urging the government to call for an emergency session of the UN General Assembly, Russian media reported. Deputy Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, presented the resolution. Deputies rejected, however, a tougher resolution proposed by the Communist and Agrarian factions that called for a boycott of U.S. goods, a ban on U.S.-made programming on Russian television, and the severance of parliamentary and cultural contacts between the United States and Russia. Commenting on the two resolutions, Rogozin said the Duma should restrict itself to "condemning the anti-Iraq coalition and extending its united support to President [Vladimir] Putin." Defense Committee Deputy Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Fatherland-All Russia) dismissed the Communist resolution as counterproductive.

...AS DEBATE SPILLS OVER ONTO NATIONAL TELEVISION. The heated discussion of Iraq continued on NTV on 20 March when Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) accused Rogozin of being a "soft, pro-American liberal." Mitrofanov said Russia should abandon the UN-imposed sanctions regime against Iraq and supply it with advanced air-defense systems. He also criticized President Putin's response to the onset of war as "full of words, but lacking deeds." For his part, Rogozin said Russia is too weak and its military too disorganized to implement Mitrofanov's suggestions. Analyst Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Politika think tank, said that Mitrofanov's policy would be suicidal for Russia, since it would lead to a military confrontation with the United States.

FEDERATION COUNCIL MEMBER CALLS FOR IRAQ CRISIS GROUP. Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council's International Affairs Committee, called on 20 March for the creation of a special crisis group to formulate Russia's position on Iraq, reported. This group should comprise representatives of both legislative chambers, the Russian Security Council, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, and the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Margelov said. He added that he is skeptical of the Duma's call for a UN General Assembly session in view of the fact that the UN Security Council was unable to forestall the military action against Iraq.

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA REMAINS 'PARTNER' TO U.S.... Foreign Minister Ivanov said that Russia "has no intention of taking anti-American steps in connection with the onset of the military operation in Iraq," ORT reported on 20 March. "We are not adversaries but partners of the United States, and our activities are directed only at restoring peace," Ivanov added. "If we find a way to resolve the Iraq problem, that would help resolve the problems of international terrorism and [the] proliferation of [weapons of mass destruction]."

...AND U.S. AMBASSADOR SAYS U.S., RUSSIA WILL OVERCOME THEIR DIFFERENCES. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow told Ekho Moskvy on 20 March that he disagrees with President Putin, who has said that the military operation against Iraq is unjustified and that there are no links between Iraqi President Hussein and international terrorism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2003). "Hussein provides aid to the families of suicide bombers who kill Israeli citizens and have ties with the extremist groups Hizballah and Hamas," Vershbow said. He emphasized that, although Moscow and Washington currently have serious disagreements, they managed to overcome equally serious disputes in the past and will do so again. Vershbow said that he hopes U.S. President Bush will meet with Putin as scheduled this summer in St. Petersburg.

RUSSIAN GENERALS ANALYZE IRAQ CAMPAIGN... Duma Deputy Nikolai Kovalev (Fatherland-All Russia), deputy chairman of the Duma Defense Committee and a former director of the Federal Security Service, said on 20 March that the United States opted against a massive air attack against Iraq because the military operation is viewed so negatively by world public opinion, ORT reported. Therefore, U.S. planners chose limited and precisely targeted attacks. Kovalev said that he is not persuaded by U.S. claims that tactics were changed at the last moment because the CIA allegedly received precise information about the whereabouts of Iraqi President Hussein. Such information, he said, would have had to have been checked and rechecked, and there simply was no time to do so.

...AS MILITARY EXPERTS WARN AGAINST UNDERESTIMATING IRAQ. The air supremacy and the high-tech, precision-guided weaponry of the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq do not mean that it will prevail in close combat, Duma Defense Committee Chairman and Army General Andrei Nikolaev (People's Deputy) told RosBalt on 24 March. In fact, he said, Iraqi tactics are effectively countering the coalition's technological advantage. Of course, Nikolaev said, U.S. technological superiority will eventually determine the outcome of the conflict, but he warned that coalition forces could find themselves confronted by Iraqis who throw flowers during the day and grenades at night. Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, said that the first few days of the military campaign did not go according to the coalition's plans because wars are always unpredictable, RosBalt reported on 24 March. He argued that the United States lost the information war before the military campaign even began. "They failed to convince the world they were right but 'hooked' themselves," Karaganov said. "Propaganda has the ability to make those who propagate it believe it."

DUMA CALLS FOR 'URGENT MEASURES' TO BOOST DEFENSE. The Duma on 21 March adopted a nonbinding resolution calling on President Vladimir Putin to adopt "urgent measures to strengthen [Russia's] national defense and to modernize the Russian armed forces," reported. Deputies also called for increased defense spending. Commenting on the resolution, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) said that the Duma considers the U.S.-led military operation against Iraq "aggression" and believes that it is crucial to return the crisis to a diplomatic track. Russia must also attend to its possible role in postwar Iraq. For Russia, the most important thing is that the postwar administration and reconstruction of Iraq must be conducted exclusively under the aegis of the United Nations, Rogozin said.

DEFENSE MINISTER CALLS FOR RECRUITMENT OF CIS CITIZENS FOR RUSSIAN ARMY. Sergei Ivanov has submitted to President Putin a plan for transforming Russia's armed forces into a volunteer force, ORT reported on 19 March. Included in the plan is a proposal to recruit citizens of CIS countries and build the Russian Army on the principle of the French Foreign Legion, "Vremya novostei" reported on 19 March. Ivanov said that leading combat units should be the first to switch completely to a volunteer basis and that competitive salaries will be needed to attract qualified specialists.

RUSSIAN COMPANIES WRITE OFF THEIR ASSETS IN IRAQ. Russian businessmen who left Iraq in recent days handed over their assets to members of the Iraqi regime and have no hope that they will ever recover them, reported on 19 March. Representatives of LUKoil, Zarubezhneft, and Mashinoimport -- which have the largest presences in Iraq -- have written off their losses and said that, although their property in Iraq is partially insured, it will be extremely difficult to collect damages if the regime in Baghdad is changed.

CENTRAL BANK IS PREPARED FOR FALLOUT OF IRAQ WAR... President Putin on 20 March summoned Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatev to the Kremlin, RTR reported. In front of television cameras, Putin asked Ignatev to explain how the bank has prepared for any repercussions of the Iraq crisis and what the consequences of the military operation there could be for Russia's macroeconomic indicators. Ignatev responded that the Central Bank is ready for any development and that Russia's hard-currency and gold reserves are sufficient to keep the ruble stable. He added, however, that it is too early to make middle-term or long-term predictions about the crisis's microeconomic impact on Russia.

...AS PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR REVISION OF ECONOMIC FORECASTS. Speaking at a 20 March cabinet session, Mikhail Kasyanov said the government's socioeconomic program for 2003 must be revised to take into account possible changes in world oil prices as a result of the conflict in Iraq, Russian media reported. He said that the revised plan must be completed by the end of April. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said that oil prices might rise from current already-high levels during the military operation. "High oil prices will remain until the United States gains control of Iraqi oil production, and this will take time," Kudrin said.

BUSINESS, GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCE PACT. Foreign Minister Ivanov announced that his ministry and the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry have signed an accord on joint efforts to promote Russia's economic interests abroad, RIA-Novosti reported on 25 March. The document is first of all directed toward Iraq, Ivanov said, noting that Russia "came onto world markets after they were already divvied up, so it has been very difficult to find an appropriate niche." Primakov applauded the Foreign Ministry for its efforts in recent years to provide increased political and economic support for Russian business abroad. He added, however, that the chamber is unhappy with current regulations giving the Interior Ministry responsibility for issuing business visas to foreigners and that it will ask the government to transfer this function to the Foreign Ministry.

GOVERNMENT SUBMITS BILL ON COMMERCIAL SECRETS. The government on 24 March introduced in the State Duma draft legislation on commercial secrets, reported. The legislation is designed to improve the climate for entrepreneurial activity in Russia and to put a stop to the illegal leaks of valuable commercial information. The bill's authors explained that it is necessary to have a special law on this subject because currently questions of commercial secrets are determined by a great number of conflicting laws and regulations. The bill was developed by the Industry and Science Ministry together with the Atomic Energy Ministry, the State Technical Commission, and the Patents and Trademarks Agency.

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL NIXES HANDOVER OF TROPHY ART. Natalya Vishnyakova, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, announced on 18 March that her office has warned Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi not to send the Baldin art collection back to Germany (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2003), and other Russian media reported on 18 March. In a letter to Shvydkoi, the Prosecutor-General's Office said the collection of 364 artworks cannot be returned to Bremen's Kunsthalle museum, which owned the works before World War II, unless that museum can legally establish its ownership rights. The prosecutor's letter also indicates that the prosecutor-general believes the collection has become the property of the Russian state by right of possession. In practical terms, the prosecutor-general's letter means that the collection has little chance of being returned soon, since the Kunsthalle is unlikely to be able to produce the necessary documentation from the prewar period. Even if it does so, Russian law stipulates that the collection can only be returned in exchange for "appropriate compensation," which is unlikely because Russian experts have valued the Baldin collection at $1.5 billion. Shvydkoi, however, told RTR on 19 March that he believes it is a "matter of honor" to return the collection, which he maintains was illegally brought to Russia.

PROSECUTORS LAUNCH INVESTIGATION OF FORMER YELTSIN CHIEF OF STAFF. The Prosecutor-General's Office on 22 March interrogated Yurii Petrov, who was former President Boris Yeltsin's chief of staff from 1991-93 and who is now head of the State Investment Company (Gosinkor), and his son, Aleksandr Petrov, who is board chairman of Guta Bank, RTR reported. Prosecutors suspect the Petrovs of misappropriating 300 tons of silver that was allegedly transferred to Gosinkor by the state treasury for investments in 1996. Investigators believe Gosinkor illegally used the services of Guta Bank in carrying out the transaction. They told journalists that a search of Guta Bank's Moscow offices turned up evidence the silver was embezzled. Former Finance Minister and former Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin and other former senior officials are also being questioned in connection with the probe, investigators said.

PUTIN, CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD HAIL REFERENDUM OUTCOME... Speaking in Moscow on 24 March, President Putin characterized the referendum outcome as "positive," adding that "the figures have even surpassed our most optimistic expectations," RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov told ITAR-TASS on 24 March that the referendum has demonstrated that "the people of Chechnya have said 'yes' to its new constitution, which clearly defines the status of our republic as an inalienable part of the Russian Federation." Kadyrov also claimed that the vote has stripped Aslan Maskhadov of the "moral right" to call himself Chechen president.

...AND PUTIN SAYS CHECHEN REFERENDUM HAS REMOVED THREAT TO RUSSIA'S TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY. Meeting on 24 March with Russian government ministers, President Putin said the previous day's referendum in Chechnya "resolved the last serious problem relating to Russia's territorial integrity," Russian media reported. According to official data, Chechen voters overwhelmingly endorsed a new draft constitution that defines Chechnya as an integral part of the Russian Federation. Putin instructed ministers to speed up work connected with reconstruction in Chechnya. Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told Ekho Moskvy on 24 March that Putin will continue to monitor developments in Chechnya closely, ITAR-TASS reported. Yastrzhembskii also said the personal responsibility of individual government ministers for improving the situation in Chechnya will only increase following the referendum. Also on 24 March, Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said the referendum was "an important political event not only for Chechnya as a part of Russia but for the whole of Russia," ITAR-TASS reported.

ANTIWAR PROTESTS SPREAD... More than 2,000 people led by the pro-Kremlin youth movement Walking Together held a rally on 22 March in front of the Moscow residence of U.S. Ambassador to Russia Vershbow against U.S.-led military action against the regime of Iraqi President Hussein, Interfax reported. The activists brought cans of oil so that "Americans won't be freezing in their homes" and "cars won't be abandoned on the streets of New York because of empty gas tanks," movement leader Vasilii Yakemenko explained, according to the news agency. Other antiwar rallies were held in front of the U.S. Embassy on 20 and 21 March. On 20 March, a small protest was held outside the U.S. Consulate in Yekaterinburg. On 21 March, an unspecified number of members of Unified Russia's youth movement held a protest outside the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg, reported. In Nizhnii Novgorod on 23 March, around 50 people -- most of them members of an antiglobalist youth group and a Communist youth movement -- protested in front of a McDonald's restaurant in one of the city's main squares, "Kommersant-Daily" reported.

...AS THOUSANDS OF WAR VETS IN DAGHESTAN VOLUNTEER TO FIGHT FOR IRAQ. At least 8,000 men in Daghestan have volunteered to go to Iraq to fight on the side of President Hussein, "Izvestiya" on 19 March quoted Duma Deputy and People's Front of Daghestan Chairman Gadzhi Makhachev as saying. Makhachev added that most of the volunteers in question are aged between 20 and 40 and are either veterans of the war in Afghanistan or fought in 1998 to repel the Chechen incursion into Daghestan. He said the men will be issued with weapons if they make arrangements to travel to Iraq "unofficially."