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Security Watch: April 9, 2003

9 April 2003, Volume 4, Number 14
PUTIN STRESSES NEED TO AVOID CONFLICT WITH U.S.... President Vladimir Putin on 3 April told journalists that Russia is deliberately avoiding direct involvement in recent international crises and that he will make every effort to avoid Russia's involvement "in any form" in the current crisis in Iraq, Western and Russian media reported. Putin emphasized that the United States is Russia's largest trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching $9.2 billion last year. He noted that Russia's economy is heavily dependent on the state of the U.S. economy and the value of the U.S. dollar. About three-quarters of Russia's $55.5 billion hard-currency reserves are held in U.S. dollars, Putin said. Any drop in the value of the dollar would lead to direct losses for Russia. The same is true for private citizens, who also prefer to hold their savings in dollars, Putin noted. Moreover, bilateral political cooperation is also extremely important for Russia. As the world's two leading nuclear powers, the United States and Russia share a special responsibility for maintaining peace and stability around the world, Putin remarked. Both countries must work together to end the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism. Putin also repeated Russia's commitment to creating a global international-security system centered on the United Nations, a goal that he said can only be achieved in cooperation with the United States.

...AND URGES CALM IN REACTING TO IRAQ WAR. Asked to comment on recent statements by Islamic leaders and, particularly, a 3 April appeal by Telget Tajetdin, the supreme mufti of Russia and the European countries of the CIS, calling for a jihad against the forces of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, President Putin said he understands that people "cannot restrain their emotions," RTR reported. "I understand and partially share the opinions of such people, especially after watching television reports from the combat zone," Putin said. But he cautioned that emotion is a poor basis for decision making and that recent events have shown that Russia's position on Iraq has been correct all along.

'IZVESTIYA' ARGUES THAT RUSSIA IS NOT AN ENEMY OF THE U.S. Russia faces an inevitable moral choice concerning the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq, "Izvestiya" wrote in an editorial entitled "[U.S. President George W.] Bush Is Not Hitler [and] Russia Is Not America's Enemy" on 2 April. Russia gave its unqualified support to the U.S.-led campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan and became a leading member of the global antiterrorism coalition, the daily noted. However, for many reasons, Moscow cannot follow a similar line regarding Iraq. For one thing, while Moscow had virtually no contacts with the Taliban, who were international pariahs, it has longstanding warm relations with Baghdad and considerable economic interests in Iraq. However, the Kremlin must be careful not to allow its unwillingness to support the military operation in Iraq to transform the United States into Russia's enemy. Not only is the United States far stronger than Russia, but the two countries have numerous mutual friends and share important values, "Izvestiya" reasons. The fact that there are "millions of suicidal extremists who are ready to kill any number of people or use any weapon in order to destroy Western civilization" is a problem not only for the United States, but for Russia as well. In addition, "Izvestiya" argues, Russia is not only a Christian country, but an Islamic one as well, and the actions of terrorists discredit Islam and turn the world against this religion.

...AS U.S. REACTS TO RUSSIA'S SIGNALS REGARDING IRAQ... U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice arrived in Moscow on 6 April for talks about the current situation in Iraq and bilateral relations, Western and Russian media reported. Rice is expected to meet with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo. U.S. President Bush and President Putin conferred by telephone about Iraq on 5 April, RTR reported. In Washington on 4 April, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Bush administration does not support a resolution adopted that day by the U.S. House of Representatives that would bar Russian, French, German, and Syrian companies from participating in postwar reconstruction in Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported.

...AND ATTEMPTS TO MEND FENCES IN MOSCOW. Rice met briefly in the Kremlin on 7 April with President Putin, RIA-Novosti reported, citing presidential press spokesman Aleksei Gromov. Rice reportedly conveyed to Putin a message from U.S. President Bush in which Bush expressed his desire for the further development of bilateral relations. The purpose of Rice's visit was to coordinate the U.S. and Russian positions as the U.S.-led military operation against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein enters its final phase, NTV comment on 7 April. Although there was no official statement concerning the topics discussed during Rice's meetings with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and other senior officials, NTV reported that her most important meeting was with presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin. Washington believes that Voloshin, who shuns publicity, was the main force behind Putin's efforts to develop closer relations with the United States following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks there, NTV reported. Voloshin traveled to Washington shortly before the beginning of the military operation in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2003), where he was received at the White House and where he was reportedly presented with some tempting economic proposals, especially in the oil sector, NTV speculated. The channel further commented that Rice's visit could be a response to Putin's comments that Russia does not want to see U.S. setbacks in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Russian Foreign Policy and Security Watch," 1 April 2003) and that Rice intended to confirm the offers made to Voloshin in Washington and to attempt to restore the amicable personal relations established by Bush and Putin before the Iraq crisis.

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR'S MOTORCADE CAUGHT IN CROSSFIRE... A Russian motorcade consisting of eight vehicles and carrying 23 diplomats and journalists, including Russian Ambassador to Iraq Vladimir Titarenko, came under fire on 6 April about 20 kilometers outside of Baghdad, Western and Russian news agencies reported. The convoy was caught in crossfire between coalition forces and Iraqi troops as it was attempting to evacuate the Russian citizens to Syria. RTR correspondent Aleksandr Minakov, who was riding in the motorcade, reported that three diplomats were wounded, one of them seriously. Minakov said the motorcade came under U.S. fire as it pulled alongside Iraqi defensive positions. He admitted that there were two Iraqi cars in the convoy and said that U.S. fire seemed to be directed at them. At U.S. Central Command in Qatar, U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks told journalists that he has been informed of the incident and an investigation is under way, Western media reported.

...AND AMBASSADOR ALLEGES U.S. FORCES DELIBERATELY FIRED ON MOTORCADE... Titarenko told journalists in Damascus on 7 April that U.S. forces deliberately fired on a convoy that was evacuating him and his staff from Baghdad, RTR and ORT reported. He said that all the bullets found in the vehicles and those removed from a wounded Russian diplomat were fired from U.S. M-16s. RTR military correspondent Minakov, who is a retired lieutenant colonel and who was riding in the motorcade at the time of the 6 April incident, speculated that the U.S. troops fired on the motorcade in order to clear the way for a U.S. tank column that was proceeding along the road. This is standard military practice, Minakov said.

...AS RUMORS OF SPY GAMES ABOUND... Controversial military correspondent Vladislav Shurygin, who is believed to be the person writing about the Iraqi operation in many Russian web sites under the name of "Ramzai," said on 7 April that U.S. troops might have suspected that the ambassador's convoy was attempting to smuggle pieces of secret U.S. military equipment out of Iraq, TV-Tsentr reported. Shurygin said that among the Russian journalists working at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in Qatar, there are rumors that Russian intelligence agents working out of the Baghdad embassy had intercepted and jammed U.S. military communications, much to the displeasure of U.S. military authorities. "U.S. intelligence officers have many questions for their counterparts at the Russian Embassy," Shurygin said.

...WHILE U.S. EXPRESSES REGRET FOR INCIDENT... In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow and Iraqi Ambassador to Russia Abbas Khalaf and asked them "in the most forceful way" to take all necessary measure to ensure the security of Russian citizens and diplomats in Iraq, RIA-Novosti reported on 6 April. U.S. Secretary of State Powell on 6 April telephoned Foreign Minister Ivanov and expressed U.S. regret regarding the incident, ORT and RIA-Novosti reported. Powell said the United States will do everything possible to evacuate safely the Russian diplomats from Iraq to Syria. In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said that the United States had been in contact with the Russian government concerning the ambassador's motorcade. "We provided our military with detailed information about the vehicles and the personnel involved, as well as the route that they planned to follow," Reeker said. However, he claimed, the convoy took a different route from the one about which they had informed Washington.

...AND POLITICIANS IN MOSCOW BLAME DIPLOMATS. Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) said that the Russian diplomats themselves are to blame for the incident, RosBalt reported on 7 April. "They choose the wrong time and the wrong place by being the last ones to leave Baghdad," Zhirinovskii said. Zhirinovskii claimed that he spoke to people at the embassy in Baghdad when he was last there and that he was surprised that they intended to go to Syria, which is a seven-hour drive from Baghdad, instead of going to Iran, which is a two-hour drive. Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said that the motorcade deviated from the route agreed to with the U.S. government and that this put the diplomats in danger. "At the same time, I cannot exclude that it was a U.S. provocation," Margelov said.

PROSECUTOR TO LOOK INTO CALL FOR ANTICOALITION JIHAD. Nataliya Vishnyakova, spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, said on 4 April that Tajetdin's Central Religious Board of Russian Muslims might be closed down if it ignores a warning issued by prosecutors in Ufa against alleged violations of the law on religious extremism, reported. On 3 April, Tajetdin called for Russian Muslims to create a fund to purchase weapons and food for Iraqi troops loyal to Saddam Hussein. Tajetdin also declared a "jihad" against the United States and Great Britain, noting that the last time his organization had issued such a call was in 1941. Troshin said investigators will look into whether the statement violates the law on religious organizations. Meanwhile, Ravil Gainutdin, chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, condemned Tajetdin's statement, saying he regrets that some Muslim leaders are "searching for war, rather than peace in Iraq," "Izvestiya" reported. "Russian Muslims are entitled to provide moral and material support to their fellow believers in Iraq," said Sergei Nikulin, chief of the Justice Ministry's department for state security and law enforcement, according to on 3 April. But he stressed that Russian law provides criminal penalties for buying weapons and sending people to take part in combat operations.

FORMER AIR FORCE COMMANDER SAYS RUSSIA SHOULD PREPARE FOR WAR... Former Russian Air Force commander General Petr Deinekin said the main lesson for Russia from the current conflict in Iraq is that it should "enhance preparedness for war," TV-Tsentr reported on 5 April. It is important to improve coordination among all branches of the military, giving priority to the country's air forces, Deinekin said. He added that more high technology is being used in the Iraq war than ever before, noting that 80 percent of the weapons being used are high precision, compared to just 10 percent in the 1991 Gulf War and 40 percent during the 1998 campaign in Yugoslavia. He downplayed reports of errant coalition cruise missiles. "It is normal, bearing in mind the huge number of the missiles being used," Deinekin said.

...AS DOES FORMER VICE PRESIDENT... Retired General Aleksandr Rutskoi, who was former President Boris Yeltsin's vice president from 1991-93, said that Russia should cancel its military-reform plans and instead begin improving its military capabilities, TV-Tsentr reported on 7 April. "Anyone can see that we must forget the demagoguery of armed-forces reform and begin to restore our defensive and offensive capabilities," Rutskoi said. This is the only possible conclusion to be drawn from events in Iraq, and the Russian leadership will see this, Rutskoi predicted.

...WHO CRITICIZES IRAQ'S TACTICS. In the same interview, Rutskoi expressed surprise that Iraq was so ill-prepared to defend itself against the U.S.-led military coalition despite its militant rhetoric. He said he believes that Iraqi President Hussein thought until the last moment that he would be able to forestall a military operation with the help of "world public opinion." Speaking on the same program, journalist Shurygin said that Iraq made a mistake by concentrating on defense and completely handing over the initiative to coalition forces. He said the Iraqi leadership was most surprised by the coalition's rapid advance from Karbala to the outskirts of Baghdad and its swift seizure of the city's international airport.

TOP RUSSIAN STRATEGIST SAYS WAR IN IRAQ ALREADY WON. Colonel General Leonid Zolotov, who recently stepped down as head of the General Staff's elite Frunze Military Academy, said on 6 April that Iraqi President Hussein has already lost the war against the U.S.-led anti-Iraqi coalition, RTR reported. Hussein's forces are trapped in cities, and coalition forces have already surrounded Baghdad, Zolotov said. He said that it will not be necessary for coalition forces to storm Baghdad and that it will be sufficient merely to besiege it and "turn it into a camp of armed prisoners of war." Zolotov further expresses skepticism about the ability and the desire of the Iraqi people to wage a partisan war against coalition forces once Hussein is deposed. "America has very rich experience winning over the hearts of populations in occupied territories, if not by force, then by dollars," Zolotov said. After the end of World War II and the two U.S. atomic-bomb attacks on Japan, relations between the United States and Japan were much worse than current U.S. relations with Iraq are, but the Japanese did not unleash a partisan campaign against the United States. Instead, the Japanese adopted a constitution based on the U.S. model and a democratic system. Any partisan operation launched in Iraq would not be sufficient to force the United States to leave the country, TV-Tsentr commented on 5 April.

MILITARY PAPER OUTLINES U.S. MISCALCULATIONS IN IRAQ... U.S. military planners mistakenly believed that the Iraqi armed forces had not developed since the end of the 1991 Gulf War and that they would be completely unable to withstand the high-technology weaponry of the U.S.-led coalition, "Krasnaya zvezda," the organ of the Defense Ministry, wrote on 1 April. The United States also wrongly expected that the Iraqi population would greet coalition forces joyously as liberators from the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein. However, the daily continued, the Iraqi leadership has thoroughly studied the tactics used by the U.S. armed forces in military operations around the world since 1991 and adopted the best-possible defensive strategy: attempting to prolong the war and widen the conflict by avoiding direct frontal clashes with coalition forces. Instead, the Iraqi military has adopted partisan-warfare tactics and is striving to shift the field of combat from the desert to the country's urban areas. In preparation for the conflict, "Krasnaya zvezda" wrote, Iraqi commanders sent special detachments to cities around the country to prepare local residents for street fighting. Knowing that Baghdad would be the main coalition target, the Iraqi leadership divided the country into five regional commands, reducing their dependence on a central command and diffusing the authority to organize defenses.

...AND BLAMES POOR INTELLIGENCE. The paper commented that United States made these misjudgments because U.S. intelligence services had extremely limited assets in Iraq, and their sources among defectors and the Iraqi opposition were not reliable. The daily noted that the United Kingdom has excellent intelligence resources in the region, and speculated that either the British failed to bring this information to the attention of U.S. planners or the U.S. military disregarded it.

RUSSIA TO HOLD NAVAL EXERCISES IN INDIAN OCEAN. The Russian General Staff announced on 1 April that the navy will hold military exercises in the Indian Ocean next month, Interfax reported. On 8-10 April, two naval groups of the Pacific and Black Sea fleets will depart for the region. Defense Minister Ivanov repeated in a 31 March interview posted on the website of "Komsomolskaya pravda" denials that the exercises are connected to the U.S.-led military operation against the regime of Iraqi President Hussein. The purpose of the exercise is to improve coordination between the Russian Navy and those of Russia's allies, especially India, Ivanov said.

PRESIDENT URGES DUMA TO RATIFY MOSCOW TREATY... Speaking to journalists during a visit to the command center of the Russian Space Force in Moscow on 5 April, President Putin said that Russia's differences with Washington over Iraq are not a favorable background for the ratification of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, which was signed in Moscow last May, RIA-Novosti reported. Nonetheless, Putin urged the legislature to ratify the treaty because it conforms to Russia's security interests. Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said that ratifying the treaty will enable Russia to modernize its strategic nuclear forces "in the cheapest and most efficient way."

...AND REVIEWS SPACE FORCES. During the same tour of the command center of the Russian Space Force, President Putin was briefed by Colonel General Anatolii Perminov, commander of the force, reported on 5 April. Perminov said the number of Russian satellites with unlimited service lives had been increased by 50 percent in the last two years and that the number that have not yet outlived their guaranteed service life has more than doubled. Moscow is now testing a new generation of communications and navigation satellites, and the next generation of surveillance satellite is in development, Perminov said. He added that the "crisis-like occurrences that were previously caused by a lack of funding have been stopped."

FORMER PRIME MINISTER PREDICTS UN WILL PLAY A ROLE IN POSTWAR IRAQ... Former Prime Minister and former Foreign Intelligence Service head Yevgenii Primakov said in an interview with NTV on 6 April that the regime of Iraqi President Hussein will be defeated because "the military power of the United States and that of Iraq are incomparable." However, after deposing Hussein, the United States will face political problems in Iraq because there are no reliable figures in the Iraqi opposition and because the country's Shi'ite population, contrary to expectations, has not welcomed the coalition forces, Primakov said. This means that the United States will have to turn to the United Nations to resolve the Iraq problem. He cited the precedent of the NATO military operation in Yugoslavia, after which the United States asked the UN to play the leading role in that country. Primakov denied as nonsense that during his mysterious visit to Baghdad in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003) he spoke to Hussein about evacuating Iraq's intelligence and secret-service archives to Russia. "I went to ask him whether he was ready to comply fully with the UN resolutions," Primakov said.

...PRAISES PUTIN FOR HIS POST-11 SEPTEMBER POLICIES... In the same interview, Primakov said that "at any price" Russians should refrain from "jumping into anti-Americanism" because good relations with the United States are "a must" for Russia. The United States is playing the crucial role in combating international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which are key concerns for Russia's national security, Primakov said. He argued that President Putin's decisions to move closer to the United States following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks there and to assist in the campaign in Afghanistan have helped Russia address its own security issues, including the conflict in Chechnya. He said the United States will not want to "punish" Russia for its position on Iraq. Washington values its relations with Russia and understands that without Moscow's consent for U.S. forces in Central Asia and support to the so-called Northern Alliance, the operation in Afghanistan will not be able to proceed as quickly or easily.

...AND EXPLAINS WHY RUSSIA MUST AVOID ANTI-U.S. STANCE. Primakov listed several reasons why Russia should avoid anti-Americanism during his NTV interview. First, he noted that the United States has not yet made a final choice between those who advocate U.S. unilateralism and those who oppose it. Prominent public figures and the mass media in the United States continue to oppose unilateralism, Primakov said. Second, the end of the Cold War left Russia without allies or its own bloc, meaning that it is weak and vulnerable. If Russia adopts a hard-line anti-U.S. position, it will push that part of Europe that is striving for a multipolar world to rush "back into America's embrace," Primakov said.

RUSSIA RESPONDS SHARPLY TO U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS CRITICISM. The Media Ministry on 1 April denounced an annual report by the U.S. State Department that criticizes Russia for its human rights record and, particularly, for violations of press freedom, and RIA-Novosti reported on 2 April. "The Media Ministry sarcastically receives efforts by the U.S. foreign-policy agency to present Russia as a country without a free press," the ministry's press release said. "The statements of American officials claiming that there are limitations of the rights and freedom of [Russian] citizens to access information have a particular piquantness against the background of the ongoing military operation of American forces in Iraq. Concerning the behavior of U.S. spokespeople in explaining the military conflict, we have all been witnesses to the biased distribution of information and to violations of the rights of journalists leading to the delusion of the American people."

YELTSIN SAYS KURILE SOLUTION WILL TAKE 'GENERATIONS.' Former President Yeltsin said in Tokyo on 1 April following a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that Russia and Japan will only reach a solution to the problem of the disputed Kurile Islands "within the next couple of generations," ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin said that he also discussed with Koizumi a projected oil pipeline from Siberia to Russia's Pacific coast and a natural-gas pipeline from Sakhalin Island to Japan. The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the creation of a new Japanese parliamentary group that is advocating the speedy return of the islands to Japanese control. Moscow considers the group "unfriendly and counterproductive," ITAR-TASS reported.

EURASIAN IDEOLOGUE URGES CLOSER TIES WITH IRAN... Eurasia Party head Aleksandr Dugin, who is a staunch proponent of developing a continental Eurasian bloc to counterbalance the trans-Atlantic alliance headed by the United States and Great Britain, wrote in "Izvestiya" on 1 April that Russia's national interests would be served by an alliance with Iran. Dugin noted that Tehran has rejected the U.S. system of values and that Iran's "radically anti-American regime" does not fit into the U.S. global paradigm ideologically, politically, or economically. He argued that, as a result, the United States will inevitably clash with Iran once it has consolidated its position in the region by deposing the regime of Saddam Hussein.

...AND EXPLAINS THE BENEFITS. In contrast, Russia and Iran have much in common. Both, Dugin argues in the same "Izvestiya" article, are "traditionalist, continental Eurasian societies in the process of modernization," and both advocate a multipolar global system. Closer ties with Iran could help Russia correct the "ultraliberal" economic course it has pursued since the collapse of the Soviet Union and, politically, could help Russia cope with the security problems it currently faces in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the Transcaucasus. Such an alliance, however, would be viewed as a "nightmare" by the United States, especially if it is accompanied by accords with China and/or major European countries. Dugin urged the Kremlin to gain support in Europe for its "peaceful coalition" with Iran by presenting it as a necessary counterbalance to the "U.S.-British" coalition.

OLIGARCHS MEET IN LONDON. The heads of 200 of Russia's largest corporations and financial groups -- including Yukos, Gazprom, Alfa-Group, Unified Energy Systems, and LUKoil -- arrived in London for the 2-4 April Russian Economic Forum, Russian media reported on 1 April, citing event Director Mikhail Kolyshev. About 1,000 businesspeople and investors from around the world are also expected to participate in the forum, which will discuss proposed energy projects such as a natural-gas pipeline to Europe via the Baltic seabed, an oil pipeline from Western Siberia to Murmansk, and an oil pipeline from eastern Siberia to either China or Japan. Other major topics at the forum will be corporate reform in Russia and improving the transparency of Russian business.

...BUT DO NOT HEAR REPORT ON COSTS OF CHECHEN CONFLICT. Former Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and former Russian parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov declined to participate in the Russian Economic Forum that was held in London from 2-4 April after conference organizers refused to allow them to give a joint presentation on the economic aspects of the conflict in Chechnya, reported on 3 April. Rybkin said the two had prepared a detailed report on how much the conflict has cost the Russian budget to date, estimating that the total cost of both wars in the republic has reached about $100 billion. Event organizer Sergei Kolushev was quoted as saying he did "not think it was possible to organize a presentation of the Khasbulatov-Rybkin report."

BRITISH COURT POSTPONES BEREZOVSKII'S EXTRADITION HEARING... London's Bow Street Magistrates Court on 2 April postponed an extradition hearing for tycoon Boris Berezovskii and his close associate Yulii Dubrov until 13 May at the request of Berezovskii's lawyers, Western and Russian media reported. The two men are accused by the Russian government of massively defrauding the AvtoVAZ company and the Samara Oblast administration in 1994-95, and are currently free after posting a 100,000 pound ($156,000) bond each. Judge Timothy Workman, who is also presiding in the extradition case of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's envoy Akhmed Zakaev, granted the defense more time to gather evidence to support its contention that Russia's extradition request is politically motivated, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Berezovskii told journalists that the extradition request is timed in order to prevent him from participating in the December Duma elections. A lawyer for Berezovskii informed journalists that the tycoon's request for political asylum in the United Kingdom has been denied because of the extradition request. The lawyer said Berezovskii will appeal that ruling.

...AS STATE TELEVISION TRIES TO LINK TYCOON WITH COMMUNISTS. A small group of "communists" organized a demonstration demanding that the government halt its effort to secure Berezovskii's extradition, state-run RTR reported on 2 April. The channel's evening news program aired footage of about a dozen elderly men with red flags chanting "Freedom for Berezovskii," but the station did not specify to which communist group the men belonged. RTR also alleged that Berezovskii has pledged to give the Communist Party $100 million for its Duma election campaign. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov categorically denied that his party has any contacts whatsoever with Berezovskii. "Berezovskii has never given money to anyone without robbing them first," Zyuganov was quoted by on 2 April as saying.

PUTIN ADMINISTRATION TO PROPOSE PARLIAMENTARY SYSTEM? The presidential administration has drafted a proposed law on the formation of the government under which the right to form the cabinet would be handed over to the party or coalition that holds a majority of the mandates in the State Duma, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on 1 April. Under the proposal, the prime minister would name a cabinet from a list of candidates compiled by the Duma's majority party. Such a system has been supported in the past by Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and by a number of influential politicians close to the Kremlin, the daily noted. If it becomes law, it would be the realization of the goals of the pre-revolutionary Constitutional Democrats who advocated a government accountable to the legislature, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" commented.

PRIMORE GOVERNOR DECLARES WAR ON U.S. FILMS... In a new drive to reduce U.S.-made programming on Russian television, the Primorskii Krai administration announced on 1 April that it will impose stricter requirements on regional television companies, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 April. The announcement resulted from an "informational security council" convened by Primore Governor Sergei Darkin on 1 April to discuss the predominance of U.S. programming on Russian television, particularly in view of the war in Iraq. Council participants were unanimous in the view that Russian television has lost its independence, since more than 60 percent of its programming is produced either in the United States or under U.S. licenses. "There won't be any witch-hunt," Primore administration press spokesman Igor Surshkov said, "but the state must take care of its informational security." Some journalists, however, according to "Kommersant-Daily," suspect the governor is using the issue as an excuse to take control of regional media. "After all," said an unidentified source at a local television company, "the elections to the State Duma will be held soon, and the governor is hoping to get his own candidates in there."

...BUT RUSSIA'S MEDIA MINISTRY DISAPPROVES. The Media Ministry responded skeptically on 2 April to the Primore decision to crack down on local broadcasting of U.S. shows, reported on 3 April. A ministry spokesperson compared the move to the campaign by some U.S. citizens to boycott French products and termed the Primore drive "an attempt to interfere with the editorial policies of the mass media." The spokesperson added that under Russian law, executive-branch bodies "do not have the instruct television companies which films and programs to include in their programming schedules."