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Security Watch: April 16, 2003

16 April 2003, Volume 4, Number 15
PUTIN CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL ADMINISTRATION OF IRAQ... President Vladimir Putin met from 11-12 April with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in St. Petersburg to discuss Iraq and the impact of the conflict there on other global hot spots, including the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the Korean Peninsula, Russian and Western media reported. During a joint press conference on 11 April, Putin said the fastest way to return Iraq to normalcy would be to administer the country under the aegis of the United Nations. He said that the forces of the U.S.-led coalition have not yet achieved the main goal of the military operation: locating and securing any weapons of mass destruction that the regime of deposed Iraqi President Hussein might have amassed. "Nobody liked the regime of Saddam Hussein, except Hussein himself...but we cannot export a capitalist, democratic revolution," Putin said. He argued that the best model for stabilizing Iraq is Afghanistan. "There should be an international conference under the aegis of the UN and a temporary national administration should prepare and hold democratic elections designed to return control of the country to the Iraqi people," Putin said.

...AND FOR MORE ATTENTION TO HUMANITARIAN CRISIS THERE. Asked whether the tripartite summit could split the international community, Putin said that the goal of the talks was exactly the opposite, Russian and Western media reported on 11 April. He said the leaders were searching for ways of rebuilding a working international security system for the new century. He said that the UN must be preserved as the main mechanism for resolving international disputes, but said that "this cannot be done without reaching positive cooperation throughout the Euro-Atlantic space." Putin also urged coalition forces to take responsibility for the humanitarian situation in Iraq. "We did not meet here to critique the activities of the occupation forces. And I do not think the members of the coalition have forgotten about their responsibilities," Putin said. He said he believes coalition forces are doing everything they can to maintain order and security, but added that the scope of the problem is so big that they cannot cope with it effectively.

MOSCOW REFUSES TO SHUT DOWN IRAQ EMBASSY. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko announced on 13 April that Russia will not comply with a U.S. request to close down the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow and to expel Iraqi Ambassador to Russia Abbas Khalaf, RTR and other Russian media reported. Russia has had diplomatic relations with Iraq since the 1940s despite a number of regime changes. Yakovenko said that the Iraqi people themselves will decide on the composition of the country's diplomatic representation in Moscow. He added that Moscow does not consider the 6 April incident in which the motorcade of the Russian ambassador to Iraq was caught in crossfire outside of Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 8, and 9 April 2003) fully resolved yet. Moscow will seek compensation for material losses in accordance with international law, Yakovenko said.

�AND KEEPS RUSSIAN EMBASSY IN BAGHDAD OPEN. The Russian Embassy in Baghdad remains open despite disorder and sporadic fighting in the streets, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yakovenko said on 8 April, RTR reported. Yakovenko stressed that the mission is performing a vital function by keeping Moscow abreast of developments in Iraq. It is also providing shelter to many Russian journalists working in Baghdad and is representing the interests of Germany and France in Iraq, Yakovenko added. Finally, there are a number of Russians, primarily women, who live in Iraq and for whom the embassy continues to provide consular services, Yakovenko said.

IRAQI OPPOSITION LEADER TELLS MOSCOW TO FORGET ABOUT IRAQ'S DEBTS... Muwaffak Fattuhi, a leader of the Iraqi opposition and a member of the Central Committee of the Iraqi National Congress, said Russia should give up hope that Iraq will repay its Soviet-era debts and should begin relations with a new post-Hussein government with a blank slate, "Izvestiya" reported on 8 April. "Countries like Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus were friends of Saddam Hussein, and they worked against the interests of the Iraqi people," Fattuhi was quoted as saying. He added, though, that the new Iraqi government will respect Russia and will not exclude it from among its potential trading partners. According to the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, Iraq's debts to Moscow exceed $8.5 billion, "Izvestiya" reported.

...PROVOKING HEATED REACTION. Former Prime Minister and current head of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Yevgenii Primakov said that Fattuhi's statement has no legal status and makes no economic sense, reported on 8 April. "Who are they, these leaders of the Iraqi opposition?" Primakov said. "Usually opposition leaders are commonly accepted fighters for something. But here there are some self-proclaimed figures making decisions about the country's future policies and the rules of the game." Moscow Institute of Political Forecasting Director Aleksandr Konovalov told ORT on 8 April that although it is unrealistic to expect the debts to be repaid, Russian companies do have considerable assets and investments in Iraq and these are subject to international law and conventions. Their fate must not be determined by the arbitrary decisions of political leaders, Konovalov said.

...AS PUTIN SAYS MOSCOW IS READY TO DISCUSS IT... Responding to a U.S. proposal that Russia, France, and Germany open a new chapter in their relations with Iraq by writing off debts accumulated by the regime of deposed President Hussein, President Putin noted sarcastically, "Somebody came to shoot and loot, and that somebody should pay for the fun," reported 12 April. Nonetheless, Putin said that Russia has agreed to discuss the matter within the framework of the Paris Club. He also hinted that Russia might consider writing off Hussein's debts in exchange for a write-off of its own "according to procedures elaborated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund [IMF]." In Washington, however, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin was participating in an IMF session on 13 April and said that there is no direct connection between Iraqi debt issues and the Paris Club, NTV reported.

SVR DOES NOT WANT COMMENT REPORTS ON ITS COOPERATION WITH BAGHDAD... The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) declined to comment on a report in the London-based "The Sunday Telegraph" on 13 April alleging that documents have been found in Baghdad proving the existence of close ties between the intelligence service of deposed Iraqi President Hussein and Russian intelligence, reported on 13 and 14 April. One document allegedly dated 12 March 2002 indicates that the SVR knew about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and urged Baghdad to destroy them in order not to give the United States a pretext to attack. Other documents reportedly included SVR reports of conversations about Iraq between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. "We do not comment on unsubstantiated and unfounded statements of the tabloid press," SVR spokesman Boris Labusov said, according to Interfax on 13 April.

...AS EXPERT NOTES SUCH CONTACTS NOT UNIMAGINABLE. An unidentified expert "who is close to the SVR" told Interfax on 13 April that the SVR had contacts with virtually every intelligence service in the world throughout the 1990s as part of its efforts to combat terrorism and organized crime. These contacts were not directed against third countries, the source said. Commenting on the reports concerning the Blair-Berlusconi talks, the source noted that such talks are always held under secure conditions. "So that means that one of the prime ministers is a [Russian] agent," the source quipped.

SVR DENIES SMUGGLING ARCHIVES IN MOTORCADE. Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) spokesman Labusov refuted on 9 April rumors that his agency tried to smuggle the archives of deposed Iraqi President Hussein's secret services out of Iraq in the Russian ambassador's motorcade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 April 2003), ORT and RTR reported. Such rumors are complete fiction "and have no basis whatsoever," Labusov said. SVR Colonel Yurii Perfilev, who was a Soviet intelligence resident in the Middle East in the 1980s, said that such statements are interesting, but cannot be verified, TV-Tsentr reported on 9 April. Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii, whose reputed ties to the KGB are frequently mentioned in the media, said he personally spoke with Hussein last year and offered to evacuate the archives, but Hussein responded that "there is no need for this," reported on 10 April. Zhirinovskii claimed that part of the archives were destroyed and the rest removed to Syria, Yemen, and Sudan.

PUTIN CHASTISES MILITARY FOR POOR INTELLIGENCE ON IRAQ CAMPAIGN. President Putin has expressed his displeasure over his defense officials' faulty forecasting regarding the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq, "Argumenty i Fakty," No. 15, reported. Putin reportedly was dismayed that military officials predicted the campaign would take three to six months and that the Iraqi military would resist vigorously. The weekly published a prognosis issued by an unidentified military intelligence officer before coalition forces captured Baghdad in which he wrote that coalition loses in taking the city would amount to about 5,000 killed, while as many as half a million Iraqis could lose their lives in the operation.

MILITARY DEFENSE MINISTER CANCELS U.S. TRIP... Sergei Ivanov has canceled a scheduled three-day trip to the United States that was due to begin on 13 April, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 April. Ivanov was to have held talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. An unnamed Defense Ministry spokesman said the visit had been arranged before the beginning of the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq and, now that the military phase of that operation is coming to an end, it is no longer necessary, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 April. He also commented that one should not draw hasty conclusions from the cancellation, which came immediately following a visit to Moscow by U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. The newspaper speculated that Rice might have discovered more serious disagreements over Iraq than she expected. The daily also speculated that Moscow might be experiencing doubts about the international antiterrorism coalition. Finally, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" speculated, the cancellation might stem from the Kremlin's displeasure over Washington's public accusations that Russia provided sophisticated military equipment to the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 March 2003). Other analysts believe that the Kremlin might be playing "good cop, bad cop," with President Vladimir Putin playing the former role and Ivanov the latter in U.S.-Russian relations.

...AND SAYS IRAQ WAR HAS INCREASED DEMAND FOR RUSSIAN ARMS. Speaking upon his arrival in Seoul on 10 April for talks on bilateral military cooperation, Ivanov said the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq has led to a marked increase in global demand for Russian weapons systems, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. U.S. accusations that Russia supplied arms to Iraq have led to increased orders for Russian conventional weapons, Ivanov said. "We can thank the Americans for the free publicity," he added. He also said that the conflict in Iraq has further stimulated the arms race on the Korean Peninsula and that Russia is ready to provide security guarantees to North Korea if it renounces its nuclear-weapons program.

...HOLDS TALKS IN SOUTH KOREA... Sergei Ivanov and senior South Korean military officials held discussions in Seoul on 10-11 April focusing primarily on North Korea's recent decision to revive its nuclear program, "Krasnaya zvezda," "Izvestiya," and other Russian media reported. Ivanov pointed to similarities between recent events in Iraq and those in North Korea, reported on 10 April. "As the situation in Iraq evolved, and in accordance with its own logic, North Korea's leadership sought ways to protect the country's territorial integrity and to allow the country to develop as it wishes, despite its limited means," Ivanov was quoted as saying. Ivanov stressed that he is expressing his understanding of Pyongyang's thinking, not that of Moscow.

...AND OUTLINES MOSCOW'S IDEAS FOR DEFUSING THE CRISIS. Defense Minister Ivanov noted that his trip to Seoul coincides with discussion in the UN Security Council about the situation in North Korea, reported. He said that if the Security Council adopts a resolution on North Korea, Pyongyang will likely ignore it and cite "other precedents." He predicted that North Korea could announce that it has developed a nuclear weapon as early as May. The Kremlin understands that North Korea's demand that the United States sign a bilateral "nonaggression pact" with North Korea is unrealistic. That is why Moscow has proposed a multilateral security accord involving the United States, China, Russia, North Korea, and South Korea. Moscow has also offered to guarantee North Korea's security in exchange for Pyongyang's renunciation of its nuclear ambitions.

RUSSIA TO WITHDRAW PEACEKEEPERS FROM BALKANS. Russia will withdraw its 970 peacekeepers from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosova, an unidentified Defense Ministry spokesman told the Military News Agency on 10 April. "We think that they are needed more at home, and the funds saved...will be better spent for training soldiers at home," the spokesman was quoted as saying. ORT political commentator Mikhail Leontev, who is known for his hostile attitude toward the United States, said on 8 April that Russia's participation in the UN-sponsored operation "was a mistake from the very beginning and lost all sense after the events in Iraq."

ECONOMIC OFFICIALS PREDICT REDUCTION IN STATE SPENDING. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and presidential economics adviser Andrei Illarionov both returned to Moscow on 14 April after attending a session of the IMF in Washington, REN-TV and other Russian media reported. The two men stated that they do not believe Russia will suffer significant short-term economic consequences of the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq. Illarionov predicted that world oil prices will not fall below $23-$25 per barrel before the end of the year. However, the draft federal budget for 2004 is based on an average oil price of $18 a barrel and it is the first of three years of projected surplus budgets. Therefore, Kudrin said, the government should reduce expenditures and not implement a proposed 33 percent salary hike for civil servants. He noted that excess hard-currency reserves and anticipated additional oil-export-tax revenues will be directed to a special stabilization fund under an IMF-proposed plan, REN-TV added.

...BUT DIPLOMAT SAYS NOT TO WORRY ABOUT OIL GLUT. Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi, who is presidential envoy for Caspian Sea issues, said that Russia might accept proposals to write off the debts accumulated by Iraqi President Hussein if it is give compensation for its financial loses in Iraq, TV-Tsentr reported on 11 April. Kalyuzhnyi, a former energy minister, said that Russia does not need to be concerned that the presence of Iraqi oil on world markets will reduce global energy prices and, therefore, Russia's oil revenues. Unlike other commodities, the price of oil is not always determined solely by supply and demand, Kalyuzhnyi said. It often happens that prices increase even as the amount of oil on the market grows or that prices decline as oil production falls, Kalyuzhnyi said.

RUSSIA, TURKMENISTAN SIGN STRATEGIC GAS AGREEMENT... President Putin and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed a strategic energy accord in Moscow on 10 April under which Turkmenistan will supply natural gas to Russia through 2028, Russian media reported. Initially the amount of Turkmen gas that Russia will be able to purchase will be limited by an existing agreement to deliver certain quantities to Ukraine, but when that agreement expires in 2006, Russian will purchase 60 billion-70 billion cubic meters of gas per year from 2007-09, when the quantity will rise to 70 billion-80 billion per year. According to Putin, the price of only half the Turkmen gas will be paid in cash; the rest will be paid in Russian goods. Niyazov told Putin that he expects his country will be able to supply Russia with up to 100 billion cubic meters, starting in 2010. In total, Turkmenistan will supply 2 trillion cubic meters of gas under the agreement for $300 billion. Gazprom Chairman Aleksei Miller told journalists the figures in the agreement represent only the minimal level of cooperation. Turkmenistan is currently exploiting only one-third of its reserves and the export figures could be increased substantially.

...LINKED TO A SECURITY ACCORD... The two presidents also signed a bilateral security-cooperation agreement, the details of which were not disclosed, Russian media reported. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 April that Niyazov, who is known for his harshly authoritarian regime, feels exposed following the deposition of Iraqi President Hussein and is turning to Moscow for support. Putin seemed to hint at this when he said during the Kremlin signing ceremony that the agreement will "make our efforts to counter outside threats more systematic and efficient." The newspaper emphasized that both the natural gas and the security agreements must be viewed in the context of the events in Iraq. "Russia will protect Turkmenistan from the United States for $300 billion," commented on 10 April.

MEDIA REPS SIGN 'ANTITERRORISM CONVENTION'... Representatives of the media-sector lobbying group Industrial Committee signed on 8 April new guidelines that are intended to govern reporters' behavior during terrorist incidents and counterterrorism operations, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. The "Antiterrorism Convention of the Mass Media," which was drawn up jointly by media representatives and law-enforcement agencies, grew out of the October hostage drama at a Moscow theater, when some media coverage drew government criticism. During any similar situation, journalists must now inform authorities if they learn of any information that could "save people's lives during an antiterrorism operation." They are prohibited from "interviewing terrorists during the commission of a crime and at their own initiative" and from allowing terrorists "to go on the air live without advance consultations with the operational staff." The rules also bar journalists from independently acting as mediators or "insulting and humiliating terrorists who have hostages' lives in their hands."

...IN WHAT COULD BE A MAJOR CONCESSION TO THE GOVERNMENT. The new "Antiterrorism Convention of the Mass Media" contains provisions that could significantly limit media freedom. The document states that a journalist's right to gather information is subordinate to "the activities of the security services to protect people." This language has reportedly been incorporated into a new draft law on the mass media being drafted by the Media Ministry.

DEPUTY DUMA SPEAKER CONCERNED ABOUT PRESS FREEDOM. Irina Khakamada, who is also a Union of Rightists Forces (SPS) leader, said on 10 April that Russia is experiencing "the steady erosion of freedom of the press," RosBalt reported. Khakamada was commenting on the "Antiterrorism Convention" that representatives of the Industrial Committee, a media-sector lobbying group, signed recently (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2003). Khakamada said that "within [state-run] ORT and RTR self-censorship has existed for a long time." "Now NTV is under tough pressure from the government, and TV-Tsentr is marginalized," Khakamada said. Central Election Committee Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said that the provision that allows the government to suspend media outlets that violate the law should be removed from a new draft law on the mass media to be considered in the Duma next month, reported on 11 April. Veshnyakov said that the journalist's responsibility should be personalized. If violations occur, particular programs should be stopped but entire channels should not be taken off the air, he said.

COMMUNIST DEPUTY URGES TYCOON TO REPENT. Addressing the Russian Economic Forum in London on 3 April ( see "RFE/RL Security and Foreign Policy," 9 April 2003), Communist Duma Deputy Vasilii Shandybin appealed to self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, who was present in the audience, "to give back his money to the people," "Argumenty i Fakty," No. 15, reported. "Give back the money that you stole from the people and you will be pardoned," Shandybin said. "I will personally speak to Prosecutor-General [Vladimir] Ustinov and [Interior Minister] Boris Gryzlov," Shandybin said. Berezovskii only laughed in response. Later, however, both attended a gala forum reception at which 500 liters of champagne were consumed.