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Security Watch: May 7, 2003

7 May 2003, Volume 4, Number 18
U.S. RENEWS PRESSURE OVER RUSSIA'S NUCLEAR COOPERATION WITH IRAN... U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton held talks in Moscow on 5 May aimed at, among other things, persuading Russia to rethink its nuclear cooperation with Iran, Reuters reported on 5 May. Bolton met with Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev and two deputy foreign ministers -- Georgii Mamedov and Aleksandr Losyukov. The main topics of discussion were Iran, North Korea, and nuclear-weapons proliferation, Interfax reported. Later on 5 May, Bolton told reporters he had expressed to Rumyantsev his concerns about information indicating that Iran is working to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles -- something that is not, Bolton added, in Russia's interest. The Russian side, Bolton said, expressed its view, and "we saw where our points of view coincide and where they diverge," Bolton was quoted by Interfax as saying.

...BUT DOUBTS IRAQ WAR WILL SPOIL THE BUSH-PUTIN SUMMIT. Undersecretary Bolton also said on 5 May that Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will soon meet to discuss the upcoming summit between Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg, Interfax reported on 5 May. Bolton said he does not think the war in Iraq will cast a shadow over the summit. Ivanov, who was visiting Bucharest on 5 May, said Powell will be in Russia for meetings on 14-15 May, Interfax reported. Presidents Putin and Bush will meet in St. Petersburg on 1 June, ITAR-TASS and other media reported on 6 May, citing an unidentified U.S. diplomatic source who characterized bilateral relations as being in "a rejuvenation phase."

PUTIN'S VIEW ON LIFTING OF SANCTIONS IN IRAQ ANNOYS BLAIR. Addressing the question of lifting sanctions in Iraq during a meeting with U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair on 29 April, Putin stated that they should not be lifted until the existence of illegal weapons had been cleared up, Reuters reported. "So far we have no answers and as long as we have no answers we cannot feel safe. We need to have a legal basis to put an end to this," the Kremlin leader told a news conference in Moscow, adding that the United Nations was the only body competent to do this. "Sanctions were imposed on Iraq on the basis of suspicions that it held weapons of mass destruction. Sanctions can only be removed if there is no suspicion and it is only the Security Council that can remove these sanctions because it imposed them in the first place," he said. Reuters reported that Blair was clearly annoyed by Putin's comments. Blair told reporters that Russia could be setting the scene for another bruising confrontation with the United States over Iraq. "The question is, can we find a way forward together for the future...or whether we are going to have the stand-off we have had for the past few months," Blair said before flying back to London after three hours of talks with Putin.

PUTIN, BUSH TO DISCUSS MISSILE DEFENSE. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 4 May that President Putin and U.S. President Bush will "without a doubt" discuss cooperation on missile defense when they meet at St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary celebration later this month, Interfax reported on 4 May. The issue, Yakovenko said, will be discussed in the context of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, which the two presidents signed in May 2002 and which, he predicted, will be ratified by the State Duma this month. Russia, Yakovenko said, is also discussing a potential European missile-defense system with the NATO members in the NATO-Russia Council and is seeking a new United Nations treaty banning weapons in space and at space facilities similar to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. Russian Space Agency head Yurii Koptev said on 4 May that the United States wants to militarize space, calling such a move a "destabilizing factor" that would force Russia to review its "doctrine and deal with the potential threat," AP reported on 4 April, citing Interfax.

PUTIN, KUCHMA AGREE ON 'A WIDE RANGE OF ISSUES.' President Putin wound up his five-day visit to Yalta on 4 May, having reached agreement with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on "a wide range of issues," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 May. Putin reiterated Russia's desire to reach an agreement with Ukraine and Germany to repair Ukraine's gas-pipeline system and thereby expand its capacity to export Russian natural gas to Western Europe, Interfax reported on 2 May. He also spoke in favor of continuing joint production with Ukraine of the An-70 transport plane, saying Russia has already invested "quite a bit" in the project and wants to see it through. "Izvestiya" reported on 26 April that Russian military officials are "categorically against" the project. The two presidents discussed relations with the European Union and their two countries' prospects for entering the World Trade Organization (WTO). Kuchma, noting that Ukraine's bid for WTO membership is not going as well as he had hoped, called for greater coordination between Moscow and Kyiv in moving toward WTO membership, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 May.

PUTIN, BLAIR EXPLORE DIFFERENCES... The Moscow meeting between British Prime Minister Blair and Russian President Putin on 29 April was widely commented upon in the Russian and British press. The apparent consensus was that the two men still had great differences over the war in Iraq and that Putin's mood was lingering anger and that he did not pull punches. For "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 30 April, the Moscow summit "[had] a symbolic value" as the first meeting between the two leaders since the end of the Iraq war. But "the beginning of yesterday's meeting did not bode well." "The last time Blair came to Moscow was last autumn. Then it was clear from the very first moments that the meeting was between two friends. Yesterday's summit opened in a distinctly restrained manner," the paper wrote. "Izvestiya" on the same day wrote that Blair was in town "in a dual capacity -- as prime minister of one of the belligerent states, which assumes responsibility for the reconstruction of Iraq, and as an intermediary between Moscow and Washington.... As far as Moscow is concerned, the nature of Blair's role changed a long time ago, effectively when the formation of the antiterrorist coalition began in 2001." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 29 April commented that Blair was acting as a bridge between the Kremlin and the White House. "This is not the first time, nor the first year that Blair has acted as a bridge. Now he is being called on to play this role again." The reason, a high-ranking Kremlin source told the daily, is that "the degree of Russian-British mutual understanding is markedly higher than that between Moscow and Washington". "Nezavisimaya gazeta" speculated that Tony Blair was carrying a message that the U.S. was willing to "forgive Moscow for its obstinacy and its attempts to stage a mutiny together with France and Germany." "Gazeta" the same day pointed out the questions it says Putin asked Blair. "Where is Saddam? Where are those arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, if they ever existed? Maybe Saddam is sitting on weapons of mass destruction in some secret bunker and planning, at the last minute, to wreck everything and threaten thousands of human lives? These questions need answers."

...AS PUTIN DECLARES 'COLD WAR OVER.' Summing up his talks with British Prime Minister Blair, Putin told a press conference in Moscow on 29 April that a revival of the Cold War is over and will not be revived, RIA-Novosti reported on 29 April. The Cold War was due to antagonisms between two systems based on mutually confrontational ideologies. Today the situation is quite different, and a return to the Cold War is impossible, Putin pointed out. A split international community cannot cope with terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other urgent problems, Putin told the press. When a reporter asked him whether a postwar Iraqi settlement was possible without UN involvement, Putin replied, "That's quite possible -- after all, the war started without a UN sanction."

AGRICULTURE MINISTER ATTACKS JACKSON-VANIK... During a visit to Washington, Russian Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev on 1 May described the 29-year-old Jackson-Vanik amendment as an "atavism" in Russian-U.S. relations, ITAR-TASS reported. The U.S. Congress adopted the amendment, which denied the Soviet Union certain trade privileges, in 1974 to pressure the Kremlin to allow free emigration. U.S. officials and lawmakers have talked for years about repealing the amendment, but others have argued that such a gesture should come only if Moscow agrees to grant licenses to U.S. companies that supply chicken to Russia. "We are surprised," Gordeev told reporters, "that the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which concerned restrictions on free emigration, has today turned out to be linked, for some reason, to trade and economic relations, especially since the United States has recognized Russia as a market economy." The issue is expected to be a prime topic in the minister's meetings with U.S. administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, and with leading members of Congress, RIA-Novosti reported. Gordeev did, however, call the United States a "strategic partner" in trade, and declared, "We don't link issues of different political assessments regarding Iraq with the development of trade and economic relations between the United States and Russia."

...AS MOSCOW GIVES U.S. POULTRY EXPORTERS MIXED MESSAGE. Minister Gordeev announced on 1 May that 65-70 percent of U.S. poultry producers have brought their meat into compliance with Russian sanitary and veterinary standards, RIA-Novosti reported. Last year, Moscow temporarily banned U.S. chicken imports amid charges that the meat was tainted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July and 5 November 2002). Now, said Gordeev, "we don't have any firm conflicts" regarding poultry imports. On the same day, however, Russia imposed quotas on all poultry imports for the next three years. Imports will be limited to 744,000 tons in 2003 and 1.05 million tons each in 2004 and 2005, as well as 306,000 tons for the first four months of 2006. The quota amounts will be allocated among supplier countries in proportion to the import volume from 1999-2001, so the United States will be allowed to import 553,500 tons of poultry meat in 2003. Russian importers will pay 15 percent of the customs value of the meat on below-quota amounts, but will have to fork over 60-80 percent of the value on quantities that exceed the quota. While the new quotas prompted a "mixed reaction" from the United States and the EU, RIA-Novosti said, Moscow experts doubt the restrictions will significantly limit access to the Russian market or cause price increases.

CHECHEN FIGHTERS AND AL-QAEDA TERRORISTS 'CLOSELY RELATED.' Terrorists in Chechnya and Al-Qaeda terrorists are "very closely related," Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council's International Committee, told RIA-Novosti on 29 April. According to Margelov, this is confirmed by information recently provided to Russia by U.S. special services and information obtained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Writing on this topic, on 28 April, "Izvestiya" reported that Americans claim that the search of the Bosnian division of the Chicago-based Benevolence International Foundation provided a letter where Al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden wrote, "The time has come to attack Russia." In custody, Benevolence International Foundation head Enaam Arnaout denied any contacts with bin Laden. According to the FBI, however, the foundation transferred $300,000 to Chechnya. "Izvestiya" reported: "The connection between Al-Qaeda and Chechen gunmen was proved in January 2002, when a 'Newsday' journalist in Kabul obtained a tape showing a meeting between Khattab and bin Laden. The tape was edited as a commercial for Al-Qaeda's terrorist school and included episodes of terrorist acts in Chechnya. According to information this newspaper has compiled, terrorists in Chechnya remain successful even now precisely because of the so-called 'Arab factor.'" The paper added that in spite of there being only a "handful" of Arab mercenaries in Chechnya, "they nevertheless perform a key mission. They provide finances and combat and ideological training." Following up on 30 April, RIA-Novosti reported that the Prosecutor-General's Office in Moscow had completed the investigation into the Moscow apartment blasts in September 1999 and found that the bombings' "organizers" were "foreign citizens Khattab and Abu-Umar who, according to information [provided by] the special services, were eliminated during the counterterrorism operation in Chechnya." The Russian authorities have claimed that Khattab and Abu-Umar, both Saudi-born Chechen field commanders, were killed during special operations carried out in April 2002 and July 2001, respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002 and 13 July 2001). Putin's critics, such as self-exiled Russian businessman Boris Berezovskii, have charged that the FSB organized the apartment blasts in Moscow.

POLL FINDS MANY SOLDIERS MENTALLY UNPREPARED TO FIGHT. A survey conducted by the Russian military has found that about 20 percent of service personnel are psychologically unprepared to repel a foreign enemy and about 40 percent are unprepared to take part in combat operations inside Russia, "Kommersant-Daily," No. 16, reported on 28 April. The Defense Ministry said the numbers are considerably lower among soldiers in the North Caucasus, most of whom are already involved in combat. On the whole, the ministry's sociologists say, the psychological state and morale of officers and enlisted men is gradually improving and is currently rated "satisfactory, but insufficiently stable." Indicators of instability include the high level of dissatisfaction among officers and enlisted men with their financial situation (up to 75 percent), living standards (up to 70 percent), and recreational and leisure conditions (80 percent). In addition, about 80 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the government's social policy toward the armed forces and the overall situation in the army.

MONEY-LAUNDERING TASK FORCE TO BACK RUSSIA'S ADMISSION. A delegation of the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF), an intergovernmental body based in Paris, said in Moscow on 30 April that it will urge Russia's admission to the group at a meeting in Berlin in June, reported. The recommendation is welcome news for the Kremlin, which has fought back from scandalous charges in the fall of 1999 that Russian politicians and organized-crime figures were involved in international money laundering through U.S. banks. At a final session with Viktor Zubkov, chairman of Russia's Financial Monitoring Committee, the FATF delegation "gave a positive assessment to the system set up in Russia for countering the legalization of criminal income and recommended disseminating the Russian experience to other countries," the website reported. The FATF visitors also invited a Russian delegation to address the next session of the Egmont group of financial-intelligence units in Bern in July on the principles of establishing a system to combat criminal financing.

GERMANY TO HELP FUND RUSSIA'S DESTRUCTION OF CHEMICAL ARMS. The German government will allocate almost 30 million euros ($32.9 million) this year to help Russia destroy its arsenal of chemical weapons, RosBalt reported on 28 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2003). Sergei Kirienko, head of Russia's State Commission for the Destruction of Chemical Weapons, reached the accord with German Deputy Foreign Minister Peter Schmidt at a conference of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. Berlin was the principal donor to the construction of the plant for chemical-weapons destruction in Gornyi. Germany will allocate 6.2 million euros ($6.8 million) to set up a second destruction line at that plant and another 23.5 million euros to build another plant for the same purpose in the town of Kambarka in Udmurtia.