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Security Watch: May 28, 2003

28 May 2003, Volume 4, Number 21
U.S., RUSSIA RESUME SECURITY COOPERATION... Fresh from completing a $900 million deal to sell 18 advanced fighter jets to Malaysia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2003), Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov headed to Washington on 20 May for talks on security cooperation, regional security issues, and the possibility of further reductions in the two countries' strategic offensive potentials, ORT reported. Ivanov is expected to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and U.S. President George W. Bush. During a brief stopover in Honolulu, Ivanov told journalists that Moscow is ready to cooperate with the United States in the area of strategic missile defense, but will insist on a number of conditions, including "complete transparency" and the protection of intellectual-property rights, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 May.

...AS MOSCOW SUPPORTS U.S.-BACKED UN RESOLUTION ON IRAQ. After meeting with his French and German counterparts in Paris on 21 May, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists that Russia will back a new UN Security Council resolution on Iraq submitted by the United States, Great Britain, and Spain, RIA-Novosti reported. The council was expected to vote on the resolution on 22 May. Noting that Russia, France, and Germany opposed the use of military force against the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein without a UN mandate, Ivanov said that Moscow welcomes the United States and the other countries of the anti-Hussein coalition back into the UN fold. He said the new UN resolution will have no retroactive authority and will do nothing to justify past U.S.-led actions. Under the draft, the United States and Great Britain will be granted wide-ranging prerogatives in the postwar administration of Iraq. It also extends the UN-sponsored oil-for-food program, in which Russian companies are playing a leading role. The resolution also contains a provision obligating the new Iraqi government to honor the international debts of the Hussein regime.

IVANOV'S U.S. VISIT SIGNALS WARMING RELATIONS. U.S. President George W. Bush on 21 May met in the White House with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who conveyed a message from President Vladimir Putin, Russian and Western media reported. Putin's message reportedly stated that the partnership between Russia and the United States benefits the entire world by enhancing global stability and security, RIA-Novosti reported. Putin noted that much more binds the two countries than divides them, and expressed the hope that the bilateral dialogue will move forward during the U.S.-Russia summit in St. Petersburg on 1 June. U.S. officials characterized Ivanov's meeting with Bush as "warm and very positive," ORT reported. On 22 May, Ivanov met with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to discuss North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, as well as bilateral security cooperation, RTR reported. The closed-door talks seem to indicate that relations between the two countries are back on track following sharp disagreements over the U.S.-led military action against the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. It would be difficult to imagine Ivanov's French or German counterparts making such a visit to Washington now, RTR commented.

CHINESE PRESIDENT KICKS OFF THREE-DAY VISIT TO RUSSIA... Russian President Vladimir Putin on 26 May met at his suburban Moscow residence with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who arrived earlier that day for a three-day state visit to Russia, Russian and Western media reported. Hu stressed that this is his first trip abroad since he became president in March. The two presidents discussed joint trade and energy projects, military-technical cooperation, and the coordination of policies in international affairs, presidential foreign-affairs adviser Sergei Prikhodko said. Following his meetings with Putin, Hu met with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, and State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev. He was then expected to fly to St. Petersburg to take part in celebrations there for the city's 300th anniversary. While he is in St. Petersburg, Hu is expected to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush, ORT reported. Together with Putin, Hu will fly on 1 June to Evian, France, where he will be the first Chinese leader to participate in a session of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations

DUMA RATIFIES BORDER TREATIES WITH LITHUANIA... By a vote of 268 to 138, Duma deputies on 21 May ratified treaties with Lithuania on the delineation of borders between the two countries, including the division of the Baltic Sea shelf, RosBalt and other media reported. The treaties form part of the agreement reached in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2002) by Russia, Lithuania, and the European Union on transit between the Kaliningrad exclave and the rest of Russia in the run-up to Lithuania's entry into the EU. The treaties formally bestow the status of an international border on the administrative border that separated the Russian and Lithuanian republics during the Soviet period. Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov said that the treaties include some exchanges of territory but the overall area of the Russian Federation, Lithuania, and Kaliningrad Oblast remain unchanged.

...AS COMMUNIST LEADER URGES THEIR REJECTION. On the eve of the Duma's consideration of the treaties with Lithuania, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov sent a letter to President Putin asking him to block the ratification of the agreements, "Zavtra" reported on 21 May. Zyuganov argued that doing so would block Lithuania's proposed entry into NATO, because NATO accepts only countries that have no disputed international borders.

DEPUTY HEALTH MINISTER BELIEVES THERE IS SARS IN RUSSIA. State Health Inspectorate head and Deputy Health Minister Gennadii Onishchenko on 20 May told journalists in Novosibirsk that he believes a Russian man hospitalized earlier this month in Blagoveshchensk does have severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), RTR reported. If so, it would be the first case of the disease confirmed in Russia. Onishchenko's statement, which came after he attended a Security Council session in the city, contradicted earlier reports from the State Health Inspectorate and doctors in Blagoveshchensk that indicated the patient's laboratory tests had proven negative for SARS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2003). Onishchenko said that current methods of testing for the virus are imperfect and that two of the five analyses done on the patient indicate that he is suffering from SARS.

SECURITY COUNCIL DISCUSSES SIBERIAN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. Addressing officials and administration heads from the 16 federation subjects that comprise the Siberian Federal District in Novosibirsk on 20 May, Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said he is concerned about security in the region, ORT reported. He said that efforts to combat crime against individuals and their property are inadequate. Even more worrisome, Rushailo said, is the economic security of the region, which is becoming increasingly dependent on exports of natural resources as other industries continue to decline. At the same session, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin said that the main obstacle to improving the socioeconomic situation in the region is the federal bureaucracy. He called for the transfer of real decision-making authority from the center to the regional level.

ECONOMY MINISTRY PROPOSES INTELLIGENCE REFORM... Experts with the Economic Development and Trade Ministry have put forward a proposal to "demilitarize" the country's foreign-intelligence services, "Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie," reported. The goal of the reform is to increase the services' ability to work in the interests of the Russian economy and major Russian companies. The current foreign-intelligence structure -- which emerged during the Cold War -- includes the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU). The officers of the latter are military personnel and work in the interests of the defense and security sectors. However, the ministry experts argue that the end of the Cold War, globalization, changes in the Russian economy, and Russia's impending entry into the World Trade Organization necessitate a revision of priorities as the economic component of the country's national-security policy becomes more important. "In our relations with our geopolitical competitors including the United States, the countries of the European Union, Japan, China, and India the 'protective' role of the Defense Ministry has visibly declined and the role of the Economic Development and Trade Ministry" has dramatically increased, the newspaper commented.

...AND CREATION OF ITS OWN FOREIGN-INTELLIGENCE SERVICE. The same article reported that the Economic Development and Trade Ministry will propose creating its own foreign-intelligence service to address the shortcomings of the current intelligence structure and the issues raised by Russia's increasing integration into global economic structures. The proposed service would help create favorable conditions for Russian goods in foreign markets, increase export volumes, and provide information and analytical support for Russian foreign trade, the newspaper reported. The proposed reform would increase the role of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov in intelligence matters, since the Economic Development and Trade Ministry answers to him, while the current foreign-intelligence services report directly to President Vladimir Putin.

FSB ARRESTS GERMAN CITIZEN ON SUSPICION OF TERRORISM. The Federal Security Service (FSB) has arrested a German citizen identified as Uwe Krueger on suspicion of plotting a terrorist act, Russian media reported on 22 May. Kruger was arrested in Tatarstan after allegedly attempting to purchase 20 kilograms of explosives. According to officials, Kruger told police that he wanted the explosives in order to blow up his own house in Germany to collect on his insurance. The FSB, however, noted that he attempted to purchase enough explosives to destroy several houses and is investigating in cooperation with German security agencies the possibility that Kruger belongs to a terrorist organization.

CABINET APPROVES ENERGY STRATEGY. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's cabinet on 22 May adopted a national strategy for the development of the Russian energy sector through 2020, Russian media reported. Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said that the energy sector has been chosen as the prime mover of the country's gross domestic product, which is expected to increase by a factor of 2.2-3.3 during this period, according to the best- and worst-case scenarios in the document. Oil production will be boosted to 450 million-520 million tons per year by 2010 and then remain stable at that level. Natural-gas output will range from 680 billion-730 billion cubic meters per year. Nuclear-power plants will contribute 15 percent-19.5 percent of Russia's energy output by 2020.

MILITARY AIRBORNE FORCES FACE DISMANTLING. General Anatolii Kvashnin, the chief of the General Staff, is preparing an order that would abolish the Airborne Forces as a separate branch of the armed forces and incorporate them into the army's ground forces, "Izvestiya" and NTV reported on 20 May. The reform is part of a broader military modernization program that has already been approved by President Putin. Kvashnin believes that a modern military does not need paratroops and wants instead to create advanced, rapid-deployment divisions. He first made the proposal in May 2001, but Airborne Commander Colonel General Georgii Shpak was able to thwart the plan. Shpak, who commands a force of about 35,000 men, has argued that his units are more professional and combat-ready than other military units and have suffered fewer combat casualties in Chechnya than ground forces have. In December, Kvashnin publicly assessed the readiness of Shpak's forces as "mediocre" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2002).

UNITY PROPOSES MILITARY-SERVICE LOOPHOLE... The presidium of the Unity faction in the Duma on 20 May approved a proposal to allow Russian youth to avoid military service by taking a six-month course of military training instead, "Vedomosti" and "Vremya-MN" reported on 21 May. The course would cost $600, and Duma Deputy Yurii Tsybakin, a co-author of the proposal, said it will "destroy the market for bribes" currently paid to defer military service or evade the draft altogether. The Unity faction plans to submit a bill outlining the military-reform plan several months before the December Duma elections. "Vremya-MN" commented that the initiative "smells more like electoral public relations than concern about [military] reform."

...BUT IT HAS LITTLE CHANCE OF APPROVAL "Vedomosti" reported on 21 May that the Unity proposal is at odds with the Defense Ministry's own draft military-reform plan, which the government approved in late April. Beginning in 2008, that plan would reduce the required service for draftees from two years to one. Six months would be spent at a training facility and six months in a regular unit. "Vedomosti" noted that President Putin's comments on military reform in his 16 May address to parliament indicated that he favors the government's plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). Meanwhile, members of the Communist, Yabloko, and Union of Rightist Forces factions blasted Unity's military-reform proposal in comments to "Vedomosti." Communist Party Central Committee Deputy Chairman Ivan Melnikov told "Vedomosti" his party will oppose "turning military service into a tax on the poor."

BY WIDE MARGIN, DUMA GIVES INITIAL NOD TO CHECHNYA AMNESTY BILL... The Duma on 21 May passed in its first reading by a vote of 354 to 18 a bill that would grant amnesty to many participants in the fighting in Chechnya, Russian media reported. The bill is strongly supported by President Vladimir Putin. Under the draft, the amnesty will cover any members of Chechen armed formations active on the territory of the former Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic since 1 August 1993 who lay down their arms by 1 August. The amnesty also covers members of the Russian armed forces who might have committed crimes in Chechnya during this period. However, it excludes anyone who has committed murder or other grave crimes and people without Russian citizenship. Aleksandr Kotenkov, the presidential representative in the Duma, estimated that about 1,000 people, 300 of whom are Russian soldiers, would qualify for the amnesty.

...OVER LIBERAL FACTION'S OPPOSITION. The liberal Yabloko faction, which has consistently opposed the government's policies in Chechnya, voted against the bill, arguing that any amnesty should be the result of direct negotiations between the warring parties and not a unilateral action by Russia, NTV reported on 21 May. The Duma Legislation Committee intends to schedule the second reading of the bill for 4 or 6 June, ITAR-TASS reported. On 19 May, Chechen Affairs Minister Stanislav Ilyasov said the Duma is likely to pass the amnesty bill in all three readings this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2003).

ARE NEW JOURNALISM ORGANIZATIONS TOOLS OF THE KREMLIN? On 21 May, a group of journalists writing about Islamic affairs announced the creation of a Union of Muslim Journalists, RIA-Novosti reported. The new organization will defend the interests of journalists who follow the Islamic faith or who write about it. The organization also intends to encourage and educate young Muslim journalists. On 14 May, a Club of Russian Orthodox Journalists was founded in Moscow with the aim of consolidating Orthodox journalists and promoting the "spiritual revival of Russia," reported on 21 May. Analysts suspect that such organizations could be part of a Kremlin effort to extend its influence over journalists through religious and ethnic organizations in the run-up to national elections this winter and next spring.

CENTRIST DEPUTY CALLS FOR CRIMINALIZING BLASPHEMY. During the Duma's session on 22 May, Deputy Aleksandr Chuev (independent), a member of the Committee on Public and Religious Organizations, called for the inclusion into the Criminal Code of an article criminalizing blasphemy, reported. Chuev said that he has received many complaints from believers who claim that they are being systematically insulted, citing such examples as a pornographic movie filmed against the backdrop of a religious site. Chuev suggested that blasphemy be criminalized and punishable by a fine of up to $15,000. In severe cases, convicted blasphemers should be imprisoned, Chuev added. An attempt to criminalize blasphemy would likely be challenged in the Constitutional Court, since Article 14 of the constitution declares that Russia is a secular state.

DUMA SPEAKER CALLS FOR ABOLISHMENT OF FEDERAL DISTRICTS. Addressing students at Bashkir State University in Ufa, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said the institution of the seven federal districts implemented by President Vladimir Putin in 2000 "to forestall the threat of the disintegration of the Russian Federation has fulfilled its role and can be abolished in the next two years," RosBalt reported on 22 May. "If I were President Putin, I would consider this," Seleznev said. He added that he does not support proposals to end Russia's federal system, to abolish the so-called ethnic republics, or to merge certain federation subjects. Seleznev said that republics such as Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, which are net contributors to the federal budget, should be preserved. Any mergers of federation subjects should be carried out only on the basis of popular referendums, Seleznev said.

EURASIA PARTY-UNION OF PATRIOTS SETS AMBITIOUS GOAL. Eurasia Party-Union of Patriots of Russia leader Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov said on 22 May that his party seeks to place third after the "party of power" -- apparently a reference to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party -- and the Communists in the December Duma elections, RosBalt reported. "We will consider it a failure if we get only 5 percent of the vote," Niyazov said, referring to the minimum necessary to pick up seats under the proportional-representation system. Eurasia Party-Union of Patriots of Russia includes the Russian Party of Peace, headed by Duma Deputy Iosef Kobzon and former Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev, and Duma Deputy Oleg Shein's Russian Party of Labor. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" editorialized on 21 May that Russia's ruling establishment is so supportive of the ideology of Eurasianism that it is supporting two separate Eurasian parties. Aleksandr Dugin's Eurasia Party reportedly enjoys the support of the presidential administration and Kremlin-connected political adviser Gleb Pavlovskii. Niyazov's organization is reportedly backed by the so-called Family, meaning the administration of former President Boris Yeltsin, and particularly by former ORT head Igor Shabdurasudov and former Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksei Golovkov. Pavel Borodin, the Yeltsin-era head of the presidential property administration who is now state secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union, is chairman of Niyazov's party, the daily reported.