Accessibility links

Breaking News

Security Watch: June 3, 2003

3 June 2003, Volume 4, Number 22
SUMMITS, CELEBRATIONS DOMINATE PETERSBURG'S JUBILEE... The celebrations of St. Petersburg's tercentennial reached their apogee on 30-31 May with the arrivals of 46 heads of state, Russian and Western media reported. Among the leaders who participated are many from the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrialized countries, the European Union, the CIS, and NATO-member states. A host of celebrities and international cultural figures also attended. President Vladimir Putin arrived in the city on 30 May to participate in a summit of CIS leaders. He also met the same day with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (see below). On 31 May, Putin took part in a Russia-EU summit.

...AS PUTIN PLEASED WITH HIS COURTSHIP OF WORLD LEADERS... Speaking to journalists after his brief summit with leaders of the European Union (EU) on 31 May, President Putin said that the main result of the summit was an agreement by both sides to explore the opportunity for nonvisa travel for Russian citizens to the EU and vice versa, Russian news agencies reported. Putin noted the "unprecendented broad" composition of the EU-Russia forum which included not only the leaders of all EU members but 10 candidate countries as well, RosBalt reported. Putin said that he expressed his gratitude to the leaders of the EU and the world for coming to St. Petersburg for the jubilee, which he said "symbolized the civilized unity of Europe." Holding EU-Russian, CIS-Russian, and U.S.-Russian summits in one place is not only a personal but a political success for Putin, RTR 1 commented. It should prove to everyone the viability of his statements promoting a "multipolar world," it said.

...AS JOURNALISTS, POLICE, CRITICS ARE OUT IN FORCE. The national, state-run television network RTR sent more than 500 journalists and staff members to cover the events, which are also being scrutinized by thousands of journalists from across Russia and around the world. The summits and the celebrations are being guarded by more than 10,000 officers of the Federal Protection Service (FSO) and other security services, as well as thousands of police and Interior Ministry troops that have been brought in from across the country. Many local residents have complained about the preparations for the celebrations. They claim the city has been turned into a "Potemkin village," with only the facades of the city's many landmarks being repaired, and allege that considerable sums allocated for the preparations were diverted elsewhere, NTV reported on 28 May. The events were covered around the clock in Russian and English at the website

RUSSIA SLATED FOR G-8 CHAIRMANSHIP IN 2006. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin has said that Russia expects to assume the rotating chairmanship of the G-8 in 2006 and that the organization's summit that year will most likely be held in St. Petersburg, reported on 29 May. Kudrin added that as a member of the G-8 and the Paris Club, Russia is participating in international efforts to write off some of the debts of the world's poorest countries. However, he emphasized that this does not apply to Iraq, which has sufficient resources to pay what it owes. Kudrin said that Russia still hopes that the contracts Russian companies signed with the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will be honored. Oil giant LUKoil on 28 May issued a statement saying that it does not recognize a recent decision by the Iraq stabilization administration to discontinue oil contracts with Russian companies and will wait for a ruling by an international arbitration court and for decisions by a future Iraqi government that is "recognized as legitimate by the international community."

PUTIN, BUSH DISCUSS STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP... U.S. President George W. Bush, who arrived in St. Petersburg on 31 May to celebrate that city's 300th anniversary, met with President Putin at the freshly restored Konstantinovskii Palace on 1 June, Russian and international news agencies reported. The two leaders discussed the nonproliferation of weapons, issues related to international security and stability, including the global fight against terrorism, and cooperation to settle regional conflicts. Bush and Putin also exchanged their countries' respective ratification documents of the so-called Treaty of Moscow -- which the presidents signed last year and which calls for each country to reduce its stockpile of long-range nuclear weapons by approximately two-thirds over the next decade -- and pledged to create working groups to enforce the treaty. Putin said at a joint news conference that Russia and the United States have developed "more precise instruments of bilateral cooperation" and that "the foundation of our ties has proved to be strong enough to withstand the problems that we evidenced in recent months," ITAR-TASS reported. The two presidents also adopted two joint statements pledging that the two countries will cooperate in the creation of a strategic antimissile defense and an international space station. Putin and Bush will hold their next summit at Camp David in September, reported on 31 May.

...AND RUSSIA'S ASSISTANCE TO IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM. President Putin said at a joint press conference with U.S. President Bush on 1 June that Moscow's position on Iran is much closer to Washington's than it seems, and that Russia does not "need to be convinced of the fact that there should be no proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," and international news agencies reported. The United States has criticized Russia for helping develop Iran's nuclear program, including the construction of the country's Bushehr nuclear-power plant. "On Iran, we are against using the pretext of a nuclear-weapons program as an instrument of unfair competition against us," Putin said. However, he added that Russia will work with the United States to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction "everywhere, including Iran." Bush said that "Russia and the United States have mutual concerns about the advanced Iranian nuclear program," and expressed his appreciation for "Vladimir Putin's understanding of the issue and his willingness to work with me and others to solve this potential problem." On 30 May, Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev unexpectedly invited the United States to participate in the construction of the Bushehr plant. The offer was rejected, AFP reported on 1 June.

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DOES NOT BELIEVE IRAN WILL SUFFER SAME FATE AS IRAQI REGIME. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists after talks with his Chinese counterpart Cao Gangchuan in Moscow on 30 May that he does not believe the Iraq scenario is possible in Iran, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking about U.S. concerns that Russian nuclear technology could be used to create atomic weapons in Iran, Ivanov noted that Tehran is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and abides by its regulations. He said the technology that will be employed at Iran's Bushehr nuclear-power plant cannot "even hypothetically" be used for the production of weapons-grade plutonium or "other military purposes." "This is purely a commercial project," he added.

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA FAVORS IRAN'S SIGNING OF IAEA PROTOCOL... Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said at a press conference in St. Petersburg on 1 June that Russia is in favor of Tehran signing an additional IAEA protocol according to which the signatories would allow their nuclear facilities to be available for unannounced inspections, Moscow's RIA-Novosti reported. Although he said Russia has appealed to Iran to sign the protocol, he did not indicate whether Russia would link its completion of the Bushehr nuclear-power plant to Tehran's signing.

...AS PUTIN HINTS HE CAN HALT NUCLEAR EXPORTS TO IRAN. President Vladimir Putin told his fellow G-8 leaders at their summit in Evian, France, on 2 June that Russia will halt "all nuclear exports" to Iran until that country signs on to a stricter protocol on nuclear inspections, the BBC and reported, citing a senior British official. Iran the same day said it will not sign an additional IAEA protocol under which signatories would make their nuclear facilities available for unannounced inspections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2003). Putin's statement came after the G-8 leaders signed a statement that called weapons of mass destruction the "preeminent threat" to international security. The statement also calls on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program "visibly, verifiably, and irreversibly." Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said in Moscow the same day that Russia believes the protocol "strengthens the nonproliferation mode, and therefore we energetically persuade all countries to join the protocol. Iran is no exception in this respect," RIA-Novosti reported.

ANALYST CASTS DOUBT ON KREMLIN'S NUCLEAR COOPERATION WITH IRAN. Georgii Mirskii, an expert on Middle East affairs with Moscow's Institute of Global Economics and International Relations, said the Kremlin is ambivalent regarding U.S. demands that it end its nuclear-cooperation program with Iran, TV-Tsentr reported on 29 May. Moscow is reluctant to give in to Washington's pressure for reasons of economics and prestige, but it agrees that U.S. concerns that Iran might be seeking to build nuclear weapons are becoming increasingly substantiated, Mirskii said. He added that if Tehran succeeds in acquiring such weapons, they would pose a more direct threat to Russia than to the United States. Moreover, they could be directed against Israel and thereby spark a major conflagration in the Middle East. "Is this really what we want and are interested in seeing?" Mirskii asked rhetorically.

RUSSIA, JAPAN MOVING TOWARD PEACE TREATY. On the sidelines of St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary celebrations, President Putin met on 30 May with Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi to discuss bilateral relations, Russian-Japanese energy cooperation, and North Korea's nuclear program, Russian news agencies reported. Koizumi expressed his satisfaction that Putin has not forgotten about Russian-Japanese relations and that the text of a bilateral peace treaty is on the negotiating table, RTR and reported. He said that such a treaty can be signed only after the countries' territorial issues are resolved and on the "basis of the development of friendly relations." Russia and Japan never agreed on the ownership of the Kurile Islands following World War II. Putin and Koizumi also discussed plans to construct an oil pipeline from eastern Siberia to the Far East coast. Japan is urging the Russian government to choose the Angarsk-Nakhodka route as an alternative to the proposed route from Angarsk to China's Datsin. Japan believes the import of Russian oil from Nakhodka could help lessen Tokyo's dependence on Middle East oil. Putin and Koizumi also watched contests between Russian and Japanese sportsmen at a judo training center in Moscow.

SHANGHAI COOPERATION ORGANIZATION HOLDS SUMMIT... President Putin, Chinese President Hu Jintao, and the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan gathered in Moscow on 29 May for a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Russian and international media reported. The summit approved the organization's budget, symbols, headquarters, and statutory documents enabling the SCO to function as a full-fledged international organization next year, Interfax reported on 29 May. Beijing was selected to host the SCO headquarters, and Bishkek will host its Regional Antiterrorism Center. Chinese Ambassador to Russia Zhang Deguang, who speaks fluent Russian, was named the SCO's first executive secretary, Interfax reported. The organization is not directed against any other countries, but intends to address regional security issues, the fight against international terrorism, and common economic problems, presidential foreign-affairs adviser Sergei Prikhodko said, according to on 27 May.

...AS UZBEK PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST OVER-HASTY EXPANSION. Speaking to journalists in Tashkent on 28 May before leaving for Moscow for the SCO summit, Uzbek President Islam Karimov stressed the importance of determining the SCO's formal structure, adopting its charter, and securing its recognition by the UN as an international organization, ITAR-TASS and reported. Only then, Karimov said, should its present members address the possibility of admitting new members. He also warned against the possible emergence of "internal blocs" within the SCO. In early 2001, Tajikistan made clear its opposition to Pakistan's expression of interest in obtaining observer status with the SCO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 8 January 2001).

RUSSIA READY TO HELP CHINA BUILD SPACE STATION. Khrunichev Space Production Center head Aleksandr Medvedev said on 28 May after a visit to his firm by Chinese President Hu that Russia can help China build its own space station, and other Russian media reported. Russia is prepared to offer China the use of its Rokot missile booster, Rosaviakosmos head Yurii Koptev was quoted as saying. China intends to launch a manned spacecraft as early as this year and, if that effort is successful, to build a permanent orbital station.

RUSSIA WANTS GUARANTEES FROM NATO THAT FORCES WILL NOT BE DEPLOYED IN BALTIC STATES. The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 1 June that Russia continues to be concerned about the military consequences of NATO's eastward expansion and the future membership of the Baltic states, ABC News reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yakovenko said that at the NATO-Russia Council, which was to begin on 3 June in Madrid, Russia will "insist on clear and unambiguous guarantees that arms and armed forces of other countries will not be deployed on the territory of the Baltic states." An Echo Moskvy opinion poll carried out on 2 June showed that 57 percent of 2,815 respondents said they are not concerned about the possible deployment of NATO troops in the Baltics, while 43 percent expressed concern.

RUSSIA LEANING TOWARD EURO. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kudrin said on 1 June that Russia's draft 2004 budget is based on the presumption that the United States will not regain its economic strength in 2004, RTR reported. He said the draft budget is based on an exchange rate of $1.2 to the euro and 31.9 rubles to $1. The draft budget also estimates that global oil prices will be no less than $20 per barrel. Meanwhile, speaking to journalists after his brief summit with leaders of the European Union in St. Petersburg on 31 May, President Putin said the Central Bank has decided to keep part of its reserves in euros, RosBalt reported. He said the euro will account for an increasingly higher share of Russia's currency reserves as the EU will soon add 10 new members and thus substantially expand the euro-zone. Putin also said that since he became president in 2000, Russia's gold and currency reserves have grown from $11 billion to more than $61 billion.

GOVERNMENT TO BOOST SALARIES, REDUCE POVERTY. Addressing a cabinet meeting on 29 May, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced that the government will increase salaries for the country's teachers, doctors, and other budget-sector social workers by 33 percent as of 1 September, ORT reported. Kasyanov noted that most budget-sector workers are paid from regional budgets and that this step will "not be easy for regional administrations." The cabinet also set the goal of reducing the percentage of Russians living below the poverty line from the current 26.1 percent to 15 percent by 2015, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 May. According to official figures, 37.2 million Russians currently have monthly incomes below the official poverty line of 2,000 rubles ($62).

GOVERNMENT PREPARING NEW LAW ON MINERAL RESOURCES. Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Mukhamed Tsikanov said on 28 May that his ministry has prepared a draft bill on mineral wealth, reported. Existing legislation stipulates that mineral resources belong to the state, but does not specify whether they belong to federal, regional, or local governments. The ministry's bill will clarify this, although Tsikanov did not specify how. It also details various legal avenues for exploiting such resources, including concessions, licenses, and contracts. Deputy Natural Resources Minister Vladimir Engelsberg said the bill will also regulate rules for making decisions about exploiting mineral resources. He added that his ministry prefers licensing, while the Economic Development and Trade Ministry is insisting that state-granted concessions be the primary mechanism.

DEFENSE MINISTER AGREES TO DELAY IN MILITARY REFORM. Airborne Forces Commander Colonel General Georgii Shpak has asked Defense Minister Ivanov to postpone switching the 76th Airborne Division in Pskov to contract-based service, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported on 28 May. The switch is intended to be the first step in Russia's long-delayed program to create a volunteer military, with the Pskov-based division becoming a model for the rest of the armed forces. Ivanov reportedly agreed with Shpak that creating a volunteer force means more than just replacing conscripts with volunteers. It entails achieving higher levels of combat readiness by improving training and living conditions for service personnel. Ivanov denied media reports that the Defense Ministry intends to disband the Airborne Forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2003). "We have no plans to subordinate the Airborne Forces to army's ground forces," Ivanov said, according to The Union of Rightist Forces on 28 May began picketing the Defense Ministry to call for accelerating military reforms, Western media reported.

HAZING IN KREMLIN PRESIDENTIAL REGIMENT. The Moscow Military Court on 2 June opened proceedings on a hazing case concerning the elite regiment that guards the Kremlin and President Putin, "Izvestiya" and RTR reported. Kremlin presidential regiment Sergeant Vladimir Shumenko is accused of systematically harassing young soldiers and driving one to attempt suicide. Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov has said that, after being beaten by Shumenko, the "soldier was found with his veins cut in a restroom just 100 meters from Putin's cabinet." After the soldier was hospitalized, investigators determined that the suicide attempt was prompted by hazing, according to Interfax. Shumenko, 22, faces several years in prison on charges of abuse of power. According to Defense Minister Ivanov, 531 servicemen died in 2002 as a result of crimes or hazing incidents, "Izvestiya" reported. However, the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, a human rights organization, estimates that the figure could run as high as 2,000 such deaths per year.

COURT FREES ADMIRAL WHO SOLD OFF A SHIP. The Moscow Military District Court convicted Vice Admiral Yurii Klichugin of selling a Russian Navy vessel to a foreign company "without authorization and in violation of existing orders" and of misuse of office which caused the navy $12 million in damages, ITAR-TASS reported. He was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison but was immediately released under the terms of an amnesty adopted by the Duma in 1997. The press report did not mention how much money Klichugin received for the vessel, what became of that money, or to whom the ship was sold.