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Security Watch: July 1, 2003

1 July 2003, Volume 4, Number 26
BRITISH PREMIER SETS THE MOOD FOR PUTIN'S VISIT... British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave an interview to Interfax on 23 June, on the eve of President Vladimir Putin's arrival in Britain for a four-day state visit. The interview was republished in "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 June. Blair said he is certain the issue of Iraq will come up during the visit and that he and Putin have already made "real progress" overcoming previous disagreements on the issue. Blair added that he hopes Russian companies will play an "active role" in Iraq's reconstruction. On Chechnya, Blair said Britain hopes the constitutional referendum held there in March will "become the start of a long political process that will draw in everyone who rejects force and ensure Chechnya's peaceful future and the protection of the human rights of the whole population." In other matters, Blair said Britain "unwaveringly" supports efforts to bring Russia and the European Union closer together, but that the introduction of a visa-free travel regime between Russia and the EU is "a more distant prospect." Blair told Interfax that Britain and Russia are "closely cooperating" in the areas of security, combating terrorism, and energy, among others, "Kommersant-Daily" reported.

PUTINS GIVEN THE ROYAL TREATMENT IN BRITAIN. Following their arrival in London on 24 June, President Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, were driven in a cortege of seven horse-drawn carriages to Buckingham Palace for a banquet in his honor hosted by Queen Elizabeth II, Russian and Western media reported. The queen told Putin that it was "no secret" there have been "significant differences" between the two countries over "how best to handle Iraq." Now, she added, they are "firmly in agreement on the route we have decided in the United Nations" and have forged a "long-term partnership" that is "of profound importance," AFP reported. Putin expressed condolences for the 24 June deaths of six British servicemen in Iraq and praised the queen, who visited Russia in 1994, for promoting Russian-British relations. Russia and Great Britain, Putin said, "occupy key places in one another's systems of foreign-policy priorities." Putin, who is on a four-day state visit, placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey. He also met with Conservative Party head Iain Duncan Smith and Liberal Democratic Party leader Charles Kennedy.

PUTIN, BLAIR PUT PAST UNPLEASANTNESS BEHIND THEM... Putin spent much of 26 June, the penultimate day of his four-day state visit to Britain, with Prime Minister Blair, Russian and Western media reported. They attended an energy summit in London and later that day held a joint news conference in an atmosphere that was more convivial than the one they held following talks in Moscow at the end of April. During the April news conference, Putin virtually mocked Blair over the U.S.-backed coalition's failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2003.) In London, however, Blair put the earlier unpleasantness over Iraq aside. "Whatever differences there were over Iraq," Blair said, according to AP, "we are working immensely closely on the international stage to confront the issues that are before us: issues that are to do with international terrorism, issues to do with weapons of mass destruction, issues to do with bringing peace and stability to the world." Putin said that Russia and Great Britain have "confirmed the strategic character of our partnership" and that he and Blair have "come to the same understanding" on the need to press Iran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), RFE/RL reported.

...WHILE RUSSIA INSISTS ITS IRAQI CONTRACTS ARE BINDING. Putin spoke about Iraq during a trip to Edinburgh on 25 June, Western and Russian media reported. He told Scottish academics, businessmen, and scientists that differences over Iraq should not be allowed "to bring the world back to crisis" and stressed that Russia has strong relationships with both Great Britain and the United States. But he also insisted that the United Nations should play a key role in Iraq's reconstruction. "Whatever Iraqi leadership is created in the future, it will be legitimate, and it will be able to count on support only if the process goes through the UN," Putin said, according to AP. Meanwhile, other Russian officials in London suggested that Moscow would insist that Russian contracts concluded with the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein be honored by any successor government. Speaking at the London energy conference on 26 June, Energy Minister Igor Yusufov said that all contracts concluded by Russia in Iraq "have an impeccable international legal basis and we expect these contracts to be carried out by all sides," ITAR-TASS reported.

PUTIN VISITS KALININGRAD, BALTIC FLEET... On his way back to Moscow from a four-day state visit to Britain, President Putin on 27 June arrived in Kaliningrad for talks with Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Vladimir Yegorov, presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Valentina Matvienko, Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy), and other officials, Russian media reported. Afterward, Putin visited the Russian Baltic Fleet's home base at Baltiisk, where he and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov observed military exercises by the Baltic and Northern fleets from aboard the missile cruiser "Marshal Ustinov." Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski joined Putin aboard the cruiser to observe the exercises. The presidents discussed bilateral economic relations, and Putin thanked Kwasniewski for Polish support during recent talks with Lithuania and the European Union concerning travel between Kaliningrad Oblast and the rest of Russia.

MOSCOW WARNS THAT DELAY COULD RENDER CFE TREATY IRRELEVANT. Echoing comments by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov at a Russia-NATO Council meeting in Moscow in May, Aleksandr Grushko, who heads the Foreign Ministry's European Department, said in Vienna on 27 June that further delay in implementing the amended Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) could render that accord irrelevant to the new political and military situation on the continent, Interfax reported. The ongoing uncertainty over the treaty could destroy its "positive system of balances and counterbalances," Grushko said. New signatories, including the Baltic states and Slovenia, which are soon to join NATO, might not accede to the CFE Treaty until existing signatories have ratified it. But the United States is reluctant to do so until Russia complies with its commitment under the CFE Treaty to reduce its military presence in Georgia and Moldova.

RUSSIA, JAPAN INTENSIFY CONTACTS. Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said on 29 June following talks in Vladivostok with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi that both countries expressed keen interest in building an oil pipeline from Eastern Siberian to the Asia-Pacific region, Russian media reported. Japan also expressed interest in activating projects to improve communications between Sakhalin and the Japanese islands. Khristenko praised Japan's help in dismantling Russia's outdated nuclear forces and mentioned in particular a bilateral agreement signed on 28 June under which Japan will assist in recycling Russian nuclear submarines. Kawaguchi said that while Russia has many natural resources, Japan has financial and technological resources, reported on 29 June. Therefore, it should be possible to find ways for the two economies to complement one another. He added that increased exports of Russian energy to Japan would lead to increased economic interdependence and provide a solid basis for mutual trust.

ALLEGED EXTORTION RING OF TOP COPS BUSTED... The Interior Ministry's Internal Security directorate, in conjunction with the FSB and the Prosecutor-General's Office, conducted an operation on 23 June to arrest Moscow police officers accused of running a criminal gang, Russian media reported. At least seven people, including three colonels and three lieutenant colonels from the Criminal Investigations Department (MUR) of the Moscow Interior Ministry directorate, were arrested and at least $3 million was seized in more than 40 raids carried out around the capital, Interfax reported on 23 June. While arresting two of the suspects -- identified as Yurii Samolkin, deputy head of MUR's arms-trafficking unit, and Nikolai Demin, also a MUR officer -- members of the FSB's Alpha unit had to blow off a Moscow apartment's reinforced metal door with explosives, reported on 23 June. One of those arrested was identified as Lieutenant General Vladimir Ganeev, head of the Emergency Situations Ministry's security department, Interfax reported. According to ITAR-TASS, investigators found $60,000 in Ganeev's office.

...AND POSSIBLY FACING MURDER PROBE... Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, who went on television on the morning of 23 June to announce the arrests, told Interfax that the operation was aimed at a "gang of werewolves in police uniforms." The arrests, he said, were the result of "many months" of investigations of the group, whose members had over at least four years planted handguns, ammunition, and drugs on citizens in order to blackmail them. Police spokesman Valerii Gribakin told ITAR-TASS on 23 June that the group had fabricated "hundreds" of criminal cases in order to extort bribes. According to Gryzlov, the group also set up a private security firm to extort "protection" payments from several Moscow casinos, shopping centers, and restaurants. The extorted money, he said, was then laundered through "a commercial structure and a specially created foundation." "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 24 June identified the foundation as the Charitable Foundation for the Rehabilitation of Criminal Investigations Department Veterans. The seven suspects, who are being held in Moscow's Lefortovo Prison, are also being probed for possible involvement in a series of contract killings and robberies, NTV reported on 23 June.

...INTERIOR MINISTER VOWS TO PURGE MORE CORRUPT COPS... Boris Gryzlov said on 24 June that the previous day's arrests of six Moscow police officers and an Emergency Situations Ministry official were "not the beginning of the struggle, but its continuation and in no case its end," reported. Speaking after meeting with members of the State Duma's Unity faction, Gryzlov said the fight against corruption in the law enforcement organs and the organs of state power in general is a "priority" for him. "We will be carrying that fight forward," said Gryzlov, who is a leader of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. On 23 June, six senior officers with the Criminal Investigations Department (MUR) of the Moscow Interior Ministry directorate -- three colonels and three lieutenant colonels -- and a lieutenant general who heads the Emergency Situations Ministry's security department, were arrested in a series of raids around Moscow. The seven are accused of fabricating criminal cases in order to extort bribes and of exacting "protection" payments from Moscow casinos, shopping centers, and restaurants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2003). Gryzlov said the Interior Ministry has videotapes of traffic-police officers exacting bribes from citizens that will be used as evidence in criminal prosecutions. Gryzlov urged motorists to videotape traffic cops taking bribes and to forward such evidence to the ministry's Internal Affairs Department.

...WHILE INVESTIGATORS DESCRIBE THE LAVISH LIFESTYLE OF THOSE ALREADY ARRESTED... More details concerning the nature of the MUR officers' alleged criminal activities -- and the money they apparently made from it -- emerged on 24 June. Investigators searched five homes belonging to the suspects that were built on a two-hectare plot in Moscow Oblast's Klin Raion. The lavish complex includes a tennis court and a soccer field with lights, Interfax reported. An "informed" law enforcement source estimated the total cost of the complex at $3.5 million. According to Interior Ministry Internal Affairs Department head Konstantin Romodanovskii, investigators found more than $3 million in cash, two kilograms of gold, antiques, a "large quantity" of rubles, plastic explosives, and material for packaging heroin on the premises, reported on 25 June. Dachas and apartments belonging to the suspects were fitted with gold toilets, Romodanovskii said. and "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 25 June that the suspects' alleged criminal endeavors included purchasing gas pistols, which they then had converted into real pistols and sold to criminal groups that used them in contract killings. Both media outlets reported allegations that one of these weapons was used in the April killing of State Duma Deputy and Liberal Russia party co-Chairman Sergei Yushenkov.

...AND SOME STILL QUESTION WHY THEY WERE ARRESTED. Despite the circumstantial evidence that the arrested MUR officers were involved in large-scale organized crime, some observers continue to charge that their arrests were politically motivated. Writing in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 25 June, journalist Aleksandr Budberg noted that one of the arrested officers, Yevgenii Taratorin, headed the probe into the October 2002 car bombing outside a McDonald's restaurant in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2002). Budberg and others believe that the group of Chechen fighters that took hostages at a Moscow theater in October 2002 was also behind the McDonald's bombing and that Taratorin's aggressive pursuit of the McDonald's bombers forced them to launch the theater raid prematurely. According to Budberg, Taratorin's pursuit of the bombers made the Federal Security Service (FSB) look bad and that might account for his arrest. In addition, the arrest of Lieutenant General Vladimir Ganeev, head of the Emergency Situations Ministry's security department, might have been an attempt to embarrass Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is a rival of Interior Minister Gryzlov within the Unified Russia party leadership, Budberg wrote. Like other observers, Budberg also suggested that the MUR officers' arrests are part of an attempt to enhance Unified Russia's image for the parliamentary election campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2003)

...AS DO ACCUSATIONS OF A POLITICAL STUNT. Many observers have noted that the three main national television channels -- ORT, RTR, and NTV -- have been given almost unprecedented access to the investigation of the allegedly corrupt cops and have been reporting on the arrests and searches almost as they happen. Observers have also noted that although the arrests were carried out by the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the detainees are being held in the FSB's Lefortovo prison, all the public statements about the case have been made by Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, who also heads the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. Gryzlov on 29 June told RTR that the investigation has no direct connection to the election campaign that his party is currently launching. "It is impossible to time an operation that has been a couple of years in the making to a particular date," Gryzlov said. However, he added that inasmuch as police are demonstrating their determination to root out corruption within their ranks, the operation does have a political dimension. The most remarkable thing about the case, TV-Tsentr commented on 26 June, is not that high-ranking officers might have been involved in corruption, but that they were arrested for it.

SVERDLOVSK CRACKS DOWN ON CROOKED TRAFFIC COPS. Three traffic-police officers were arrested in Sverdlovsk Oblast on 25 June, allegedly caught in the act of extracting bribes, Ekho Moskvy reported. The officers were arrested in a sting set up along the Yekaterinburg-Perm highway by the oblast police force's Internal Affairs Department after the drivers of buses used by shuttle traders complained that police had been extracting 6,000-8,000 rubles ($200-$265) in "tribute" from each passing bus. Interior Minister Gryzlov said on 24 June that his ministry has videotapes of traffic-police officers demanding bribes. He also urged motorists to videotape traffic cops taking bribes and to forward such evidence to the ministry's Internal Affairs Department. The focus on traffic-police extortion appears to be part of a larger crackdown on police corruption that has seen the arrest of six high-ranking Moscow police officers.

MAN ACCUSED OF ORDERING DEPUTY'S KILLING ARRESTED... Mikhail Kodanev, a co-chairman of the Liberal Russia faction that continues to work with self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, was arrested in the early hours of 26 June and charged with ordering the 17 April slaying of State Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003), reported. Yushenkov was also a co- chairman of the Liberal Russia party. According to the website, Kodanev and his bodyguard were arrested at a hotel in Kydymkar in the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug. Valentina Dubrovskikh, head of Liberal Russia's Komi-Permyak chapter, told Interfax that Kodanev arrived in Kydymkar on 25 June to participate in a meeting to discuss proposals to merge the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug with Perm Oblast (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 4 June 2003). Berezovskii's supporters held a special congress in Moscow on 14 June, during which Berezovskii was elected the party's leader and Kodanev was elected its sole co-chairman, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 June. Liberal Russia co-Chairman Viktor Pokhmelkin dismissed the pro-Berezovskii elements who organized the special congress as "a group of impostors who have no relation to Liberal Russia."

...ALONG WITH THE ALLEGED TRIGGERMEN... On 25 June, just hours before Kodanev's arrest, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov announced that two suspects in Yushenkov's killing had been arrested in Syktyvkar, capital of the Komi Republic, Russian media reported. Gryzlov alleged that the two suspects, whose last names he gave as Kulachinskii and Kiselev, were the triggermen in the Yushenkov killing. Kulachinskii was released from prison in January after serving time for drug dealing, Gryzlov said. "Titanic work" went into solving the case, Gryzlov said, adding that Interior Ministry investigators traveled to 10 regions of the country to follow up on leads, reported on 25 June.

...AS DEBATE ABOUT MOTIVE CONTINUES. Interfax on 26 June quoted unnamed law enforcement sources as saying investigators have found no evidence that Yushenkov was killed for political reasons and are working on the assumption that the motive for the killing was financial. But Duma Deputy Yulii Rybakov (independent) told Ekho Moskvy that he rules out the possibility that Yushenkov was killed because of money. Berezovskii told the radio station he is convinced that Yushenkov's slaying was "absolutely political." He said that Liberal Russia members are constantly the targets of violence and that this was one of the reasons he set up a $1 million fund to aid victims of political repression. Yushenkov reportedly played a key role in ousting Berezovskii and a number of his supporters from the party last year (see "RFE/RL Political Weekly," 25 April 2003).

TYCOON RESPONDS TO ARREST IN CASE OF DEPUTY'S KILLING... Boris Berezovskii and members of the Liberal Russia party splinter group that recently voted him the party's leader held an emergency meeting on 26 June in response to the arrest of Mikhail Kodanev, the group's sole co-chairman, in connection with the 17 April slaying of State Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2003), Russian media reported. The attendees and Berezovskii -- who lives in self-imposed exile in Great Britain and therefore participated by video hookup -- agreed to provide financial support for the families of Kodanev and Yushenkov, as well as for the family of former Liberal Russia co-Chairman Vladimir Golovlev, who was shot dead in Moscow on 21 August 2002, reported on 26 June. They also approved a statement that was reportedly penned by Berezovskii. "The consistency of the actions of the authorities against Liberal Russia allows one to say with absolute certainty that President Putin has embarked on the path of physical elimination of opponents of the regime," the statement said. "Mr. Putin and others of your ilk! Come to your senses. It's 2003, not 1937. And for Chechnya, for destroying democracy in the new Russia, and for the murder and persecution of our comrades you will soon be made to answer."

...AND LASHES OUT AT RIVAL LIBERAL RUSSIA FACTION. Addressing the meeting, Berezovskii charged that Viktor Pokhmelkin, co-chairman of the rival Liberal Russia group that voted to expel Berezovskii in October 2002, was behind Kodanev's arrest, reported. Berezovskii called Pokhmelkin "a blunt instrument of the Kremlin, designed for the destruction of the party." Berezovskii also said he plans to return to Russia "legally," possibly as a State Duma deputy.

MILITARY GREEK, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTERS CONFER. Greek Defense Minister Ioannos Papandoniou met in Moscow on 24 June with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Interfax reported. Papandoniou said Greece plans to buy state-of-the-art weapons and wants a range of sellers from which to choose. Russia should be among them, he said. Papandoniou will inspect Russian weaponry on 25 June at an international naval show in St Petersburg. Ivanov said Russian-Greek military cooperation is expanding and bilateral military-technical cooperation is "developing successfully," ITAR-TASS reported on 24 June. The Greek and Russian approaches to "all fundamental security issues" are "virtually the same," Ivanov said, adding that Greece is one of Russia's "most reliable and friendly partners" among European Union and NATO member states, "including in the areas of defense and security." Moscow and Athens, Ivanov said, "share positions on ways of resolving the situations in the Balkans, Cyprus, Afghanistan, and a number of CIS countries."

ARMY CALLS FOR HALT TO MILITARY REFORM. Speaking at a roundtable of senior generals and leading military experts organized by the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party in Moscow on 30 June, First Deputy Chief of the General Staff Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii proposed that the transition to a volunteer military begin not with the army but with the border guards and Interior Ministry troops, RTR reported. Baluevskii revealed that the General Staff has recommended that the country's political leadership suspend the reform of the armed forces and, especially, planned reductions in the Russian Strategic Missile Forces (RVSN). In the wake of Washington's abrogation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, Moscow should adjust its reform plans, which were drafted on the basis of that agreement, Baluevskii said. In this connection, the country's total military force will not be less than 1.1 million service personnel by 2005. Speaking after Baluevskii, Duma Defense Committee Deputy Chairman and Army General Nikolai Kovalev (Unity) said that there are three elements to military reform: reducing the conscription period to one year, improving military salaries and living conditions, and increasing the prestige of military service. Kovalev, who is a former director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), said that he supports Baluevskii's proposal that the transition to volunteer service begin not with the army, but with the border guards and Interior Ministry troops.

RUSSIA, U.K. SIGN GAS-PIPELINE DEAL. Russian Energy Minister Igor Yusufov and his British counterpart Stephen Timms signed in London a cooperation agreement on 26 June to build a $6 billion pipeline that will deliver Russian natural gas directly to Britain via the Baltic Sea and Northern Europe, ITAR-TASS reported. At the same time, British Petroleum and Russia's Tyumen Oil Company finalized a merger deal that will create one of the world's top-10 producers of crude, "The Moscow Times" reported on 27 June. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov inked an agreement under which Britain will pay $48 million to help Russia dismantle decommissioned nuclear submarines and store spent nuclear fuel. Meanwhile, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov met with Mayor of London Ken Livingstone on 26 June. After the meeting, Luzhkov told ITAR-TASS that Livingstone briefed him on the results of London's experiment with "congestion charges," which are fees that drivers must pay to enter certain areas of the city. "The Moscow mayor's office is very interested in this new fact in the British capital," the news agency quoted Luzhkov as saying.

PATRIARCH HAILS CONSTRUCTION OF ORTHODOX CHURCH IN PYONGYANG. Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church were in Pyongyang on 24 June to bless the cornerstone of the Holy Trinity Church, an Orthodox church being built in the North Korean capital, ITAR-TASS reported. The head of the Russian delegation, Archbishop Kliment, read a message from Patriarch Aleksii II, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, that called the church's construction a step toward "the spiritual unification of our countries." "The Russian Orthodox Church is sincerely interested, as was the case a century ago, in the genuine independence of Korea and the restoration of a unified state on the Korean Peninsula," the patriarch's statement said. The church, the statement continued, "will be a symbol of the revival of traditions of spiritual closeness laid down by the Russian Orthodox Church Mission in Korea in the past and will help consolidate principles of good-neighborly relations and mutual respect between Russia and Korea." The U.S. State Department, in its International Religious Freedom Report for 2002, said that genuine religious freedom "does not exist" in North Korea.

DEADBEAT PARTIES TO LOSE RIGHT TO FREE ADVERTISING. President Putin has signed into law a bill that prohibits political associations that still owe money to media outlets for airtime used for political advertising during the last State Duma election campaign from qualifying for free airtime in the upcoming campaign, RIA-Novosti reported on 24 June. Last year, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov reported there are still 21 electoral blocs that did not manage to collect more than 2 percent of the vote in the 1999 State Duma elections and, therefore, are required to reimburse national and regional broadcast companies and periodicals for the free campaign advertising they were allowed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2002). Putin also signed into law a bill that requires public associations to form an alliance with a registered political party in order to participate in the elections. According to RosBalt, that law comes into force on 1 January 2004.