Accessibility links

Breaking News

Security Watch: September 2, 2003

2 September 2003, Volume 4, Number 35
FEDERATION COUNCIL MEMBER CALLS FOR PEACEKEEPERS IN IRAQ... Writing in "Trud" on 27 August, Federation Council member Colonel General Vladimir Kulakov said that Russia should take an active role in the stabilization of Iraq and in postwar reconstruction there by contributing a peacekeeping contingent under the aegis of the United Nations. Although the United States has rejected the idea of using UN peacekeepers in Iraq, Kulakov wrote, Russia should insist upon this. He noted that Russia has major political and economic interests in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

...AS DOES AMBASSADOR TO UN. Speaking during a UN Security Council session in New York on 28 August, Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov said that "the rich peacekeeping experience of the United Nations should be used in Iraq," RIA-Novosti reported on 29 August. Lavrov said that Russia is calling for a review of "the international military presence in Iraq" and that the UN should become involved in the political processes there immediately.

RUSSIAN COMPANIES RESUME WORK IN IRAQ. Russian specialists have resumed construction work at the Al-Yusufiyah power plant, about 30 kilometers from Baghdad, which they began under the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, ORT reported on 26 August. When completed, the plant will be the country's largest. Since the U.S.-led military action to depose Hussein this spring, Russian businesses have suffered about $40 million in direct losses and billions of dollars in indirect losses because of work stoppages on Iraqi projects. However, Russian diplomats successfully negotiated with the United States the return of Russian business, and now a number of companies are working on the postwar reconstruction of the Iraqi economy, ORT commented.

RUSSIA, SAUDI ARABIA READY TO SIGN ENERGY PACT... Moscow plans to sign an energy agreement with Saudi Arabia during the visit to Moscow next month of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, reported on 27 August. Russia and Saudi Arabia are the world's leading oil producers, and by cooperating they can help improve price stability on global markets, Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Saltanov said in an interview with the Saudi newspaper "Al-Riyadh," which was posted on the Foreign Ministry's website ( Saltanov added that Russia is ready to receive Saudi investment and to discuss providing Russian technology and know-how to Saudi Arabia.

...AS AGENDA FOR MOSCOW SUMMIT SET. In the same interview, Deputy Foreign Minister Saltanov said Russia hopes Saudi Arabia will support Moscow's bid to join the Organization of the Islamic Conference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2003). During their talks, President Vladimir Putin and Abdullah will discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the situation in Iraq. Saltanov said that both Russia and Saudi Arabia would like to see the United Nations playing a larger role in creating a postwar settlement throughout the Persian Gulf region.

RUSSIA WARNS OF DANGER IF NORTH KOREA TALKS FAIL. Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov is heading the Russian delegation at the six-way talks on North Korea's nuclear program that opened in Beijing on 27 August, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Losyukov said after the first round of talks that if the current diplomatic efforts fail, the crisis could erupt into war. The situation at the talks -- in which China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States are participating -- is tense because both the United States and North Korea have adopted firm positions, Losyukov said. However, he said, compromises are still possible, and North Korea might still agree to international inspections of its nuclear sites, although the negotiations over the details of such inspections would be difficult.

RUSSIA, GERMANY SEEK COMMON STANCE ON IRAQ. President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder spoke recently by telephone and advocated a stronger role for the United Nations in postwar Iraq, Reuters reported on 1 September, citing German government officials. "They agreed it would be helpful if the UN played a stronger role, and both said it would make sense if all states who want to contribute to stabilization and reconstruction could agree to a corresponding strategy," the unidentified spokesman said, adding that such a strategy could be developed as a new UN resolution. Putin said on 30 August that Moscow will support a decision to send a UN-sponsored international military force to Iraq, even under U.S. command, if the Security Council endorses such a force, Reuters reported on 1 September. Putin did not say whether Moscow would be willing to send troops to Iraq as part of a UN-sponsored force.

'COUNTERTERRORISM OPERATION' IN CHECHNYA DECLARED OVER... At a ceremony in Moscow on 28 August, Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev announced that his service has ceded overall command of the "antiterrorism operation" in Chechnya to the Interior Ministry, Russian media reported. Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov will be in overall command. Patrushev said that since his agency took charge of the operation in 2001, "the situation in the republic has changed considerably for the better," RIA-Novosti reported on 28 August. He added that now FSB officers in Chechnya will be able to devote more time to immediate operational tasks. Speaking at the ceremony, Gryzlov said that from now on the "counterterrorism operation" in Chechnya will be officially referred to as "an operation to protect law and constitutional order."

...AS COMMENTATORS REMAIN SKEPTICAL. Although the FSB has formally given up its leading role in Chechnya, it will remain in charge, commented on 28 August. The head of the regional operational staff in Chechnya will be Yurii Maltsev, an admiral with FSB military counterintelligence who only recently transferred from the FSB to the Interior Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July2003). Both agencies have stressed an increased role for the 11,000-strong local militia that has been recruited mainly from former Chechen fighters and is subordinated to pro-Kremlin administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, the website reported. However, there are doubts about the reliability of this force. In any case, such organizational changes are doing little to improve the situation in the republic, commented. Against the background of continuous attacks against federal forces by Chechen fighters and the recent political assassinations in Daghestan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2003), talk of "normalization" and "stabilization" seems almost laughable, TV-Tsentr commented on 27 August.

KUBAN ROCKED BY EXPLOSIONS... Three explosions occurred in Krasnodar on 25 August, leaving three people dead and 20 injured, Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev told RTR that day. Tkachev added that his administration will give local law enforcement organs 3 million rubles ($100,000) to investigate the crimes and find the bombers. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 August, the homemade bombs detonated during the morning rush hour. Residents appeared to take the explosions calmly, and no panic ensued, reported on 25 August, citing local media. The website concluded that "Russians are clearly starting to take explosions as some part of everyday life" and that "such an attitude can hardly stimulate authorities to more vigorous action." According to, the local newspaper "Burevestnik Kubani" had reported recently that local media had been warning for several days that a terrorist act was in the works, but krai authorities brushed these reports aside, saying they were false.

...AS POLICE DETAIN SUSPECTS IN BOMBINGS. Police in Krasnodar have detained an unspecified number of people on suspicion of involvement in three bomb explosions in central Krasnodar on 25 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003), Russian media reported on 27 August. The detentions resulted partly from the numerous tips authorities received from the public via a special hotline. "The hope remains that those arrested were not simply snatched up randomly," commented. "It is no secret that after a terrorist act, law enforcement officials frequently round up suspects in order to [publicize] their success. And only after that, when they are released, the real investigation begins."

DAGHESTAN'S NATIONALITIES MINISTER KILLED BY CAR BOMB. Magomedsalikh Gusaev was killed on 27 August by a magnetic bomb that two unidentified attackers placed on the roof of his car as he was traveling to work, Russian media reported. The perpetrators escaped. Gusaev, who was 52, was injured in an assassination attempt two years earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2001). Politicians in Makhachkala and Moscow lauded Gusaev's work during his 10-year stint as minister to maintain interethnic harmony in Daghestan and to crackdown on Islamic fundamentalism. Federation Council member Ramazan Abdulatipov praised him as "a man of courage and principle" and "a real statesman." Officials in Daghestan believe radical Islamists were responsible for the murder, as Gusaev was the author of a program of measures to eradicate wahhabism in the wake of the August 1999 Chechen incursion into Daghestan, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 28 August.

UNIFIED RUSSIA QUESTIONS KADYROV'S 'DEATH SQUAD' ALLEGATIONS. Chechen administration head Kadyrov told journalists in Grozny on 28 August that he has written to top Russian law enforcement officials requesting the creation of an intergovernmental commission to investigate the nocturnal abduction of Chechen civilians, Interfax reported. On 19 August, Chechen First Deputy Interior Minister Movsar Khamidov told Interfax that 267 people were abducted during the first half of this year. Kadyrov blamed the disappearances on a "third force" consisting of "a death squad in armored vehicles." But Duma Deputy Frants Klintsevich, who heads the Chechen office of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, told Interfax the same day that although he has comprehensive information about the security situation in Chechnya, he has never heard of the death squads Kadyrov blames for the disappearances. Klintsevich argues that it is crucial to determine which officials and organizations have the right to arrest or detain Chechen civilians, and that the relatives of detained people should be informed immediately. According to Russian journalist and Chechnya expert Anna Politkovskaya, many such abductions are the work of security police headed by Kadyrov's son, Ramzan.

DEFENSE MINISTER BLAMES CARELESSNESS FOR SUB ACCIDENT... Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov blamed a national trait of carelessness and a "frivolous Russian reliance on chance" for the 30 August sinking of a decommissioned nuclear submarine, Russian and international media reported on 1 September. Ivanov ordered a temporary halt to the towing of decommissioned submarines, a move that could mean further delays in efforts to dispose of more than 100 derelict vessels and their nuclear reactors. The K-159 submarine sank in the Barents Sea, killing nine of the 10 sailors aboard, as it was being towed to an Arctic scrap yard, where its reactors were to be removed. The 40-year-old vessel sank to the seabed after floats supporting it broke up during a storm. "There were definitely elements of a frivolous Russian reliance on chance, that everything will work out," Ivanov said. Russian media reports citing navy sources suggested the pontoons had been placed improperly, and Ivanov said the submarine went to the bottom with its conning tower open.

...BUT SAYS RADIATION LEVELS NORMAL... Defense Minister Ivanov also said on 31 August that radiation levels in the area where the submarine sank are normal, Russian media reported on 1 September. "No changes have been registered in radiation levels. Therefore there is no reason for concern at this moment," Interfax quoted Ivanov as telling reporters on board a missile cruiser near the site of the incident. Environmentalists, however, cautioned that water could leak into the reactors, and radiation levels in the fish-rich area will have to be watched closely. Admiral Viktor Kravchenko, the Russian Navy's chief of staff, said on 1 September that the vessel cannot be raised until at least next year, Russian and international media reported the same day. "The ship must be raised in order to carry out a complete unloading of the reactor," Kravchenko said. He added that preparatory work is under way for the complex lifting operation, he said, but it will not begin before 2004.

...AS PUTIN PROMISES INVESTIGATION. President Vladimir Putin on 30 August promised a thorough investigation into the K-159 sinking, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 August. "A thorough investigation will be carried out," Putin said. "Of course, all reasons for the tragedy will be established." Putin spoke as he and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi toured one of the Russian Navy's flagships, which was anchored off Sardinia. Putin was on the island for a three-day informal meeting with Berlusconi. Putin and Berlusconi toured the missile cruiser, "Moskva," the 186-meter flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, just hours after the K-159 sank. At a news conference on shore, Berlusconi said Putin was at his side when he learned of the disaster, and Berlusconi offered condolences on behalf of the Italian people.

GOVERNMENT REHEARSES STATE OF EMERGENCY IN FAR EAST. On 27 August, the final day of a major military exercise in the Far East (see "Russian Foreign Policy and Security Watch," 26 August 2003), the navy and other federal agencies were expected to rehearse the imposition of a state of emergency in Primorskii Krai, following a directive issued by President Putin, reported on 26 August. By law, only the president can impose a state of emergency, and his order must be approved by the Duma. In the drill, Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin will head an emergency government, and a military commander will serve as his deputy. "Everything is real in the confrontation with foreign and domestic terrorism," Defense Minister Ivanov said. "We should be ready [to handle] the most unbelievable circumstances." In total, the exercises cost 250 million rubles ($8 million), Ivanov said, adding that the lack of preparedness fostered by not conducting them could cost the country much more dearly, RTR reported on 27 August.

DEFENSE MINISTER BLAMES PILOTS FOR MID-AIR HELICOPTER COLLISION... Six airmen were killed and one severely wounded when two Mi-24 military helicopters collided on 26 August at an airfield near Ussuriisk in Primorskii Krai, Russian media reported. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who was an eyewitness to the tragedy, said the incident occurred because the pilots made unnecessary maneuvers, adding that their commanding officers should be disciplined. "The reason for this incident was carelessness, bravado, and mid-air hooliganism," Ivanov was quoted as saying. General Vitalli Pavlov, however, was quoted as saying that flight crews are less well prepared now than previously because the number of training flights has been reduced, and this is the cause of the increasingly frequent accidents. TV-Tsentr commented on 26 August that the poor maintenance of the helicopter fleet is the main reason for the crashes. Of 6,000 helicopters in the country's service, fewer than half are fully flight-ready, the station reported. Even the usually reliable Mi-8, which is in use in 40 countries, has been involved in 38 crashes in Russia in the last five years, killing 160 people, the station said.

...AS EXPERT SAYS MINISTER SHOULD NOT BE SO QUICK TO JUDGE... Aleksei Novikov, a pilot with 30 years' experience flying virtually every type of helicopter in service in Russia, told TV-Tsentr on 26 August that Defense Minister Ivanov's comments blaming the pilots for the Ussuriisk crash were inappropriate. "I can understand the emotions of a man who has just witnessed such a catastrophe, but a high-ranking official like Ivanov should not go public with such remarks before a state investigating commission can make its conclusions," Novikov said. He added that pilots are not so suicidally inclined as to do the kinds of things that Ivanov said they did.

...AND CRITICIZES EMERGENCY MINISTER AS WELL. Novikov, who is deputy chief of staff of the Federation Council's Security and Defense Committee, also sharply criticized Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu for his recent comments blaming the pilots for the crash of an Mi-8 helicopter in Kamchatka Oblast that killed 20 people, including Sakhalin Oblast Governor Igor Farkhutdinov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). Initially, Shoigu said that the helicopter crashed from a high altitude and substantiated that argument by saying parts of the helicopter were dispersed over a wide area, Novikov said. Then Shoigu produced a completely different version of events, citing other evidence to indicate that pilot errors caused the crash. He even described the incident as if he had witnessed it, Novikov said. He added that the minister should await the results of an investigation and not confuse public opinion by presenting conflicting and partial information.

PRESIDENT OFFERS PRAISE AT FAR EAST GOVERNOR'S FUNERAL. Speaking at the funeral of Sakhalin Oblast Governor Farkhutdinov in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on 27 August, President Vladimir Putin said the federal government will support the local administration in coping with any problems that arise from Farkhutdinov's death, RTR reported on 27 August. He added that Farkhutdinov had created a competent, professional team to manage the complicated region of Sakhalin. Although some members of that team were also killed in the 20 August helicopter accident that took Farkhutdinov's life, this should not negatively affect the region, which is particularly well organized, Putin said. Putin arrived in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk from Altai Krai, where he was vacationing with his family. He met with acting Governor Ivan Malakhov and presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii.

INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS MOSCOW SHOULD BRACE FOR NEW SECURITY MEASURES... Speaking at the same 28 August handover ceremony, Interior Minister Gryzlov announced that strict antiterrorism measures will soon be introduced in Moscow and called upon citizens" to be psychologically prepared for them," RBK reported on 28 August. "Citizens should accept once and for all that during antiterrorism checks there will not and cannot be any exceptions, special passes, VIP access, [or] privileges," Gryzlov said.

...AND PLEDGES CONTINUED FIGHT AGAINST POLICE CORRUPTION. In the same speech on 28 August, Interior Minister Gryzlov said his ministry will ruthlessly root out corruption within its ranks, RBK reported. Commenting on a spate of recent arrests of police officers on suspicion of corruption and abuse of position, Gryzlov said, "The law enforcement organs exercise the government's authority to use coercion, and we cannot tolerate the abuse of this authority by a bunch of rogues seeking personal enrichment."

GOVERNMENT GIVES NOD TO TNK-BP MERGER. The Antimonopoly Ministry has given its approval for the merger of the Tyumen Oil Company (TNK) and the Russian assets of British Petroleum (BP), ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported on 28 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2003). If the merger is completed, the resulting company will be Russia's third-largest oil concern. It is expected to begin operations at the end of this year and will operate in Russia, Ukraine, Eastern and Central Europe, and China, ITAR-TASS reported. The deal must still be approved by the Ukrainian government.

OFFICIAL TOUTS POSITIVE TRENDS IN MARKET CAPITALIZATION. Russia is among the world's leading emerging markets in terms of the capitalization of its securities market, Federal Securities Commission Chairman Igor Kostyukov said on 27 August, Russian media reported. Kostyukov said capitalization now stands at $165 billion-$168 billion. He added that there have also been positive trends in the structure of Russian markets. In 2000, the energy sector accounted for 90 percent of the country's market capitalization, while in 2002 that figure had fallen to 75 percent and now it stands at 67 percent, Kostyukov said. "The Russian emerging market has evolved from a toy into a real factor, and it is beginning to play an increasingly important role in the Russian economy," he concluded.

GOVERNMENT SUBMITS 2004 BUDGET TO DUMA. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 26 August authorized the government's draft 2004 budget for submission to the State Duma one day before the deadline mandated by the Budget Code, Russian media reported. The same day, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin held separate meetings with the Communist and Yabloko factions in the State Duma, and RIA-Novosti reported. The Communists urged that more money be devoted to social programs, while members of Yabloko felt the budget in its current form has a number of pluses, including the creation of a stabilization fund to help the country overcome possible difficulties caused by price fluctuations on world energy markets. The first reading of the budget is scheduled for 19 September. According to "Izvestiya" on 26 August, the military is satisfied with the 2004 budget. An unidentified ministry source told the daily that "funding is undeniably better nowadays." "Compared to 2000, the sum per serviceman increased by a factor of 1.9," the source continued, "and the money to be spent on combat training per serviceman rose by a factor of 2.5."

MENATEP CHAIRMAN TO REMAIN IN PRISON... A Moscow district court on 28 August granted a Prosecutor-General's Office request to extend until 30 October the period that Menatep Chairman and Yukos shareholder Platon Lebedev can be held in custody pending investigation of the charges against him, Russian media reported. The court rejected an appeal by Lebedev's lawyers asking that he be released on bond (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003). Speaking to journalists after the hearing, Lebedev's lawyer, Anton Drel, quoted his client as saying that the court session and the entire case against him are "a farce that has nothing to do with justice."

...AS FORMER NTV OWNER RELEASED ON BAIL... A court in Athens released former media magnate Vladimir Gusinskii on bail on 29 August as Russian prosecutors continued efforts to extradite him to Moscow to face multimillion-dollar fraud charges, Russian and international media reported. "Gusinskii was ordered to be released on a 100,000 euros ($108,200) bail," Reuters quoted Gusinskii's Greek lawyer, Alexandros Likourezos, as saying. "He will stay in an Athens hotel and is not allowed to leave the country." Gusinskii was arrested on an international warrant at the Athens airport on 21 August after arriving on a flight from Tel Aviv, reportedly for a family vacation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003).

...AND PROSECUTORS PREPARING CASE FOR HIS EXTRADITION. The Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 27 August that it has received official notice from Greek law enforcement authorities about the arrest of Gusinskii and has begun preparing an application for his extradition, Russian media reported. The government has charged Gusinskii with illegally transferring a loan of nearly $250 million abroad. According to international law, all supporting documentation in the case will have to be translated into Greek. Prosecutors are considering sending an investigator who is familiar with the case against Gusinskii to Athens to assist in the case, a spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office said. Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Andreas Loverdos said in Athens that, in addition to Russia, both Israel and the United States have expressed interest in the Gusinskii case, RIA-Novosti reported on 27 August. Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and several members of the U.S. Congress have contacted Greece and expressed their concern about Gusinskii's fate. Gusinskii holds both Russian and Israeli citizenship.

POLL: RUSSIANS BELIEVE OLIGARCHS, CRIMINALS RUNNING THE COUNTRY Although President Vladimir Putin's popularity rating remains high, only 15 percent of Russians believe that he has complete control of the country, according to a poll by the Agency of Regional and Political Research (ARPI), reported on 26 August. The poll of 1,500 people was conducted in 32 Russian regions. Thirty-seven percent of respondents believe that "big business and the oligarchs" wield the real power in Russia, while 19 percent said that "organized crime" does so, 12 percent named the bureaucracy, and 4 percent said that power lies with the State Duma. Just 2 percent said that power is in the hands of regional leaders.