Accessibility links

Breaking News

Security Watch: January 31, 2002

31 January 2002, Volume 3, Number 4
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT RECEIVES INVITATION TO PRAGUE NATO SUMMIT. Czech Republic Foreign Minister Jan Kavan met with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov in Moscow on 24 January and gave him an invitation from Czech President Vaclav Havel to President Vladimir Putin to attend NATO's summit in Prague this fall, Russian news agencies reported. The move is intended to help forge closer ties between Russia and the Atlantic alliance, according to those reports. Meanwhile, Konstantin Kosachev, a member of the Fatherland-All Russia Duma faction, was quoted by RIA-Novosti as saying that Russian participation in the upcoming summit can pay off if "the summit concentrates on the formation of a new security organization that would combine the UN's universality and NATO's efficiency." While in Moscow, Kavan also met with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov to discuss Russia's $1.6 billion debt to the Czech Republic and strengthening bilateral economic ties. Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Kasyanov said Prague agreed to Russia's offer to repay some of its debt through the delivery of goods and technologies, RIA-Novosti reported the same day.

STATE DUMA SPEAKER SAYS U.S. MUST LEAVE CENTRAL ASIA SOON. "The United States cannot stay in the Central Asian states more than six months because that was the agreed term under which they went there," State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS on 24 January. In addition, he said the U.S. cannot set up military bases in the region without a UN mandate. But commented on 24 January that Seleznev's comments are misguided, as General Tommy Franks, who commands the U.S.-led antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan, has said twice in the past three days that the U.S. has no plans to set up permanent military bases in Central Asia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2002, and "Transcaucasus and Central Asia" section). Meanwhile, Interfax quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko as saying the same day that "Russia has no grounds to mistrust repeated statements by American officials that the deployment of U.S. military units in Central Asia will be temporary and transparent."

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CONDEMNS CHECHEN OFFICIAL'S MEETINGS IN U.S. In a statement released on 24 January, the Russian Foreign Ministry criticized as "an unfriendly step vis-a-vis Russia" a meeting the previous day in Washington between U.S. State Department officials and Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmedov, Russian agencies reported.

RUSSIA SEEKS TO SELL FIGHTERS, DOUBLE TRADE WITH AUSTRIA. Prime Minster Kasyanov said following his meeting in Moscow with visiting Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel that the two countries want to double their $1.9 billion in trade over the next five years, ORT and "Vremya novostei" reported on 28 January. Russia would also like to restructure its exports to Austria, 90 percent of which are currently composed of hydrocarbons, and increase the share of manufactured goods. In this context, Moscow is putting great stake in its efforts to sell MiG-29 fighters to the Austrian air force, and hopes to construct a factory in Austria that would produce Russian MiG-110 business-class jets, Kasyanov added. Both aviation deals, should they materialize, would partially be used to help pay off the $2.8 billion Soviet debt owed to Austria.

U.S. TO PROVIDE $50 MILLION TO RUSSIA FOR DESTRUCTION OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS. Sergei Kirienko, the presidential envoy to the Volga federal district and head of the State Commission for Chemical Disarmament, said following his talks in Washington with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that the U.S. agreed to allot $50 million to speed up the destruction Russia's chemical weapons arsenal, NTV reported on 30 January. The bulk of the funds will be invested in the construction of a facility for that purpose, according to Kirienko. The U.S. had earmarked $600 million to help Russia destroy over 40,000 tons of chemical weapons, but stopped bankrolling the project because Russia had failed to keep its obligations within the framework of the agreement.

VERDICTS HANDED DOWN TO RUSSIAN MEMBERS OF JAPANESE EXTREMIST SECT. A Primorskii Krai court announced its verdicts on 23 January in the case of Russian followers of the Japanese extremist sect "Aum Senrike," who were accused of planning terrorist acts against Tokyo in an effort to free their Japanese comrades from custody there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2001), Interfax reported. The leader of the Russian group, Dmitrii Siogachev, was sentenced to eight years in prison, member Boris Tupeiko to 6 1/2 years, and Dmitrii Voronov to four years.

RUSSIA DISMANTLES SPY CENTER IN CUBA. Russia has completed the dismantling of the Lourdes electronic intelligence center and has removed all of its equipment and personnel, Interfax reported on 27 January, quoting Defense Ministry sources. About 1,000 Russian personnel operated the espionage center, which was built in Cuba by the former Soviet Union. The center's radar was shut down on 29 December.

RUSSIAN MILITARY TOP BRASS KILLED IN HELICOPTER CRASH IN CHECHNYA... Fourteen senior army and Interior Ministry officers, together with four bodyguards and three crew members, died on 27 January when their transport helicopter crashed near the village of Shelkovskaya in northeast Chechnya. Interfax initially claimed that the helicopter was shot down, but deputy presidential envoy to the Southern federal district Nikolai Britvin said on 28 January that the wreckage showed no indication that it had been fired on, according to ITAR-TASS.

...AND PUTIN TAKES CONTROL OF PROBE INTO CRASH. President Putin announced that he will personally oversee the investigation of the Mi-8 military helicopter crash that killed 14 senior army and Interior Ministry officers -- including Interior Minister Lieutenant General Nikolai Rudchenko -- along with four bodyguards and three crew members on 27 January, RIA-Novosti reported on 28 January. But the head of the Chechen branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Major General Sergei Babkin, told Interfax the same day that he thinks the most likely cause of the crash was a technical malfunction. He ruled out a missile attack from the ground. The Military Prosecutor's Office has nonetheless opened a criminal investigation on suspicion of "terrorism." There are many signs that the helicopter crashed because of an explosion on board. If this is confirmed, it would be more complex for the FSB than a terrorist attack, commented on 28 January. According to the website, would have been much easier to provide proper security against a hidden explosive device on board the helicopter carrying the high-ranking officers than to prevent a missile attack from the ground.

GOVERNMENT TO REVOKE NATURAL RESOURCE EXTRACTION LICENSES. First Deputy Natural Resources Minister Vitalii Karaganov announced on 29 January that the government plans to revoke about 1,000 licenses issued for extracting natural resources from holders who have failed to meet their obligations, RBK news agency reported. Among the violators are companies that have allowed their licenses to expire, those who have failed to meet investment requirements, and companies that are illegally attempting to sell their extraction rights to foreign operators, he added. The blacklist includes some 60 oil and gas companies that have no funds to help further develop the exploration and extraction of resources, according to Karaganov.

LINKS BETWEEN RUSSIAN FAR EAST AND ASIA EXPANDING. Air service has been established between Vladivostok and Shanghai, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 January. A Chinese airline company based in Shanghai will make twice-weekly flights. Meanwhile, unidentified diplomats at the South Korean Consulate in Primorskii Krai told the agency that South Korea is now home to around 6,000 illegal female immigrants from Russian who make their living through prostitution. According to the agency, the diplomats also confessed that while they issue visas to older Russians they are more reluctant to do so for "attractive young women."

CUSTOMS COMMITTEE HEAD INVESTIGATED. The Prosecutor-General's Office has ordered the interrogation of State Customs Committee Chairman Mikhail Vanin following allegations that his agency violated procedures during its investigation of the Russian export company "Three Whales," "Vremya novostei" and RBK news agency reported on 22 January. Last fall, Vanin headed the investigation into the company, whose owner Sergei Zuev was accused of failing to pay customs duties in 2000 worth some $5 million. During the Customs Committee's investigation, it was revealed that the co-owner of "Three Whales," is Yevgenii Zaostrovtsev, the father of FSB General Yurii Zaostrovtsev, who heads the FSB's Economic Department and is a deputy to FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev. Vanin's findings also alleged that Patrushev himself may have been involved in the "furniture scandal," as he was in charge of the FSB's monitoring of the Customs Committee at the time. In response, working with the Prosecutor-General's Office, the FSB opened its own case against Vanin, "Vremya novostei" added. Meanwhile, in the same case the Prosecutor-General's Office interrogated Vanin's deputy, Boris Gutin, on 23 January, reported.

ST. PETERSBURG GOVERNOR TOLD TO CLEAN UP CORRUPTION IN HIS ADMINISTRATION. Vladimir Zubrin, the deputy prosecutor-general for the Northwest federal district, said on 29 January that his agency has launched corruption investigations against six top St. Petersburg government officials, RosBalt reported. "The corruption investigation of the city's administration is a serious warning to St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, and our demand to him is to instill order among his associates," Zubrin said. He added that first in line for an indictment is Deputy Governor Valerii Malyshev, who will be followed by Aleksandr Potekhin and Dmitrii Solonnikov, two senior officials of Yakovlev's entourage.

MOTHERS IN PRISONS ARE PROMISED PARDON. President Putin approved the proposal by presidential adviser Anatolii Pristavkin and Presidential Department for Pardons head Robert Tsivilyov on extending an amnesty to mothers regardless of their crimes or prison terms, Interfax reported on 24 January. The State Duma earlier adopted a resolution on amnestying some 10,000 minors and 14,000 women. However, women guilty of serious crimes or with a long criminal record were not eligible for the pardon, Interfax reported.

REGIONS START FORMING PARDONS COMMISSIONS. At a planned monthly meeting between presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin and the presidential envoys from the seven federal districts on 29 January, the topic of regionally based pardons commissions as well as continuing work defining the division of power between regional and federal-level officials was discussed, according to "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 25 January that Saratov Oblast is the first region in Russia to have organized a Pardons Commission, which met on 22 January. On 28 January, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov issued a decree naming 16 representatives to the local Pardons Commission. Regions were given the responsibility for organizing pardon commissions following President Putin's disbanding of the state-level Pardons Commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001).

JUSTICE MINISTER CALLS FOR REDUCTION OF PRISON TERMS, NUMBER OF PRISONERS. Yurii Chaika proposed at his meeting with President Putin on 29 January to reduce sentences for crimes such as larceny and, by so doing, to reduce the number of prisoners in overcrowded Russian prisons, RIA-Novosti reported. Chaika also suggested that the maximum prison term in Russia be reduced from 20 to 15 years. He told the president that the number of prison inmates rose to a critical level last year as the result of an "unjustified" increase in the number of prison-term sentences for minor crimes. Thus, the number of prisoners sentenced for larceny grew in 2001 by 36 percent, or 42,000 people. Putin said he approves of Chaika's proposals and has asked him to prepare them for a legislative initiative.

KREMLIN SPOKESMAN WARNS RFE/RL. The Kremlin's spokesman on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembskii, said in an interview published in "Gazeta" on 28 January that the Russian government will carefully monitor Radio Liberty broadcasts to Russia and could revoke RFE/RL's broadcasting license in Russia if its coverage is deemed to have taken a "biased and prejudiced form." The comments were an apparent response to RFE/RL's plans to open a North Caucasus Service in late February, which will broadcast in the Chechen, Avar, and Circassian languages. Yastrzhembskii said the Russian Constitution and laws impose "certain restrictions on the mass media in Russia, of which the lawyers and journalists of RFE/RL are well aware," which provide for an official warning from the Media Ministry and the possible revocation of the broadcasting license should that warning go unheeded. Yastrzhembskii said the Media Ministry and Department of Information of the presidential administration will be tasked with monitoring RFE/RL's "behavior."

RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT EXTENDS LOAN TO ORT. Prime Minster Kasyanov announced on 28 January that the government will extend the terms of the $100 million loan provided to ORT by the state-run Vneshekonombank, reported. In December, the management of ORT sent President Vladimir Putin a letter saying it had no funds to repay the government loan and requesting that he intervene. ORT officially has the status of "public television," although 49 percent of its shares are controlled by the state and semi state-owned entities.

PRIME MINISTER LAUNCHES 'ELECTRONIC RUSSIA' PROGRAM. On 29 January, Mikhail Kasyanov signed into law the federal program "Electronic Russia," which is intended to double the number of Internet users in Russia over the next five years and to integrate the country's educational and government systems into the Internet, "Vechernyaya Moskva" reported. The program also envisages the standardization of Russian Internet publications through the introduction of an obligatory format that would require information about the publisher, its state- issued license, a copyright disclaimer, and content annotation.

NEWSPAPER SAYS PRESIDENT LOSING FACE WITH POPULACE... By giving his subtle consent to the closure of TV-6, President Putin lost not only in the eyes of Russian democrats, but to a much wider audience -- millions of the country's television viewers, "Komsomolskaya pravda" commented on 23 January. The daily said those viewers now understand that Putin, who is at odds with embattled magnate and majority TV-6 shareholder Boris Berezovsky, is willing to sacrifice the interests of millions of Russian citizens in order to satisfy his own political ambitions. In addition, the paper opined, Putin has lost face in the eyes of world public opinion, which will now be more inclined to believe claims by the president's critics that his regime is slowly moving towards authoritarianism. While many had been reluctant to believe such claims before, Putin's latest actions have bolstered his opponents' arguments, the daily said.

...AS WELL AS WITH U.S. GOVERNMENT AND WESTERN INVESTORS. The commentary continued by questioning whether the TV-6 affair is also hampering relations between Russia and the United States, whose officials have repeatedly expressed their concern over the fate of the free media in Russia. By blatantly ignoring U.S. opinion, the paper said, Moscow is placing its newfound partnership with the U.S. if not in crisis, then under serious testing. Finally, the arbitrary liquidation by the government of such a big commercial company will alarm potential Western investors and fortify the position of those who say that conducting business in Russia is far too risky. As for Berezovsky's role in the affair, "Komsomolskaya pravda" said his image is also taking a beating, as he is acting like a typical Leninist guided by the principle "so much the worse, so much the better."

BEREZOVSKY ACCUSED OF USING AEROFLOT FUNDS TO FINANCE 'TERRORISTS'... Speaking at the Coordinating Council session of CIS law enforcement and security agencies in Minsk on 29 January, Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov announced that the names of embattled oligarch Boris Berezovsky and his deputy Badri Patarkatsishvili have been added to the list of those accused of involvement in the Aeroflot affair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2001.) In contrast to the other defendants in the corruption case, both Berezovsky and Patarkatsishvili are accused of using the funds siphoned from Aeroflot to financially support "Chechen terrorists," Ustinov said. Meanwhile, at the same forum FSB Director Patrushev repeated his claim that his agency has materials related to Berezovsky's involvement in the funding of "illegal military formations" and in "human trafficking in Chechnya," Russian news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2002). Berezovsky has repeatedly claimed to possess evidence implicating that the FSB organized the bombings in August and September 1999 of apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk.

...AS BEREZOVSKY'S PARTNER STRIKES BACK. Meanwhile, Patarkatsishvili accused Putin of attempting to silence critics of Russia's military actions in Chechnya and transforming Russia into a "banana republic." In a letter published in "The New York Times" on 30 January, Patarkatsishvili compared Putin with former Peruvian strongman Alberto K. Fujimori, who in 1997 forced independent Frecuencia Latina TV owner Baruch Iher to leave Peru after he had criticized Fujimori's regime. "Similarly, the Russian Federal Security Service -- the real power behind President Vladimir V. Putin -- declared war against NTV and TV-6 for reporting on carnage in Chechnya," Patarkatsishvili wrote. "Thus, Boris A. Berezovsky, Vladimir V. Gusinsky, and I, owners of the independent Russian networks, are living abroad and are facing extradition requests on trumped-up charges." He expressed optimism that, as was the case in Peru, the Russian people "will eventually reject the transformation of their country into a banana republic."