8 February 2002, Volume 3, Number 5
FOREIGN POLICYRUSSIAN POLITICIANS REACT ON STATE OF THE UNION. In his comments to U.S. President George W. Bush's State of the Union address from 29 January, Sergei Rogov, the director of the Institute USA and Canada, told strana.ru on 1 February that for Russia, Bush's speech means that the period of confrontation in American-Russian relations has ended. Both countries have no more irreconcilable differences in ideology, are not geopolitical competitors, nor adversaries in an arms race. Therefore, both countries have a chance to construct a new system of relations. However, Konstantin Kosachev, the deputy head of the Duma Foreign Relations Committee, said in response to the Bush's speech that Russia and the world community hope that the United States will seek "more political, not forceful, solutions to international security issues," polit.ru reported on 30 January. He went on to say that Russia has three options for its own foreign policy strategy: to accept U.S. global leadership without argument; to adapt Russian policy to that of the U.S. while keeping its own interests in mind; or to try to create its own security system in alliance with China, India, and Japan.
KASYANOV IN WASHINGTON LOOKS TO PUSH RUSSIAN ECONOMY... Mikhail Kasyanov arrived in Washington on 31 January and began his working visit with meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans, and other American officials, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 January. According to the daily, one of the primary goals of Kasyanov's visit is to convince the U.S. to cancel the Jackson-Vannik Amendment adopted by U.S. Congress that imposes restrictions on emigration from the former Soviet Union, and which Russia feels has unjustly limited its ability to export high-tech goods. Kasyanov will also seek official U.S. recognition that Russia has a market economy, a status that could soften antidumping restrictions on state-subsidized Russian goods, especially steel. In addition the premier is seeking U.S. permission to allow Russian banks to open branches in the United States, and will promote Russian computer software. Kasyanov concluded his visit to the U.S. by meeting on 4 February with U.S. President Bush, who conveyed the desire of his administration to promote Russia's joining of the World Trade Organization and upgrading its status to a market economy, Russian news agencies reported. After his talks with Bush, Kasyanov told journalists that a new topic is gaining momentum in relations between Moscow and Washington -- the transformation of Russia into one of the major exporters of oil to the U.S. market.
...AND LAUDS IMPROVED U.S.-RUSSIAN RELATIONS... Speaking at the World Economic Forum in New York on 2 February, Mikhail Kasyanov said that "despite several negative points, Russia and the U.S. are developing a framework for new relations," and announced that U.S. President Bush will visit Moscow on 23-25 May, Russian news agencies reported. Kasyanov also said that Russia hopes to attract considerable investment from the U.S. this year because Russia's gross national product is expected to rise by a "robust 3.5 percent" and "the sources of this growth are sustainable."
...AS DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA WILL NOT PARTICIPATE IN CAMPAIGN AGAINST 'AXIS OF EVIL.' Addressing the international military-political forum "Wehrkunde" in Munich on 2 February, Sergei Ivanov said that Russia "does not share the U.S. point of view that Iraq, Iran, and North Korea pose a terrorist threat to mankind," and will neither support nor take part in any military operation against them, ITAR-TASS reported. U.S. President Bush accused those countries of being an "axis of evil" supporting terrorism during his State of the Union address on 29 January. However, Ivanov said that Russia "is very concerned by the situation in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia, where Chechen fighters concentrate." He said, "the government of Georgia recognizes the existence of a problem there, but hardly can cope with it." Ivanov added that Russia, while it respects Georgia's sovereignty, "cannot tolerate near her borders a pocket of terrorism and criminality."
ANALYST SAYS RUSSIA STANDS TO GAIN FROM U.S.-CHINA BASE JOCKEYING... Russia's withdrawal from its electronic intelligence center in Lourdes, Cuba, and naval base in Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam, is part of a Kremlin strategy to take advantage of the country's Soviet-era policies and adapt them for use in 21st-century geopolitical games, political analyst Mikhail Leontiev said on ORT television's "Odnako" program on 1 February. While in the Cold War era the Cuban base was aimed against the U.S. and the Vietnamese base was targeted against China, Leontiev argued that with the Russian withdrawals has come the real possibility that China could take over Lourdes, while the U.S. could rent Cam Rahn for its Pacific fleet. "If both plans materialize, a new Chinese base will emerge near American shores, and an American one near China, [which would form] an axis of confrontation, a development that is favorable to Russia," Leontiev commented.
...AS ANOTHER NAMES CHINA AS RUSSIA'S MAIN ADVERSARY. Union of Rightist Forces faction member Vladimir Koptev-Dvornikov told pravda.ru on 4 February that his faction supports Vladimir Putin's foreign policy because the Russian president has found a proper balance between extended dialogue with the West and the consolidation of Russia's geopolitical interests in the East. According to Koptev-Dvornikov, Putin's policy takes into account that "in the 21st century Russia's main and most dangerous competitor will be China, as it will project its [demographic and economic] pressures on the Russian border." He added that Putin's visionary policy will allow Russia to withstand Chinese pressure by developing an alliance with Japan while relying on already established ties with the West and NATO.
RUSSIA HINTS AT CONCESSIONS WITH JAPAN OVER KURILE ISLANDS. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said following his talks with his Japanese counterpart Yoriko Kawaguchi in Tokyo on 2 February that the two countries have agreed to resume negotiations next month on the long-disputed Kurile Islands and on signing the Russia-Japan peace treaty, gazeta.ru reported. He said the talks on the territorial issue will be based on previously reached agreements, including the Russian-Japanese Declaration of 1956 in which Moscow promised to return two of the four Kurile Islands to Japan, RIA-Novosti reported. Ivanov also mentioned that both Moscow and Tokyo support the idea of holding a comprehensive international convention to discuss the combating of antiterrorism, and that he delivered a personal message relating President Putin's views on the subject to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW TO 'WARM' BILATERAL RELATIONS. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said following his meeting in Moscow on 31 January with his visiting Bulgarian counterpart Solomon Pasi that the "period of cold" in relations between the two countries is over, and that the two countries are seeking to restore their relations to "their traditionally warm level," Russian news agencies reported. Speaking to journalists after his talks with Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, Pasi said Russian-Bulgarian relations are not restricted to cooperation in the energy sphere, but also include dialogue on joint actions within the antiterrorist coalition, arms control, and disarmament measures. He also revealed that at the end of February a session of the Russian-Bulgarian Intergovernmental Commission for Trade, Economic, and Technological Cooperation will be held in Sofia, following which Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski will pay a visit to Moscow.
MILITARYRUSSIA AND NATO EXPLORE THEIR DIFFERENCES... Speaking in Rome at the conference of NATO defense ministers on 4 February, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said his country is united with the antiterrorism coalition and human rights organizations in their understanding of the threat of terrorism, but has different goals and targets for the next stage of antiterrorist operations, Russian news agencies reported. Ivanov reiterated that Russia does not accept U.S. President Bush's definition of North Korea, Iraq, and Iran as an "axis of evil" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2002) and will continue its relations with those countries. "Russia is supplying conventional weapons to Iran and will continue to do so, because it is a normal commercial deal," Ivanov said, adding, "Russia has its own list of countries of concern."
...AS DEFENSE MINISTER WARNS ABOUT 'INFORMATION TERRORISM.' Speaking to journalists in Rome the same day, Ivanov said that although future terrorist attacks will likely make use of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, Russia fears a new type of threat -"information terrorism," ITAR-TASS reported on 4 February. He argued that the defense and financial security of modern society relies on electronic databases and telecommunication channels that are open to attacks by computer "pirates." The warning is also mentioned in the "White Book of the Russian Intelligence Community" published in 1996, which outlines one possible scenario for such an attack in which terrorists would use powerful electromagnetic pulses to instantly destroy the databases of a country's stock exchanges and financial institutions, and simultaneously erase the data of the largest national television channels. In the aftermath of such an scenario, no further attacks on government or military objects would be needed, as the country would be paralyzed, according to the authors.
KLEBANOV ARRIVES IN INDIA TO SIGN 'DEFENSE PACT.' Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov arrived in New Delhi on 5 February heading a 50-strong delegation to discuss with his counterpart George Fernandes the expansion of Russian arms exports to India and to sign a comprehensive document about military cooperation that both sides were calling a "defense pact," Russian news agencies reported. The weapons package Klebanov will offer India includes Tu-22 bombers, the "Admiral Groshkov" aircraft carrier, and two Bars-class nuclear submarines. India is the second-largest importer of Russian weaponry after China, the BBC quoted Tatyana Shaumyan, the director of the Center of Indian research at the Institute of Oriental Studies, as saying on 5 February. She added that Russia receives some $4 billion a year from its arms exports to India, and that it seeks to expand that figure by selling India as much weaponry as it can.
ARMY CALLS DUMA DEPUTIES INTO SERVICE. The Defense Ministry will call up 140 State Duma deputies from 5-9 February for service as military reservists under the General Staff, NTV reported on 5 February. The deputies will take a theoretical course on defense issues and be trained to shoot automatic weapons. Those who pass the drills successfully will be promoted to their next reservist officer rank. Yabloko deputy Sergei Ivanenko told RBK the same day that the action is merely a public relations tactic on the part of the Defense Ministry, and that members of his party/faction will have no part in it. "This practice is not much better than last year's practice, when the Defense Ministry promoted...those who voted for the military budget 'properly,'" Ivanenko added.
AIRBORNE DESERTERS KILL 10. Tatarstan's deputy interior minister, Rakhil Nagumanov, said that officers from his service shot and killed two soldiers in Tatarstan who escaped from the 31st Airborne Brigade based near Ulyanovsk and had killed 10 people, including several policemen who attempted to disarm them, ORT reported on 5 February. Nagumanov said both of the deserters had connections with the criminal underworld. Meanwhile, Airborne Troops commander Gennadii Shpak said deserters destroy the "honor of paratroopers," and that 20 percent of his troops "have criminal records."
NATIONAL SECURITY AND HEALTHPRESIDENT DECRIES HEALTH DEGRADATION IN RUSSIA... Speaking on 30 January at the meeting of the State Council devoted to national health and sport issues, President Putin said the decline of the population's health has seriously harmed Russia's economy and demographic balance, Russian news services reported. Putin cited a World Health Organization report that gave Russia a 1.4 rating on a five-point scale for "coefficient of a population's vitality" -- a ranking lower than those received by Somali and Haiti. He added that as a result of the poor health of Russia's workforce, the country is spending 3 percent of salary funds on sick pay. In addition, the number of people suffering from chronic diseases continues to grow, and the number of men up to age 40 who smoke has increased from 25 to 70 percent over the last five years, according to Putin.
...AND URGES REVIVAL THROUGH SPORTS. At the same meeting, Putin also noted the declining health of Russia's youth, a trend he said could only be reversed through the development of the country's sports programs. In this context he proposed the creation of a national Sports Council to be overseen by the presidential administration. In addition, the president said he will sign a decree to provide financial support to 1,000 leading Russian athletes as well as for the construction of 1,000 sport and recreation centers in the regions. The costs of the latter project will be covered from both state and local budgets. Finally, Putin proposed that in 2003 the Soviet-era athletic games known as Spartakia be revived, and announced that he has directed the government to adopt a federal program aimed at training young athletes.
SUICIDE ON THE RISE IN MOSCOW. Moscow authorities have registered an increase in the number of suicides in the city, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported 4 February. According to the daily, 1,954 Muscovites committed suicide in 2001, compared to 1,900 in 2000. Men accounted for the largest number of suicides in 2001 with 1,395. The most frequent method of killing oneself was by hanging, followed by jumping from tall buildings, and poisoning. However, the figure was far from the record of 2,365 suicides recorded in 1993. According to the newspaper, former President Boris Yeltsin's decision to shoot at the Russian parliament building with tanks during the failed coup attempt that year led to a wave of public depression.
POLITICAL ECONOMYPRIME MINISTER ANNOUNCES AMBITIOUS CHANGE IN RUSSIA'S OIL-EXPORT POLICY... Russia's new energy strategy is to expand its share of the world oil-export market, and in that context Russia does not exclude supplying oil to the United States, Kasyanov told journalists at the World Economic Forum on 2 February. "We have no obligations to OPEC, we are just consulting with this organization," he said, while adding that within the framework of these consultations Russia had made the tactical decision to cut its oil exports. However, he said that now "Russia is considering as a fair oil price a range of between $20-25 a barrel, and not [the] OPEC price corridor of $25-28." As a result, over the next 1 1/2 years Russia plans not to extend constraints on its oil exports and will once again seek to expand them, according to Kasyanov. He said that by 2020 Russia plans to increase its oil exports to 370-375 million from the levels of 348 million tons over the last few years. However, "Izvestiya" commented the same day that the premier's statement is a pipe dream at best, arguing that the high transport costs that would be incurred in exporting Russian oil to the United States would make such a venture unprofitable.
...DISCUSSES INVESTMENT PROJECTS WITH U.S. COMPANIES... Kasyanov has also met with Royal Dutch/Shell board chairman Phillip Watts, who confirmed that his company intends to expand its participation with Exxon-Mobile on the $10 billion "Sakhalin-2" project. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2001). In addition, following his meeting on 1 February with Citibank Vice President Stanley Fischer, Kasyanov said the U.S.-based bank is interested in participating in the privatization of Vneshtorgbank. According to the plan, the government would purchase 40 percent of Vneshtorgbank's shares from the Central Bank, and those shares would then be offered to foreign investors, Russian news agencies reported.
...AS SKEPTICS QUESTION PREMIER'S ECONOMIC COURSE. Yabloko faction leader Grigorii Yavlinsky told "Vremya novostei" on 30 January that the economic measures developed by Prime Minister Kasyanov's government merely imitate reforms. "Does raising railroad tariffs by 35 percent, or cutting electrical power from customers [indicate] a sign of economic reform?" he asked rhetorically. Yavlinsky claimed that the perceived economic success of Kasyanov's government is in fact based on favorable prices of hydrocarbons and a "cheap" ruble resulting from its devaluation in 1998. While many Russian exporters became richer, the country as a whole has become poorer, Yavlinsky concluded. Meanwhile, Institute of Globalization Director Mikhail Delyagin told an economic symposium in Moscow that the "time of spontaneous economic growth has expired," a reality he said Kasyanov's government has refused to grasp, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 January.
EU BANS RUSSIAN AIRCRAFT ON EUROPEAN ROUTES. Deputy Transport Minister Pavel Rozhkov announced on 31 January that he has failed to reach agreement with his EU counterparts to delay the implementation of an EU directive banning some Russian aircraft from flying over European airspace, NTV reported. The ban was imposed on the most widely used Russian passenger aircraft -- the Tu-134, Il-62, Il-76, and Il-86 --because they do not meet EU noise-emission requirements that are to be put into force beginning on 1 April. The Tu-204 and Tu-154 are the only Russian passenger planes that conform to the new standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Rozhkov said that Russia is now "simply obliged to take reprisal measures in order to prevent a one-sided advantage for the European airlines." He said that in retaliation Russia can "reduce the number of routes for European airlines flying to Russia, and restrict their transit flights over Russian territory and replace them with their Asian competitors."
SAKHALIN GOVERNOR LOBBIES FOR BRIDGE TO JAPAN. Sakhalin Governor Igor Farkhutdinov told journalists following his meeting in Yuzhno Sakhalinsk with Tatsuya Khori, the governor of the Japanese border prefecture Hokkaido, that the two had agreed on the necessity of building a bridge to span the 50-kilometer distance between Hokkaido and Sakhalin, strana.ru and ITAR-TASS reported on 4 February. In addition to this, he said that Japan expressed interest in investing in a 20-kilometer bridge linking Sakhalin Island with the Russian mainland. Meanwhile, in Moscow the same day, Railways Minister Gennadii Fadeev retreated from his previous statement that he ordered plans for a rail link to Sakhalin be halted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 11 January 2002). He said that the evaluation of the economic feasibility of the project should be left to the government, RIA-Novosti reported on 4 February.
GAZPROM DROPS PLANS TO EXTEND PIPELINE TO SLOVAKIA. Gazprom board member Boris Fedorov said following a board meeting on 4 February that the company is close to scrapping plans to link the Yamal-Europe pipeline with that in Slovakia, and thus bypassing Ukraine, RBK reported. Fedorov said the board is now focusing on further developing the Yamal-Europe pipeline, as well as speeding up construction of the "Blue Stream" gas pipeline to Turkey. The next day, Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko tried to soften the impact of Fedorov's announcement by saying that the Yamal-Europe pipeline extension was never discussed in the board meeting, strana.ru reported.
SECRET SERVICESFEDERAL PROTECTION SERVICE EXPOSES CRIMINAL LINKS OF KREMLIN ADMINISTRATION. Sergei Devyatov, the spokesman for the Federal Protection Service (FSO), the security agency responsible for safeguarding top Russian officials, said on 6 February that his service is concerned by the use of automobile passes by unauthorized individuals, who were thus able to gain access to the Kremlin, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported. He said the passes were issued by members of the presidential staff at the request of unknown individuals, but following an investigation it was established that the requests and passes were forged. Devyatov said the FSO sent a complaint to President Putin, who has issued an order to punish any members of his staff found to be responsible.
MOSCOW ACTIVATES FINANCIAL INTELLIGENCE ARM. On the eve of his departure to Washington, Prime Minister Kasyanov signed a directive allowing the Committee on Financial Monitoring (KFM) to begin operations on 1 February, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 January. The establishment of the financial intelligence entity should help convince Washington that Russia possesses a market economy, the daily commented. Last November, President Putin created the KFM in order to combat money laundering and criminally earned capital in Russia, which amounts to some $17 billion, according to the daily. However, despite Russian efforts, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an anti-money laundering arm of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, announced in Paris that Russia remains on its blacklist of states that do not efficiently combat criminally obtained capital, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 February. "It is worth it to first see how Russia will implement the law and monitoring in practice," "Kommersant-Daily" quoted an FATF spokesman as saying.
FSB FLOATS IDEA OF PATRIOTIC HACKING. A group of student computer programmers in Tomsk Oblast who hacked into the Chechen website Kavkaz-Tsentr have been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, regions.ru reported on 31 January. The directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Tomsk Oblast issued a statement that the students' efforts to create difficulties for the website did not violate Russian law and was merely a way for the students to express their views as Russian citizens. According to an FSB spokesman, the Kavkaz-Tsentr website propagates ideas of separatism, international terrorism, and regional and racist hatred.
BEREZOVSKY CONTINUES TO ACCUSE FSB IN ORGANIZATION OF 1999 EXPLOSIONS. Oligarch Boris Berezovsky said in an interview with the Swiss daily "Le temps" on 1 February that he will publish evidence he has repeatedly claimed to possess that allegedly links the FSB to the terrorist explosions in Moscow and Volgodonsk in the fall of 1999. He added that the evidence includes video materials and electronic documents. Berezovsky admitted that in summer 1999 he had contact with Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev, who made it clear that he was preparing an invasion of Daghestan. Berezovsky added that he immediately relayed this information to the FSB, but that the agency failed to react "because it [the war] was in their interests." According to Berezovsky, the FSB just waited for the explosions to signal the beginning of Russian troops' march on Chechnya.
RUSSIAN CUSTOMS INTERCEPTS ILLEGAL NUCLEAR WASTE FROM JAPAN. The Customs Service intercepted an illegal shipment of nuclear waste at a Primorskii Krai port on 30 January, RIA-Novosti reported. The 346-ton shipment originated from Japan and had been declared as aviation motors and spare parts to be sent to a local import-export company. However, during a routine inspection the customs officers detected that the cargo had a radioactivity level that was 150 times higher that normal. After opening the cargo and discovering nuclear waste, they sent the shipment back at the expense of the addressee.
FSB REPORTS IN-FLIGHT SECURITY BREACHES. A spokesman for the FSB said on 5 February that more than 80 in-flight security incidents took place on Russian airliners in the first nine months of last year, RosBalt reported. Speaking at the opening of the "Security on Transport" conference in Moscow, the spokesman also said that 37 unauthorized breaches of security barriers in Russian airports were recorded, as well as numerous attempts to smuggle explosives onboard aircraft.
TRENDS AND IDEASPARLIAMENTARIAN SAYS RUSSIA IS 'ONE STEP' FROM AUTHORITARIANISM. Writing in "Vek," No. 5, Duma deputy Vladimir Lysenko said that the political strength of President Putin is based not on the consolidation of society around him and his policies, but rather on the weariness felt by the Russian people as a result of those policies. Lysenko said that it has become clear that the negative effects of Putin's monopolization of political power have outweighed the positives resulting from liberal economic reforms. Should a dismantling of the political monopoly be made from above and very quickly, Lysenko argued, Putin's regime of "directed democracy will make the step that separated it from authoritarianism."
ORTHODOX PATRIARCH AGAIN INSISTS ON RELIGIOUS STUDIES IN STATE SCHOOLS. The Russian Orthodox Church continues to lobby for the introduction of a course on the "foundations of Russian Orthodox culture" in secondary schools (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2002), "Novaya gazeta" reported on 4 February. According to the daily, Patriarch Aleksii II said in Moscow on 1 February that all Russian "compatriots should know the national culture." However, his comments received a strong rebuttal from Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, who said that "according to the constitution, [no organization], including the Russian Orthodox Church, can assign itself the status of a state religion."
INFORMATION POLICYPUTIN VETOES MASS MEDIA AMENDMENT FAVORING FOREIGN INVESTORS... President Putin rejected on 31 January an amendment to the Law on Mass Media that would have allowed foreigners to retain co-ownership of Russian television companies if they were among the proprietors prior to August 2001, gazeta.ru reported on 31 January. The amendment approved by the State Duma last August does not allow for foreign ownership in Russian television media companies that broadcast to over 50 percent of Russia's territory or reach an audience of over 50 percent of Russia's population. However, the legislation included an exception for foreign investors who had attained ownership before the amendment was approved last August. However, Putin vetoed the exception, saying it would place domestically owned companies at a disadvantage. Gazeta.ru commented on 31 January that through his decision Putin, a lawyer by profession, violated a basic principle of jurisprudence: that a law cannot be enforced retroactively. "Kommersant-daily" added the same day that Putin's veto deprives Russian television companies of the option of attracting both foreign and private domestic investments, leaving them at the mercy of semi-state energy companies when looking for investors.
...AS GOVERNMENT SAYS IT IS HAPPY WITH 'EURONEWS' CHANNEL... Andrei Bystritskii, the deputy head of the All-Russian Television and Radio Company (VGTRK), said that VGTRK will not take part in the tender for TV-6's broadcasting rights, as it is content with its current EuroNews broadcasts, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 31 January. Bystritskii added that EuroNews is a vehicle to promote Russia's future membership in the EU, and the Russia is paying for the right to broadcast EuroNews programs just as EU members are. He refused to name the price Russia pays for those broadcasting rights, but said EuroNews reaches some 25 percent of the domestic television audience.
...AND UNION OF RUSSIAN WRITERS SUPPORTS IDEA OF RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHANNEL. The Union of Russian Writers that unites mostly nationalistic authors published a letter to President Putin that calls on him to embrace the idea of the creation of a Russian Orthodox television channel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2002), Interfax reported on 31 January. In letter signed by Valentin Rasputin, Valise Belov, Vasilii Lanavoi, Iliya Glazunov, and others, the authors call for the formation of channel to be known as Sobor under the aegis of the Russian Orthodox Church. They argued that the state should fund the channel because "most taxpayers are believers and patriots who hate the cynicism and immorality that dominates television today."
STATE DUMA TO DISCUSS BILL ON SHUTTING DOWN MASS MEDIA ENTITIES. The State Duma has included in its agenda an amendment to the Law on Mass Media that would allow for the Media Ministry to close down a mass media outlet in the event that it is found guilty in a slander case filed by a citizen or public entity, Russian news agencies reported on 4 February. The bill was submitted by the Nizhnii Novgorod Duma. Because such suits are a rather routine matter in today's Russia, many analysts feel the amendment if adopted could be used broadly as a tool to silence unwanted media.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENTNEW INDICTMENT AGAINST SIBUR PRESIDENT. A spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 31 January that it has brought a new indictment against Yakov Goldovskii, the president of the petrochemical company Sibur who was arrested in January for "abuse of office and funds" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002), RIA-Novosti reported. The new accusation that Goldovskii engaged in "massive embezzlement and plunder of alien property" is based on claims by Sibur's paternal concern Gazprom that he siphoned off Gazprom funds amounting to some 2.6 billion rubles ($86 million), the spokesman added. However, he failed to say whether the same charges would be levied against Goldovskii's deputy, Nikolai Koshits, who was arrested together with him.
AUDIT CHAMBER SAYS WORLD BANK LOAN LINED POCKETS, PRODUCED PAPER. Speaking to the State Duma on 6 February, Audit Chamber inspector Tamara Zlotnikova said that a probe she led established that a $55 million loan given to Russia by the World Bank in 1995 to be used for the development of environmental controls was pocketed by officials involved in the project, "Vremya MN" and "Izvestiya" reported. She said that in the seven years since the loan was disbursed, the project's participants have produced nothing aside from "several bags of useless papers."