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Security Watch: March 15, 2002

15 March 2002, Volume 3, Number 10
RUSSIA DOWNPLAYS STEEL-POULTRY TRADE WAR... Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 9 March that Russia's decision to ban imports of U.S. poultry products is a "temporary measure" that is not directly connected to Washington's decision to introduce tariffs on steel imports to the U.S. over the next three years (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 4, 6, and 8 March 2002), ORT reported. Agriculture and trade experts from each country were to discuss the situation at the Agriculture Ministry in Moscow on 11 March. Health Minister Yurii Shevchenko explained that the Russian measure that came into effect on 1 March was initiated over concerns that "American meat has too high a content of fat and hormones," Ekho Moskvy reported on 9 March. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, Dmitrii Rogozin, said Russian citizens should be "warned about the dangers of consuming U.S. meat." Poultry is a top American export to Russia. VY

...AS CHUBAIS BELIEVES U.S. STANDS TO LOSE MORE. "This [U.S.] decision is shallow, not well thought out, and creates only an illusion of solving a problem but, in reality, only creates new problems," prominent Union of Rightist Forces member Anatolii Chubais said at a German-Russian economic forum in Berlin on 10 March. "I do not know whether the ban on U.S. poultry imports is Russia's retaliation to the U.S. restriction on Russian steel exports, but it is clear that drumsticks are having a much more tangible effect than steel," he added. He indicated that as far as retaliatory measures are concerned, Russia's options are not exhausted. VY

EURASIA LEADER CIRCLES THE WAGONS AGAINST 'ILL INTENTIONS OF THE WEST.' In an online question-and-answer session on the website on 7 March, Aleksandr Dugin, the leader of the Eurasia political movement, said he believes the West has evil intentions toward Russia and that the country should mobilize to resist it. "All direct [anti-Western] strategies including [attempts] to restore [the old regime] and opposition [to reforms] have failed tragically and must find another form of resistance," Dugin wrote. He reiterated his previous statements that Eurasianists support President Putin's foreign policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002), but added that Putin is "hostage to the unfavorable external and internal correlation of forces, and therefore his policy...cannot be successful." VY

RUSSIA DOESN'T WANT TO CHANGE FORMAT OF KURILE ISLANDS TALKS WITH JAPAN. Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov said on 7 March that Moscow rejects any new approach in tackling the issue of the disputed Kurile Islands, including the proposed idea to first solve the fate of just two of the islands and then the rest, Interfax reported. "We are trying to understand what Tokyo wants, to solve the problem in essence or introduce a new format for discussion," he said. "Russia wants to debate the fate of all the islands at once and believes that a new format for the talks will not overcome the differences in positions of the two sides," the Russian diplomat added. VY

STATE DUMA ADOPTS RESOLUTION ON SITUATION IN GEORGIA. The Duma adopted on 6 March by a vote of 364 to three a nonbinding resolution on the U.S. military's presence in Georgia, saying that the presence of U.S. troops "may complicate the already difficult situation in the region," NTV reported. The resolution expressed hope that U.S. military aid to Tbilisi "does not lead the Georgian leadership into seeking a military solution to armed conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia." Meanwhile, Duma International Relations Committee head Dmitrii Rogozin said he dropped his proposal to recognize the sovereignty of Abkhazia after President Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said they do not object to the presence of U.S. troops in Georgia. VY

RUSSIA, EU PUBLICLY CLASH OVER KALININGRAD'S FUTURE STATUS... Speaking at a 6 March meeting in Kaliningrad of prime ministers of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, Russian Premier Mikhail Kasyanov said Russia hopes that, in the event Poland and Lithuania join the EU, Kaliningrad Oblast can become a bridge between Russia and Europe, Russian news agencies reported. "One should not turn Kaliningrad into a European 'dead-end zone,'" Kasyanov told the assembled premiers. Russia is seeking EU conditions that would allow for the free movement of labor and goods from the Russian exclave into the EU, and wants the union to provide non-visa status for Kaliningrad residents. However, European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Chris Patten said at the meeting that the EU "cannot override its basic rules, including the so-called 'Schengen' regulations imposing strict border controls on nonmembers of the EU." VY

...AS RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER TAKES HARD LINE ON MILITARY SECURITY IN THE REGION. Addressing the same meeting, Foreign Minister Ivanov said Russia is against extending the council's prerogatives into the sphere of military security, and has no plans to reduce the Russian military presence in Kaliningrad, Interfax reported. "We will always keep as many troops as we need here for our own security," he said. Ivanov added that he hopes any EU expansion will not "violate the civil rights of Kaliningrad inhabitants. It is unacceptable if a good thing for one group of states becomes a source of trouble for another." VY

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SLAMS CHECHEN CONTACT WITH WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL PROSECUTOR. A meeting between the Hague war crimes court's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's envoy Akhmed Zakaev, was "incompatible with [Del Ponte's] status and mandate," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Yakovenko said in Moscow on 11 March, Russian agencies reported. "This meeting between a prosecutor for tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, set up by the UN Security Council, with an envoy of Maskhadov, is for us bewildering to say the least," Reuters quoted Yakovenko as saying. Following their meeting on 7 March, Zakaev called for the creation of a tribunal to prosecute Russian soldiers for alleged atrocities in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002 and 11 March 2002). LF/BW

U.S. PRESIDENT AMBIGUOUS ON POSSIBLE ANTITERROR STRIKE IN GEORGIA... In his 11 March address in New York, U.S. President George W. Bush vowed that while the international antiterrorism coalition will expand its operations to hit at terrorists outside Afghanistan, the U.S. military will not necessarily participate directly in all such combat operations, Reuters reported. "We will not send American troops to every battle, but America will actively prepare other nations for the battles ahead," Bush said. In Georgia, he said, "terrorists working closely with Al-Qaeda operate in the Pankisi Gorge near the Russian border," and Washington is planning to send up to 150 military trainers to prepare Georgian troops to re-establish control. In an interview with the independent TV station Rustavi-2 on 7 March, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze had said a joint Georgian-U.S. military operation in Pankisi remains an option. Parliament Defense and Security Committee Chairman Giorgi Baramidze similarly said on 12 March that the U.S. instructors should be prepared to participate in an operation in Pankisi "in the event of a provocation," Caucasus Press reported. LF

...AS U.S. SPOKESMAN FAILS TO CONFIRM GEORGIAN ALLEGATIONS OF ABKHAZ, AL-QAEDA NEXUS. The Caucasus Press on 12 March quoted U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Boucher as saying that Washington has no evidence to substantiate claims by Georgian officials, including Baramidze and State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania, that Al-Qaeda guerrillas are in Abkhazia. Abkhaz government-in-exile Chairman Tamaz Nadareishvili claimed in an interview published in "Alia" on 12 March to have lists of names of 120 Al-Qaeda guerrillas who underwent terrorism training in Abkhazia as did, he claimed, Osama bin Laden. Nadareishvili also claimed that 20 Al-Qaeda guerrillas are currently in the village of Avadkhara and another 40 in the village of Tsimuri, Caucasus Press reported on 11 March. LF

BEREZOVSKY'S WITNESS PROVIDES MORE DETAILS ON FSB INVOLVEMENT. Nikita Chekulin, the Russian government's former expert on explosives, said on 7 March that -- as a former secret informer of the Federal Security Service (FSB) -- he initially did not believe embattled oligarch Boris Berezovsky's claims that the FSB was involved in terrorist explosions in Russia in the fall of 1999, "Gazeta" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 6 March 2002). However, during his work in 2000 in the government's center for experimenting with explosives, Chekulin changed his mind because he ascertained the facts and saw documents that, he says, confirmed Berezovsky's accusations. VY

CUSTOMS OFFICERS SEIZE COPIES OF BEREZOVSKY'S EXPOSE. State Duma deputy (independent) Yulii Rybakov, said on 9 March that upon his arrival from Moscow to St Petersburg's Pulkovo airport, the 100 copies of "Assault on Russia" that he had with him were confiscated, RosBalt reported. The film was made by embattled oligarch Boris Berezovsky to prove the Federal Security Service's (FSB) role in four apartment building bombings in Russia in the fall of 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 7, and 8 March 2002). Rybakov said that his luggage was searched despite his parliamentary immunity. A St. Petersburg customs official said the tapes were seized because Rybakov was illegally bringing in video material in commercial quantities. Meanwhile, former Justice Minister and the Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Pavel Krasheninnikov told Ekho Moskvy on 10 March that Duma deputies Rybakov and Sergei Yushenkov could be charged with slander if it is proved that the film they imported to Russia is even partially found to contain false information. VY

ANTI-AMERICAN SENTIMENT ON THE RISE IN RUSSIA. According to a poll conducted by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) on 2 March among 1,500 respondents in 44 regions of Russia, only 17 percent see the United States as a "friendly state" and 71 percent hold the opposite opinion, RBK and RosBalt reported on 8 March. VTsIOM explained the sharp increase over the agency's last poll on the same topic, in which 44 percent of respondents considered the U.S. not to be a friendly state, to primarily be the result of Russia's failures in the Winter Olympic Games. The poll also revealed that most Russians remain suspicious of NATO -- 56 percent believe Russia has reason to fear NATO countries, while 30 percent do not. At the same time, 58 percent of Russians believe NATO members have grounds to feel threatened by Russia. Only 7 percent are willing to take the U.S. side in conflicts with Iraq, Iran, or Syria, while 20 percent think Russia should side with those countries. However, the majority believed that Moscow should distance itself from such conflicts and take advantage of any confrontations that develop. VY

PUTIN CALLED ON TO RESTORE DEATH PENALTY. A group has sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin urging him to declare war on the "internal terrorism/criminal world," "Sovetskaya Rossiya" reported on 7 March. The group of Russian educators and public figures stressed that crime in the country has reached such a level that it threatens Russia's existence. "As corruption flourishes and national wealth is plundered, the legal system [remains] inefficient, law enforcement is not protecting citizens, and the authorities are inactive," the letter said. Meanwhile, "the criminal world is striving for power and often getting it." The authors of the letter concluded by asking Putin to lift a moratorium on the death penalty "for the most serious crimes against the state and individuals." VY

RUSSIA MIGHT KEEP WARHEADS. A top Russian military official said Moscow will consider retaining its arsenal of multiple, independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) if strategic arms reduction talks with the U.S. fail. Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii, the first deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, made the comments to reporters in Moscow on 5 March, saying if Moscow fails to reach an agreement with Washington to reduce the number of strategic offensive weapons, Moscow would keep the MIRVs in its arsenal. Baluevskii also said Moscow will insist that all nuclear warheads dismantled as a result of the pending agreement be destroyed, "Krasnaya zvezda" reported the same day. Washington has suggested that the warheads be stored rather than destroyed. Baluevskii also expressed doubts that the U.S. would be able to develop and deploy a National Missile Defense in the near future. VY

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER HOPES WAGE HIKE WILL IMPROVE TROOP MORALE. Sergei Ivanov said on 7 March that the "general situation in the Russian army is quite difficult, primarily because of the loss of its prestige," "Izvestiya" and NTV reported. Ivanov also said that more than 5,000 soldiers desert from the Russian armed forces annually, which he said is the result of the "weak work of senior commanding officers." He said he has strictly reprimanded Georgii Shpak, the commander of the Airborne Troops, regarding the recent incident in which two deserters from his units killed 10 policemen and civilians (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 6 February 2002.) Ivanov also said he hopes to see an increase in troop morale following President Putin's decree to raise military salaries to the level of those adopted by the federal civil service. VY

IS A GRACHEV COMEBACK IMMINENT? Former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, who in recent years has served as an adviser to the management of Rosoboroneksport and its predecessor Rosvooruzhenie (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 1998), has been named chairman of a General Staff commission charged with inspecting the 106th Tula Airborne Division, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 March. The paper predicted that Grachev may be in line for the post of head of the Main Inspectorate of the Armed Forces, which is to be re-established.LF

NATO'S 'STRONG RESOLVE' 2002 EXERCISES CONTINUE IN POLAND. Over 200 Swedish troops practiced a landing operation at the military port of Hel as part of NATO's Strong Resolve 2002 exercise on 10 March, PAP reported. Swedish troops accompanied by the Romanian army's special forces arrived at the Hel port in 19 barges. The operation was supported by a helicopter and a destroyer, and involved a total of 170 soldiers and 50 officers. The previous day, the commander-in-chief of Poland's armed forces, President Aleksander Kwasniewski, watched the maneuvers in Drawsko Pomorskie and Gdynia and met with Polish, Danish, Swedish, and British troops taking part in the exercise. "Strong Resolve 2002 is not only the biggest NATO exercise in Poland but also the biggest exercise in NATO's history. It shows that Poland is well prepared and that we want to be completely integrated with the North Atlantic alliance. This also is a chance to create something new in personal contacts between soldiers, officers or generals," the president said. Meanwhile Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said on 8 March that Russia should not be concerned over the NATO's exercise in Poland. He noted that the aim of the exercise was to practice peace operations. RK

RUSSIAN BALTIC FLEET COMMANDER VOICES CONCERN OVER NATO EXERCISES. The commander of the Russian Baltic Fleet, Admiral Vladimir Valuyev, has expressed concern about NATO's "Strong Resolve 2002" strategic exercises on the territories of Poland and Norway, close to the Russian border, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 March. "It is a source of wonder that the most extensive NATO exercises to be carried out on the Russian border in the last decade should practice missions of an exclusively offensive nature," the admiral stated. He said that the Baltic Fleet's command was ready to engage in broad cooperation with the fleets of countries bordering the Baltic Sea to solve specific problems relating to maritime security, ecological issues connected with the possible depressurization of chemical weapons sunk after the end of World War II, and the provision of assistance in emergencies. Valuyev repeated that, following an initiative of the Russian navy's commander-in-chief, Vladimir Kuroedov, there had been plans to discuss the most pressing issues at a conference of Baltic Sea naval commanders. However, he stressed that the decision about the organization of the conference had been "drowned in a sea of diplomatic negotiations," and instead "strategic military exercises in the context of fanciful conflicts" were being played out on the border with Kaliningrad Region. It is Valuyev's opinion that the states bordering the Baltic Sea, the most stable region on the planet, "should themselves identify the priorities of military-political cooperation which will serve the good of all their peoples." He added that the "groups of armed forces present in the Kaliningrad region are deployed for purely defensive purposes, a fact which has been confirmed on more than one occasion by international military inspections." At the same time, Valuyev noted, the numbers of the troops and the forces of the Baltic Fleet are continually being reduced, and this year, in accordance with a decision of Russia's supreme military and political leadership, they will be cut further by 8,300 men. RK

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON NATO ENLARGEMENT. Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, who is on a visit to the U.S. from 9-13 March, had dinner at the Bulgarian embassy in Washington on 10 March with the ambassadors of Greece, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Italy, and Spain, the BTA press agency reported on 11 March. The dinner was also attended by former President Peter Stoyanov, who is lecturing in the U.S. for three months at the invitation of the German Marshall Fund. The dinner, organized in honor of Pasi's visit to the US, was also attended by representatives of the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate, the Marshall Fund, the American Jewish Committee, and of B'nai B'rith. The situation is quite favorable for enlarging the alliance by seven more countries, Stoyanov said. According to him, enlargement by the formula "7+2" is also possible. Stoyanov declined to comment on domestic policies in Bulgaria. "All I can say is that any political disturbances would affect the attitude to Bulgaria and it would be better if nothing unpredictable happens in the run-up to the NATO summit in Prague," the former president said. RK