26 March 2002, Volume 3, Number 11
WAR AGAINST TERRORISMU.S. COMMANDER IN MOSCOW HIGHLY SATISFIED WITH RUSSIA'S INPUT... Speaking to journalists in Moscow on 20 March, the commander of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, General Tommy Franks, said after talks with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov, and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu that he is highly satisfied by Russia's contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Franks especially noted Russian humanitarian-aid and intelligence-sharing efforts. Speaking at the same press conference, Ivanov stressed that U.S.-Russian antiterrorism coordination has reached a practical phase, as a group of Russian liaison officers have arrived at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida. Meanwhile, a group of Federal Security Service (FSB) investigators flew on 19 March to the U.S. military base in Guantanamo, Cuba, to interrogate several captured Al-Qaeda prisoners who are thought to be Russian citizens, polit.ru reported on 20 March.
...AS RUSSIA SOFTENS ITS POSITIONS... Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists in London after talks with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on 19 March that the two had discussed the situation in Afghanistan and the Middle East, as well as Russia's evolving relationship with NATO, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Ivanov unexpectedly stated that Russia would not leave the global antiterrorism coalition even in the event of Western military action against Iraq. "Participation in the international campaign against terror and Iraq are two different issues," he said. Russian special envoy to the Middle East Andrei Vdovin, however, was quoted on ORT television on 19 March as saying that "the use of force for resolving the problem of Iraq is unacceptable and any settlement of the Iraqi issue must be reached on the political and diplomatic levels." Equally unexpectedly, Ivanov stated that Moscow would "only welcome any effective military assistance Britain can provide to Georgia to fight terrorist groups on its territory."
...AND CREATES WITH BRITAIN JOINT ANTITERRORISM GROUP. In Moscow on 19 March, the Foreign Ministry announced the formation of a joint Russian-British working group on international terrorism, Interfax reported. The group will be headed by Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov and British Deputy Undersecretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Stephen Wright, and will include diplomats, intelligence officials, and military and law enforcement officers from both countries. It will be modeled on a similar U.S.-Russian task force on Afghanistan headed by Trubnikov and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
RUSSIA AND ISRAEL SIGN AGREEMENT ON COMBATING TERRORISM AND ORGANIZED CRIME... Israeli Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau and Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov on 19 March signed a cooperation agreement between their respective agencies for combating terrorism and organized crime, strana.ru reported. The accord includes closer cooperation in fighting drug trafficking and money laundering, as well as the exchange of intelligence about organized-crime groups, their finances, new types of drugs, and individuals involved in illicit arms trading. The two agencies also agreed to intensify their activities combating illegal emigration and to organize regular professional exchanges.
...AS FOREIGN MINISTER EXPLAINS NEW FOREIGN POLICY PRIORITIES... In an interview with Radio Mayak on 16 March, Igor Ivanov denied Russia is making concessions to the United States and the West in general. In relations with Washington, Ivanov said, Moscow is "making no concessions, but defending its national interests. But defending national interests does not necessarily mean confrontation and refusal to negotiate." Ivanov described the controversial U.S. military presence in Central Asia as a "joint rebuff to international terrorism," adding that "it helps to curtail the threats of religious extremism and drug trafficking jeopardizing security of Russia and its allies." Ivanov also denied that Russia is making concessions to Japan over the disputed Kurile Islands, and added that the issue should not harm Russia's broader relations with Tokyo.
...AND PUTIN SPEAKS OUT ON GLOBAL SECURITY THREATS. Addressing a group of foreign ambassadors assembled at the Kremlin to present their diplomatic credentials on 18 March, President Vladimir Putin said one of the main goals of the antiterrorist coalition must be the elimination of the organizational structure and financial base of international terrorism, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 March. In addition to terrorism, the civilized world should face the challenge of additional threats such as nuclear proliferation, regional conflicts, ecological crises, drug trafficking, and economic inequality, which the president said threatens global security.
FOREIGN POLICYDON'T CLASH WITH THIS BULL. "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 21 March quoted Sergei Markov, the director of the Institute of Political Research who is alleged to have close ties with Putin's Kremlin, as saying that since "the United States is the center of world power and strength, the closer Russia is to it, the stronger Russia is." Markov also said that "we are present at the formation of a new world order shaped by the United States, and for Russia to resist this and to look for an adequate reaction to every move Washington makes is counterproductive." Markov concluded that "if we had not destroyed our own country, we would, of course, speak with America in another language. But now we are a matador and the United States is a bull with which we should not clash."
DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS MOSCOW MAY COMPROMISE ON WEAPONS STORAGE... Sergei Ivanov said in Washington on 17 March that Russia may consent to a new nuclear arms deal allowing the United States to store some decommissioned weapons instead of destroying them, international news agencies reported. Ivanov's comments, broadcast on NBC's "Meet the Press" the same day, suggested a softening of the Kremlin position on the issue. Moscow had previously been insisting that all retired warheads be destroyed. "Part of it may be stored. I don't argue with that principle -- well, out of hand," Ivanov said. "But the devil is in the details: how much, how long, and how quickly it might go back to operational, and, well, jeopardize strategic stability."
...AND SAYS HE IS CONCERNED ABOUT IRAQI NUKES. In the same interview, Defense Minister Ivanov said Russia suspects Iraq may be developing nuclear weapons. "We calculate that there might be a problem in Iraq with weapons of mass destruction," Ivanov said. "That's why we support strongly the idea that a huge team of international monitors should go to Iraq, investigate whatever they wish [and] finally have a clear answer: yes, or no." Ivanov, however, evaded questions about whether Moscow would support the United States if Washington decides to overthrow Saddam Hussein. "The problem is not with Saddam Hussein. The problem is with weapons of mass destruction," Ivanov said.
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT SPEAKS WITH ARAFAT... Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on 15 March and encouraged him to use the Israeli pullout from West Bank areas to spur new peace talks, international news agencies reported. Putin said Israel's withdrawal on 15 March and a UN-sponsored resolution endorsing a Palestinian state "will allow for the further normalization of the Middle East situation," the Kremlin press service said in a statement. Putin added that it is important "to use the developing situation to form conditions for moving toward talks on a political resolution of the Palestinian problem."
...AS MOSCOW WELCOMES SAUDI PEACE INITIATIVE. Russian special envoy to the Middle East Andrei Vdovin said in Jeddah after talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Faisal on 18 March that Moscow has a positive view of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's initiative concerning Arab-world recognition of Israel in exchange for the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Vdovin said the initiative "could give a new impetus to efforts to overcome the Arab-Israeli confrontation," according to Interfax on 19 March.
PUTIN SAYS HE IS THANKFUL TO JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS FOR FOREIGN POLICY SUPPORT. Russian President Putin extended his best wishes for the upcoming Passover holiday to representatives of Jewish organizations during a 19 March reception at the Kremlin, Russian news agencies reported. Putin expressed his gratitude for the " Russian Jewish community support of [his administration] in sensitive foreign policy actions," and the American Jewish community for its efforts to persuade the U.S. Congress to lift the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a Cold War measure that restricted the export of high technology to Russia. Putin said he appreciates the initiative of one U.S. Jewish organization that asked U.S. President George W. Bush to replace "some of [the United States'] traditional oil suppliers with Russia."
DUMA TAKES HARD LINE ON KURILES. Speaking at the parliamentary hearings on the fate of the Kurile Islands on 18 March, State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said that for Russia its territorial integrity is more important than a peace treaty with Japan, Russian news agencies reported. Meanwhile, the Duma's International Relations Committee head, Dmitrii Rogozin, said that the controversy surrounding "the disputed islands is an invention of Japanese diplomacy," and that the economic significance of the Kuriles is so crucial that Russia must "toughly and actively reinforce its sovereignty over the territory." Aleksandr Gurov, the head of the Duma's Security Committee, added that the islands are strategically vital for Russia "especially [considering the] current geopolitical advance of the United States." Eventually, the participants of the hearings adopted recommendations asking Putin's administration to "drop the idea of a peace treaty with Japan as...confrontational, and build bilateral relations on other bases."
SECRET SERVICESSPY'S BOOK SHEDS LIGHT ON KREMLIN'S COLD WAR POLICIES... The Moscow publishing house Olma-press has released a book written by the late Soviet super-spy Pavel Sudoplatov that contains several revelations on the role of the foreign intelligence under former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's regime, "Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie" wrote in a review on 15 March. The former deputy of Stalin's secret police chief Lavrentii Beria requested in his will that the book be released after Sudoplatov's death, which occurred in 1996. In his book, Sudoplatov repeats his claims that J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director for Los Alamos research for the U.S. Manhattan Project, was a member of the U.S. Communist Party's covert network that was completely controlled by Soviet intelligence. Second, he writes that on 22 December 1945, Stalin received in the Kremlin one of the leading figures of the U.S. atomic bomb project, Professor James Bryant Connant, who traveled to Moscow to seek contacts with Soviet nuclear scientists. Sudoplatov writes that during this meeting Stalin ironically offered a toast to "the health of American physicists."
...CLAIMS STALIN SUPPORTED PEARL HARBOR ATTACK, USED DOLLARS TO REBUILD USSR. In addition, the book claims that a week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Stalin secretly conveyed to the Japanese imperial government a message that Moscow "fully supports Tokyo's plans to defeat Anglo-American imperialism in the Pacific." Furthermore, Sudoplatov writes that with the help of excellent intelligence contacts inside the U.S. government, his organization obtained equipment from the U.S. Treasury in 1945-48 that provided the USSR with the means to print much-needed dollars for restoring its own as well as satellite economies ruined by the war.
RUSSIAN SUPREME COURT REJECTS SUTYAGIN APPEAL. The Russian Supreme Court on 20 March rejected an appeal by researcher Igor Sutyagin that espionage charges pending against him be dropped, Western and Russian news agencies reported the same day. The court refused to overturn a lower-court ruling made in December authorizing prosecutors to hold Sutyagin indefinitely while they build their case against him. "We feel like we're trapped, with no way out," defense lawyer Anna Stavitskaya said after the ruling, according to AP. "We have filed a lot of complaints and made arguments, not arguments pulled out of the sky but based in law, but no one is responding to us on that level." Sutyagin, a scholar at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada, was arrested in October 1999 on charges of passing secret information on Russia's combat readiness to the United States. He maintains that all his reports were based on publicly available information. His attorney, Boris Kuznetsov, said he will file a protest to the chairman of the Supreme Court and that Sutyagin also intends to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
MILITARYRUSSIA PREPARES TO BUILD UP ITS OWN ANTIMISSILE SYSTEM... Within the next few years, Russia will completely restore its national early warning system for preventing missile attacks, "Izvestiya" reported on 18 March. Speaking the same day at the collegium of the Russian Agency for Guidance Systems (RASU), agency director Vladimir Simonov said Russia has already finished assembling the Volga radar station near Baranavichy in Belarus, modernized the central control station of the Space Troops at Serpukhov-15, and successfully tested its S-400 air-defense missile system. Simonov also said that his agency's budget was increased last year by 25 percent. "Izvestiya" commented that the measures show that Russia is about to deploy its own antimissile defense system to counter that planned by the United States.
...AS DEFENSE COMMITTEE HEAD WANTS TO LIVE BY THE SWORD. "The United States is deploying its national antimissile defense to dictate its will to the world, and Russia should look for adequate measures" to counter it, Duma Defense Committee head General Andrei Nikolaev said on 18 March, RIA-Novosti reported. "One such measure must be to increase the threat from our side, which means that if the U.S. is building up its nuclear shield, we should build up our nuclear sword," Nikolaev said. Nikolaev proposed that a council composed of Russia's top strategic weapons designers be created and serve as a consulting organ to the Russian government on military-technical issues.
RUSSIAN DEFENSE CONTRACTOR HOPES TO SELL MISSILES TO BOEING. Gennadii Sokolovskii, general director of state-owned defense contractor Vympel which produces air-to-air missiles, has announced that Russia's federal committee for military-technical cooperation with foreign countries is reviewing a purchase request from Boeing, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 March. The daily commented that if the U.S. aerospace giant were to place an order it would signify a significant step forward for joint military production cooperation, as U.S. defense contractors have traditionally only been interested in obtaining samples of Russian military hardware to gain technical know-how.
PUTIN WANTS TO EXPORT ARMS TO MALAYSIA. Russia is prepared to export weapons and military hardware to Malaysia, President Putin said on 14 March, Interfax reported. In addition, Russia plans to build a corresponding research and production base in that country, the president said following his talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad at the Kremlin the same day. Putin also said that Russian-Malaysian military cooperation is developing "rather well," and noted "the high quality of Russian armaments, including aircraft."
RUSSIAN DEFENSE CONTRACTORS CLASH OVER CHINESE CONTACTS. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has ordered a switch in the main contractor supplying 40 Su-3 fighter aircraft to China under the terms of a $1.5 billion deal, "Vedomosti" reported on 19 March. Kasyanov's directive orders that the entire contract go to the Sukhoi aircraft company, taking it away from the Komsomolsk-na-Amure aircraft manufacturing plant in Khabarovsk Krai. Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev was quoted as saying that he would appeal to President Putin to reverse Kasyanov's order because the lost jobs would be extremely disruptive to his region. The row is the second case of clashes between defense contractors over Chinese arms purchases. Last week, the government awarded a $1.5 billion contract to build two destroyers for the Chinese navy to St. Petersburg's Severnaya Verf, taking the order away from cross-town rival Batiiskii Zavod, "Kommersant Daily" reported 19 March.
WAVE OF BANKRUPTCIES PREDICTED FOR SIBERIA'S DEFENSE SECTOR. First deputy presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district Igor Prostyakov told reporters in Novosibirsk on 12 March that not one of 33 defense enterprises in Novosibirsk Oblast has received a single kopek in payment from the government for defense orders during January and February of this year, Interfax-Eurasia reported. He is not excluding the possibility that a number of defense enterprises in the Siberian district will have to initiate bankruptcy proceedings.
MILITARY PAY RAISE COULD SABOTAGE RUSSIAN BUDGET. Speaking at a meeting of the government on 18 March, President Putin called on Mikhail Kasyanov's cabinet to implement the military personnel salary increase approved by the State Duma on 14 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin said that under the new concept the state will halt the practice of offering financial privileges to soldiers, and instead introduce an across-the-board 50 to 100 percent pay raise beginning on 1 July 2002. The new military payment system will be equal to that of the civil service, and most social benefits such as free transportation and medical care will be retained, explained Putin. Polit.ru commented on 18 March that the Finance Ministry is unsure of how the president's wish can be fulfilled, because such measures would require a state budget increase of at least 10 percent.
RUSSIAN ARMY BEGINS MILITARY EXERCISE IN KURILES. Colonel Vasilii Afanasiev, spokesman for the commander of the Far Eastern Military District, Colonel General Yurii Yakubov, announced that troops in the region have begun a large-scale training exercise on the Kurile and Sakhalin islands, lenta.ru reported on 19 March. The purpose of the exercise is to improve mobilization coordination between the army, the Pacific Fleet, the Federal Border Guard Service, and Interior Ministry troops stationed in the region, Afanasiev explained.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENTFORMER KREMLIN PROPERTY CHIEF REJECTS FINE. Pavel Borodin will refuse to pay a 300,000 Swiss franc ($177,000) fine imposed by a Geneva prosecutor, claiming he is innocent of any wrongdoing, AP reported 15 March. Prosecutor Bernard Bertossa fined Borodin earlier this month for laundering $30 million in alleged kickbacks from Swiss firms (see "RFE/RL Security and Terrorism Watch," 8 March 2002). "Borodin won't pay the fine, because he doesn't think he has committed any crime either at home or abroad," Borodin's lawyer Yeleonora Sergeyeva told AP. She also said Borodin won't appeal Bertossa's action because he believes he is out of Swiss officials' jurisdiction. "We don't recognize any decisions by the Swiss prosecutor," Sergeyeva said.
POLITICAL ECONOMYRUSSIAN STATE DUMA CONFIRMS IGNATIEV AS CENTRAL BANK CHAIRMAN... The Duma on 20 March confirmed Sergei Ignatiev as the new chairman of the Russian Central Bank by a vote of 290-40, Western and Russian news agencies reported. The 54-year-old Ignatiev, who formerly served as first deputy finance minister, replaces Viktor Gerashchenko, who resigned suddenly on 15 March. Ignatiev was a deputy Central Bank head in the early 1990s and held several senior government economic policy posts. A St. Petersburg native and a member of Russia's first post-Soviet government led by Yegor Gaidar, Ignatiev is a monetarist and a close ally of Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and Unified Energy Systems CEO Anatolii Chubais, polit.ru reported on 16 March. Ignatiev is also closely allied with Andrei Illarionov, who believes the ruble is overvalued, and should be at 35 rubles to the dollar.
...AFTER OUTLINING FINANCIAL-SECTOR REFORMS. Prior to his confirmation, Ignatiev told journalists after consultations with the leaders of several Duma factions on 19 March that he has sketched out for lawmakers his program of financial-sector reforms, RIA-Novosti and Prime-TASS reported. Ignatiev's proposal includes the gradual deregulation of currency controls, the revitalization of the banking system, the adoption of accepted international accounting and auditing standards, and a state-guaranteed deposit-insurance system.
RUSSIAN OIL-EXPORT CUTS TO STAY FOR NOW. Following a meeting in Moscow with Russian oil majors on 20 March, Prime Minister Kasyanov stated that oil-export cuts implemented in January will be maintained in the second quarter of the year, Interfax reported. However, he emphasized that the government will continue to monitor the markets and may change its policy. "After a certain time, if we see that the oil market is stabilizing and oil prices are tending to rise, the Russian government and the oil companies will look again at the question of maintaining the export cuts" in the second half of the year, Kasyanov said, according to RBK. In London, oil prices fell below $25 per barrel on news of Russia's lukewarm commitment to the cuts. Russia, the world's second-leading oil producer, agreed to cut exports by 150,000 barrels per day in January in order to help the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Companies (OPEC) prop up world oil prices.
RUSSIA WILL HONOR IRANIAN NUKE PLANT CONTRACT. Russian Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev said on 14 March that Russia will meet its commitments to help Iran build a nuclear power plant despite objections from Washington, ITAR-TASS reported. According to a contract between Tehran and Moscow, the first reactor in the southern Iranian town of Bushehr will go on line in 2004. "There are no disagreements with Iran over project implementation," he said, adding, "all works are proceeding according to schedule." Rumyantsev said Russia and Iran may continue to cooperate in nuclear power generation in the future. The United State is opposed to the plan, through which it believes Iran may acquire technologies with military capabilities. Rumyantsev called Washington's apprehensions on the matter unfounded.
RUSSIA TO BEGIN NEXT ROUND OF WTO TALKS... Russia will continue negotiations to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 17 March, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 March, citing Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Maksim Medvedev. Prime Minister Kasyanov said the same day that Russia should only join the WTO on favorable terms. Pointing out that Russia has been running a trade surplus over many years, Kasyanov said there is a need to balance advantages and concessions in the negotiations on Russia's entry. He added that certain Russian industries, like civil aviation and agriculture, need to be protected. "It is hard to imagine Russia not having its own civil aircraft," Kasyanov said.
...AS IT PREPARES ANTIDUMPING LEGISLATION. The Russian government finalized the draft of a bill on antidumping measures on 14 March, Russian news services reported. Russian officials said the new legislation, yet to be submitted to parliament, is in line with WTO standards and would replace an existing law adopted in 1996. The draft law institutes mechanisms for protecting the Russian market by allowing industries to appeal to the Economic Development and Trade Ministry. After an investigation, the ministry would decide if protectionist measures are needed.
RUSSIA SEEKS FOOD SECURITY. The Russian government intends to draft a "food security doctrine" that will lead to self-sufficiency by 2010, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 13 March. The doctrine will outline plans to double agricultural production, allowing Russia to become a net exporter of grain, according to participants at a conference on food security that opened in Moscow on 12 March. The ban on U.S. poultry imports, which make up 70 percent of that market in Russia, has sparked debate over the country's agricultural self-sufficiency. The Agriculture Ministry will draft the plan and present it to the government in the near future, "Izvestiya" reported on 13 March.
INFORMATION POLICYSTILL MORE PRESSURE ON 'NOVAYA GAZETA.' "Novaya gazeta" Editor in Chief Dmitrii Muratov reported that the publication has recently lost two lawsuits, the combined judgments for which total $1.5 million, Interfax reported. Muratov said: "I think there is not one newspaper in the country that could pay such a sum. It is intended not as a punishment but as [an order] to destroy." Muratov noted that in one of the cases lost by the newspaper, the author of the article in question was Sergei Zolovkin, who recently survived an assassination attempt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2002). Last month, other journalists with the weekly who ran into trouble were State Duma deputy (Yabloko) and investigative journalist Yurii Shchekochikin, and North Caucasus specialist Anna Politkovskaya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 February 2002).
EX-NEWSPAPER EDITOR OPENS ENERGY POLICY WEBSITE. Vitalii Tretyakov, the former editor of "Nezavisimaya gazeta," launched a new website called "World Energy Policy" (http://www.wep.ru) that will analyze global energy policy. The first issue features articles by OPEC Secretary-General Ali Rodriguez, Russian Energy Minister Yusufov, and LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov. The inaugural issue also features an analysis of Russian-Chinese cooperation in the energy sphere.
NTV CHIEF WON'T SHOW BEREZOVSKY FILM. Boris Jordan, director of Russia's NTV television, said he will not show a film suggesting that the FSB may have been behind a series of apartment building bombings in the fall of 1999, Ekho Moskvy reported on 16 March. "We are afraid of judicial liability," Jordan said. "Our lawyers advised us not to put it on the air." The film, made by French journalists and financed by Berezovsky, suggests the FSB was responsible for terrorist explosions in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk that the Kremlin blamed on Chechen fighters (see "RFE/RL Security and Terrorism Watch," 8 and 15 March 2002).
RUSSIAN MEDIA MINISTRY DECIDES TO SUPPORT 'MILITARY-PATRIOTIC' MASS MEDIA. Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii announced on 20 March that his agency is currently spending 560 million rubles ($16 million) to support more than 200 "military-patriotic" media projects involving 27 mass media outlets in 19 Russian regions. The purpose of the program is to "stimulate the interest of the mass media in military-patriotic education," RIA-Novosti quoted Seslavinskii as saying. Despite these efforts, Seslavinskii noted, there has been no radical change in public opinion toward the military, and his ministry is working with the Defense Ministry to develop additional programs to encourage "military-patriotic publications." The Media Ministry is also seeking to restore the Soviet-era institution of staff military correspondents in the central mass media, Seslavinskii told the news agency.
TRENDS AND IDEASPUTIN ASKS LEFTIST ECONOMISTS TO DRAFT LEGISLATION ON NATURAL RESOURCES. On 20 March, "Novye izvestiya" reported that during a recent meeting with Communist Party of the Russian Federation head Gennadii Zyuganov and several noted left-leaning economists, President Putin said that he shares their view that revenues from the export of natural resources must be diverted away from the oligarchs and directed into the national budget. During the 15 March meeting, Putin also told the head of the Duma Committee on Economic Policy and Entrepreneurship, Sergei Glaziev; the head of the Duma Industry Committee, Yurii Maslyukov; and academicians Nikolai Petrakov and Dmitrii Lvov that he wants them to prepare a package of legislative initiatives that would "enable him to solve this problem." On behalf of those present, Glaziev handed Putin the "alternative socioeconomic program" of the leftist opposition, including proposals for massive increases of the debit side of the state budget and of foreign investment, as well as a strategy for Russia's accession to the WTO, regions.ru reported on 16 March.
BEREZOVSKY SEEKS POLITICAL ASYLUM IN BRITAIN. Embattled magnate Boris Berezovsky told "Moskovskie novosti," No. 12, that he has applied for political asylum in Great Britain because the Russian prosecutor-general has prevented his return to Russia by issuing an international warrant against him. "The fate of my business, as well as that of all Russian business [has become] the exclusive prerogative of the Russian president, and he will not stop until he has gained complete control not only over politics and information, but over the economy as well," Berezovsky said, noting that 60 percent of his business interests lie within Russia.
DEMOGRAPHIC CRISIS CONTINUES. Health Minister Yurii Shevchenko, speaking before a ministry collegium attended by more than 1,000 doctors and pharmacists in Moscow on 20 March, said that Russia's death rate exceeds the birth rate by 70 percent and that this is one of the most acute problems facing the country. Shevchenko stated that the average life span has fallen to 65 years from a peak of 70 years in 1980, ITAR-TASS reported. The minister also reported some encouraging trends such as that the number of perinatal deaths has been reduced by more than 10 percent over the last two years, and the incidence of infant deaths fell from 15.3 per 1,000 newborns in 2000 to 14.7 in 2001. Shevchenko also said the incidence of whooping cough and measles has been reduced, and progress is being made in combating the spread of tuberculosis, syphilis, and hepatitis-B.