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Security Watch: April 23, 2002

23 April 2002, Volume 3, Number 14
RUSSIA AND NATO COME CLOSER TO NEW FORMAT OF RELATIONS... Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said after meeting with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson in Brussels on 15 April that the creation of documents for establishing a new NATO-Russia Council, or "NATO at 20," is nearing completion, Western and Russian new agencies reported the same day. The new agreement is expected to be discussed at NATO's Foreign Ministers Meeting in Reykjavik on 14-15 May. "The new mechanism provides for Russia's participation in the development, approval, and implementation of decisions," ITAR-TASS reported Ivanov as saying.

...AS NATO-RUSSIA ACCORD EXPECTED TO BE SIGNED IN MAY IN ITALY... Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced on 16 April in Rome that the new agreement for cooperation between NATO and Russia will be signed on 28 May during a NATO summit meeting in Rome, dpa reported. Originally the agreement was to be signed at a NATO summit meeting in Reykjavik in the fall. Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov said upon his return to Moscow from two days of talks in Belgium and Luxembourg with NATO and EU officials that, according to ongoing negotiations on the new NATO-Russia Council, Russia would gain an equal voice in NATO on such issues as combating international terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 April.

...WITH NO RIGHT OF VETO FOR KREMLIN... Under the new agreement, Russia is not expected to be allowed veto rights and NATO decisions will continue to be made by the North Atlantic Council, in which Russia would not be offered membership. The new NATO-Russia Council would replace the Permanent Joint Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February and 16 April 2002). At the same time, Foreign Minister Ivanov stressed that the Russian position regarding NATO expansion "remains immutable."

...AND DEFENSE MINISTRY WILL OPEN NATO MISSION IN MOSCOW. The Defense Ministry Main Directorate for International Military Cooperation announced that it has agreed with NATO headquarters in Brussels to open a permanent office of the alliance in Moscow. NATO Secretary-General Robertson will visit Moscow at the end of May to open the office officially.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS FULL COMPLIANCE WITH UN SANCTIONS ON AL-QAEDA. Vladimir Putin has ordered all Russian institutions to abide in full with a January UN Security Council resolution requesting sanctions on Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda terrorist network, the Kremlin announced on 17 April, AP reported. The resolution asked that governments freeze Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda financial holdings in their countries and ban arms sales to the terrorist network. In addition, the resolution called for travel by bin Laden and members of Al-Qaeda to those countries to be banned. According to Putin's decree, Russian government agencies were also ordered to monitor Russian compliance with the sanctions.

RUSSIAN JEWISH CONGRESS WANTS TO DEMONSTRATE SOLIDARITY WITH ISRAEL. The Russian Jewish Congress (REK) released a statement to the media on 15 April in which it said it is organizing mass demonstrations to be held nationwide by Russian Jews to show their support for Israel in the current crisis in the Middle East and to protest anti-Semitism and xenophobia, reported on 15 April. The statement said, "A wave of anti-Semitic actions has rolled across Western Europe and many other countries, has reached the border of CIS countries, and is approaching the territory of Russia." It added that recent attacks, including one on a synagogue in Kyiv (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2002), as well as others in Belgium, France, Germany, and Tunisia, "show the consolidation of terrorist organizations with European neo-Nazis."

RUSSIA AND CZECH REPUBLIC AGREE ON SOVIET-DEBT SETTLEMENT... Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said after his talks with Czech counterpart Milos Zeman that the "issue of Russian indebtedness to Prague is settled," and that Russia will pay that debt through military hardware supplies worth some $400 million and with nuclear fuel for Czech nuclear power plants, Russian news agencies reported. Kasyanov said that three accords were signed by which Russia is to supply three An-70 military transport aircraft and seven Mi-35 combat helicopters to the Czech army, CTK reported on 17 April. Russia has also offered to pay some of its debt by launching the Czech satellite "Mimosa," according to CTK on 16 April. Before the agreement, the Russian debt to the Czech Republic stood at some $1.1 billion, which had recently been cut from $3.6 billion (also see Czech Republic item in "Central and Eastern Europe").

...AS RUSSIAN PRESIDENT SUPPORTS PRAGUE ON BENES-DECREES ISSUE... During President Putin's reception of Czech Premier Milos Zeman at the Kremlin on 17 April, the Russian president supported the Czech Republic's stance on the controversial Benes Decrees that expelled Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia following World War II, CTK and ITAR-TASS reported. Russian presidential foreign-policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko quoted Putin as saying that "attempts by some forces to reverse the results of World War II and to question the laws issued in this respect are ungrounded and have nothing in common with reality." Prikhodko also said that in the course of the meeting, President Putin extended an invitation to Czech President Vaclav Havel to visit Russia, which he asked Zeman to pass on to the Czech president.

...AS PRIMAKOV PRAISES MOSCOW-PRAGUE TRADE ACCORDS... Meanwhile, Yevgenii Primakov, the president of Russia's Chamber of Trade and Industry, said in Moscow on 17 April that Zeman's visit resulted in the signing of 24 bilateral agreements in trade, banking, culture, and military spheres, RIA-Novosti reported. "It was a real breakthrough in relations between the two countries," Primakov said.

PUTIN TELLS CROATIAN PRESIDENT THAT RUSSIA HAS A ROLE IN THE BALKANS. Speaking in Moscow on 16 April, Russian President Putin told his visiting Croatian counterpart Stipe Mesic that " previous years, Russia is ready to act as a go-between in negotiations and a guarantor of stability in the Balkans," ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 July 2001). He added that Russia will continue to promote regional stability "together with its partners in Europe and North America." For his part, Mesic said that Croatia "appreciates the role that Russia plays within the international community to promote stability in Southeastern Europe," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He invited Putin to visit Croatia, and the invitation was accepted, "Jutarnji list" reported. Mesic has meanwhile gone on to St. Petersburg.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES THE NATION, URGES MORE REFORMS. In his annual state-of-the-nation address to the Federal Assembly broadcast live on Russian television on 18 April, President Putin said the country requires radical restructuring of the executive power structure, as well as of relations between the federal government and the regions, Russian news agencies reported. Putin repeated his criticism of the government for "lack of ambitious goals," and said that despite the country's economic gains over the past year, "many opportunities were also lost." Putin also urged increased effort in curtailing corruption and bureaucracy, and said his administration had received some 500,000 letters from citizens complaining about the "arbitrary" actions of state officials.

RUSSIA AND IRAN PROMOTE 'NORTH-SOUTH' TRANSPORT CORRIDOR. Russian Transport Minister Sergei Frank, who is on a three-day visit to Iran, said on 16 April after meeting with his Iranian counterpart Ahmad Khorram that Russia is ready to launch a trilateral transport project next month known as "North-South," which will link the Western states with Central Asian countries via Russia, RIA-Novosti reported on 16 April. The agreement on the transport corridor was signed last year by Russia, India, and Iran, and was approved by the Russian parliament and President Putin this month. Frank added that Scandinavian and Baltic states, as well as Ukraine and Kazakhstan, have expressed interest in the project. According to the agreement, Russia will develop its Olya cargo terminal on the Caspian Sea in order to transit containers on to Iranian ports, the new Russian-language analytical website reported.

RUSSIA LIFTS BAN ON U.S. POULTRY IMPORTS... Russia partially ended its embargo on U.S. poultry products on 15 April. "We are very glad that the ban has been lifted and American products can again enter the Russian market," ITAR-TASS quoted U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman as saying. Claiming that the U.S. products did not meet Russian health standards, Russia imposed the embargo on 10 March in what was widely seen as a retaliatory measure over U.S. restrictions on steel imports (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 4, 6, 8, and 11 March 2002). Poultry is one of the largest U.S. exports to Russia. After a series of negotiations and inspections of U.S. poultry-producing facilities, new veterinary certificates for the U.S. imports were agreed upon. All current licenses for poultry importers to Russia will be annulled and new ones must be obtained in conformance with the new measures. On 15 April, Ekho Moskvy radio quoted Russian First Deputy Agriculture Minister Sergei Dankvert as saying that in three months Russia will introduce additional requirements concerning the use of genetic engineering and antibiotics as regards U.S. poultry.

...WITH NOTABLE EXCEPTIONS. The ban will still be in effect for a six-month period for four U.S. states -- North Carolina, Virginia, Maine, and Pennsylvania -- ITAR-TASS reported on 15 April. In addition, 14 U.S. companies that were found by Russian inspectors not to meet Russian sanitary standards were removed from the list of U.S. poultry suppliers to Russia. Veneman told ITAR-TASS on 16 April that, "We are working closely with the experts. My understanding of the situation is [that on 13 April], when the latest discussions took place in Russia, the parties agreed that a number of questions still remained regarding some states and individual companies that need further consideration."

RUSSIA WITHDRAWS FROM AGREEMENT WITH U.S. ON STEEL. Russian Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said in Washington after his talks on 16 April with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans that Russia is bowing out of the comprehensive agreement on steel it signed with United States in 1999, Prime-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2002). He added that the U.S. agreed to "raise the quota for supplies of Russian slabs to the United States" that are not covered by the limitations on steel imports imposed in March by the U.S. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 6, 8, and 11 March 2002). Gref also told journalists in Washington that he has asked the U.S. to speed up the removal of "political obstacles" in trade and economic relations between Russia and the United States, such as the Jackson-Vanik agreement, RIA-Novosti reported on 17 April.

KASYANOV PRAISES ROYAL/DUTCH SHELL FOR PARTICIPATION IN RUSSIAN PROJECTS. Prime Minister Kasyanov said following a meeting in Moscow with Royal Dutch/Shell managing directors committee Chairman Philip Watt that Russia welcomes the increased pace of investment by that company into the Russian energy sector last year, Prime-TASS reported. Royal Dutch/Shell investments into that sector totaled some $1.7 billion. Kasyanov also praised Royal Dutch/Shell for its cooperation with Gazprom in the Sakhalin-2 exploration project. The same day, Watt discussed with the head of Gazprom, Aleksei Miller, the "liberalization of the gas market in Russia and Europe," added Finmarket on 16 April.

FISHERIES COMMITTEE HEAD SAYS POACHING COSTS RUSSIA $500 MILLION ANNUALLY. State Fisheries Committee head Yevgenii Nazdratenko told the State Duma on 17 April that poaching and the illegal export of sea products costs the economy of Russia's Far East some $500 million per year, Russian news agencies reported. Nazdratenko said that this figure was calculated after cooperation with Japanese authorities provided Moscow with information on sales of illegal Russian fish exports in Japanese ports. Nazdratenko added that the damages are likely much higher, as the $500 million estimate does not include losses sustained from illegal fish exports to South Korea and China. He added that in light of the financial damages Russia sustains, "It is inappropriate to raise the question about returning the Kurile Islands to Japan."

DUMA ADOPTS BILL ON ALTERNATIVE SERVICE. The State Duma approved a bill on alternative military service in its first reading on 17 April, and reported. The vote was 245 in favor, according to Interfax and RIA-Novosti. Deputies considered three versions, one drafted by Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) deputies Eduard Vorobev and Aleksandr Barannikov, Russian Regions deputies Vladimir Lysenko and Oleg Shein, and independent Deputy Yulii Ryabov; another by Deputy Vladimir Semenov (SPS); and the other by the government. Deputies opted for the government's version, which requires youths to serve four years of alternative military service compared to the other versions calling for only two years. According to Interfax, under the government bill those young men who have received a higher education must serve only two years of alternative military service. In addition, the government bill stipulates much more rigid requirements for enlistment in alternative service than the other proposals. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told RIA-Novosti on 17 April that he is satisfied with the bill, although he believes that the term of alternative service should be six years rather than four. The current term for conventional service in the Russian army is two years.

RUSSIAN MILITARY TRAINING JOURNALISTS FOR CONFLICT ZONES. "Vremya MN" reported on 17 April that Russian journalists working in conflict zones are being offered the chance to undergo military training to learn how to fire all types of weapons. According to the daily, Anatolii Kvashnin, chief of the armed forces' General Staff worked out the program together with the Union of Journalists and the Association of Military Press. According to the daily, the professional charter of Russian journalists does not differ from world standards in that "a journalist realizes that his professional activity stops the moment he [or she] takes up arms." However, the newspaper suggests that Russian journalists are now following in the steps of TV reporter Aleksandr Nevzorov, who took up weapons in Vilnius in January 1991, winning the adoration of the Russian military at the time -- the military and journalists have now "become comrades in arms."

RUSSIAN DEFENSE OFFICIAL EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER U.S. MILITARY ROLE IN GEORGIA. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Aleksandr Kosovan issued a statement on 18 April warning of his concern over the planned U.S. military training operation in Georgia, the Caspian News Agency and AP reported. The Russian defense official said, "The presence of American divisions in Georgia should worry any Russian soldier," suggesting some differences between the opinion of the Russian military establishment and President Putin on the matter. Kosovan also announced that Russia has altered it position on its bases in Georgia, saying that the Russian withdrawal will be completed within 10 years instead of the previous demand that it be given 14 years to withdraw.

FORMER BRITISH DOUBLE AGENT GOES PUBLIC. Former MI-6 agent George Blake, who following World War II worked for the KGB and was sentenced in 1961 by a British court to 42 years in prison, has arrived at the Federal Security Service's headquarters in Voronezh to lecture local security officers, Russian news agencies reported on 17 April. The 79-year-old Blake, who has lived in Russia since his escape from a British prison to the Soviet Union in 1966, by his own admission has betrayed more than 400 British agents and was promoted to the rank of KGB colonel. The Russian mass media gave no reason for the resurfacing of Blake, who now goes by the Russian name Georgii Ivanovich, but in all probability it is linked to the fact that his British prison term expires this year.

AUDIT CHAMBER HEAD ASKS WHERE MONEY FROM IMF WENT... During a question-and-answer session broadcast on Radio Mayak on 21 April, Russian Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin said that his agency has uncovered serious financial violations concerning an IMF loan disbursed to Russia weeks before the Russian ruble devaluation and debt default in 1998. According to Stepashin, some $4 billion disappeared and cannot be recovered. He also said that the Prosecutor-General's Office has launched a criminal investigation into the case and that its findings might be known before the end of the year. Accusations that the IMF funds had been embezzled first surfaced in Western and Russian media in the wake of the August 1998 devaluation, and were confirmed by a parliamentary investigative commission appointed by then-Chairman of the Federation Council Yegor Stroev in 1999. However, the commission's report was never made public.

...AND SHIP SALES TO CHINA HAVE SAILED. Speaking at the 19 April Audit Chamber collegium, Stepashin said that an investigation has discovered illegalities concerning the sale of two warships to China in 1999-2000 by the Russian shipyard Severnaya Verf, RIA-Novosti and reported on 19 April. According to the investigation, in the privatization of the enterprise in 1997 the ships belonging to the Russian navy were illegally listed as assets of the company without any compensation to the state. Eventually both ships were sold to Chinese navy for $600 million, again without any compensation being paid to the federal budget or the Defense Ministry.

RUSSIANS REMAIN POSITIVE ABOUT LENIN. According to a poll conducted by the Public Opinion polling agency among 1,500 respondents throughout Russia, nearly two-thirds of respondents (63 percent) believe that Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin played a positive role in Russia's history while only 17 percent of respondents believe otherwise, RBK and RosBalt reported on 20 April. The poll, conducted in the run-up to Lenin's birthday on 22 April, also indicated that those respondents with higher educations and young people were the most negative regarding Lenin, 25 percent and 22 percent, respectively.

RUSSIA EXPELS ANOTHER CATHOLIC PRIEST. The Russian Federal Border Service (FPS) has refused entry to Jerzy Mazur, the head of the Catholic diocese in Irkutsk, and annulled his multiple-entry visa, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 21 April. The FPS officers stopped Mazur, who is a Polish citizen, at Moscow's Sheremetevo Airport and sent him back to Poland. Before his departure Mazur told RIA-Novosti that his expulsion could be linked to the fact that the Catholic diocese under his supervision bears the name it had when it was Japanese territory -- Karafuto (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2002). Meanwhile, Deputy FPS Director Aleksandr Yeremin denied on Ekho Moskvy radio the same day that the incident was related to recent conflicts between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church. "To prohibit entrance to the country is the right of any state," he said. Earlier this month, Catholic priest Stefano Caprio was also barred entrance to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 11 April 2002).