Accessibility links

Breaking News

Security Watch: September 5, 2002

5 September 2002, Volume 3, Number 30
IRAQ SEEKS RUSSIA'S POLITICAL SUPPORT... Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri arrived in Moscow on 2 September seeking Russian diplomatic and political backing, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Sabri did not discuss a proposed long-term trade agreement between Moscow and Baghdad that is believed to be worth $40 billion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 26 August 2002). Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists after his talks with Sabri that Russia will insist that Iraq allow UN weapons inspectors to resume their work as part of any resolution of the situation. Ivanov reiterated Moscow's opposition to U.S. military intervention in Iraq, saying it would only exacerbate the situation in the Middle East.

...AS MOSCOW OFFERS BAGHDAD NO PROMISES. Foreign Minister Ivanov rejected speculation that Russia would use its UN Security Council veto if the United States seeks UN approval for military action against Iraq, reported on 2 September. "I hope that there will be no such situation, that there will be no Security Council meeting on military action against Iraq," Ivanov was quoted as saying. Russia made no promises to Iraq during Ivanov's talks with Sabri, "Kommersant-Daily" wrote on 2 September.

�AND SENATOR PREDICTS 11 SEPTEMBER U.S. STRIKE AGAINST IRAQ. Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council's Committee for International Affairs, said on 28 August that he believes the United States might launch a military action against Iraq on 11 September, the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, RIA-Novosti reported. Margelov said that by timing an attack on the anniversary of the tragedy, Washington would put its allies in a very difficult position in which there would be considerable pressure for them to support the move. He argued that virtually the entire world agrees the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has managed to radically improve the situation in Afghanistan in the year since the attacks, putting even more pressure on the international community to support the U.S. policy of "regime change" in Iraq.

ISRAEL TRIES TO BLOCK SALE OF RUSSIAN ANTIAIRCRAFT MISSILES TO SYRIA. The Israeli government is making efforts to prevent Russia from supplying Igla (SA-18) shoulder-launched antiaircraft missiles to Syria, reported on 1 September, citing the Israeli daily "Ha'aretz." According to the report, Syria has offered to purchase the missiles from Russia, but a deal has not yet been sealed. Israel fears that the Iglas could end up in the hands of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and could be used against Israeli helicopters. The SA-18 was designed in the 1980s on the basis of the U.S. Stinger missile.

PUTIN SAYS GEORGIA NEEDS RUSSIA'S HELP TO COPE WITH TERRORISM... Speaking in Chita at a meeting with special-forces troops, President Putin said that without the active support of Russia, Georgia "will just move terrorists from one corner to another," RIA-Novosti reported on 28 August. Putin added: "Georgia itself wants to get rid of Chechen terrorists on its territory" and "there is hope that Georgia is taking this problem seriously."

...AND HIS DEFENSE MINISTER AGAIN DENIES RUSSIAN PLANES BOMBED GEORGIA... Sergei Ivanov, who is currently visiting Buryatia, told journalists on 26 August that Russian planes did not bomb Georgian territory on 23 August and that Georgia has not furnished any concrete evidence to the contrary, Russian news agencies reported. Ivanov added that his ministry is ready to conduct a joint investigation of the disputed air strike, in which several people were reported killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 August 2002). Ivanov implied that the Georgian armed forces themselves might have been responsible for the bombing. Ivanov again demanded that Georgia either round up and kill Chechen militants on its territory or detain them and extradite them to Russia, rather than simply pressuring them to return to Chechnya.

...AS FEDERATION COUNCIL URGES CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION OF GEORGIAN PRESIDENT... Federation Council member Aleksandr Nazarov on 4 September submitted an official request in the name of the upper chamber to the Prosecutor-General's Office asking for an investigation into whether Eduard Shevardnadze exceeded his authority while serving as Soviet foreign minister in 1990, and Ekho Moskvy reported. The request stems from the 1990 agreement that delimits the border between Russia and the United States in the Bering Sea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2002), which transferred rich fishing grounds to the United States. If an investigation determines that Shevardnadze, who is now president of Georgia, did exceed his authority in signing the pact, Nazarov will ask for a criminal case to be filed against him. Federation Council Committee for Foreign Affairs Chairman Mikhail Margelov, who coordinates contacts between the upper chamber and the U.S. Senate, told ORT that Russia is raising the issue not in order to start a conflict but in order to alleviate undercurrents of tension that are hampering bilateral cooperation.

...AND NEWSPAPER ANALYZES PUTIN'S 'COLONIAL POLICY,' GEORGIA. Russian policy toward its neighbors in many instances is dictated only by a desire to control the oil-and-gas export infrastructure, "Komsomolskaya pravda" wrote on 27 August. This conclusion stemmed from the daily's analysis of President Putin's policies toward the former Soviet republics and, especially, his recent about-face in relations with Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June and 14 and 15 August 2002). The paper wrote that Belarus, Ukraine, and Georgia seem to be nothing more than oil-and-gas transit corridors for Russia. However, it warned that this policy might cause Russia to lose both control over the oil-and-gas infrastructure there and its political influence as well. If Belarus agrees to Putin's proposal to incorporate it into the Russian Federation, it would simply be an apposite illustration of the thesis that Russia has always conducted a "cynical colonial policy," the paper wrote.

PUTIN PROPOSES VISA-FREE TRAVEL BETWEEN RUSSIA AND EU... President Vladimir Putin has sent German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and other leaders of EU member states a letter proposing the introduction of visa-free travel between Russia and the European Union as a way of solving the impasse over the Kaliningrad exclave, the presidential press service reported on 28 August. Putin wrote that Russia has "chosen Europe and is striving toward deep European integration." He asked EU leaders to move relations between the organization and Russia to a new level and to add a practical dimension to Russia's desire for integration. Putin added that Russia is ready to cooperate with the EU on Kaliningrad and asked EU leaders to take Russia's interests into consideration.

...BUT MAKES NO BREAKTHROUGH ON KALININGRAD DURING TALKS WITH RAU... President Putin told journalists after meeting with his German counterpart Johannes Rau in Moscow on 3 September that the two leaders had discussed a number of disputed issues, including the problem of Russian debts to Germany, Russian news agencies reported on 4 September. Putin announced that Russia will accelerate payments in order to assist Germany in the wake of this summer's devastating floods. Putin also confirmed that the two had discussed the problem of the Kaliningrad exclave, but stopped short of saying that progress had been made. For his part, Rau said the two countries "have a lot in common, but they have differences too." Rau added that he believes a compromise can be reached that will satisfy both Russia and the European Union, perhaps as early as next month. However, he stressed that the status of his office does not allow him to take part formally in the process but only to give advice, albeit influential.

...AS ENVOY HINTS EU-RUSSIA SUMMIT MIGHT BE POSTPONED. Duma Deputy Dmitrii Rogozin, President Putin's envoy on Kaliningrad and chairman of the Duma Foreign Relations Committee, stated after talks with EU Foreign Policy Commissioner Chris Patten in Brussels on 2-3 September that Moscow is working to save the Russia-EU summit scheduled for November in Copenhagen, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 4 September. Rogozin endorsed Putin's recent call for visa-free travel between Russia and the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2002), describing it as "a gigantic step" toward the EU's position on Kaliningrad. However, he warned, "There is a limit for any compromises. For us, Kaliningrad is not a bargaining chip, but an issue of our strategic partnership with the West and our national security," Rogozin said. "Russia understands EU concerns about illegal emigration and is also fighting against it by adopting new, harsher laws. But it is complete idiocy to end the Cold War, to break down the Berlin Wall, and then build a new wall much farther east."

PUTIN SAYS FAR EAST'S GEOPOLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE HAS GROWN... Speaking to scientists after visiting the Far East Marine Wildlife Reserve, President Vladimir Putin said that globalization has substantially increased the geopolitical importance of the Far East for Russia, Russian news agencies reported on 26 August. "No other part of Russia has the same conditions as we have here," Putin was quoted as saying. "Here there are year-round seaports, and the province is situated close to the rapidly developing and economically active Asian-Pacific region." Putin called for measures to stimulate the economy of the region, but added that this activity must be balanced with a stronger commitment to protect the environment.

...AND THAT HIS ADMINISTRATION IS PREPARING NEW ENVIRONMENTAL-PROTECTION LAW... The Kremlin is drafting a new federal law on protecting the environment, President Putin told journalists in Vladivostok on 27 August, according to Russian news agencies. The new law "will expound a system of measures and responsibilities for causing harm to the environment," Putin was quoted by RosBalt as saying. He noted that environmental protection in the Far East must be carried out in cooperation with neighboring countries, including China, Mongolia, Japan, and North and South Korea. "The government will assist in this through the Interior Ministry and other agencies," Putin said. Putin said that ecological issues connected with exploiting the Sakhalin oil reserves must be addressed.

...WHILE GOVERNMENT ADOPTS ENVIRONMENTAL DOCTRINE. The government's Information Department announced on 3 September that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has signed a national environmental doctrine, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. The document formulates state policy concerning environmental protection and lays out priorities for implementing that policy. The doctrine includes such measures as incorporating into economic indicators the full cost of environmental impact, plus costs associated with protecting the environment. It also contains a mechanism for collecting payments from natural-resources developers and the distribution of these funds for environmental preservation. The government also directed all relevant organizations to submit plans for implementing the doctrine by 15 November.

SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY INSPECTS FAR EAST. Addressing regional security and law enforcement officials in Khabarovsk on 3 September, State Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said that Russia faces extremely complicated problems connected with "a new stage in the opening up of the Far East," reported. Among the problems, Rushailo named high immigration from Far Eastern regions, plundering of local natural resources, the activity of criminal organizations in vital economic sectors, and logistical difficulties supporting the regional military infrastructure. Rushailo, who is inspecting Far Eastern civilian and military installations at the request of President Putin, added that the most acute problem is emigration from the region, which reached 1.2 million people over the last decade.

SENIOR POLITICAL OFFICERS RETURN TO ARMY. The chief of the General Staff, General Anatolii Kvashnin, issued a directive to reinstate in the Russian Army the positions of political officers at the level of army and corps commanders, "Vremya novostei" reported on 3 September. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the institution of political officers in the army was abolished and replaced with division-level "educational" officers with limited functions. Valentin Varennikov, a former commander of the Soviet infantry and a leader of the August 1991 coup attempt against former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, told the newspaper that he welcomes all steps leading to the restoration of the educational system that existed in the Soviet Army.

IN ALL, 36 HELICOPTERS DOWNED IN CHECHNYA. Russian forces in Chechnya announced that an Mi-24 helicopter was shot down by enemy fire near Nozhai-Yurt on 31 August, Russian news agencies reported. Both crewmembers were killed. On 18 August, an Mi-26 military transport helicopter was shot down by a shoulder-launched missile, killing 119 people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002). The latest loss was the 36th military helicopter lost since the beginning of the second Chechnya campaign in September 1999, reported on 2 September. Although the Chechen fighters have virtually no air-defense weapons, Russia has been losing about one helicopter per month, a rate that is far too high, the website editorialized.

PUTIN PLEDGES TO RESTORE NAVAL STRENGTH... Speaking aboard the antisubmarine ship "Marshal Shaposhnikov" on 26 August, President Putin said Russia's Pacific Fleet is the guarantor of Russian interests not only regionally, but across the Pacific Ocean, Russian news agencies reported. Putin said that although the navy had been neglected for a long time, the government has now adopted a new program for rearming it and bringing it to a new technological level, ITAR-TASS reported. He also pledged that the Pacific Fleet will soon hold a major exercise, comparable to the one held on the Caspian Sea earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 August 2002). Finally, he added that the Nautical Collegium was recently created to oversee problems relating to the navy and merchant shipping.

...AS PACIFIC FLEET WELCOMES NAVY'S PATRON SAINT. A special aircraft arrived in Vladivostok on 27 August carrying the relics of the 18th-century admiral, Fedor Ushakov, who was canonized by the Orthodox Church last year, RTR reported. The relics were accompanied by the archbishop of Saransk and Mordova, who said that some of the saint's relics had already been given to the Baltic and Black Sea fleets. Ushakov (1744-1817) was an innovative naval commander who won major battles against the Turks and Napoleonic France. He is widely considered never to have lost a battle.

PUTIN ORDERS MAJOR MILITARY EXERCISES IN FAR EAST... Addressing the commanding officers of the Pacific Fleet on 27 August, President Putin announced that he has asked Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to schedule a major combat-readiness exercise of combined forces in the Far East, including the strategic nuclear forces, Russian news agencies reported. Putin added that it is important these exercises be carried out in operative coordination with Russia's neighbors, as was the case during recent exercises on the Caspian Sea. Putin said that one of his priorities "is to boost Russia's naval capability so that it will be adequate to meet any threat -- and, unfortunately, there are many, many of them." Before leaving Vladivostok, Putin took part in a ceremony to transfer the relics of a Russian Orthodox saint, Admiral Fedor Ushakov, to the fleet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2002). At the ceremony, Archbishop of Vladivostok and Primore Veniamin thanked Putin for his "patriotic course" and for rebuilding a strong military. The archbishop said the Russian Orthodox Church is supporting this cause.

EXPERIMENT WITH PROFESSIONAL ARMY OFF TO A SHAKY START... On 1 September, the Defense Ministry's experiment involving converting the entire 76th Airborne Division to professional status is set to begin, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 30 August. However, the paper reported, problems have arisen that could undermine the success of the experiment, including delays in building suitable housing and training facilities for the new volunteers. However, the paper wrote, the most serious problem is the lack of qualified candidates to fill the division. The paper notes that when the Defense Ministry conducted a similar experiment with the 201st Motorized Infantry Division, up to 80 percent of the volunteers were dismissed from service within one year "for violations of discipline, drunkenness, and professional unsuitability." The head of the Airborne Force's mobilization department, Colonel Viktor Zaitsev, told the paper: "We understand that for the 76th division, we cannot just take people off the street. They must be professionals." He expressed serious doubt that the army would be able to find enough qualified people. "The only incentive for service in Pskov is army housing.... For homeless people, this might be a strong incentive, but how many of those people are qualified for professional service," the paper commented.

SEVERODVINSK WASTE FACILITY TO BE ELIMINATED. The government has begun dismantling a solid-radioactive waste storage site near Severodvinsk, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 August. The facility, which was built more than 40 years ago to store low-level radioactive waste from the Sevmash shipyard, is located just 17 kilometers from the center of the city, which has a population of 231,000. The waste is expected to be transferred to a new storage facility currently under construction on Novaya Zemlya, according to the report.

MAJOR WEAPONS CACHE DISCOVERED NEAR MOSCOW. A T-72 tank, two sophisticated Smerch multiple-launch rocket systems, and several other pieces of heavy military equipment were found in a Moscow Oblast warehouse on 28 August, NTV and other Russian news agencies reported on 29 August. According to NTV, the equipment appeared to be in battle-ready condition and no documentation connected with it was found. The warehouse reportedly belongs to a private company, but authorities have not released its name. The Federal Security Service and military counterintelligence officials are investigating the matter.

FSB DEPUTY DIRECTOR JOINS LEADING WESTERN AUDITOR. The deputy director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Lieutenant General Yevgenii Lovyrev, is leaving that agency to take a senior position in the human-resources department of auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers, "Versiya," No. 33, reported. At the FSB, Lovyrev headed the Organizational-Personnel Department. Prior to that, he worked in the personnel department of former President Boris Yeltsin's administration, at a time when Putin also worked there. "Versiya" noted that PricewaterhouseCoopers audits companies such as Gazprom, LUKoil, and Alfa-Group, as well as the Central Bank. At a time when auditing firms are experiencing a severe crisis in public confidence, the weekly argued, the addition of a seasoned intelligence officer such as Lovyrev can only bolster the company.

RUSSIA SEEKS REMOVAL FROM 'BLACKLIST.' Viktor Zubkov, head of the Committee for Financial Monitoring (Russia's financial-intelligence agency) has said that Russia meets all the requirements set by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the G-7's financial-security agency that tracks money laundering, Russian news agencies reported on 4 September. Speaking to law enforcement officers in Tula, Zubkov said that two years ago the FATF included Russia on its blacklist of countries that tolerate money laundering because it did not have an agency combating money laundering or adequate anti-money laundering legislation. Since that time, Russia has filled these gaps. In February, a law on money laundering was adopted and the Committee for Financial Monitoring was created. Speaking after him, Central Bank Deputy Chairman Viktor Melnikov noted that his institution has probed over 1,200 Russian banks, finding that about 10 percent had money-laundering violations. He added that banks caught money laundering will have their licenses revoked.

DUMA TO CONSIDER DRAFT WITNESS-PROTECTION LAW. A draft law on protecting witnesses and victims of crimes will be introduced in the State Duma during the fall session that begins on 11 September, RosBalt reported on 27 August. According to the head of the Interior Ministry's criminal law department, Yevgenii Sadkov, the draft law will include provisions to protect personal information about the victims of crimes and their relatives, a measure authorities hope will encourage more victims to testify. The draft law also contains provisions that would allow witnesses to identify suspects without being seen by them and others that would authorize closed court sessions under certain circumstances. Finally, the law would also authorize the authorities to relocate important witnesses and take measures to conceal their identities.

...AS COURT BANS 'DOUBLE' FROM PARTICIPATING. The Supreme Court on 28 August ruled that an officer from outside Moscow named Anatolii Uss does not have the right to run for governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai, RosBalt and other Russian news agencies reported. Uss has the same last name as one of the leading candidates in the race, krai legislature Speaker Aleksandr Uss. Earlier, a local court ruled in favor of a complaint by Aleksandr Uss that argued the local Election Commission should not have registered Anatolii Uss, who was described in the complaint as "a front man who is clearly involved in a well-known 'black PR' tactic." The Election Commission appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, resulting in the latest ruling. According to Aleksandr Uss's lawyers, the Supreme Court ruling "has put an end to this unscrupulous matter." A local court in Nizhnii Novgorod on 27 August ruled that a "double" could participate in mayoral elections there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2002).

LIBERAL NEWSPAPER BECOMES CONSERVATIVE. The liberal weekly newspaper "Obshchaya gazeta," which suspended publication after it was sold to St. Petersburg businessman Vyacheslav Leibman at the end of May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 May 2002), will be relaunched this week under the name "Konservator," Russian news agencies reported on 27 August. According to, the paper will initially be a 32-page weekly and the first issue will appear on 30 August. The new paper will be edited by Leonid Zlotin, who in 1997-98 edited the conservative daily "Russkii telegraf." According to "The Moscow Times," Leibman views the paper as the beginning of the Leibman Media Group, which will augment his other business interests in oil trading and hotel management. "The publishing business is logical and understandable within the framework of a holding company. There are corporate interests that need to be both protected and promoted," Leibman was quoted as saying. He also said that he will personally take a "most active part in forming the editorial policy," according to the daily.

NEARLY ONE-THIRD OF SCHOOLS TO BE ONLINE BY 2003. By the middle of 2003, 31 percent of Russian schools will be connected to the Internet, and other Russian news agencies reported on 27 August. Education Minister Vladimir Filippov made the announcement at a Moscow Internet conference. According to Filippov, 10.3 percent of schools are already connected. He also said that a number of regions have adopted measures to encourage teachers to incorporate new technologies into their programs. In Krasnodar Krai, Filippov said, teachers who do so can earn bonus worth up to 50 percent of their base salaries. "The 'Internetization' of primary education in Russia is extremely important," Filippov said.

UPPER CHAMBER TO PUSH FOR RECONSIDERATION OF BERING SEA BORDER. A group of Federation Council senators will put forward an initiative calling for reconsideration of a 1990 agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union delimiting the border between the countries in the Bering and Chukchi seas, RosBalt reported on 3 September, citing the chairman of the council's Committee for the North and Numerically Small Peoples, Aleksandr Nazarov. On 14 June, the Duma passed a resolution urging the government to renegotiate the treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2002). Nazarov has created a working group -- which includes Committee for International Affairs Chairman Mikhail Margelov and a representative of the U.S. Embassy -- to discuss the treaty, and that group held its first meeting on 3 September. According to Nazarov, the treaty shifted the 1867 border to the advantage of the United States, costing Russia some $200 million per year in lost fishing revenues. "In 1990, the treaty was seen as a breakthrough in Soviet-American relations. It was an unconsidered measure designed to bolster a dialogue that was just starting. Today, under different political circumstances, we can return to this problem...," Nazarov was quoted as saying.

NEW ALUMINUM FACTORY FOR KOLA. Russian Aluminum will build an aluminum plant on the Kola Peninsula, RosBalt reported on 27 August. According to the report, officials from the company reached an agreement on the project with Murmansk Oblast Governor Yurii Yevdokimov. The factory will produce 300,000 tons per year and is expected to cost about $900 million. The project will create 2,000-3,000 new jobs. Russian Aluminum official Ivan Bokhmat told reporters that the Kola site was chosen because of the availability of inexpensive electricity from the Kola Nuclear Power Plant. Bokhmat also noted that the oblast's two major ports would mean reduced transportation costs. The exact site of the plant and the expected date of completion are yet to be determined.

INVESTIGATION OF PETERSBURG DEPUTY GOVERNOR CLOSED. A criminal investigation of St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Aleksandr Potekhin has been closed, RosBalt reported on 26 August. According to Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Zubrin, some of the charges against Potekhin were dropped because they fell under the terms of Duma amnesties. Others were dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired. Potekhin was being investigated for allegedly engaging in commercial activity while serving as a public official. Potekhin was one of several close associates of St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev -- including former Deputy Governor Valerii Malyshev and Deputy Governor Anatolii Kagan -- to be investigated by federal prosecutors on a range of corruption charges. "Society must become accustomed to respecting the presumption of innocence," Yakovlev's spokesman, Aleksandr Afanasiev, was quoted as saying.

CASE AGAINST MURDERED DEPUTY NOT OVER YET. Prosecutors have opened a new criminal case connected with former Duma Deputy Vladimir Golovlev, who was murdered on 21 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 August 2002), reported on 28 August. According to Chelyabinsk Oblast Prosecutor Anatolii Bragin, the new case will center on charges of money laundering stemming from revelations that Golovlev allegedly controlled foreign bank accounts worth $100 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2002). Bragin told journalists that information about those accounts presented by foreign law enforcement agencies had enabled prosecutors to understand the scheme under which money from the privatization of Chelyabinsk Oblast enterprises was allegedly laundered. Bragin presented a list of 11 middleman structures that were allegedly involved. An earlier criminal investigation against Golovlev on charges of embezzlement and abuse of office was dropped following his murder.

ORTHODOX CHURCH LOBBIES TO INCLUDE CONFESSIONAL PREFERENCE IN CENSUS DATA... Antonii Ilin, spokesman for the Foreign Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, has said that the Russian Orthodox Church has a "direct interest" in including a question about citizens' religious confessions in the questionnaire of the national census, which will be conducted in October, reported on 27 August. Ilin said such a question would be "very useful because it would highlight the real percentage of [the population espousing] traditional confessions in Russia." Ilin added that not including questions about citizens' religious adherence would deprive the census of its "spiritual and cultural significance."

...BUT GOVERNMENT DISAGREES... However, Vladimir Zorin, the government minister who oversees nationalities policy, said there is no urgent need to include this question, the website reported. Such data is already available at the Justice Ministry, which he said is responsible for registering religious organizations. Zorin noted that no religious confession -- except for the Orthodox Church -- has advocated including this question in the census, and it was not asked during the last few censuses conducted during the Soviet era.