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Security Watch: March 13, 2001

13 March 2001, Volume 2, Number 10
PAVLOVSKY SAYS U.S. A THREAT TO WORLD. Gleb Pavlovskii, an aide to the presidential administration for ideological questions, said in an interview published in the 6 March "Krasnaya zvezda" that Washington is not hostile to Russia but that it poses a threat to Russia and other countries because of its lack of understanding of the world. As a result, Pavlovskii said, Moscow must rebuild its military forces and also seek allies around the world. Ten years ago, Pavlovskii continued, the Russian Federation made a strategic mistake by declaring itself the successor to the Soviet Union and "isolating itself in a post-Soviet ghetto of provincial diplomacy." But now, he said, Moscow is moving away from that policy toward a more natural position "as a world power and European nation state."

RUSSIA SEEKS TO REGAIN ROLE IN AFRICA. President Vladimir Putin met with visiting Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo to promote expanded economic, military, and political ties between the two countries, Russian agencies reported on 6 March. The Russian authorities are especially interested in resuming their role as the chief arms supplier to that Africa nation, ORT television pointed out on 7 March. The Nigerians, for their part, hope to purchase the most modern Russian aircraft and air defense systems and also to again send Nigerian officers for training in Russia.

DUMA TO INVESTIGATE NEMTSOV. The Duma has asked its anti-corruption commission to look into the alleged role of Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov in the disappearance of $2 million that was transferred via the Bank of New York to a Russian bank controlled by the Nizhnii Novgorod administration which he headed, RIA-Novosti reported on 7 March. The legislature's move followed a similar effort by the Office of the Prosecutor-General (see "RFE/RL Security Watch," Vol. 2, no. 9.) The investigation will certainly damage and could destroy Nemtsov's political career.

FEDOROV VERSUS CHUBAIS? Former Finance Minister Boris Fedorov sent a letter to presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin calling for the reelection of Unified Energy Systems (EES) chief Anatolii Chubais, "Izvestiya" reported on 7 March. But in the letter, Fedorov presented arguments suggesting that since 1998, Chubais has been in that position illegally. According to Fedorov, Chubais has never been formally re-elected since gaining the position in 1998. Fedorov asked that Voloshin, who is the chairman of the EES board, to convene the shareholders to re-elect Chubais. While formally pushing Chubais forward, Fedorov raises questions that others may choose to exploit against the current EES head.

BORODIN SAYS HIS CASE A TEST OF WILLS. In an interview published in the 7 March "Izvestiya," Russia-Belarus Union state secretary Pavel Borodin said that his detention in New York on an extradition request from Switzerland cannot be separated from politics. "One should not extrapolate the Western attitude to Russia on the basis of my case," he said. "Rather, it reflects the trends of policy towards Russia and a test of wills" between Russia and the West. He also said he was prepared to go to Switzerland voluntarily although he did not say why he had not done so prior to his arrest.

IS NO-CONFIDENCE CRISIS GOOD FOR EVERYONE? "Tribuna" suggested on 7 March that the no-confidence motion initiated by the Communists and unexpectedly supported by Unity looks more like a political game using power resources than a genuine governmental crisis. The paper notes that both the communists and Unity voted for Prime Minister Kasyanov in the past and have no reason to try to dislodge him as such. That suggests, the paper concludes, that politicians in both camps are using this as a test of strength or a sideshow rather than for genuinely political goals.

CAN THE COMMUNIST SHADOW CABINET HELP PUTIN? Communist Party (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov announced that the KPRF has created a shadow government not to oppose President Putin but to help him, "Argumenty i Fakty" reported in its 7 March issue. Some members of this shadow cabinet, like Zyuganov himself, have already been meeting frequently with both Putin and Prime Minister Kasyanov on a variety of issues. The weekly suggested and other observers confirm that Putin appears to be listening to the ideas of the communists ever more frequently concerning key aspects of policy.

ANOTHER TRY -- THE FOURTH -- IN FIGHTING CORRUPTION. Duma deputy Viktor Ilyukhin has introduced the fourth draft of an anti-corruption bill, "Izvestiya" reported on 7 March. He had submitted three earlier ones, all of which passed but were then vetoed by President Boris Yeltsin. Ilyukin's latest effort has several key innovations: it calls for a U.S.-style independent prosecutor, it requires the Security Council to prepare an annual report on the state of the fight against corruption, and it extends anti-corruption rules from civil servants to political counselors and advisers of state officials.

LESIN SAYS HIS PROPAGANDA WILL BE POSITIVE. Press Minister Mikhail Lesin said that his planned propaganda campaign will only focus on the positive features of Russia rather than on the negative aspects of its opponents, "Kommersant-Vlast" reported on 7 March. He said his efforts would seek to focus Western attention on such issues as Russia's flat tax and its proposals for a regional missile defense system.

REUTERS ADOPTS INTERFAX. The British news agency Reuters announced that it is incorporating the new feeds of Interfax into its global networks in real time, "Izvestiya" reported on 1 March. That will increase the number of people with daily access to the Russian agency by some 500,000, the paper said.

PUTIN GOES ON LINE� President Putin on 6 March spent 90 minutes on-line answering questions organized by the BBC and two Russian web portals, and In his answers to questions selected by three journalists, Putin restated his policy positions and provided some details about his personal life. Russian media the following day gave extensive coverage not only to the interview but also to Western coverage of that interview, with most praising Putin for taking this step but some outlets noting that Putin on-line was the same as Putin any other way.

...AS FAPSI FENDS OFF HACKERS. A spokesman for FAPSI, the Russian government agency responsible for communications security, told Interfax on 7 March that there had been more than 10 efforts by hackers to break into Putin's interview on the Internet but that the agency had been successful in preventing the hackers from achieving their goals. At the same time, the spokesman pointed out that the number of hacker assaults was greater when former President Boris Yeltsin once gave an on-line interview.

RUSSIANS LIKE FSB, POLL FINDS. According to a poll reported by "Izvestiya" on 27 February, 42 percent of Russians have a positive view of the FSB, with only 19 percent of the 1,600 people polled having a negative one. The poll also found that 39 percent support the consolidation of all Russian intelligence and security agencies into a single body like the KGB; 22 percent said they opposed such an approach.

NEW DETAILS ON RUSSIAN DEFECTORS� A Russian foreign intelligence service (SVR) officer defected from the Russian embassy in Ottawa at the end of 2000, "Moskovskiy komsomolets" reported on 7 March. He was part of the SVR directorate for external counterintelligence and thus may have provided information about the role of former FBI officer Richard Hanssen. But Hanssen might also have been exposed by Sergei Tretyakov, who defected from the Russian mission to the UN last fall. He held the rank of colonel and was second in command of the SVR station in New York and probably would have had access to information about Hanssen as well.

...AS MOSCOW MINIMIZES TUNNEL REPORT� A Russian counterintelligence source told on 8 March that reports about an American spy tunnel under the Russian embassy were a myth put out by the U.S. to try to portray Richard Hanssen in an especially bad light. The Russian source said that the FBI had used utilities pipelines for eavesdropping but that Russian security officers had discovered and countered these efforts a decade ago. Former Russian Ambassador Yulii Vorontsov told Ekho Moskvy on the same day that it would have been both impossible and useless to build such a tunnel because of the large parking lots and shelters around the embassy.

�AND NEW CLAIMS ON DEATH OF FRED CUNY. Russian investigative journalist Yevgenii Krutikov wrote in "Izvestiya" on 5 March that Chechen field commander Abu Movsaev killed U.S. humanitarian worker Fred Cuny in 1995. Krutikov said that both Russian and Chechen commanders suspected Cuny of having links with the U.S. intelligence community and each thought he worked for the other side. The FSB supplied disinformation to Movsaev, who had detained Cuny, saying that the aid worker was in fact working for Russia. Krutikov's story is unlikely to be confirmed because Movsaev was killed by Russian forces in 2000.

KALININGRAD PRESENTED AS TEST OF EUROPEAN INTEGRATION. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told RIA-Novosti on 9 March that Moscow views Europe's treatment of Kaliningrad as a testing ground for its relations with the European Union. He said Moscow wants the EU to sign a 10-year agreement that will assure Russia access to Kaliningrad on specially favorable grounds and also integrate the unit into EU activities as fully as possible.


By Paul Goble

Russian political leaders appear to be reaching out to the country's 20 million Muslims to show that their campaign in Chechnya is not inherently anti-Muslim and to generate support for Moscow's policies among the second largest and most rapidly growing faith.

But widely-reported statements by Russian Muslims in support of Moscow's efforts in Chechnya and by Russian political leaders in support of Islam as part of the Russian tradition may not by themselves allow Moscow to achieve these goals.

Few Muslims in that country have forgotten Moscow's long-standing hostility to Islam. And many of Russia's Muslims object both to the high visibility political role now being played by the Russian Orthodox Church and to Moscow's efforts to recentralize control over not only Chechnya but other Muslims as well.

On 5 March, Muslims around the world celebrated Eid Al-Adha, the day commemorating Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son and God's willingness to accept the sacrifice of a ram instead. In Russia and most of Central Asia, this holiday is known by its Turkic name of Kurban Bairam. And Muslims across the region assembled in their mosques.

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued an official statement on the holiday, saying that he shares "the aspiration of Muslim spiritual leaders for the state and religious organizations to join forces, as an important condition of civil harmony, good will, and mutual understanding among all peoples of multiethnic Russia and the prosperity of our fatherland."

Other Russian officials, including Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, attended Muslim services. And state-run television broadcast the service at the largest mosque in the capital. This attention was echoed in the Russian media with articles about the state's support for 3,500 Muslims making the pilgrimage to Mecca this year and Muslim support for Russia's campaign in Chechnya.

Russian news agencies gave prominent play to the words of Talgan Tadzhuddin, the chief of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate in Ufa, that Moscow's efforts in Chechnya represent "a necessary measure against terrorists rather than being an attack against brothers in faith."

But beneath this image of cooperation are very real tensions that Moscow's latest press campaign appears intended to address.

By an accident of the calendar, this Muslim holiday of Kurban Bairam this year fell on the 48th anniversary of the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. No Muslim in Russia is likely to forget either his repression of all religions in general or his particular attacks on Islam, including the deportation of Chechens and other Muslim peoples of the North Caucasus.

Moreover, the current Russian government continues one aspect of Soviet policy toward Islam that many Muslims find offensive and that appears likely to cause Russia troubles in the future. That is, the state backs an official Muslim hierarchy and requires the registration of Islamic congregations.

While Moscow also requires the registration of other religious communities, the impact of this policy on Islam is inevitably different. Because Islam does not have a priesthood or clergy in any sense of the word, demands that its congregations be registered tend to divide believers into those who are willing to go along with the state and those who are not, even more than in the case of other faiths.

Those who go along are viewed by many Muslims as having been coopted by the state and therefore in some ways illegitimate, and those who don't, who go underground, as it were, become ever more radicalized precisely because they lack the kind of acceptance that a more open-ended approach to religion might allow.

That happened in Soviet times when underground or what was sometimes called "the non-mosque trend" of Islam attracted far more followers than did the government-controlled official version. That danger, widespread in Soviet times, is now repeating itself in Central Asia where government officials are seeking to control Islam in this way and thus virtually guaranteeing that they will not control it at all.

But there is yet another and perhaps more profound reason why Russian statements may have an unintended impact on Muslims: the increasing willingness of the state to involve the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church in political activities. That has raised questions -- even in the minds of some Christians -- about the impact of that involvement on Russia's efforts to move toward a secular, civil society.

Church-state relations are seldom easy, even for long-established democracies, but for countries making the transition from totalitarianism toward civil society these relations can prove explosive. And that is all the more likely in Russia, where the Muslims are increasingly numerous and assertive, and the Orthodox Christians are declining in numbers.

As a result, Moscow's efforts to reach out to Islam reflect both Russian hopes as well as Russian fears. But if the Russian leadership continues to treat Islam as if it were a church like Christianity, the Kremlin is likely to find that its hopes for cooperation with Muslims will be largely dashed and its fears of Muslim opposition will be all too fully realized.