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Security Watch: March 6, 2001

6 March 2001, Volume 2, Number 9
MOSCOW TO 'RETALIATE' ON U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT. The Russian Foreign Ministry on 2 March sharply criticized the findings about Russia contained in the 25th annual U.S. Department of State Human Rights report, RIA-Novosti and reported. "Russia will not tolerate the mentoring tone and baseless accusations from a state that violates civil rights or leaves those who do so unpunished," the ministry said in an official statement. Meanwhile, Press Minister Mikhail Lesin told Interfax on the same day that his agency is preparing a report on human rights abuses in the United States and will release it in about two weeks. This is the harshest Russian reaction to such a report since the end of Soviet times.

RUSSIAN POLITICIANS RUSH TO DEFEND KUCHMA. Boris Gryzlov, the leader of the pro-Kremlin Duma faction "Yedintsvo," said he is enraged by American suggestions that Washington will cut off aid to Ukraine unless President Leonid Kuchma moves more actively to defend human rights, promote democratic reforms, and liberalize the economy, "Izvestiya" reported on 3 March. Gryzlov said that Washington has "elevated into a major political scandal a routine police story" by constantly discussing the case of murdered journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that Moscow will do what it can to support Ukraine's efforts to restructure its debts with the Paris Club of creditors, RTR television reported on 3 March.

RUSSIA SEEKS TO BOOST ARMS SALES IN ASIA� Rosoboroneksport Deputy Director Viktor Komardin believes that Moscow can earn up to $1.5 billion a year from arms sales to southeast Asian countries, "Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie," no. 7, reported. Other Russian media suggested that President Vladimir Putin's recent visits to Seoul and Hanoi were part of a new weapons sales campaign.

�AS PUTIN BECOMES FIRST SALESMAN� Moscow media suggested that Putin's visit to South Korea on 27-28 February had been successful because he was able to secure Seoul's agreement to exchange part of Russia's $1.8 billion debt for the delivery of Russian weapons systems. In another move with geopolitical consequences, Putin also pushed for linking the railways of the two Korean states to the Trans-Siberian as part of his east-west transit corridor.

�AND REVIVES TIES WITH VIETNAM. "Vedomosti" on 2 March said that Putin's visit to Hanoi was intended to revive Soviet-style "comprehensive relations" with Vietnam. He signed an agreement on joint energy production, including exploration for oil off the Vietnamese coast. He completed arrangements for a contract worth $600 million to sell Russian equipment to Vietnamese power plants. And he agreed to revitalize military-to-military cooperation and supply Hanoi with "as many weapons as it needs."

FORMER FSB HEAD SAYS NMD WORKS TO RUSSIA'S ADVANTAGE. Nikolai Kovalev, who used to head the FSB and now chairs the Duma Security Committee, said U.S. plans to build a national missile defense system (NMD) meet the strategic interests of Russia, Interfax reported on 26 February. That is because the American plan is already promoting anti-American feelings in Europe, which Moscow can take advantage of.

FSB LEAKS TO BUILD CASE AGAINST SUTYAGIN. The FSB has leaked stories to the Russian and Western media in order to put pressure on Igor Sutyagin, a Russian scientist who faces espionage charges in Kaluga (see "RFE/RL Security Watch," Vol. 2, No. 8). On 28 February, Britain's "Guardian" published an article saying that two of Sutyagin's British contacts were in fact American spies. And on 1 March, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" published a story suggesting that Sutyagin had taken money from Western intelligence for information about the Russian nuclear fleet.

RUSSIAN-SPEAKING AMERICAN SUSPECTED OF ESPIONAGE. Because John Tobbin speaks such good Russian, FSB officials in Voronezh initially suspected that he must be an intelligence agent even though all they have charged him with so far is illegal possession of drugs, "Segodnya" reported on 28 February.

MEDIA SPECULATES ON BORODIN EXCHANGE. NTV and "Segodnya" on 3 March suggested that Russia-Belarus Union State Secretary Pavel Borodin, who is being detained in New York, may be exchanged in Germany for Christopher Letz, who was arrested by the Belarusian KGB last year. A German citizen accused by Minsk of spying for the United States, Letz would seem to be the perfect candidate for Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka's earlier proposal to "find another American spy" to exchange for Borodin, NTV said. But reported on 4 March that such an exchange remains unlikely because Borodin is not being held as a spy but rather for other criminal activity.

FSB ARRESTS CHINESE SPY. FSB Military Counterintelligence officers arrested a Chinese citizen in Khabarovsk on charges of spying, Interfax reported on 3 March. He was carrying secret documentation concerning Russian submarines on the Kamchatka peninsula.

NO MORE DUAL CITIZENSHIP? The Duma's constitutional committee has introduced a bill calling for an end to dual citizenship, reported on 28 February. It took this step in response to reports by the Internal Affairs Ministry that many people are seeking Russian citizenship to protect themselves in other countries while at the same time not being willing to meet the responsibilities of citizenship. Such a change could have a profound impact on the status of some of what Moscow calls "compatriots," the Russian-speaking populations of the former Soviet republics.

PROSECUTORS ISSUE WARRANT IN KREMLIN CORRUPTION CASE� The Office of the Russian Prosecutor-General has issued a warrant for the arrest of Pavel Turover, the main witness against Pavel Borodin, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 March. Turover, the former financial officer in the Swiss Banco del Gottardo, provided materials to former prosecutor Yurii Skuratov about the Mabetex case (see "RFE/RL Security Watch," Vol. 1, Nos. 6 and 15). At that time, Turover said that he did not believe that Russian prosecutors would in fact bring the case to trial.

...RESUMES CASE OF BANK OF NEW YORK. The Office of the Russian Prosecutor-General said that it would seek Washington's help in investigating the illegal transfer of funds through the Bank of New York by Russians, including Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov and Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, Interfax and NTV reported. The U.S. had refused requests for assistance in 1998, but Moscow hopes that the new administration will take a different approach.

MOSCOW GOVERNMENT SUES MVD. The Moscow city government has sued the MVD Investigative Committee for slander and defamation, Interfax reported on 1 March. Over the last year, MVD investigators have accused the Moscow's mayor's office of stealing 250 billion rubles ($8.93 billion) in the course of the construction of the Moscow city beltway. The money has been siphoned off through overpricing of construction materials and reductions in the size of the highway. But Moscow officials insisted that it is "simply impossible" to steal what would amount to two-thirds of the city's budget, RBK reported on 1 March.

PRESS MINISTRY PREPARES PR-CAMPAIGN FOR U.S. Press Minister Lesin told Interfax on 1 March that his ministry will sponsor a competition for the best media campaign to improve Russia's image in the United States. He said that a number of Russian and international public relations firms had already indicated their interest in taking part. And he added that Moscow will "spare no expense in strengthening information security and enhancing positive perceptions about Russia."

KREMLIN READY TO REVIVE FOREIGN PROPAGANDA MACHINE. The Kremlin has decided to restore a Soviet-style administration for conducting foreign propaganda, "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 1 March. Under the Soviets, such efforts were under the supervision of the CPSU Central Committee and the KGB. Now they presumably will be directed by the presidential administration. The newspaper quotes Press Minister Lesin as saying that an advertising campaign must "correct" what he called "the shameful image of Russia created by the Western media."

FEDERAL DISTRICT PUBLICATION CARRIES ANTI-MINORITY EDITORIAL. "Admiralty," the new magazine of the Northwest Federal District, featured an editorial containing xenophobic and anti-minority statements, "Segodnya" reported on 3 March. Written by Oleg Karatayev, the leader of the local nationalist organization "Russkoe Delo," it appeared in the same issue as a message from Presidential envoy Viktor Cherkesov, who nonetheless denied any knowledge of Karatayev's piece.

GUSINSKY OUT, NEVZLIN IN AT RUSSIAN JEWISH CONGRESS. Vladimir Gusinsky resigned as leader of the Russian Jewish Congress because his political and legal troubles do not allow him to take an active part in the organization. He has been replaced by Leonid Nevzlin, a Menatep official in the past known to be loyal to the Kremlin. Earlier Nevzlin pursued a career in the Komsomol, at Yukos, and as first deputy director of ITAR-TASS.


By Paul Goble

Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka has threatened to expel any diplomat who interferes in the domestic affairs of his country in advance of a presidential poll there later this year, a reflection of his increasing isolation both domestically and internationally.

Lukashenka told the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS on that he would put in jail anyone Belarusian courts found guilty of espionage. Moreover, he said that he would expel any diplomat -- including envoys from Western countries -- who used an embassy to spy on Belarus or interfere in the elections.

In addition, the Belarusian leader linked his domestic opponents to foreign donors who he said had given the dissidents cash and office equipment. Such people, he said, "openly declare their intention to turn Belarus into another Yugoslavia. But that will not go. Electing a president will be up to the people of Belarus rather than to [foreign] security services." His election, Lukashenka added, will take place without the "fuss" usually generated by journalists.

Lukashenka's latest outburst is typical of a man who has expressed admiration for governing styles of Stalin and Hitler and who has shown little mercy to his opponents as he has moved to re-establish a highly authoritarian regime in Belarus. And his remarks come on the heels of a Belarusian state television program charging the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency of supporting the opposition to Lukashenka's continuation in office.

The tone of that program is suggested by one of the state television officials who oversaw its production. Aleksandr Zimovsky noted that "the Americans are making a crude mistake in regarding Belarus as a playground for their spies and agents. Belarusian special services have something with which to counter their attempts to act uncontrollably in our country."

But Lukashenka's remarks this time may reflect something more than his typical bravado: they may reflect growing concerns on his part about his own isolation domestically and internationally, on the one hand, and an effort by him to counter this isolation by portraying himself as the only true defender of Belarus against shadowy forces from abroad.

Recent polls taken in Belarus show that support for Lukashenka is declining, even among his traditional rural base. And in addition to continuing Western European and American criticism of Minsk's violation of human rights, the Belarusian leader now appears to be losing support from the one place he had always expected to receive it: the Russian government in Moscow.

In recent weeks, Russian commentators have been increasingly critical of Lukashenka's performance, especially his all-too-public differences with Moscow over the proper response to the detention in New York of Russia-Belarus Union state secretary Pavel Borodin on an extradition request by Swiss prosecutors. Lukashenka wanted a hard line, Moscow a softer one, and Lukashenka left Moscow a day early over this issue during a January visit.

After that diplomatic spat, some Russian newspapers pointedly suggested that the Russian government was distancing itself from Lukashenka and was even interviewing possible replacements to head the Belarusian government. As one Moscow observer put it at the time, everyone understands that the president of Belarus "is chosen by the Kremlin rather than by the Belarusian people."

Such Russian criticism of Lukashenka only increased this week in the wake of the communist victory in the Moldovan parliamentary elections, with several Moscow analysts suggesting that taking Moldova into the Russia-Belarus Union would further compound Russia's problems, just as forming the union with Lukashenka's Belarus already had.

Faced with this apparent softening of Russian support and confronting continuing criticism from both the West and the Belarusian people, Lukashenka appears to be retreating into the fortress mentality typical of authoritarian rulers when they begin to feel that they are losing their grip. Again and again, such leaders have sought to save themselves at home by attacking supposed enemies abroad.

Occasionally, such lashing out has in fact won them a respite, but more often, their threatening languages has only highlighted just how removed from reality those who make them are. And by calling attention to that fact, their remarks cut into whatever support they may still have, thus heightening rather than solving the political problems that such leaders inevitably have created for themselves.