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Security Watch: April 3, 2001

3 April 2001, Volume 2, Number 13
PUTIN DOESN'T EXCLUDE RETURN OF TWO ISLANDS TO JAPAN. At his summit meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in Irkutsk on 26 March, President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed the validity of the 1956 Soviet-Japanese joint declaration which looks toward the return of two of the Kurile Islands to Japan once a peace treaty has been signed, Russian agencies reported. But Putin and other officials made clear that in accepting the validity of that document, they had not agreed to any timing for the return of islands both countries claim.

PUTIN THE PERIPATETIC PRESIDENT. During his first year in office, Vladimir Putin visited 26 foreign countries, some more than once, RIA-Novosti reported on 26 March. His visits spread across Europe, Asia, and North America as well as to former Soviet client states in the Middle East and Cuba. Putin's proclivity for travel marked a major shift from the behaviour of his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, who did not go abroad nearly as often at any point of his presidency.

WHAT DOES PUTIN WANT IN CHECHNYA? During a meeting of the Russian State Council on 28 March, President Vladimir Putin said that there had not been sufficient progress in Chechnya overall and that in many areas "there were no results at all," Interfax reported. He said that he believed that there ahd to be "a closer link" between "the anti-terrorist operation and restoration work" if progress is to be achieved.

RUSSIA PROTESTS U.S. MEETING WITH CHECHEN ENVOY. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko was quoted in "Izvestiya" on 28 March as saying that the U.S. State Department's reception of Chechen Foreign Minister Ilays Akhmadov showed that Washington is prepared to back international terrorism. He added that the press coverage of the event showed divisions within the new administration: The State Department played down the session, Yakovenko said, while the Pentagon showed that it is ready to "go as far as necessary" to impose American power around the world, "Izvestiya" said, summing up Yakovenko's remarks.

SERVICE IN CHECHNYA NO LONGER VOLUNTARY. Up until now, Russian soldiers were sent to fight in Chechnya only if they volunteered, but now the general staff has announced that it has ended this "voluntary" principle and that any draftee can be sent to Chechenya, ORT television reproted on 30 March. Draft officials said the military is unhappy with both the health and education attainment of draftees, with large numbers of draftees unqualified for or incapable of performing necessary tasks.

BYPASSING THE BALTICS. Vice Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko on 26 March announced plans for a Russian Baltic pipeline system that will bypass the Baltic countries, ANI reported. Khristenko said that the second leg of the system will be able to handle 30 million tons of oil every year.

GERMANY, AUSTRIA TO INVEST IN STEEL PLANT. Two large German and Austrian concerns will invest more than $1 billion in a steel factory in Nizhnyi Tagil, Fininvest reported on 26 March. This is one of the fruits of President Vladimir Putin's visit to Vienna in February 2001, the news service said.

DERIPASKA, ABRAMOVICH DOMINATE ALUMINIUM SECTOR. Oleg Deripaska and Roman Abramovich, two oligarchs with close ties to Vladimir Putin, have achieved almost complete control over the Russian aluminum industry after another controversial magnate, Mikhail Chernoy, announced that he had sold his shares in the aluminum business, "Vedomosti" reported on 30 March. Chernoy currently is under house arrest in Israel on suspicion of laundering more than $143 million in that country.

PUTIN RESHUFFLES POWER MINISTRY HEADS... President Vladimir Putin reshuffled his top security aides and got widespread credit for naming a civilian to be defense minister. But in fact, he simply used this move, one year after becoming president in his own right, to consolidate his hold on these key levers of power.

...REORGANIZES DEFENSE INDUSTRY SECTOR... Aleksandr Dondukov, the minister for industry, science and technology, told the Military News Agency on 29 March that Russia's military industry will be transformed through the consolidation of hundreds of defense contractors into 36 large corportations or holding companies. Those in turn will be consolidated into three basic clusters: producers of large equipment like ships, producers of weapons, and producers of control and logistics equipment. These corporations will be state run and have independent access to the world market, he said.

...AS NEW DEFENSE MINISTER SHIFTS ON MILITARY REFORM. New Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that planned reductions in the size of the military are intended to "give the army mobility and a modern shape," ITAR-TASS reported on 29 March. He said that the country could not move to a fully professional army for at least ten years.

CORRUPTION IN STRATEGIC FORCES EXPOSED. "Moskovskiy komsomoloets" reported on 28 March that the Defense Ministry is trying to cover up massive theft in the strategic rocket forces but that the cases are so egregious that they are showing up in court. At the center of the affair is Valery Mazykin, one of the heads of the strategic forces logistics directorates. Together with 11 other officers, he plundered millions of dollars of funds and equipment. There are already 180 volumes of evidence, the paper said.

MOSCOW, MINSK SET UP JOINT MEDIA GROUP. The head of the Television and radio broadcasting company Soyuz, Valentin Lazutkin, announced the creation of a Russian-Belarusian mass media holding that will include several newspapers, the radio station Soyuz, and web portals and, RIA-Novosti reported on 28 March.

PRESS MINISTRY REJECTS RENEWAL OF VOA LICENCES. Deputy Press Minister Mikhail Seslavinsky said that his agency had not renewed VOA licenses for rebroadcasting in Ufa and Volgograd because officials did not vote in sufficient numbers to do so, Russian agencies reported. VOA has announced that it will reapply.

MOSCOW NO LONGER TO FOLLOW IMF DIKTAT. Vice Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin said Moscow has not signed a new cooperation program with the International Monetary Fund and will thus "not be accountable to the IMF" in the ways it has in the past, RIA-Novosti reported. But at the same time, Kudrin continued, the Russian government will cooperate with the IMF on "a post-program basis." He added that Russia will pay its debts to the Paris Club as scheduled.

SPY WAR MAY BREAK OUT IN BRITAIN... The tit-for-tat expulsions in Washington and Moscow may extend to London in the near future, "Nezavsimaya gazeta" reported on 27 March. The paper said that Prime Minister Tony Blair had complained to President Vladimir Putin directly at their Stockholm meeting, something British officials later denied. At the same time, the British Foreign Office said that "we are looking carefully as to whether the Russians have crossed the line. If we find that they have, we will do as the Americans did," London newspapers reported.

...AND GERMANY. The German counterintelligence agency BundesVerfassungschutz has concluded that in the past year, Russia increased the number of intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover. In its annual report published at the agency website (, German Interior Minister Otto Schily directly connected the increase to the rise of Putin in Moscow.

SUPREME COURT REVERSES 'SPY' CASE. The Russian Supreme Court has voided the conviction and sentence of former diplomat and researcher Platon Obukhov who was convicted of spying for Britain in 1999, Ekho Moskvy reported on 28 March. Obukhov's family and lawyers said that he is mentally ill and that the case against him was fabricated by the FSB.


By Victor Yasmann

On 26 March Vladimir Putin announced personnel changes at the top of three key security agencies: the Security Council, the Defense Ministry, and the Interior Ministry. Sergei Ivanov, who had been in charge of the Security Council, became defense minister. Vladimir Rushailo, who had been at interior, replaces Ivanov at the Security Council, And Duma Unity head Boris Gryzlov takes over at interior.

Much of the press coverage has focused on the ways in which these changes "demilitarize" the Russian security establishment and increase "transparency" in its decision making. But such conclusions appear to miss the point: Ivanov's move to the Defense Ministry appears likely to restore a balance in foreign affairs between the Foreign Ministry and the Security Council. As long as Sergie Ivanov was at the helm of the council, he could overrule Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov with little difficulty. But now that may change, and Sergei Ivanov's shift may be intended to send a signal to Washington that Russia too can have a good cop-bad cop foreign policy team much like what many Russians see as the pairing of Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Putin's other moves are interesting and perhaps equally symbolic. Rushailo and Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov, who lost his job in this reshuffle, are holdovers from Yeltsin's time and close proteges of embattled media magnate Boris Berezovsky. Rushailo's new post is striking in its strangeness and may represent a kicking-upstairs of someone who is not a Putin loyalist. Indeed, with his sacking, Putin now has his own men in all the key security ministerial and agency posts.

Gryzlov's appointment, far from being the unusual move some have suggested, is in fact a return to the Soviet tradition. In Soviet times, communist leaders frequently named to head the Interior Ministry party functionaries with no law enforcement experience but who had shown unquestioned loyalty to the Kremlin. Two of the last Soviet interior ministers, Aleksandr Vlasov and Vadim Vakatin, fit this mold.

Thus Putin has sent a message about who he is and what he wants, but it is a mixed message and one that at least some in his own country and abroad appear already to have misread.