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Security Watch: May 14, 2001

14 May 2001, Volume 2, Number 19
MOSCOW SEEKS TO BOOST TIES WITH LIBYA. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov spent two days in Libya seeking to restore Russian ties -- including in the security area -- with Libyan leader Muammar Qadaffi, ORT reported on 9 May. Ivanov discussed an upcoming exchange of visits by President Vladimir Putin to Tripoli and Qadaffi to Moscow. "Kommersant-Daily" noted on 8 May that Moscow is pointedly ignoring Washington by pushing to develop ties with a country that the U.S. has concluded sponsors terrorism.

ALEKSII II SAYS POPE SHOULD NOT COUNT ON COMING TO RUSSIA. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II said on 8 May that Pope John Paul II should not count on visiting Russia anytime soon, RIA-Novosti. Aleksii said that the reason for that is the Catholic Church's "obvious expansion" into Russia and neighboring countries, a process that is taking place "despite talks about reconciliation and apologies" by the pope to the Orthodox world.

BELGIAN VISA DECISION INFURIATES MOSCOW. Belgium's decision to suspend the issuance of visas to Russians because so many of those who receive them and come to Belgium then apply for asylum has infuriated Moscow, "Izvestiya" reported on 8 May. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that it will take "adequate measures" in response to the unilateral Belgian action.

MOSCOW SEEKS FORMAL RECOGNITION AS MARKET ECONOMY. Maksim Medvedkov, the first deputy economic development and trade minister, told Prime-TASS on 8 May that the Russian government later this month will seek Washington's official recognition that Russia has a market economy. If the U.S. does so, Medvedkov noted, that will allow Russia to regain some of the $2.1 billion it is now losing because of restrictions in the West against non-market economies. It will also give Moscow a boost in its application for WTO membership.

A NEW PLAN FOR PRIVATIZATION OF THE DEFENSE SECTOR. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has called for the drafting of a new federal program outlining the steps needed to privatize the country's military industries by 2010, Finmarket reported on 7 May. The prime minister seeks an evaluation of the government's position in Mitatom, Rosaviakosmos, Rossudostroenie, and Rosboepripasy.

MOSCOW TURNS DOWN WORLD BANK LOAN. The Russian government has decided to turn down a $150 million World Bank loan intended to help Moscow combat tuberculosis, reported on 9 May. Russian health officials said that there is adequate domestic funding, but the website suggested that the real reason is that Russian drug companies fear they would lose out to western pharmaceutical manufacturers if the government were to accept the loan.

PRO-PUTIN YOUTH GROUP MARKS PUTIN'S FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE. Young people who back President Vladimir Putin have constituted themselves as the "Walking Together" group and organized a 10,000-person strong demonstration in Red Square to mark his first year in office, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 8 May. The group's leader, Vasili Yakemenko, said that "youth is rejoicing at Putin's presidency because he has turned his face to Russia and his backside to the West." Yakemenko, who earlier worked for the presidential administration, insisted that Kremlin officials have had nothing to do with his new group.

PUTIN REVIVES SOVIET TRADITIONS ON V-DAY... President Putin presented Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov a Soviet-style red banner as the new/restored official flag of the Russian military, RIA-Novosti reported on 8 May. Moreover, in his address to military commanders, Putin said that he had introduced this symbol to "revive 'the spirit of victory' in Russian troops." Speaking the same day to World War II veterans, Putin said that fascism is "not the only threat to the world." Others, he said, include "attempts by ambitious politicians or even whole countries to dominate the world or reshape it" -- a clear reference to Russian complaints about the United States.

...AS LEFT OPPOSITION STEPS UP ATTACKS ON 'ANTI-PEOPLE REGIME.' In language they have avoided using until now, leaders of leftist parties, including communists, directly attacked President Vladimir Putin and his government recently. Communist party chief Gennadii Zyuganov, for example, told 10,000 followers that "Putin is the Yeltsin of today." And former Defense Minister Igor Rodionov said that Putin will lead Russia to "a capitulation before America," ORT reported on 8 May.

TOO MANY PEOPLE CLAIMING COMBAT VETERAN BENEFITS. More than 10 million people are claiming benefits as combat veterans of World War II but only about one million Russians are still alive who actually fought in that conflict, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 8 May.

VOTERS URGE PUTIN TO SACK KIRIENKO. A group of voters from Nizhnii Novgorod united in a group calling itself "The Will of People," and led by retired MVD General Sergei Selivertsov, has called on President Putin to fire Sergei Kirienko as the presidential envoy to the Volga federal district, "Tribuna" reported on 9 May. The group blames Kirienko for the August 1998 default and charges him with corruption now.

A NEW WAVE OF 'KOMPROMAT' HITS MOSCOW'S ESTABLISHMENT. The investigative Internet magazine "Stringer" on 8 May published transcripts on its website ( of what it described as a dozen intercepted telephone conversations of leading Russian political and public figures, including the chief of the presidential administration, Aleksandr Voloshin, oligarchs Rem Vyakhirev and Roman Abramovich, and top spinmasters Gleb Pavlovsky and Aleksandr Kulistikov. These transcripts are the first major leak of compromising materials in Putin's time in office, and they show, in the words of London's "Daily Telegraph" on 10 May "the sycophancy and cynicism of Russia's establishment under President Putin."

MOSCOW FORCED TO SUSPEND TROOP WITHDRAWAL. After much comment about withdrawing "excessive" troops from Chechnya, Russian military commands have acknowledged that only 5,000 troops have been removed and that further withdrawals have been stopped because of the deteriorating military situation there, reported on 8 May.

NIKOLAEV LEADS RUSSIAN OPPOSITION TO BUSH MISSILE DEFENSE INITIATIVE. General Andrei Nikolaev, the head of the Duma Defense Committee, has taken the lead in attacking the U.S. missile-defense initiative proposed by President George W. Bush, RIA-Novosti reported on 10 May. Nikolaev has repeatedly said that the initiative is intended to "seal American dominance" of the world and also provide billions of dollars to U.S. defense contractors. To justify this expense, Nikolaev said, Washington must posit bigger enemies, such as China and Russia, than the rogue states it often talks about.

MILITARY LOSES CONTACT WITH ITS SATELLITES. A fire in the Kaluga command center has interrupted the Russian Defense Ministry's Space Forces communications with its "Oko" early warning military satellites, RTR reported on 11 May. Space troops commander Anatolii Perminov told NTV television that the loss of control was temporary and the fire damage insignificant, but Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said the fire had lasted at least 12 hours and made the restoration of full control over the satellites impossible.

GENERAL SUSPECTED OF CORRUPTION FIRED. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has fired Colonel General Vyacheslav Meleshko, who for many years enjoyed an "untouchable status" as personal crony of the former minister, Igor Sergeev, "Profil" No. 17 reported. Meleshko earlier had survived several investigations into corruption, including one in 1997 that suggested he had been involved in the embezzlement of 60 billion rubles ($2.12 billion). In his place, Ivanov has named a former security services general and his personal friend, Nikolai Pankov.

MILITARY TO BE AUDITED, REFORMED. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has directed his deputy, Lyubov Kudelina, to conduct a comprehensive audit of all Defense Ministry functions and to abolish institutions which duplicate the work of others, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 3 May. To assist her in this process, Sergeev resubordinated the Defense Financial Inspectorate as well as the directorates of military economic analysis, military budget and finance, and civil personnel salary and benefits to Kudelina.

FINNISH OFFICER ARRESTED FOR SPYING FOR RUSSIA. The Finnish security police have arrested a Finnish lieutenant on suspicion of spying for Russia, Finnish state television reported on 9 May. According to the television report, the lieutenant had worked for a research center of the Finland Defense Forces's General Staff. His case is to be heard at the end of May.

SPY CHARGES PART OF FSB CAMPAIGN AGAINST TURKISH MISSION. "Izvestiya" suggested on 8 May that the FSB reports about Turkish spies in Krasnodar Krai may be part of a broader security service effort to block the opening of a Turkish consulate in Novorossiisk. In support of that interpretation, the newspaper said that an FSB officer had told it that Moscow should, in the wake of these spy arrests, "think twice" about allowing Ankara to open a consulate where it could manage spies and provoke the local Kurdish community.

PUTIN'S ECONOMIC POLICY SEEN AS MORE LIBERAL THAN YELTSIN'S. An analysis in "Versty" No. 5 concludes that President Putin has pursued a more steadfastly liberal economic course than his predecessor. It said that he has promoted advances in all areas of the market economy, including tax and custom law, hard currency operations, pension system modernization, and the reorganization of natural resources. The journal stressed that in every case, he has conducted himself "in a very precise, persistent, and meticulous manner."

5.9 MILLION STILL IN UNIFORM. Despite downsizing and decay, Russia still has too many people in uniform serving in the army or militarized agencies, "Kommersant-Vlast" reported on 4 May. The Interior Ministry and the Communications Ministry have 1.5 million uniformed personnel each. The Defense Ministry has 1.2 million, the federal border guards have 200,000, and the Tax Ministry 164,000. Along with several others that adds up to a number -- 5.9 million -- roughly equal to the size of the German army that invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the weekly said.

DECLINE OF STATE-SUPPORTED EDUCATION SEEN HURTING RUSSIA. Duma deputy Flyura Ziyatdinova said that requiring ever more students to pay for higher education is hurting Russia's scientific, technical, and cultural future, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 May. The paper noted that fewer than 50 percent of Russian students now attend state-supported institutions, compared to 98 percent of students in Western Europe and 77 percent in the United States.

BORODIN GETS DIPLOMATIC PASSPORT FOR SWISS VISIT. Russia-Belarus Union State Secretary and former Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin will have a Russian diplomatic passport for protection when he returns to Switzerland to face questions about his role in a corruption scandal, RIA-Novosti reported on 10 May.

TWO RUSSIAN HACKERS ARRESTED IN U.S. The FBI has arrested two Russian hackers from Chelyabinsk, Aleksei Ivanov and Vasilii Gorshkov, for their role in a massive theft of credit card numbers and other cybercrimes, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 7 May. The two not only stole via the Internet but blackmailed institutions by threatening to publicize the numbers they had taken. The FBI lured the two to the U.S. with false job offers, officials said.


By Paul Goble

Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to appoint former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin as ambassador to Ukraine appears to open the door to more such political appointments.

That possibility was explicitly raised by the Russian media on 10 May. Citing "an informed source," the Interfax news agency said Chernomyrdin's appointment reflects a Kremlin interest in making use of former officials who have broad political and economic experience and who have "not lost their political weight and personal connections."

Such reports, in turn, seem certain to spark speculation about who might be the next such nominee. Among the most obvious candidates is former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who recently visited Washington and who has assumed a new and much higher profile in Moscow since the departure of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

In one sense, Putin's appointment of Chernomyrdin effectively brings Russia into line with the pattern in many Western countries where leaders often name as ambassadors to especially important countries their personal friends, major campaign contributors, or senior politicians at the end of their careers, leaving other positions for professional diplomats.

Instead of viewing this as a slight, most of the countries to whom such ambassadors are dispatched tend to view it as a special sign of interest and respect. Thus, for example, the Japanese have been pleased that the American ambassador there had earlier served as senior U.S. senator.

Often these political ambassadors, precisely because they have a direct line to the chief of state at home, are able to accomplish more than professional but less well-connected diplomats. And because they are so perceived, they may in fact be able to do so. Chernomyrdin's ties to Putin and even more to the powerful Russian gas monopoly Gazprom may allow him to accomplish more than any emissary from the Russian Foreign Ministry could.

But in another sense, Putin's action may represent a step toward the restoration of the Soviet-era pattern in the assignment of ambassadors. From the death of Stalin to the end of the Soviet Union, Moscow regularly named Communist party officials to head its missions to satellite countries, dispatched some defeated political opponents into diplomatic exile in smaller states abroad, and generally sent professional diplomats to most other states.

From the establishment of the Soviet bloc after World War II until the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet government generally sent Communist party functionaries, sometimes with brief training at the Diplomatic Academy in Moscow and sometimes without, to serve as its pro-consuls in Eastern European capitals. And these ambassadors more often reported to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Central Committee than to the Soviet Foreign Ministry.

Moscow also used ambassadors as a form of political exile for those who had lost out in power struggles in the Soviet capital. Former Prime Minister Vyacheslav Molotov was perhaps the most famous: He was ultimately dispatched to Outer Mongolia. But others also were sent into a similar kind of exile often in a succession of increasingly dim positions.

Elsewhere, the Soviet government generally used professional diplomats, except -- when as in Afghanistan -- Moscow had a broader political agenda that required the assignment not of a diplomat but of a Communist Party official.

The immediate reaction to Chernomyrdin's appointment suggests that many Russian politicians and commentators are drawing from both the Western and the Soviet model. Thus, some have suggested that Chernomyrdin will do especially well precisely because of his ties to the leader in the Kremlin, a kind of analysis familiar to students of Western diplomatic appointments.

But others in their remarks have drawn implicitly on the earlier Soviet pattern, speculating that this may be a form of political exile or an effort to promote a special Russian zone of influence in what many in Moscow continue to call "the near abroad," the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Because Chernomyrdin is the first of this type of Russian ambassador under Putin, it is impossible to say which of these models of the politics of diplomacy is the more appropriate or even whether Putin is seeking to create a new and entirely different one from either of the two.