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Security Watch: August 7, 2000

7 August 2000, Volume 1, Number 3
PUTIN OPPOSES REUNIFYING INTELLIGENCE SERVICES. During a 25 July speech on the occasion of an officers' promotion ceremony in the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he was against reuniting the country's intelligence services into a single unit modeled on the Soviet-era KGB, Voice of Russia radio reported. "We do not need this," the president said, "but each of the services should be close enough to the other to feel its shoulders."

MILITARY FEUD PUTS PUTIN IN DIFFICULT POSITION. Russian President Putin needs the support of both groups in the feud that has engulfed the senior ranks of the military and led to the sacking of six senior generals. Five of the six generals fired were responsible for logistics and hence controlled enormous sums of money. They were clearly allies of Defense Minister Igor Sergeev in his opposition to General Staff chief Anatolii Kvashnin, who wants to downsize the Strategic Missile Forces. But their dismissals do not point to the imminent departure of Sergeev. At least on paper, Sergeyev remains in charge of Russia's "counterterrorist operation" in Chechnya, and Putin appears unwilling to fire him lest he send the wrong signal both to Russian troops and Chechen fighters.

TWO KINDS OF OLIGARCHS. Sergei Markov, the director of the Moscow Institute of Political Research, said in "Literaturnaya gazeta," no. 31, that there are two kinds of oligarchs in Russia and that President Putin views them as separate and distinct. The first, or "old," oligarchs include Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Potanin, Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, Rem Vyakhirev, and Vakhit Alekperov. Their wealth was created via sweetheart deals with the government. The second, or "new," oligarchs include Roman Abramovich, Aleksandr Mamut, Oleg Deripaska, Sergei Pugachev, and many lesser known businessmen. Putin, Markov suggests, sees the first group as his political opponents who must be destroyed because of their political skills. He views the second as potential allies because they will fall in line after any warning from him.

FAPSI PROBES POTENTIAL FOR CLASS PROTEST. Moscow's Federal Agency of Government Communication and Information (FAPSI)--the electronic information gathering arm of the government--has confirmed that poverty is currently the main concern of many Russians. According to the poll conducted by the agency in May among 6,441 respondents in 63 regions, the main concern of 64.3 percent is low income and poverty, while 52.6 percent named social insecurity and the uneven distribution of wealth. But only one in nine--some 11.7 percent--said they were ready to participate in protests.

PUTIN FOLLOWS ZHIRINOVSKY ON CONTACTS WITH RADICAL STATES. Russian President Putin's expanding contacts with radical regimes in Iraq, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Cuba--which earlier were Soviet client states--reflects the ideas of Russian extreme nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. But Zhirinovsky's parentage of this approach is something many in Moscow are at pains to deny. The most recent effort came in an essay by Mikhail Golovin on the website on 2 August, in which he argued that the only reason Putin is pursuing this policy is to beat the West to the oil and mineral resources of these countries.

KREMLIN GIVES IRAQI RED CARPET TREATMENT. Visiting Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz was given the red carpet treatment during his recent trip to Moscow. He met with President Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroev. Moreover, the joint communique issued at the end of his trip calls for an end to UN sanctions against Iraq and denounced those with "ambitions to build a unipolar world." In a separate statement, Foreign Minister Ivanov sharply criticized U.S. objections to the meetings: "Russia is a sovereign and independent state and decides on its own how it will conduct its relations and with whom," Interfax reported on 28 July.

RUSSIA, IRAN REAFFIRM POSITIONS ON CASPIAN. Talks between visiting Russian envoy Viktor Kaluzhnyi and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Morteza Sarmadi in Tehran on 31 July found both sides restating their positions, RIA-Novosti reported. Both countries agree that any solution to the dispute will have to be based on the 1923 and 1940 Soviet-Iranian accords, even though the other littoral states--Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan--argue that such an arrangement leaves them shortchanged. But if Moscow and Tehran agree on that, they do not agree on everything. In an interview before leaving for Iran, Kaluzhnyi suggested that Iran should not get more than it had in the Caspian during Soviet times. Meanwhile, Tehran has invited the Caspian Petroleum Company, which was established on 25 July by Gazprom, LUKoil, and Yukos, to conduct exploratory work off the Iranian coast.

PUTIN READY TO VISIT LIBYA, LIFT SANCTIONS. President Vladimir told visiting Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel Rahman on 31 July that he favored lifting sanctions against Libya and was ready to accept an invitation to visit that country, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian defense officials told Rahman that Moscow was prepared to help modernize the Libyan army. The website on 1 August noted that Moscow also hopes to finish construction of a nuclear power station near Tripoli.

MOSCOW SEES KOREAS RAIL LINK BENEFITING RUSSIA. Efforts by North and South Korea to restore rail ties may allow Russia to serve as a transit corridor from Korea and Europe, ORT television suggested on 1 August. Moreover, if the two Koreas are linked in this way, such transit trade will help to revitalize the current under-capacity of the Trans-Siberian railroad. Moscow has urged shippers to use that railway--arguing that it is far cheaper than shipping from the Far East to Europe--but problems with the line have limited the response to such appeals.

INVESTIGATION OF IMF FUNDS DIVERSION URGED. Nikolai Volkov, a senior investigator in the office of the Russian Prosecutor-General, said on 28 July that he would urge Russian officials to investigate the diversion of billions of dollars from IMF and other Western funds in Russia, NTV reported. In his statement, Volkov cited new evidence he has obtained from Swiss judges. An IMF spokesman said that the charges were a rehash of old reports, but other Western officials suggested that any investigation would be likely to uncover a major diversion. Meanwhile, former Russian Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov said in his recently published book (see "RFE/RL Security Watch," No. 1, 24 July 2000) that $3.9 billion of the last $4.8 billion tranche never made it to Russia. From those corresponding accounts, the funds were then shifted to 18 foreign commercial banks, including several in the United States. Only $471 million of this money was ever used for ruble stabilization. Skuratov was ousted from office before he could investigate these transactions.

SWISS TO PAY DAMAGES TO REPUTED UNDERWORLD FIGURE. A Geneva court has directed the cantonal procuracy to pay $480,000 to Sergei Mikhailov, (aka "Mikhas") for the loss of income he suffered during 778 days he spent in a Swiss prison, "Le Temps" reported on 26 July. In the early and mid-1990s, Mikhas was named by Russian law enforcement agencies as the head of the Solntsevo organized crime family, one of the most notorious in Russia. But the Geneva court failed to prove that Mikhas was tied to this family. According to a former Russian investigator of his case writing in "Tainyi sovetnik" no. 9, the Swiss failed because Moscow was unwilling to hand over Mikhailov's files to Geneva.

COURT REVERSES SPY SENTENCE. The Russian Supreme Court on 27 July voided the sentence handed down by a lower court against Foreign Ministry official Valentin Moiseyev for alleged espionage on behalf of South Korea, ORT television reported. The Supreme Court held that his conviction had been obtained with evidence that had been illegally obtained. But at the same time, it said that Moiseyev should remain in custody while the authorities looked for additional information.

'ALFA' OFFICER VICTIM OF CONTRACT KILLING. Oleg Kapranov, an officer of the secret Russian anti-terrorist group "Alfa," was wounded and later died during an assassination attempt against businessman Yuri Fedorov, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 3 August. Fedorov, who died on the spot, was clearly the main target, but Russian authorities said that they will attempt to learn why Kapranov was accompanying him at that time.

A BRIDGE TOO FAR TO CRIMEA? Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 30 July signed an agreement with Crimean authorities to build a six-kilometer-long rail and car bridge over the Kerch straight separating the Ukrainian peninsula from Russia, RIA-Novosti reported. Such a bridge would cost more than $1 billion, but Luzhkov is pushing the idea as part of his long-standing campaign in support of Russian nationalist claims to Crimea. Joseph Stalin built the first bridge over this strait in 1945, but it was quickly smashed by floating debris and never rebuilt.


By Victor Yasmann

Russian President Vladimir Putin's current campaign against independent media outlets has its roots in Russia's national security information doctrine. That document, drafted by the Presidential Security Council and approved by Vladimir Putin at the end of June, represents a serious challenge to the still fragile independent mass media of the Russian Federation. Despite its breadth--the 40-page document covers everything from the development of the national telecommunications market to questions of intellectual property--the new doctrine is united by a single idea: the need to increase governmental control over the flow of information by establishing a legal basis for such control.

This unusual document was prepared by people whose careers dispose them to conceal and manipulate information rather than to make it public. More than 90 percent of the staff of the Russian Security Council consists of former KGB generals. And they co-opted for the preparation of this document the seven administrators of the newly created superdistricts, five of whom have military and intelligence agency backgrounds.

While nominally committed to freedom of the press and the prohibition of censorship, the document includes language which appears to subvert these general principles. According to the newly approved doctrine, individual Russian citizens currently face a number of threats from the media including "use of the mass media for restriction of the human right for the freedom of conviction," "the propaganda of mass culture based on a cult of violence and values in violation of norms accepted by Russian society," and "the misuse of freedom of information" by the media.

Russians, the document continues, face even greater threats from abroad, including "the activity of foreign states, international terrorist and other criminal entities, organizations, and groups directed at infringement of the interests of the Russian Federation in the information sphere, reduction of state influence on the life of society, and diminishing economic ability of the state to protect the lawful interests of citizens, society, and state in the informational sphere," and even "growing dependence of the spiritual, political, and economic life of the country on foreign information structures."

Such sweeping statements perhaps portend a darker future for media freedom in Russia, but the doctrine's first fruits have begun to appear already. On 22 June, for example, Putin signed an amendment to the press law which bans "the dissemination and propaganda" in the mass media and computer networks about "methods and techniques of preparation, production, acquisition, and use" of illegal drugs and their precursors. While many may welcome this effort to fight the scourge of drugs, they may be less pleased by the precedent it sets to fight the freedom of the Russian media.