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Security Watch: August 21, 2000

21 August 2000, Volume 1, Number 5
'KURSK' TRAGEDY CASTS DOUBT ON MEDITERRANEAN DEPLOYMENT PLANS. "Krasnaya zvezda," the Russian military newspaper, said that the "Kursk" accident may force Moscow to cancel plans to deploy a Russian carrier group to the Mediterranean this year. Earlier plans called for sending the aircraft carrier "Admiral Kuznetsov" to the Mediterranean in accordance with the provisions of President Vladimir Putin's new military doctrine. The "Kursk" was the only nuclear submarine scheduled to be included in the task force.

CRIMINAL CASE OPENED ON 'KURSK' ACCIDENT. The office of the military prosecutor of the Northern Fleet opened a criminal case concerning the accident of the "Kursk" submarine, even as rescue operations were going on, AVN reported on 16 August. Led by the fleet's deputy prosecutor, a group of officers is scheduled to fly to the nuclear missile cruiser "Peter the Great" and begin their investigation. The military appears to be especially concerned because some of the fleet's most senior officers were on board the "Kursk" at the time of the accident, reported on 15 August.

PUTIN WANTS SMALLER, MORE EFFICIENT ARMY. Speaking to the 11 August Security Council session devoted to reform of the Russian military, President Vladimir Putin said he wanted fewer nuclear missiles and a smaller and more efficient military. "Today we are spending an enormous amount for defense and security," the president said, noting that "we do not know what to do with the mountains of Soviet weapons, some of which are located beyond the national borders [of Russia] and part of which have fallen into the hands of bandits." Moreover, Putin said, the Russian military budget needs to be restructured "if despite spending so much, our pilots are not flying and our seamen are not sailing."

GENERAL SEEKS MORE RUSSIAN TROOPS IN KOSOVA. General Nikolai Staskov, the chief of staff of the Russian airborne troops, told RIA-Novosti on 13 August that the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Kosova should be increased--not cut--in order to match changes in the number of NATO forces there. He suggested that paratroopers currently in Belarus would be good candidates for increasing the strength of the detachment in Kosova.

ZYUGANOV PROMISES TO SUPPORT TOUGH PUTIN POLICIES. Following a two-hour meeting with President Vladimir Putin on 9 August, the day of the Moscow subway bombing, Gennadii Zyuganov, the leader of the Russian Communist Party (KPRF), said his followers will support "the toughest measures of the government against terrorism, crime, and drug trafficking," the KPRF press service reported. Zyuganov said he had in mind the possible extension of the powers of law enforcement bodies and also modifications of current laws governing the police and terrorism, "Izvestiya" reported on 11 August

ORTHODOX CHURCH ADOPTS FAR-REACHING SOCIAL POLICY. The Russian Orthodox Church's Council of Bishops on 14 August adopted a unique, 120-page document defining the church's position on all aspects of life--from foreign policy to education, the mass media, the military, and law enforcement, Russian agencies reported. The document says the state should not involve clerics in political activity; at the same time, it advises the clergy not to be "directly involved in intelligence activities," a hint of the role played by the KGB in the life of the church under communism. In other passages, the doctrine opposes the abolition of the death penalty "in view of the high levels of crime" in Russia at the present time.

PUTIN MEETS COMMUNIST, NATIONALIST EDITORS. President Vladimir Putin received Valentin Chikin, the editor of the pro-Communist "Sovetskaya Rossiya," and Aleksandr Prokhanov, the editor of the rabidly anti-Western "Zavtra" on 10 August. This meeting created an uproar in the more liberal media, some of which suggested that Putin was doing so only to balance his meeting with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev the day before; but after it, both Chikin and Prokhanov and their newspapers endorsed Putin and his policies. Prokhanov said that Putin had struck him as "an intellectual and artistic personality who knows hot to play the role of a frank and attentive interlocutor." And in "Zavtra" No. 32, Prokhanov wrote that behind the program of liberal economist German Gref "is hidden the stern mobilization plans of the Security Council and the General Staff."

MVD REOPENS VOLOSHIN CASE. The Moscow Interior Ministry has stepped up its investigation of the Chara Bank affair that involved the chief of the presidential administration, Aleksandr Voloshin, "Segodnya" reported on 14 August. Until its bankruptcy in 1994, Chara was a favored bank for clients from the cultural and entertainment elites, and Voloshin worked as an investment banker there. At the same time, he served as a financial broker and junior partner in several businesses belonging to Boris Berezovsky. Several published reports have suggested that Chara went bankrupt after Voloshin invested $4.5 million in Berezovsky's fraudulent investment union, ABBA. After the bankruptcy, Chara's director committed suicide, the deputy director was arrested, and investigators launched a wide-ranging case. They uncovered evidence linking the bank to criminal enforcer Vyacheslav Ivankov, who was sent to prison in the U.S. in 1995. But until recently, the investigators had refused to examine Voloshin's role in all of this, noting that the matter is "above their jurisdiction." But with the encouragement of the Duma, they are now looking into his activities as well.

SWISS INVESTIGATOR PROCEEDS WITH IMF LOAN CASE. Geneva Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet said on 14 August that he had ordered raids on two banks in the Ticino canton in connection with the possible diversion of a $4.8 billion IMF loan to Russia in 1998, UPI reported. Kasper-Ansermet is one of the Swiss investigators currently carrying out a broader investigation of alleged money laundering through western institutions, including the Bank of New York and the Republic National Bank. Meanwhile, Aleksei Kudrin, the vice prime minister for finance, told RBK on 15 August that the Russian government had not been informed about this latest action. He said he did not understand "what Geneva's investigators are looking for." But the investigative commission of the Council of Federation had already answered Kudrin's question in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Security Watch," 14 August 2000). Its conclusion was that the actions of the Russian government before and during the default reflect either "complete incompetence" or "intentional illegal actions" which caused enormous harm to the majority of the Russian and foreign firms in the marketplace.

GOVERNMENT READY TO MAKE ECONOMY MORE TRANSPARENT. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and his deputy, Aleksei Kudrin, have agreed to push legislation through the Duma that would strengthen the state's ability to fight money laundering, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 August. Among the basic provisions of the draft legislation is a requirement that banks register all private cash transactions in excess of $10,000. Another specifies that information about transactions must not violate "human rights, commercial, or professional secrets." The paper, owned by Boris Berezovsky, opposes the law, saying that it would make all economic activity "a priori criminal."

AUDIT CHAMBER INVESTIGATES UES, CHUBAIS... Veniamin Sokolov of the Audit Chamber told "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 15 August that his agency had "clear and well-documented" proof that the Russian electricity monopoly UES, which is headed by Anatolii Chubais, had violated the law. Sokolov rejected Chubais's claim in "Kommersant-Daily" on 1 August that his investigation represented "an attempt at red revanchism and renationalization. He pointed to the fact that Chubais had sold only 2 percent of the shares on the Russian domestic market, not the 20 percent required by law. By reducing sales to domestic buyers, Chubais was able to raise more money internally

...BUT IT CLEARS VLADIMIR POTANIN. In the same interview, Sokolov denied that there had been any illegalities in the privatization of Norilsk Nickel. The other controversial privatization deal by Norilsk Nickel, which was led by Vladimir Potanin, was unlawful.


By Paul Goble

A Polish court concluded earlier this month that neither Solidarity founder Lech Walesa nor President Aleksander Kwasniewski had collaborated with communist-era security services, findings that highlights both the continuing impact of this aspect of the communist past and the enormous difficulties people in Eastern Europe have in overcoming it.

Under the terms of a new Polish law which requires candidates for public office to declare whether they ever collaborated with the security services during the communist period, Walesa was forced to defend his reputation against charges that he had worked as an agent with the code name "Bolek."

On 11 August, a special screening court concluded that the documents in the files suggesting that Walesa had done so had been planted to discredit him when he was the leader of the anti-Communist Solidarity movement. The decision came less than a day after the same court cleared Kwasniewski of similar allegations.

Had either man been found to have cooperated with the communist security services despite his claims to the contrary, he would have been excluded from serving in any public office for a period of ten years.

Because of that possibility, many in Poland appear ready to make such charges to advance their own political agendas at the expense of someone else. Indeed, Walesa was very clear in expressing his disappointment that the screening process--which he had backed--had failed to convince everyone that he had not worked in some capacity with communist security agencies.

The political use of such charges now is only one of many reasons people in these countries and abroad have argued against this or any other effort at lustration, at the exposure of senior communist officials and especially communist-era security officers from the past so that they will not be able to subvert democratic efforts to overcome that past.

Opponents of such efforts suggest that the communist-era secret police files are not an especially reliable source. Not only did secret policemen in communist times have an interest in claiming greater successes than they may have had, but on at least some occasions, they may have inserted false information in the files both to compromise people in communist times.

The introduction of such fabrications likely became even more common at the end of the communist period in Eastern Europe. On the one hand, the secret police would have wanted to appear even more successful as things fell apart. And on the other hand, some of them may have been ordered by the Soviet KGB at the time to plant documents that could be used against democratic leaders in the future.

Moreover, those who speak out against lustration frequently argue that any focus on the past will almost inevitably lead to witch hunts against innocent people and thus poison public attitudes at precisely the time that the stability of the countries involved is most at risk.

And finally, opponents of lustration argue that such screenings fail to take into account the fact that people can and do change, that many who were swept up into the net of the communist-era security services had no real choice, and that what people should be most concerned about is the views of people in the present and future rather than their actions in the past.

But despite these arguments, frequently made not only in Eastern Europe but in the West and in Russia as well, many people in that region believe that some effort at lustration is necessary for both practical and moral reasons.

Practically, the supporters of the process Walesa and Kwasniewski went through often suggest such efforts to expose those who did collaborate have the effect of calling attention to the fact that most people did not, even if others assume that they did.

And morally, lustration of the Polish kind in particular does not so much punish individuals for their past action as allow Polish society to express clearly its abhorrence at the activities of the communist-era secret police and the communist past more generally. A rejection of that past, many in these countries argue, is absolutely essential if these societies are to be able to build a future not undermined by the past.

As Walesa and Kwasniewski learned last week, such a process is almost inevitably awkward for both individuals and the societies they live in. And given the high visibility of these two cases, Poles and others as well appear likely to face off again on how best to face up to the past and thereby overcome it.