16 October 2000, Volume 1, Number 13
RUSSIAN ARMY DEATHS IN CHECHNYA APPROACH 2,500. "Kommersant" reported on 6 October that officially the Russian military had suffered 2,472 killed and 7,076 wounded during the first year of the second Chechen war. But the paper noted that in the first week of October alone, 20 Russian soldiers had been killed and 48 wounded. These figures do not include casualties in the ranks of the Interior Ministry, the FSB, and other power ministries whose units are deployed in Chechnya. But other unofficial accountings suggest that the Russian military has already suffered more deaths than it did in the first Chechen campaign from December 1994 to August 1996. During that period, 3,826 Russian soldiers lost their lives, again according to official figures.
FSB ASSUMES NEW ROLE IN BORDER TROOPS. "Versty" reported on 7 October that the Kremlin has decided to dismantle the counterintelligence department of the Federal Border Service (FPS) and transfer them to the FSB. Before the Soviet KGB was divided in 1991, the FSP did not have an independent internal security function and was under the control of the KGB's Military Counterintelligence Directorate. Under President Boris Yeltsin, the FSP gained in status and saw the number of its general officers increase from 95 to 195. The latest change comes under the rubric of military reform, but in practical terms, it will mean that the FSB will gain considerable clout over border troops just as the KGB had before the end of Soviet power.
MOSCOW SLAMS U.S. POSITION IN POPE CASE. The Russian Foreign Ministry on 11 October condemned a U.S. House of Representatives resolution calling for economic sanctions against Moscow unless it released Edmond Pope, a retired U.S. navy officer whom the Russian authorities have accused of espionage, ITAR-TASS reported. The Foreign Ministry said that the resolution represented an attempt by "the noisy minority in the U.S. Congress to intervene rudely into Russian internal affairs." Duma speaker Gennady Seleznev said that "economic relations must not be harmed by political differences." And FSB spokesman Andrei Larushin said that "attempts to put pressure on our justice system do no honor to the American position," "Izvestiya" reported on 6 October.
FSB DETAINS U.S. EMBASSY SHOOTING SUSPECT. The FSB Public Relations Center announced on 11 October that its agents have arrested Sergei Gavryukhin, a car repair shop manager, on charges of shooting an RPG at the U.S. embassy in Moscow in July 1995, RIA-Novosti reported. During a search of his apartment, the FSB said, its officers had discovered large quantities of ammunition as well as anti-Semitic and anti-American literature. But the same day, Gazeta-SNG.ru linked Gavryukhin's arrest to the Pope case, noting that "the surprising detention of Gavryukhin represents a certain gesture towards the American public opinion and U.S. Congress which have taken tough positions in the case of Edmund Pope."
FSB LAUNCHES NEW STATE SECRETS CASE. The Primorsky Krai FSB has charged an oceanology professor, Vladimir Schurov, of divulging state secrets and illegally transferring Weapons of Mass Destruction technology, "Segodnya" reported on 6 October. An FSB spokesman told "Novye izvestiya" on the same day that Schurov had been involved in the export of top secret acoustical equipment to China. But Schurov responded that he and his laboratory had never worked on defense problems. He is the fourth person in the last five years to run afoul of the Primorsky Krai FSB. During that period, the local chekists tried unsuccessfully to convict journalist Grigorii Pashko and scientists Vladimir Soifer and Viktor Akulychev.
MILITARY AND SECURITY
OFFICER TRAINING ENORMOUSLY EXPENSIVE. Even though it gets only half of its new officers from military academies, the Russian military currently spends 10 times as much on students in these 80 institutions than the state spends on students in civilian schools, "Tribuna" reported on 7 October. Most of the military training academies are small, with fewer than 1,000 students each. The paper suggested that the number of military academies should be cut to 10 or fifteen in order to save money and increase efficiency.
NAVAL HEAD DOUBTS 'KURSK' BODIES WILL BE RECOVERED. Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov, the head of the Russian navy, told "Izvestiya" on 10 October that the chances of recovering the bodies of sailors from the sunken "Kursk" submarine are "extremely small." Kuroyedov said that the risks are extremely high, adding that his first priority was "not to lose additional people." He also said that he has not withdrawn the resignation letter he submitted to President Vladimir Putin after the disaster.
MOSCOW CANCELS MEDITERRANEAN FLEET VISIT. Admiral Kuroyedov announced on 12 October that Moscow would not send its ships to the Mediterranean Sea for "at least a year," "Izvestiya" reported. Planned in November, an exercise to that sea was intended to underscore President Putin's plans for "the restoration of a naval presence in areas of Russia's national interests," the paper noted. There had been speculation after the "Kursk" disaster that the fleet exercise would be cancelled -- the "Kursk" was slated to be a centerpiece of this operation -- but the recent political changes in Yugoslavia may also have played a role. Russian commanders earlier had suggested that one of the reasons for sending ships to the Mediterranean was as a show of Russian support for now-departed Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
COMPUTER CRIME HITS GAZPROM. Two men have been arrested for organizing the theft of seven million shares of Gazprom via the use of computers, "Kommersant" reported on 10 October. The paper said that one of the men had been head of a Tver Bank computer center where he gained access to a Gazprom-bank depository. With his accomplice, he transferred the shares and then sold them. Police officials said that the two had repeated this operation 17 times before they were caught.
A SUCCESSOR TO THE CIS? Russian President Vladimir Putin along with the presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan on 10 October signed an accord in Astana creating a Eurasian Economic Commonwealth that is intended to replace the hitherto dysfunctional Custom Union that existed among these countries. On the one hand, the new alliance is intended to provide a coordinating center in place of the CIS; on the other, it is intended to challenge alternative structures like GUUAM, which groups Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. In the EEC, Russia will have 40 votes on decisions, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan 20 votes each, and Tajikistan only 10.
PUTIN TURNS TO EURASIANISM. During his visit to Astana, President Vladimir Putin visited the Lev Gumilyev Eurasian University where he said that the creation of the five-country economic alliance represented a step toward the realization of the Eurasian Union ideas advanced by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in 1994. The two presidents also issued a joint statement calling for agreement on the status of the Caspian Sea and a joint energy policy.
A JOINT FORCE IN CENTRAL ASIA? The president of Russia, along with the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Armenia signed a declaration in Bishkek calling for the establishment of a common military strategy and even combined units to ward off terrorism and extremism, Russian Security Council head Sergei Ivanov told RIA-Novosti on 11 October. He pointed out that such a joint regional force will include both Russian forces already there as well as border guard units.
RUSSIA, SOUTH KOREA AGREE ON PIPELINE. South Korean Prime Minister Lee Han-dong signed an agreement with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov in Moscow calling for the laying of a pipeline from Russia's Primorsky Krai through North Korea to the south, RBK reported on 11 October. The two sides also agreed on the construction of a transcontinental transport corridor from Seoul to Europe, a project in which South Korean investment might allow Moscow to write off its $1.7 billion debt to Seoul.
MILOSEVIC MONEY MAY BE IN RUSSIA AND CYPRUS. Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's financial assets, which some reports say total as much as $3.8 billion, may be hidden in Russia and Cyprus, "Kommersant" reported on 11 October. His personal banker, Borka Vucic, visited Russia earlier this year, ostensibly to negotiate Yugoslav energy debts to Russia but reportedly to deal with Milosevic's accounts as well.
MASS MEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS
KREMLIN MOVES TO CAPTURE INTERNET MEDIA. With little fanfare, the popular news portal vesti.ru has been taken over by Glev Pavlovsky's Kremlin-controlled Fund for Efficient Policy (FEP), internet.ru reported on 9 October. It had been run by Internet veteran Anton Nosik, but after Nosik criticized President Putin for his handling of the "Kursk" disaster, he and his entire editorial board were forced out. The new board, controlled by Pavlovsky, has announced that it will be devoted to patriotic themes, God, and "right-wing views." The FEP already controls -- in one way or another -- Russia's largest news sites: gazeta.ru, dealine.ru, strana.ru, and now vesti.ru.
'VEK' SAYS RFE/RL A BETTER SOURCE THAN ORT OR NTV. In its 40th issue, "Vek" said that Radio Liberty's "Correspondents' Hour" provides more topical regional news than do the two national television channels in the course of the week. The domestic media, "Vek" noted, focus almost exclusively on Moscow personalities and ignore developments elsewhere in the country.
KREMLIN GIVES COMMUNISTS AIRTIME FOR LOYALTY. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation and its allies plan to set up their own media holding company which jointly controls their largest newspapers, "Pravda," "Sovetskaya Rossiya," and "Zavtra," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 11 October. But that paper's most dramatic revelation was that the Kremlin has offered the communists additional free television and radio time in exchange for loyalty to the regime on key issues. But it remains unclear just how much value this has for Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov. He now appears on television as often as any other leader.
KREMLIN SEEKS TO CONTROL MEDIA-MOST SATELLITE. On behalf of the Russian Finance Ministry, the state-owned Vneshekombank has sued Media-MOST to recover $30.8 million in debt, "Izvestiya" reported on 11 October. If Vneshekombank wins, then the court will transfer control of Media-MOST's Bonum-1 satellite to Kremlin control, effectively destroying Vladimir Gusinsky's holdings from space.
RUSSIAN 'KOMPROMAT' NOW IN POLYNESIA. Russian clans reportedly are conducting their kompromat wars on the tiny Polynesian island of Niue, "Moskovskiye novosti" reported on 10 October. That island has its own Internet domain (.nu), and Russian users of "kompromat" have found it a useful place to post things because they cannot be traced easily.
RUSSIA TO SING A NEW SONG. St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, who serves as the chairman of the State Council's Committee for National Symbols, said that his group currently is considering two basic variants for a new Russian national anthem, Pravda.ru reported on 11 October. One would simply update the old Soviet hymn; the other would be use as the national anthem the Soviet patriotic song "How Large is My Dear Country." Yakovlev expressed his personal view that the Glinka melody approved by Boris Yeltsin is also under consideration but that its "melody is too complicated to sing."
END NOTEA NEW THREAT TO RELIGIOUS MINORITIES?
By Paul Goble
New Russian government efforts to enlist the Orthodox Church in Moscow's fight against religious minorities -- who some Russian officials say threaten Russia -- could threaten religious liberty in that country. Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said in Volgograd on 6 October that the Russian police and religious leaders should combine forces to oppose cults and sects which "aim to undermine statehood in Russia."
Rushailo's remarks represent the Russian government's clearest response so far to requests from the Russian Orthodox Church for a special relationship with the state and to the court-imposed limitations on government controls over religious groups.
Since the collapse of Soviet power, Russian Orthodox hierarchs have sought to enlist the government in opposing the missionary activities of various non-indigenous religious groups, denominations which the Orthodox often describe as "foreign."
Responding to this effort, the Russian government drafted and passed a law that not only underscored the special relationship between the state and Orthodoxy, but also set the stage for Russian government moves against religious competitors.
But last year, Russia's Constitutional Court struck down several provisions of that law, after a group of Jehovah's Witnesses argued that the law violated the principle of freedom of conscience as enshrined in the 1993 Russian Constitution.
Rushailo's proposed alliance between state and church thus appears to be an effort to circumvent this ruling. On the one hand, it could open the way for the state to use the church to fight some of its battles. And on the other, this alliance may suggest to both Orthodox and others that at least some in the church are prepared to play the kind of intelligence and control function that some priests and hierarchs played during Soviet times.
The timing of Rushailo's suggestion makes it particularly likely that his remarks will be especially troubling both to followers of minority denominations and to those concerned about religious and human rights.
On 3 October, the U.S. State Department publicly condemned attacks on a Jewish school in Ryazan on 17 September, and on assemblies of Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons in Volgograd -- the site of Rushailo's remarks -- on August 20.
The State Department called on the Russian authorities to "conduct full and thorough investigations on an urgent basis," and said that "those responsible should be prosecuted to the fullest extent under Russian law."
The U.S. statement provided details on all three attacks. In Ryazan, the statement said, a group of youths had broken into a Jewish Saturday school, shouted anti-Semitic slogans, and intimidated the local principal into denying the Jews further use of the school.
Local officials have told the media that they are investigating the case. But they have made no arrests, and at least one Ryazan official dismissed the event as simple hooliganism with no broader meaning.
In Volgograd, the State Department noted, other groups of extremists burst into the services of the two Christian denominations and beat worshipers, directly threatening several Mormon missionaries from the United States.
In addition, the statement pointed out, officials close to President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and regional officials whom the Kremlin actively supports have made openly anti-Semitic remarks.
Such actions and remarks, the State Department said, "undermine efforts to create a tolerant society under the rule of law." It added that "all Russian citizens must be afforded the greatest possible protection of their religious and hard-won democratic freedoms."
At least some Russians who view religious minorities as a threat may read Rushailo's words as Moscow's response to the U.S. on this point, and thus see his words as a kind of official blessing for attacks on religious minorities -- even if that was not his intention.
If that should happen, then the tragic events of Ryazan and Volgograd may very well be repeated elsewhere, a development that could threaten not only the followers of minority religions in Russia, but the very possibility of religious freedom in the country.