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Security Watch: October 23, 2000

23 October 2000, Volume 1, Number 14


BEREZOVSKY INTERROGATED IN AEROFLOT CASE... Oligarch and Vladimir Putin opponent Boris Berezovsky was questioned on 17 October by investigators who are looking into massive money-laundering through Swiss affiliates of Aeroflot that he controlled. Investigators said that their work was intensifying on the basis of documents that Swiss prosecutors have brought to Moscow. But Berezovsky repeated his charge that "the whole case is pure politics, first by Primakov and now by Vladimir Putin." He noted that he had been called in almost immediately after Putin said publicly that "Berezovsky has been investigated too much as a witness in this case and [that] the time has come to interrogate him as a suspect or accused."

...WHILE POSING AS DEFENDER OF DEMOCRACY. Meanwhile, in an op-ed published in "The Washington Post" on 16 October, Berezovsky argued that he and his fellow oligarchs are the only force that can prevent Russia from "retreat[ing] to the past" and moving back to authoritarianism. If many in the West view Berezovsky as he hopes to present himself, many Russians are skeptical about his commitment to democracy. One study of his past, published in "Moskovsky komsomolets" on 19 March 1999, suggested that he had worked closely with the KGB in Soviet times. Specifically, the paper said, he began working with the organs in 1983 when he traveled to Switzerland and Spain, two countries generally closed at that time for Soviet citizens. Moreover, in a television interview last March, Berezovsky himself acknowledged that he had been like others "born in the Soviet system, part of the KGB system."

FSB TRACKS MUSLIM BROTHERHOODS IN RUSSIA. According to the FSB's public relations center website at, the Russian intelligence service has identified representatives of Muslim brotherhoods in 49 Russian regions -- including Moscow. According to the FSB, the goal of these groups is to "inspire separatist movements within the Islamic regions of Russia and create a fundamentalist Islamic state." The website added that these cells are funded by Islamic militants abroad.

PROKHANOV PROMISES TO DEFEND PUTIN. The editor in chief of "Zavtra," Aleksandr Prokhanov, told "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 16 October that he and his nationalist followers will work to prevent "the liberals" from defeating Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prokhanov said that contacts between Putin and himself had been mutually "useful." One consequence of Putin's approach, Prokhanov said, is that "life has become quieter because we are not considered to be dangerous anymore."

ROKHLIN'S WIFE CHARGED WITH HIS MURDER. A Moscow prosecutor has charged Tamara Rokhlin with killing her husband, General Lev Rokhlin, in 1998, NTV reported on 17 October. The prosecutor said that she had done so for "personal" reasons. A popular parliamentarian, Rokhlin was killed by a single shot in his house. At the time, many assumed that his murderer might have been paid for by those whose corruption he had sought to expose. Tamara Rokhlin has pleaded innocent and said that three masked intruders killed her husband. Her lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said that the indictment is complete "nonsense," according to the 17 October "Parlamentskaya gazeta." "If she killed her husband," Kucherena asked, "why was there no trace of gunpowder on her hands?"


MOSCOW WOOS MONGOLIA. A visit by the chief of Russia's General Staff, Anatoly Kvashnin, to Ulaan-Bator on 16-17 October is the latest step in Vladimir Putin's policy of strengthening Russia's position in Asia, "Kommersant" reported on 18 October. The Russian president views Mongolia in much the same way as his predecessors: as a buffer zone with China. But because Mongolia owes Moscow so much money and because its military budget is so small, Ulaan-Bator is not in a position to purchase Russian weapons. As a result, Kvashnin's visit was limited to signing a limited number of largely symbolic accords, the paper said.

DUMA DEPUTIES WANT PUTIN TO REIN IN OIL COMPANIES. Some 102 deputies across the political spectrum -- from Yabloko, Otechestvo, Narodny deputat, Rossiiskie Regiony, and the Communist Party -- have sent an open letter to President Vladimir Putin asking him to impose more state control over the oil sector and improve tax collections from it, "Sovetskaya Rossiya" reported on 16 October. In their letter, the deputies noted that while the world price for oil has gone up, the major Russian oil enterprises continue to keep the so-called internal corporate price three to eight times lower than actual domestic and international prices. That allows the oil magnates to evade tens of billions of rubles in taxes. Meanwhile, political scientist Boris Kagarlitsky argued in the 17 October "Novaya gazeta" that despite much publicity to the contrary, Putin now maintains an alliance with most of the oligarchs except for Vladimir Gusinsky and suggested that this will gradually push the Russian moderates to the left. The open letter suggests that this may already be happening.

MOSCOW TAKES CONTROL OF CHECHEN OIL INDUSTRY. Viktor Khristenko, the vice prime minister responsible for energy and fuel, told "Kommersant" on 17 October that Moscow and not the Chechen government will control the oil industry there. He added that the Russian government had established a 100 percent-Rosneft owned Chechen Oil Company in place of Grozneftegaz. This means that the head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, Akhmad Kadyrov, will not have access to oil revenues. "Vedomosti" noted on the same day that the government will use the revenue from Chechnya to compensate Transneft for the $130 million this Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich-controlled company had spent in building the pipeline around Chechnya and which has been idle for most of the last year.

RUSSIA TO GAIN SHARE OF UKRAINIAN PIPELINES... Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an agreement with his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma that sets the stage for Russian ownership of privatized Ukrainian oil and gas infrastructure, Russian news services reported on 17 October. The accord allows Russian firms to purchase up to 49 percent of the Ukrainian national pipeline network and to move gas from Turkmenistan -- equal in volume to Gazprom's supplies to Ukraine -- through Russian territory. As a result, Gazprom and other Russian supplies gain control over Ukrainian pipelines, Moscow retains the dominant position in controlling the flow of Turkmen gas to Ukraine and will earn transit fees from that, and Russia will now be in a better position to pressure Turkmenistan as this deal with Ukraine effectively integrates Ashgabat into the Russian energy grid.

...EVEN AS IT WORKS ON PIPELINES TO BYPASS UKRAINE. Gazprom has signed a memorandum of understanding with Germany's Ruhrgas, France's Gaz de France, and the Italian gas giant ENI on financing for new pipelines that will bypass Ukraine, "Vedomosti" reported on 18 October. The Gazprom pipeline is to go through Belarus, Poland, and Slovakia on its way to Western Europe. The paper noted that the main obstacle to Russian designs is EU opposition to this obvious isolation of Ukraine, but it noted that President Vladimir Putin hopes to overcome these objections during talks with EU leaders in Paris on 30 October.

THREE NEW MILITARY SATELLITES IN ORBIT. The Russian Defense Ministry has put three new Hurricane military satellites into orbit, boosting the military's telecommunication system GLONASS, the military news agency reported on 14 October. Created in 1993, GLONASS is analogous to the U.S. NAVSTAR system. Initially it had 24 satellites, but because more had re-entered the atmosphere than been launched over the last few years, the number had fallen to eight before this latest launch. Another reason why there were so few new launches is that the army has many more immediate problems than satellite communications. At present, the U.S. army has 200,000 receiving stations for NAVSTAR; Russia has only 1,000.

MILITARY SEEKS TO CUT DEFERMENTS TO MEET DRAFT TARGETS. Vladislav Putilin, chief of the general staff's main mobilization department, told "Nezavisimoye voennoye obozreniye" no. 41 that the Russian army continues to experience a manpower shortage and hopes to reduce it by cutting the number of young men now deferred. At present, the military is able to draft only 17 percent of draft-age men. In addition, he said, the army would increase its reliance on contract soldiers.

LEFT AND RIGHT OPPOSE PROPOSED FINANCE POLICE. Deputies across the political system have spoken out against a draft bill that would reorganize the Federal tax police into a powerful secret service dealing with all kinds of economic crimes. Such a "KGB-like monster," "Kommersant" reported, would completely destroy banking confidentiality and thus make Russia less attractive for investments. At the same time, Duma Defense Committee member Viktor Ilyukhin, a communist who has often sponsored many anti-corruption measures, said that he does not see any need for the creation of a new "super-service," the BBC reported on 17 October.

RUSSIAN SECURITY CHIEF SEEKS EXPANDED TIES WITH IRAN. Sergei Ivanov, the chief of the Russian Security Council, said in Tehran on 18 October that "the current international situation requires even closer coordination of policies by Russia and Iran," IRNA reported. He said that "there is a determination among Russian leaders for strong ties with Iran on many fronts and we are serious about pursuing them." Ivanov met with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami both to prepare the latter's upcoming visit to Moscow and to promote the north-south transcontinental transport corridor (see "RFE/RL Security Watch," no. 12, 9 October 2000). The two sides also discussed the status of the Caspian Sea, extremist threats in Central Asia, and the construction of a plant in Iran capable of producing TU-330-100 aircraft, Finmarket agency reported on 17 October.

CHERNOMYRDIN DENIES BUSH'S CHARGE; OTHERS WANT INFORMATION. Former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin reacted angrily to a suggestion by Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush that Chernomyrdin had been involved in corruption. "I can only say that his words are unworthy," Chernomyrdin told ITAR-TASS on 16 October. He said that he will seek an apology and possibly launch a formal slander suit. But former FSB director and the chairman of the Duma's anti-corruption committee, Nikolai Kovalev, said that he and his colleagues would like any information the Americans have on Chernomyrdin's involvement in corruption. The sharing of such materials, Kovalev said, would contribute to "a more open and honest relationship" and "improve the investment climate" in Russia.


PRIMAKOV SAYS THE MEDIA MUST BE PROTECTED FROM ITSELF. Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov told "Moskovsky komsomolets" on 17 October that "the main threat to freedom of the press [in Russia] is the press itself," and that the government take action to defend the media from its own activities. Meanwhile, Mikhail Seslavinsky, the first deputy media minister, said that investors should not be allowed to influence media policy or "impose on their audiences the point of view of particular individuals and groups." He said that falling advertising revenues will force television to change its broadcasting and that "any talk about restrictions on freedom of the press in this context is irrelevant."

INFORMATION SECURITY DRAFT URGES STRENGTHENING STATE CONTROL. Vladislav Sherstyuk, the deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council and one of the authors of Russia's new information security doctrine, said that the role of the state in controlling the media must be expanded because "citizens are not getting enough information on the activity of their government," "Nezavisimoye voennoye obozreniye," no. 41, reported. He added that the Security Council is currently developing additional documents on information policy.

MEDIA-MOST WINS SUIT AGAINST FSB. A district court in Moscow found for Media-MOST in its suit against the FSB for "slandering its business reputation" as a result of information the FSB made public earlier this year, RIA-Novosti reported on 18 October. The Russian intelligence service had suggested that Media-MOST had been involved in illegal surveillance activities and the distribution of compromising materials. The court held that the FSB must apologize for this on ORT during prime time. But Aleksandr Zdanovich, the head of the FSB's public relations center, said that the court lacked jurisdiction and that the FSB will not follow its orders.


FASCIST RUNS FOR MAYOR OF BLAGOVESHCHENSK. Fascist groups allied around the Russian National Unity (RNE) movement are hoping to raise their political profile by winning the mayor's office in the Far Eastern city of Blagoveshchensk, Interfax reported on 17 October. A day earlier, the Russian news service said, supporters of pro-fascist candidate Sergei Kolyadin held a meeting to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of the local RNE branch. Earlier, they had organized a meeting of fascist organizations from throughout Siberia and the Russian Far East, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 14 October.

COSSACK CONGRESS ATTACKS JEWS. The third World Cossack Congress in Krasnodar featured expressions of national and racial hatred, reported on 17 October. Held under the slogan "Shame on Zionism," the group listened to the speech of Krasnodar Krai Governor Nikolai Kondratenko in which he called for "separating Moscow, with its Zionists and oligarchs," from the rest of Russia.


FSB, CHINESE CLASH IN FAR EAST. Rising tensions between ethnic Chinese and local Russians in the Russian Far East have led to some fistfights, including at least one between an FSB officer and a Chinese hotel manager, reported on 16 October. After the fisticuffs, the Chinese Consulate-General in Vladivostok sent a protest to the Russian Foreign Ministry, but Russian police said that the Chinese were to blame.