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Security Watch: November 27, 2000

27 November 2000, Volume 1, Number 19
KREMLIN SEEKS CONTROL OF JOURNALISTS' UNION. The Kremlin wants to replace the current leader of the Union of Journalists, Vsevelod Bogdanov, with Aleksandr Lyubimov, the president of VID television, "Sovetskaya Rossiya" reported on 19 November. Bogdanov has annoyed the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin with his repeated defense of freedom of the press and his independent stance on political issues. Lyubimov, the son of a former KGB resident in Denmark, is thought to be more malleable. Among professional journalists, however, he has little respect because of his repeated flip-flops on the authorities.

MASS MEDIA LOSE SOME PROTECTIONS. The Constitutional Court on 22 November ruled that certain protections given to the media by the Law on State Support for the Mass Media and Book Publishing violate constitutional guarantees, RIA-Novosti reported on 22 November. The provision, now struck down, gave media outlets the right to use federally-owned office space. While widespread under former President Boris Yeltsin, the court held that the media cannot use these offices "without the consent of its federal and municipal owners and/or appropriate compensation for it." Judge Valery Zorkin said that this measure was not directed against the media as such but only intended to restore "the balance between freedom of the press and property rights."

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA EDITOR CRITICIZES BEREZOVSKY. Vitaly Tretyakov, the editor in chief of "Nezavisimaya gazeta," said that oligarch Boris Berezovsky will not have any support in Russia if he continues to criticize President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government, "Literaturnaya gazeta" no. 46, reported. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" is partially owned by Berezovsky, who is refusing to return to Russia. Tretyakov added that "any political activity can be fruitful only if it originates within Russia and especially within Moscow."

WHY DID BLAIR VISIT MOSCOW? British Prime Minister Tony Blair's brief visit to Moscow has sparked media speculation as to why he came at all. "Komsomolskaya pravda" noted on 20 November that the visit had been very informal, with Blair spending an entire evening at a German restaurant with President Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, "Vremya MN" noted that this was the fifth meeting between the two and like the others had no special basis for taking place. And "Izvestiya" on 21 November pointed out that there are no special problems between the two countries that might have required the two leaders to meet. The recent defection of FSB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, the paper said, could have been solved at the level of Security Council secretary Sergei Ivanov, who himself was expelled from the UK in 1983.

PUTIN CALLS FOR 'TOLERANCE' ON U.S. ELECTION. Following comments over beer with visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Putin on 20 November told journalists that "we should show tolerance and respect to what is taking place in the United States." But he added that "although it is the internal affair [of the United States], the dollar is the world currency and the situation in the U.S. thus has an impact on economic and political processes throughout the world."

MOSCOW SEEKS INDIA'S HELP ON AFGHANISTAN. First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov met with Indian officials to discuss how India, Russia, and the United States can address the problems of Islamic extremism and drug trafficking, which he said have their origin on territories controlled by Afghan's Taliban movement. The former chief of Russian foreign intelligence noted that he was not inclined "to overestimate the Afghan threat, but it is quite real," RIA-Novosti reported on 20 November.

MOSCOW REJECTS OPEC MEMBERSHIP AS TOO CONSTRAINING. Following a meeting with OPEC Secretary-General Ali Rodriguez, Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Gavrin said that Moscow will not join the oil cartel because its restrictions on oil output would put too many constraints on Russian activities, "Vremya novosti" reported. He said that Moscow must retain its freedom of action, especially during the current economic difficulties.

MOSCOW SEEKS 'SELECTIVE' COOPERATION WITH NATO. Deputy Foreign Minister Yegeny Gusarov told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 18 November that it is too early to talk about Russian participation in the Partnership for Peace program but that Russia was interested in taking part in NATO activities that are "profitable and interesting to Russia." Meanwhile, ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky was among the leaders of a Duma delegation at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Berlin, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 November.

STATE COUNCIL FOCUSES ON SYMBOLS� The new State Council, a body that President Vladimir Putin welcomed as "a political organ for taking decisions of strategic importance," focused on the selection of national symbols, including a new national anthem. St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev said his commission had selected two finalists for that honor, the present one, which uses music from Mikhail Glinka, and the old Soviet one, ORT reported. Yakovlev said that he prefers the Soviet one but that the Glinka version was included to allow for "choice." In addition, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said that the Council had discussed the restoration of honor guards in Red Square, not in front of Lenin's tomb but at the grave of the unknown soldier.

...AND ECONOMIC SUBSTANCE. The Council also heard reports from Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov about the prospects for economic development, one that apparently was prepared by German Gref and other reformers, and from Khabarovsk Governor Viktor Ishaev, who called for strengthening the state and state capitalism. "Izvestiya" on 22 November pointed out that the two reports are incompatible and that the appearance of Ishaev's report will feed suspicions that the Kremlin is using the liberal economists as a "front" to conceal its real agenda.

PUTIN REPEATS CALL FOR VICTORY IN CHECHNYA� Speaking to officials at the Defense Ministry on 20 November, President Vladimir Putin noted that the army had been successful in accomplishing its main task in Chechnya, "the rebuff of aggression," and he urged that the campaign continue until its "logical end." He said that no one can be allowed to speak to Moscow from a position of strength on this or other issues, although he noted that there remain people in the West who live by what he called Cold War principles and who still regard Russia as a geopolitical adversary. At the same time, however, Putin called for pursuing a strategy that will minimize Russian losses, a suggestion that Moscow is not about to launch a major push anytime soon.

...BUT THREATENS TO FIRE 'SALON' GENERALS. Putin said that he was prepared to get rid of what he called "salon" generals, those with no experience commanding troops, "Vremya novostei" reported on 21 November. He pointed out that one-third of regimental commanders are over 40 but lack higher military training. "There was never before such a situation in our army," Putin suggested. As a result, the command structure consists not of combat general but bureaucrats, commented on 22 November. That e-publication compared the current situation with 1941, when mid-rank Red Army commanders lacked the education and experience to deal with the German invasion.

PUTIN ORDERS 50,000 MORE TROOPS TO SOUTHERN BORDERS. Also in his speech, Putin indicated that he has ordered a 50,000 increase in the number of troops on the country's southwestern and Central Asian borders. Given budgetary constraints, he said, these newly deployed units "will be compact, modern forces, able to fight independently of main forces." Interfax on 22 November quoted a Defense Ministry spokesman as saying that this decision reflected not only problems in the Caucasus but also "the plans of NATO to beef up its southern flank."

KVASHNIN SEES GROWING ROLE FOR MILITARY IN RUSSIA. Speaking at the same meeting, Anatoly Kvashnin, the chief of the Russian General Staff, said that "the main task now is to make the army into one of the tools for the revival of Russia, a pillar of its development," "Izvestiya" reported on 21 November. He added that military reforms must be completed quickly because "the situation in the country and beyond its frontiers gives no ground for complacency."

KUDRIN MAY LOSE HIS JOB. President Vladimir Putin criticized Vice Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin twice in two days, an indication that Kudrin may soon lose his job. While in Novosibirsk, Putin said he was angered by a report about the theft of non-ferrous metals from a local nuclear center: "You should bring this situation in order," he said, "or I will disband your government," he told Kudrin, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 18 November. And during his speech at the Defense Ministry, Putin said that if the Finance Ministry did not "rationalize" social payments to soldiers, he would "rationalize" Kudrin," the same paper reported on 21 November.

PROCURACY INVESTIGATES KUDRIN, PETERSBURG BANK. Another indication that Aleksei Kudrin may be in trouble arises from an investigation of the St. Petersburg PSB Bank, which numbered among its clients Vladimir Putin, "Kommersant" reported on 17 November. Investigators have subpoenaed Vladimir Kogan, the owner of the bank, as well as Aleksei Kudrin, who in the early 1990s was the head of the financial department of the St. Petersburg mayor. Both Kogan and Kudrin belong to the so-called St. Petersburg team and have close ties with Putin, Anatoly Chubais, and Sergei Stepashin. "Kompaniya" reported last May that Kogan had gained his wealth thanks to Putin's patronage when the latter was the first vice mayor there. Earlier, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 9 December 1999 that Tamara Stepashina, who headed the PSB's Moscow office during the brief prime ministerial reign of her husband, Sergei, had been involved in the privatization of one building that belonged to the FSB.

DUMA TO INVESTIGATE BEREZOVSKY CLAIMS. Nikolai Kovalev, the head of the Duma's anti-corruption commission, said his body will look into claims by Boris Berezovsky that Swiss companies helped bankroll Vladimir Putin's presidential race, RIA-Novosti reported on 20 November. If the information proves to be true, Kovalev said, Berezovsky could be charged with violating election laws. If it does not, he added, Berezovsky could be sued for slander. At the same time, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said that his organization has not checked into these reports.

KREMLIN AGREES TO CHANGES IN PRESIDENTIAL GUARANTEES. Aleksandr Kotenkov, the presidential representative in the Duma, said that the Kremlin agrees with amendments offered by the Duma to a bill codifying Vladimir Putin's decree giving immunity to former President Boris Yeltsin and his family, "Kommersant" reported on 17 November. The amendments strictly define the president's family as Yeltin's spouse and children. Duma deputies had insisted on this because Yeltsin had included Anatoly Chubais among his "family members" in his recent memoir. Another amendment stipulates that the president's immunity too can be lifted under certain circumstances.

ECOLOGIST AGAIN TRIED FOR TREASON. The military collegium of the Russian Supreme Court has opened the way for a new treason trial for Grigori Pasko, an ecological activist and military journalist, "Ekho Moskvy" reported on 21 November. Last July a court had found Pasko guilty of "abuse of office" rather than "state treason." The latest decision, Pasko said, will be like "a death sentence" for him, noting that he will be retried by the same court and under the same FSB monitors who initially prosecuted him for publicizing information about the Russian Pacific Fleet's actions which lead to the contamination of the ocean.

COURT REJECTS DEFENSE MOTION IN POPE CASE. The Moscow city court which is hearing the case of Edmond Pope, who is accused of espionage, has refused a defense motion to suspend state prosecutor Oleg Plotnikov from the case, even though the defense had shown that Plotnikov's son, an FSB officer, was one of the investigators of the case, Interfax reported on 21 November. Pope's lawyer, Pavel Astakhov, asked the court to drop all materials presented by the senior Plotnikov. The latter, however, did remove himself from the case by declaring that he was ill. He has now been replaced by another prosecutor, Yuri Volgin.


By Paul Goble

A new study by the Soros Foundation has found that almost one-third of prisoners in post-communist countries have been waiting for trial for more than a year and that one in 10 has been incarcerated for more than two years without having his day in court.

That, in turn, means that almost 50 percent of the inmates now in prisons there are men and women who have not yet been found guilty of anything, a sharp increase since 1989 and one that is already having increasingly negative consequences for public health, criminality, and the authority of the judicial system.

And officials in these countries do not expect this trend to change anytime soon. Last week, for example, Aleksandr Tochelovskis, the deputy director of Latvia's prison system, said that "if growth continues at the present rate, our prisons will be filled with people who haven't been found guilty."

Most legal systems have some form of pre-trial detention for those charged with particularly serious offenses and are considered to be a danger to themselves or to the community. But most democratic regimes also have arrangements to allow those waiting for trial on minor charges to post bond and remain free until trial.

In many Eastern European countries, however, no bail bond system yet exists, or it is too expensive for most people and especially the young. As a result, people are sometimes incarcerated for long periods even when they are charged with petty crimes. In Hungary, for example, one news agency reports that a man has been in jail for more than a year pending trial on charges that he stole 138 rolls of toiletpaper.

This massive use of pretrial detention already is having a serious negative impact on public health. In many of these countries, prisons have become virtual incubators for disease. In the Russian Federation alone, almost 10 percent of all prisoners now have tuberculosis, and many of them contracted it while they were behind bars. And in several other countries across this region, the situation is still graver.

Still more serious for the future, the massive incarceration of those who have not been found guilty of any crime is breeding more criminals. Jaap Doek, a Dutch juvenile court judge who serves on the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, said that locking up young people in this way is making "hardened criminals out of 15-year-olds."

That is particularly true in a region where many governments do not segregate youthful first offenders from the more hardened adult criminals. As a result, young people there who are not in fact guilty of any offense may be given a criminal education by their elders simply while waiting for their trial dates.

And, perhaps most serious of all, this practice is alienating many people from the judicial system, which is one of the foundations of democracy and a civil society because it allows officials to put people in jail without a judicial finding.

But according to local human rights activists, there is little popular support for any change. Anyone who criticizes locking up those charged with criminal violations, these activists suggest, is likely to be labeled "soft on crime," something few leaders are prepared to risk.

For all these reasons, such an approach appears certain to backfire. Judges who use pretrial detention as a form of punishment are in fact undercutting the fundamental constitutional rights of all citizens. Moreover, those who experience such detention are likely to be alienated, Doek observes, as are their families and other members of society-at-large.

Post-communist governments regularly protest that they do not have the funds to change the situation. Some countries, like Estonia, are even considering privatizing their prison systems to improve the situation. But human rights activists there argue that the problem is not so much a lack of money as a lack of will to address the problem of those jailed before judgment.

Changing procedures and popular attitudes in this area is unlikely to be easy, but a failure to do so almost certainly will limit the prospects for democracy and rule of law in a region that has known far too little of it in the past.