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Security Watch: December 11, 2000

11 December 2000, Volume 1, Number 21
POPE SENTENCED FOR 20 YEARS... For the first time since a Soviet court found U-2 flier Francis Gary Powers guilty of espionage in 1960, a Moscow judge has convicted an American of spying. It found retired American naval officer Edmond Pope guilty of espionage on 6 December and sentenced him to 20 years in a strict regime prison. Pope has denied seeking any information that was not on the public record, an assertion supported by numerous witnesses at the trial. Aleksandr Zdanovich, the head of the FSB Programs Promotion Directorate, told RIA-Novosti that he was "satisfied" by the verdict. It proves, he said, that Moscow is "decisive" in protecting "state secrets from any encroachments." Pope's wife and the U.S. government have appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin for clemency.

...MOSCOW VIEWS POPE AS BARGAIN CHIP. Russian security agencies demanded the severe sentence of Pope in order to convert him into a bargaining chip to be used to get back one or another Russian spy, ORT television reported Moscow analysts as having concluded. They expect President Vladimir Putin to pardon Pope, as was recommended by an official commission, and then exchange him for a Russian agent in the United States or somewhere else.

RUSSIA LACKS CLEAR DEFINITION OF 'STATE SECRETS.' Russian intelligence services have used a list of state secrets falling under more than 700 rubrics prepared by the Defense Ministry even though the presidentially-approved list includes only 22 of them, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 29 November. Because of that confusion, there is a lack of clarity in Russian regulations about what is a secret and what is not. That is increasingly a problem for the courts. Over the last several years, the FSB has reported arresting 13 spies as well as preventing "35 attempts to transfer classified information abroad" -- including Aleksandr Nikitin and Grigori Pasko, who were charged with disclosing ecological information abroad; diplomat Valentin Moiseyev, sentenced for handing over to South Korea the draft of a treaty; and Aleksandr Sakov, who was accused of giving job-related information to an Israeli encyclopedia.

AIR FORCE RESUMES FLIGHTS NEAR ALASKAN COAST. In an effort to boost morale, the Russian air force has relocated strategic Tu-95MS ("Bears") to three polar region bases at Anadyr, Vorkuta, and Diksi and ordered them to fly along the coast of Alaska, "Vremya MN" reported on 2 December. These plans are each armed with 14 cruise missiles and have a range of 10,500 kilometers. But because only eight of the planes are to be deployed in this manner, the action has a greater symbolic than military meaning.

DEFENSE MINISTER BACKS EUROPEAN FORCE, REGIONAL ABM SYSTEM. Speaking to the Russia-NATO Joint Permanent Council, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said Moscow backs the idea of a unique European Force independent of NATO as well as what he called a "European non-strategic ABM system," "Izvestiya" and RIA-Novosti reported on 6 December. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen responded critically to Sergeev's suggestion that the European Force should be independent of NATO. Sergeev's other idea about a European ABM remains far from clear; many independent Russian military experts view it as "utopian" (see "RFE/RL Security Watch," 24 and 31 July 2000).

SERGEEV REPEATS RUSSIAN OPPOSITION TO ABM MODIFICATION. Marshal Sergeev also used the meeting to reaffirm that Moscow's opposition to any modification of the ABM treaty is "strong and unchangeable." He also repeated Russian unhappiness with NATO's eastward expansion, noting that Moscow had unfrozen its ties with the Western alliance only insofar as that corresponds to her interests. He suggested that the Russian government is now prepared to discuss reopening a NATO office in Moscow.

FACING DECAY, DEFENSE INDUSTRY SEEKS FUNDS. The recent increase in defense orders and the government's prompt payment for them has not made up for its earlier failure to do so or prevented a further decay of the country's defense industry, Anatoli Dolgolaptev, the president of the League for the Support of Defense Enterprises, told a meeting of that group. According to him, the government still owes the industry 32 billion rubles ($1.15 billion). At the current rate of payout, the industry will have died before it receives what it is owed. Even more important, he said, was the fact that these budgetary shortfalls have meant that Russia has lost its lead in some 300 advanced technology areas. Moreover, Deputy Defense Minister Mikhail Dmitriev told the group that revenues from arms exports will fall $500 million this year. In order to provide some relief, he said that Moscow will not further restructure the industry until the rearmament program is approved.

FAPSI DROPS MANY FROM VERTUSHKA PHONE SYSTEM. The Federal Agency of Government Communications and Information, known more commonly by its initials FAPSI, has dropped from the specially dedicated government phone lines called the "vertushka" the chief editors of several mass media outlets, "Moskovskii Komsomolets" reported on 1 December. Among those who have lost this symbol of power are the editors of "Novoe Vremya," "Ekspert," "Sobesednik," "Literaturnaya Gazeta," "Moskovskii Komsomolets," and television companies "TV-Tsenter" and "Moskva." Union of Journalists Chairman Vsevlod Bogdanov was also dropped. But FAPSI will continue to provide this service to "Pravda," "Nezavismaya gazeta," and "Vek," as well as to many businessmen, few of whom have ever paid for it, the paper said.

GUSINSKY PUT ON MOST-WANTED LISTS. Russian prosecutor Valeri Nikolaev told Interfax on 4 December that Moscow has arranged to put media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky on both national and international most-wanted lists. But meanwhile, Duma human rights ombudsman Oleg Mironov told NTV that he is concerned by what he called the "obvious inconsistencies" of the prosecutors' effort on Gusinsky. He noted that such actions reflect pressure from above against institutions which "only follow orders and have no notion about human rights."

KREMLIN MOVES AGAINST DUMA HUMAN RIGHTS LEADER. The Russian government's "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 2 December published a letter from staffers in Duma human rights ombudsman Oleg Mironov's office accusing him of corruption and of taking money from "western funds supplied by the CIA." The authors of the letter also charged Mironov with seeking to encourage "the artificial transfer onto Russian soil of Western ideas and practices on supranational human rights." Meanwhile, pro-government "Edinstvo" faction member Vladimir Semenov said that Mironov has "usurped the role of the sole interpreter of situations with human rights implications in the country." "Kommersant" also reported on the same day that the Kremlin is so angry with Mironov's activities that it may soon seek his impeachment.

ORT OFFICES RAIDED. Agents of the FSB, MVD, and Procuracy, supported by masked OMON officers, raided the offices of Russian Public Television (ORT) and confiscated financial and business documentation, Western wire services reported on 5 December. A senior investigator of the Moscow Air Transport Procuracy told journalists that the search had been conducted in connection with alleged contraband foreign video films and unspecified financial violations made by ORT in 1997-1999. ORT General-Director Konstantin Ernst denied the charges and expressed his surprise at this "massive demonstration of power" given the company's record of fully cooperating with the authorities. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 December that this act of intimidation against ORT resembled those taken against Gusinsky's mass media outlets and is almost certainly connected with Kremlin efforts to squeeze out Boris Berezovsky, who now controls 49 percent of ORT.

INFORMATION MINISTRY PLANS TO RESTORE 'GOSTELERADIO.' The Information Ministry, under the direction of Mikhail Lesin, has drafted a plan to re-establish a state broadcasting entity like the Soviet-era Gosteleradio to unite all national broadcasting and relay centers, "Segodnya" reported on 6 December. The plan reportedly calls for setting up a state holding company to be called "Russian Radio-Television Network," with affiliates in the seven super districts and regions and a nationwide television user fee to fund the project. The plan further envisages reprivatizing regional affiliates, including the option of selling subdivisions of the holding to the United Electrical System as payment for electrical power debts. "Segodnya" added that as a result of such machinations, Lesin increasingly is referred to in Moscow as "Misha Berlusconi."

GOVERNMENT OPENS NEW INTERNET PORTAL. As of 1 January, the Russian information agency "RIA-Novosti" will open a free information portal "Hot Line" at, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 December. The portal will host television channel RTR as well as radio stations Radio Russia, Mayak, and Voice of Russia. In short, only state-run outlets are to be included in the new portal, something that is likely to limit access to other, independently-controlled channels.

MOSCOW WANTS GEORGIA TO SEE THE LIGHT. Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky told Interfax on 6 December that Moscow will drop visa requirements if Georgia moves to "curb Chechen terrorists who feel too comfortable" in that country. But Anatoli Chekhonin, the deputy head of the Duma's CIS committee, told the BBC a day earlier that the visa requirements were less about the Chechens than about teaching the Georgian government a lesson. "It is a disciplinary measure to show [President Eduard] Shevardnadze just on whom he is dependent. If the sun for Georgia will again rise in the north, as Shevardnadze once said in Soviet times, then we will talk about cancelling the visa regime."

RUSSIA TO HELP ANGOLA FIGHT UNITA. Vice Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov told Angolan officials in Luanda that Moscow will provide them with assistance, including both arms and training, to combat the UNITA resistance movement, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 December.

TORPEDO EXPLANATION FOR 'KURSK' CONFIRMED. "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 5 December that it had obtained additional proof that the "Kursk" submarine sank because of the explosion of defective torpedoes. The newspaper said that once this explanation was offered by the independent investigator (see "RFE/RL Security Watch," 5 December 2000), it had asked officials to comment. An official investigator then confirmed that the commander of the "Kursk" had managed to radio Northern Fleet Command saying that he had on board a defective torpedo and wanted permission to release via an emergency shot.

RUSSIAN ELITE BACKS CHECHEN WAR... According to a ROMIR-Gallup poll among urban elites, 62.7 percents of the country's elites continue to support the use of military force in Chechnya while only 29.7 percent are for peace negotiations with the leaders of Chechen fighters, RIA-Novosti reported on 5 December. The 650 respondents included representatives of business, government and state institutions. But neither members of the intelligentsia nor journalists were included.

...VIEWS CORRUPTION AS MAIN THREAT TO SECURITY. The same poll found that 27.8 percent of elite members named corruption as the biggest threat to Russia's security. Among the other threats, 23.1 percent pointed to instability at home and 20.8 percent to NATO.

NOGA SUES RUSSIA FOR $495 MILLION. Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Kolotukhin told the Agency for Financial Information on 4 December that the Swiss company Noga has brought new suits against the Russian government to recover $495 million Moscow owes the firm. Noga says that the Russian government failed to pay in full for its supplied foodstuffs and consumer goods, noting that the missing appropriated funds were siphoned off by Russian officials into their private accounts (see "RFE/RL Security Watch," 31 July 2000). In a countersuit, the Russian government maintains that Noga violated the contract and overpriced its supplies. Earlier Noga suits have led to the seizure of Russian funds and property in Switzerland, Luxembourg, and France.

NEW VARIANT 'LOANS FOR SHARES' DEAL. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder offered to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov the chance to repay Russian debts to Berlin with shares in competitive Russian companies, news agencies reported on 2 December. Germany holds more Russian debt than any other country, $21.2 billion of the $48.4 billion of Russia's debt to the Paris Club. Oleg Vyugin, the chief economist at Troika-Dialogue investment company, said that the German offer represents a major step forward because until very recently, Berlin had refused to consider any restructuring of Russian Soviet-era debts.

GOVERNMENT TO TAX OIL COMPANIES MORE HEAVILY. "Novaya gazeta" reported on 4 December that the Russian authorities plan to increase the tax burden on oil and gas producers in order to compensate for the lack of foreign credits and uncertainty about restructuring of foreign debt. At a meeting with oil company leaders, Vice Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin said that the government plans to increase the export tax on each ton of oil sent out of the country from $41 to $63. He also said that the government had introduced legislation ending the practice of reducing taxable income by transfer pricing. And he noted that as of 1 January, the oil companies will have to bid for export quotas, yet another source of increased revenue for the regime.


By Paul Goble

Russian President Vladimir Putin's call for and the Duma's approval of the restoration of Soviet and tsarist-era symbols, including the red victory flag as the banner of the armed forces, may go a long way to restore the national pride of many Russians. But at the same time, it has already sparked concerns among both that country's democrats and Russia's neighbors about what these symbols portend for the future.

Speaking on Russian television on 4 December, Putin said that he would ask the Duma to make the Soviet anthem the anthem of the Russian Federation, albeit with some new lyrics. In addition, he called for making the tsarist two-headed eagle and the red-white-blue flag the Russian Federation's official state symbols. And he said that the red victory flag which Soviet forces raised over Berlin in World War II should become the flag of the Russia's military.

Public opinion polls have suggested that many Russians, including large segments of the officer corps and members of the communist party, will welcome this move, seeing it as a reaffirmation of Russia's greatness after a period in which Russia has suffered greatly. But these polls also show a sizeable number of people who object to what they see as a return to the past.

Anticipating their objections to his proposals, Putin said in his televized speech that "if we accept that we cannot use the symbols of previous epochs, including the Soviet epoch ... then we must agree that our fathers and mothers lived useless, senseless lives, that they lived in vain." Putin added that he "cannot accept this with either head or heart."

And he insisted that Russia must not forget its history and that of the Soviet period in particular. "If we are led by this logic alone, then we would forget the achievements of our people over the centuries." And he asked "where would be put the achievements of Russian culture."

Protests against what Putin and the Russian Security Council have proposed were not long in coming. Boris Nemtsov, a leader of one of the most reformist parties in the Russian Duma, complained on Russian television that the Soviet anthem was "not the anthem of a state" but rather of the Communist party and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. "We are a country of symbols and mysticism," Nemtsov continued. "This is a huge political error."

The Moscow newspaper "Izvestiya" carried an open letter from Russian writers musicians, and other cultural figures denouncing Putin's actions. Restoration of the Soviet anthem and other Soviet symbols, the authors of this letter said, "causes us revulsion and protest."

"Because we have memory, we are convinced that it will not be possible to join the history of Russia to the history of the Soviet Union without stitching wounds. The stitches are still there," the letter's signers said, "and they still drip blood. Resurrecting phantoms is a risky business." And former President Boris Yeltsin expressed his opposition to the proposal as well.

But it is not only citizens of the Russian Federation who are likely to view Putin's proposal with concern. By restoring Soviet and tsarist-era symbols, many in the countries which are now independent but were part of both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union are likely to view this action as a symbolic indication of where the Russian president hopes to take his country in the future.

And even further afield, Western governments too may be concerned by Putin's use of symbols that at the very least are problematic in what they suggest about his intentions and the intentions of his country. To the extent that the Russian president's actions restore Russian pride, these governments may even welcome what he has done. But to the extent that this step points to something more, they are likely to become ever more nervous.

Putin in his address appealed to Russians "not to hold up events" or "burn bridges," and he asked that everyone direct their "energy and talent not to destruction but to creation." But for many in his country and abroad, the restoration of some of these old symbols is likely to raise a red flag about the future.