The NIS Observed: An Analytical Review
Volume V, Number 5 (21 March 2000)
Putin provides unsettling answers
In a series of recent interviews leading up to the 26 March elections, acting
President Vladimir Putin has attempted to reassure the West that a Russia
under his stewardship will be an engaged and responsible member of the international
community. His efforts to dampen Western criticism of the brutal Chechen
war have become more nuanced and tempered to his international audience.
In a BBC interview with David Frost, Putin emphasized the Russian military's
alleged attempts to minimize civilian casualties and compared the Chechen
fighters to "nazi criminals." (ITAR-TASS, 1522 GMT, 6 Mar 00;
FBIS-SOV-2000-0307, via World News Connection)
His comments and recollection of his past in a Kommersant interview (10
Mar 00; Agency WPS, via lexis-nexis), highlight specific issues that resonate
strongly for a foreign audience. For example, he notes that he quit the
Soviet KGB because he knew "that the Soviet Union did not have a future."
Likewise, he knew that he "would never side" with August 1991's
While some may feel swayed by these comments and the series of laudatory
remarks from his associates, most notably his former boss, the late Anatoli
Sobchak, Putin nevertheless responds to several key questions in an odd
manner that can't but cause concern.
Before addressing post-election apprehensions raised by Putin's recent interviews,
I should point out some revelatory comments about his service in the Yel'tsin
regime. In response to a question about whether nostalgia prompted him to
accept promotion to director of the Federal Security Services (FSB), Putin
responded "No. Do you think I was asked? Do you think anybody wanted
my opinion? (...) The President signed a decree and that was that."
(KOMMERSANT, 10 Mar 00; Agency WPS, via lexis-nexis)
While it is little cause for surprise that Yel'tsin had delegated a significant
portion of his presidential duties in the past few years, it is stunning
that a post as powerful as FSB chief could be filled without a meeting,
consultation or even the knowledge of the appointee. Putin, later in the
same interview, also made clear just how isolated former President Yel'tsin
was from decision-making, even on major, substantive policy issues.
The Kommersant interviewer suggests that Putin could not have launched the
Chechen campaign on his own initiative, that Yel'tsin would have had to
have made that decision. Putin does not revert to the standard answer of
the Yel'tsin years, that the president himself made all final decisions.
Putin instead claims, "Yel'tsin backed me up. (...) I merely kept him
While it is possible that Putin's remarks about Chechnya can be seen as
an electoral ploy to take full responsibility for a popular policy, it seems
more likely that his response provides further confirmation that, in the
latter years of the Yel'tsin presidency, a group of advisers and their associates
were likely making a broad range of significant decisions in Yel'tsin's
Perhaps the most startling answer Putin gave in this Kommersant interview,
however, was a distinct refusal to respond. The interviewer asked a question
that has concerned many. Given the lack of a clear electoral platform and
a background in the secret services, there have been widely published apprehensions
that a Putin electoral victory would result in the establishment of an authoritarian
police state regime. When prompted by the interviewer to address the belief
that he would "change dramatically right after the elections."
Putin replied, "This is not something I will answer."
Feeling reassured yet?
Rhetoric or warning?
Putin has also stepped up his verbal assault on Russia's leading financiers
in recent weeks. In earlier remarks he claimed he would distance the oligarchs
from state power; now he suggests he will eliminate them altogether. Speaking
to Radio Mayak (18 Mar 00; AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE, via Cemail@example.com), Putin
attacked the influential businessmen, who have been "merging power
with capital." "Such a class of oligarchs will cease to exist,"
While there is little doubt that threatening Russia's super rich and powerful
business elite has popular appeal and is effective campaign rhetoric, it
must cause some concern to the targets of his attacks. The inconsistency
present in Putin's relationship with some of the oligarchs, and their continuing
support for his candidacy, as contrasted with Putin's rhetoric, is reflected
in the case of Anatoli Chubais. As in previous instances, Putin has once
again managed to couple praise for one of Russia's kingmakers with a critical
slap, leaving the audience to wonder at the future president's opinion of
one of the West's favorite "reformers." Putin recently lauded
Chubais as a "very good manager," but in the same breath derided
him as a "stubborn Bolshevik," with a "very poor credit rating
among the people." (AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE, 0740 PST, 16 Mar 00; via
Cfirstname.lastname@example.org) It is intriguing that Chubais remains an ardent Putin supporter
despite the "ambivalence" of the acting president. Perhaps Chubais
knows something about Putin that the public does not, or perhaps, vice versa.
More concrete indications of both the influence of the oligarchs on the
Putin government and Putin's attitude toward them, may come through actual
government policy, as for instance in the struggle to resume "tolling"
in the aluminum industry. According to one report (OBSHCHAYA GAZETA, 2 Mar
00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0302, via World News Connection), the recent acquisition
of Lev Chernoy's aluminum interests by Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky
could result in the government-approved resumption of tolling operations,
provided Berezovsky and Abramovich continue to wield the level of influence
in the Kremlin, which they have been rumored to have enjoyed in the past.
Time will tell.
Ryazan bomb test
Despite fevered denials, evidence continues to mount that the security services
were involved in at least one of the "terrorist" bombings last
September. In an article in The Observer (12 Mar 00; via www.newsunlimited.co.uk),
the bomb squad officer who defused the bomb in a Ryazan apartment block
was quoted as saying "It was a live bomb." This incident had been
called a "test" of public alertness after those planting the bomb
were discovered to be FSB officers.
The bomb squad officer, Yuri Tkachenko, also claimed that, while testing
the sugar sacks where the bomb had been placed, his gas analyzer gave a
positive reading for Hexagen, the same explosive that was used in the Moscow
bombings. While the FSB removed the potentially lethal sacks from the building,
they apparently left behind the detonator, which the article's author claims
was set for 5:30 AM. The timing of the explosion could have resulted in
significant civilian casualties.
by Susan J. Cavan
In balancing a cautious White House against an eager Downing Street, acting
Russian President Vladimir Putin again has proven how easy it is to take
advantage of the absence of a united Western stance towards Moscow. Domestic
pressure may have forced the Clinton administration to back away from its
endorsement of the Kremlin's master, but its early failure to unify condemnation
of the war in Chechnya has legitimized "engaging" Russia at any
cost. Tony Blair has been quick to pick up where Clinton left off.
Stung by criticism that the White House had all but endorsed Putin in the
upcoming presidential elections, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
published an op-ed article in The Washington Post to deny the charges. The
administration, Albright wrote, had not endorsed Putin, but merely had noted
that Putin is "capable and energetic, knowledgeable about the issues,
blunt and direct, with some positive things to say about economic reform,
the rule of law and arms control. All simple statements of fact, but hardly
an endorsement." (THE WASHINGTON POST, 8 Mar 00; via lexis-nexis)
Albright's characterization of the administration's response to Putin was,
however, disingenuous. Among the "simple statements of fact" that
President Bill Clinton has made since Putin rose to power are that Russia
was engaged in "liberating Grozny" (TIME, 1 Jan 00) and that the
US "can do business with this man." (THE WASHINGTON POST, 17 Feb
00; via lexis-nexis)
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Human Rights Watch
researcher Peter Bouckeart complained that "instead of using its relationship
with Russia to bring an end to the abuses in Chechnya, the Clinton administration
has focused on cementing its relationship with Acting President Putin, the
prime architect of the abusive campaign in Chechnya." Albright, Bouckeart
noted, had "traveled to Moscow while bombs were raining down on Grozny,
and chose to focus her remarks on Acting President Putin's qualities as
the new leader of Russia, rather than on the brutal war in Chechnya."
(TESTIMONY TO THE SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE, 25 Feb 00; via www.hrw.org)
As subsequent clashes over Iran and Yugoslavia showed, the administration's
embrace of Putin was not only a policy that dared not speak its name, but
an ineffective one at that.
Russia, US clash over nuclear technology to Iran
In mid-March Russia reacted angrily to passage of a US bill that will allow
President Clinton to impose sanctions on countries that the White House
concludes are helping Iran to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Russian
protests that its current contracts with Iran are harmless were undercut
when the Czech government concluded that similar contracts with Czech companies
might help Iran to test nuclear weapons.
On 15 March President Clinton signed the bill, which permits him to ban
contact between the American government and US companies with any foreign
government and company that furnishes Iran with dual-use goods, services
and technologies. (Jamestown Foundation MONITOR, 16 Mar 00)
Although relieved by the president's announcement that US support for the
joint Russian-American international space station would remain exempt from
sanctions, Russian officials objected that the US was bullying foreign companies
to fall in line with its domestic legislation. "The government of the
Russian Federation disagrees with this law, considers it discriminatory
and biased because basically any country can be qualified as a violator
by the US president's wish," Russian Vice Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov
stated. (ITAR-TASS, 1508 GMT, 15 Mar 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0315, via World News
Connection) The Russian government claimed that Russian contracts to help
Iran build a nuclear power plant in Bushehr did not violate the law, since
its nuclear technology had no military applications.
The argument that Bushehr was an innocent civilian joint venture can be
viewed, however, as a red herring -- and an ineffective one. Two weeks before
Clinton signed the sanctions into law, the Czech parliament voted to prevent
the Czech firm ZVVZ Milevsko from exporting air conditioning equipment purchased
by a Russian company for use in the Bushehr plant. Czech Deputy Foreign
Minister Hynek Kmonicek argued that, although the Bushehr plant was a civilian
project, technologies for military applications could be tested in it. (CTK,
1818 GMT, 1 Mar 00; FBIS-EEU-2000-0301, via World New Connection)
Bushehr is also among the least threatening of the joint projects between
Russian and Iranian firms. In 1997, the Russia was accused of transferring
sophisticated missile guidance technology to Iran. (See ISCIP EDITORIAL
DIGEST, 25 Sep 97) To concentrate narrowly on the military applications
of the Bushehr project is to risk overlooking other, far more dangerous
Russia and NATO: petulant partners?
The dance of the White House and the Kremlin around questions of "engaging"
Russia in NATO affairs also grew more complicated. Putin suggested Russia
might some day join the alliance, while Russian actions in NATO's most complex
mission -- Kosovo -- indicated that no amount of "involvement"
could overcome fundamental differences between the strategic aims of Moscow
and the West.
In an interview with the BBC preceding British Prime Minister Tony Blair's
visit to Russia, Putin said that Russia does not rule out someday joining
NATO. "We believe we can talk about more profound integration with
NATO," Putin told the BBC's David Frost, "but only if Russia is
regarded as an equal partner." Putin's comments were "clarified"
the following day by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who stressed
that Putin had merely given a "hypothetical answer to a hypothetical
question." (RFE/RL NEWSLINE, 7 Mar 00)
Putin's discussion with Frost, however, offered a portrait of the acting
president as a man in favor of broad engagement with the West. Russia had
opposed eastern expansion of NATO, Putin suggested, only because Moscow
had been excluded from discussion of the issue. "But this does not
mean we are going to shut ourselves off from the world," Putin said.
"Isolationism is not an option." (INTERFAX, 1203 GMT, 5 Mar 00;
FBIS-SOV-2000-0305, via World News Connection)
Subsequent wrangling over the fate of the NATO mission in Kosovo demonstrated,
however, that Moscow does not promise friendly cooperation when it pledges
more engagement with the rest of the world. Even before a Russian soldier
participating in the KFOR mission was shot in Srbica, Ivanov had warned
that Russia might withdraw from the Kosovo mission "if the situation
leads to the threat that we face Kosovo's separation from Yugoslavia."
Ivanov spoke at a press conference following meetings with US and European
officials in Lisbon. (INTERFAX, 1538 GMT, 2 Mar 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0302,
via World News Connection)
At a time when the party of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is in
some danger of losing power, Russian officials have also spoken strongly
against efforts to undermine either him or his rule. Sergei Lavrov, Russia's
ambassador to the United Nations, has accused the UN's War Crimes Tribunal
of pursuing policies that are "biased" against Yugoslav officials.
(Jamestown Foundation MONITOR, 1 Mar 00) NATO war games planned in Kosovo
for late March and early April, Lavrov said, were being prepared with "downright
disregard for Yugoslavia's sovereignty" and would "considerably
destabilise not only the province but the region as a whole." (ITAR-TASS,
1306 GMT, 7 Mar 00; FBIS-EEU-2000-0307, via World New Connection)
In his meeting with Blair, Putin took time to stress the importance of defending
Yugoslav integrity and to urge cooperation with Milosevic. "One can
have different opinions of him," Putin said, "but he is the legitimately
elected president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." (INTERFAX,
1113 GMT, 11 Mar 00; FBIS-EEU-2000-0311, via World New Connection)
Into the momentary breach between Moscow and Washington swept Tony Blair's
Labour government, elected in 1997 in part on a pledge to pursue a foreign
policy more "ethical" than that of its Conservative predecessors.
Although Blair hacks spun tales of how tough Blair had been on Putin about
Chechnya, the leaders' reported disagreements did not prevent them from
enjoying a night at the St. Petersburg opera watching the latest production
of Prokofiev's "War and Peace."
In several respects, the Blair visit broke new ground in audacity. By talking
of long-term programs for investment and restructuring with an acting president
facing election in less than two weeks, Blair gave Putin an endorsement
far more ringing than any even fawning Washington had offered to date. Blair,
furthermore, reportedly offered Putin a full range of services from financial
and press relations gurus to advise Putin's government on "Labour policies
such as welfare-to-work and the drives against homelessness and crime."
(THE DAILY MAIL, 13 Mar 00; via lexis-nexis)
Clinton and Blair have long been engaged in a friendly contest over who
will earn the legacy as the most effective reformer of the post-Cold War
Left. They will now compete, it seems, for the privilege to claim Putin
as their Gorbachev. Putin seems happy to have two Western leaders competing
for his attention. The deeper each is "engaged" in his work, one
suspects, the more difficult it will be to criticize Putin should his regime
pursue a politics more deadly than an anodyne "Third Way."
by Chandler Rosenberger
* * * * *
Strategic cooperative partnership expands, rumors notwithstanding
Over the past few weeks several rumors concerning the future of Russian-Chinese
relations emanated from Moscow. In addition to false rumors that Beijing
was going to buy the Russian space station Mir for several billion dollars,
anonymous defense sources allegedly leaked the contents of a "secret
decree" barring the Russian defense industry from selling any military
production licenses to China. Also, the newspaper Segodnya noted a change
in the government's China rhetoric suggesting that the Putin government
was moving away from the Russo-Chinese "strategic cooperative partnership."
(Jamestown Foundation MONITOR, 14 Mar 00)
Sorting through Moscow's rumors can be tedious work, but a flurry of diplomatic
activity between Russia and China over the past few months helps to paint
a clearer picture. Since Yel'tsin's trip to Beijing last December, the Chinese
foreign and defense ministers have separately visited Moscow and Russia's
deputy foreign minister has gone to Beijing. Moreover, despite Segodnya's
report of a change in Russia's strategic partnership rhetoric, during these
last four meetings references to it have not decreased. When commenting
on Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan's trip to Moscow in late February,
strategic cooperative rhetoric abounded; Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said,
"Russia is satisfied with the strategic partnership with China."
(XINHUA, 1544 GMT, 29 Feb 00; FBIS-EAS-2000-0229, via World News Connection)
Putin likewise said, "Russia attaches great importance to the Russian-Chinese
strategic partnership of cooperation." (ITAR-TASS, 1504 GMT, 1 Mar
00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0301, via World News Connection) Meanwhile, during his
trip to Beijing, Deputy Foreign Minister Ilya Klebanov said he was sent
with "an order to strengthen friendship and trade and economic relations."
(ITAR-TASS, 2341 GMT, 1 Mar 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0301, via World News Connection)
The only change in rhetoric has been an addition to the original language.
This was especially clear during Klebanov's trip in early March, during
which he noted a "certain dissatisfaction with trade and economic cooperation."
(ITAR-TASS, 4 Mar 00; via lexis-nexis) In effect, Klebanov's trip was a
concrete indicator of Russian desires to broaden the strategic cooperative
partnership by deepening economic ties, especially in the trade, science
and technology, energy and nuclear power sectors.
This initiative is part of a deepening of Russian-Chinese relations over
the past few years. Beginning with military-technical ties, the partnership
has broadened over the past 18 months and through common stances on many
international and regional issues such as ABM, Iraq, Kosovo, the Korean
peninsula, Taiwan and Chechnya. At the recent meetings in Moscow and Beijing,
the sides reconfirmed their common views and expanding partnership, but
now Russia is purposefully expanding bilateral relations in other spheres.
Klebanov's visit signaled Russia's attempt to target specifically non-military-technical
sectors for expansion. At meetings with State Councilor Wu Yi, Klebanov
signed a protocol to step up work on two gas pipeline projects, as well
as consideration for a third Russian-Chinese pipeline. (ITAR-TASS, 3 Mar
00; via lexis-nexis) The protocol also included provisions for increasing
bilateral cooperation in outer space, the high-tech industry, commerce,
and investment, among others. Klebanov also met separately with President
Jiang Zemin, Premier Zhu Rongji, and General Zhang Wannian, during which
several "current issues" were discussed including the Sovremmeny
destroyer deal and possible Russian assistance in developing the Chinese
space program and station. (JAPAN ECONOMIC NEWSWIRE, 4 Mar 00; via lexis-nexis)
Thus, while the Chinese may not be buying Mir, they will certainly accept
Russian help to build their own.
These decisions, coupled with the continuity of rhetoric on both sides,
suggest that if Russia is secretly planning to limit China's purchase of
Russian military licenses, it is not because Russia intends to limit the
entire Russian-Chinese partnership. To the contrary, by taking concrete
steps to expand bilateral relations outside of the military-technical dialogue,
Russia is expanding the substance of the partnership as a whole.
And yet there is one last rumor that hasn't yet been proven true or false.
According to Klebanov, Putin and Jiang will sign a "very important
document" at the Russian-Chinese Beijing summit this summer. The contents
of the alleged document have not been released, but according to Klebanov,
it "will declare and record the actions of our countries on [attaining]
true strategic partnership." (ITAR-TASS, 1459 GMT, 2 Mar 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0302
via World News Connection)
by Sarah K. Miller
A covert war on the independent press?
For those who thought that the Babitsky affair was an isolated case, think
again. Recent weeks have featured a number of incidents involving the independent
media that have aroused suspicions of "power agency" involvement.
Incident #1: Borovik's 'Top Secret'
Early on the morning of 9 March, a YAK-40 business jet bound for Kyiv crashed
seconds after takeoff from Moscow's Sheremetevo Airport. Among the nine
fatalities were muckraking journalist Artyom Borovik and oil magnate Ziya
Bazhaev, an ethnic Chechen. Borovik was president of the Soversheno Sekretno
(Top Secret) publishing house. While the Moscow Transport Prosecutor's Office
felt that the crash was an accident stemming from a violation of safety
rules, the FSB made a statement the afternoon of the 9th that suggested
Chechen terrorists might have been responsible. According to FSB spokesman
Alexander Zdanovich, Chechen militants had previously been pressuring Bazhaev
to give financial support for their war effort, but the wealthy oil magnate
refused. Zdanovich covered his assertion by saying that "it is premature
yet to firmly state that it was an act of terror." (ITAR-TASS, 1637
GMT, 9 Mar 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0309, via World News Connection) Indeed, many
technical factors of the crash did not add up, leading to speculation of
foul play, but not necessarily by the Chechens. (JOHNSON'S RUSSIA LIST,
10 Mar 00)
Borovik rose to prominence as a pioneering investigative journalist during
the early days of glasnost, writing probing pieces about the Afghan war
among other subjects. He worked for the American CBS network's flagship
newsmagazine "60 Minutes" during the early 1990s, and also began
publishing his own monthly investigative paper, Soversheno Sekretno, that
quickly became popular for its scandalous revelations of corporate and governmental
corruption. Soversheno Sekretno created the core of a mass-media company
that became involved in television production and book publishing. In 1999,
Borovik entered into a partnership with US News and World Report, and with
that publication's funding started an investigative weekly titled Versiya.
The attendance at Borovik's funeral was a virtual who's who of Russian politics,
minus acting President Putin, who sent his condolences to Borovik's family
and praised his work as a "famous journalist" whose "readers
impatiently waited for his publications." Grigory Yavlinsky and Yuri
Luzhkov were there, as was Borovik's close friend Yevgeny Primakov. The
overwhelming feeling in the air was that Borovik had met his fate at the
hands of an enemy he had made in the course of his investigative career.
"I don't understand how society and the government can possibly be
indifferent to threats addressed against journalists. Why is there no reaction?
Why are we so helpless? Why can't we twist these scoundrels' heads off?"
declared Primakov. (MOSCOW TIMES, 14 Mar 00; via www.moscowtimes.ru)
The question is, if Borovik and Bazhaev were assassinated, who ordered the
hit? Allegedly, Bazhaev was not even supposed to be on that flight. According
to the Moscow Times, Bazhaev had a ticket to fly to Kyiv that morning on
a Transaero aircraft set to take off only a half-hour later than the fatal
flight, but the Transaero was delayed for an hour, so he switched to his
friend and business associate Borovik's chartered plane. Bazhaev's associates
thus found it unlikely that he could have been the target due to the short
notice involved in his change in itinerary. (MOSCOW TIMES, 11 Mar 00; via
So if Borovik was the target, what was the reason? A frightening possibility
emerges from the fact that Versiya had been investigating the Ryazan incident
last fall, in which a bomb was found in an apartment building following
the pattern of the other "Chechen terrorist attacks" that eventually
led to the current adventure in Chechnya. However, the FSB claimed that
the incident had not involved a live bomb, and instead had been a test of
local law enforcement agencies' responses to such a threat. However, Versiya
and Novaya gazeta, in investigations independent of each other, recently
turned up strong evidence that the FSB was directly involved in the incident
-- that agents had set a real bomb and the Ryazan apartment building was
supposed to be another "terrorist attack." (MOSCOW TIMES, 16 Mar
00; via www.moscowtimes.ru)
The implications are obvious. If the bombings were the work of the FSB in
order to incite terror amongst the Russian people and build popular support
for a return to Chechnya, they would have been planned while Putin was still
director of the FSB. If the whole "terror campaign" were to prove
a sinister hoax and were exposed as such, rationale for the return to Chechnya
-- as well as a Putin regime -- would evaporate. Needless to say, Putin
would be in a lot of trouble. It is too early to tell, but the possibility
definitely exists that Borovik was silenced by an enemy he was only beginning
to discover, and that he had uncovered something that this enemy deemed
Incident #2: An attack on Novaya gazeta
While Versiya has only published one article that probes Ryazan, Novaya
gazeta has been publishing a series on the topic. Its last report on its
investigation into the bombing attempt hit the newsstands on 13 March. Just
before 3 PM Moscow time on 15 March, shortly before the Thursday edition
went to press, someone hacked into the paper's computer network and erased
the layouts for that and the following Monday's issues. Deputy Editor Sergei
Sokolov believed that the cyber attack was targeted at one of the articles
in the Thursday edition. "There are many possibilities. Naturally,
most of the articles were about the election campaign," said Sokolov.
According to Sokolov, investigative pieces that revealed the sources of
funding for Yel'tsin's 1996 and Putin's current campaign were to be the
highlights of that issue.
No article on Ryazan was scheduled for the issue in question. Still, the
author of the Ryazan series, Pavel Voloshin, was convinced that the attack
was related to his investigation. In his 13 March article, he had revealed
that a paratrooper named Alexei P. had been guarding a storehouse last September
that contained sacks marked "sugar." When the paratrooper and
a friend opened one to "sweeten their tea" and it tasted amiss,
they notified their superiors, who tested the "sugar" and found
it to be the explosive Hexagen. In the Ryazan apartment, similar sacks of
sugar with a detonator were found. For their part, the paratroopers were
allegedly warned by FSB agents that they had "exposed state secrets"
and that they were to forget all that they had seen. Voloshin concluded
this damning article by posing direct questions to the FSB to explain the
reports. He felt that "the FSB answered in an untraditional way."
(MOSCOW TIMES, 16 Mar 00; via www.moscowtimes.ru)
Though this incident is particularly suspicious, according to National Press
Institute program director and Moscow Times contributor Robert Coalson,
it is not unusual. "It happens in the regions fairly regularly. About
once a month or so, either a paper gets its computers wiped out or the whole
print run gets impounded." (MOSCOW TIMES, 16 Mar 00; via www.moscowtimes.ru)
What seems different is that this is the first time, at least in a while,
that a major metropolitan paper was the target. Novaya gazeta, like Versiya,
is known for its probing and sensational investigations. The two also hold
the distinction of being the only two major publications digging into Ryazan.
It would seem that if Novaya gazeta was attacked for Voloshin's work, it
was more of a warning based on the content of the previous issue than an
attempt to prevent a specific article's publication in the current one.
Incident #3: Of muggings and moles
Vladimir Gusinsky's independent media empire supported Fatherland-All Russia
and, to a lesser extent, YABLOKO during the Duma elections in December.
Increasingly, his flagship holding, NTV, has been hostile to Putin's electoral
campaign and also has covered the Chechnya war with a more critical eye
than most other outlets. Its political satire puppet show "Kukly"
has particularly aroused the ire of Putin supporters for its "public
insult," and ignited "a special rage and frenzy" of the acting
president. In early February, several professors at St. Petersburg University
published a petition in the city government paper Sankt-Peterburgskiye vedomosti
stating that the show was at least an "abuse of freedom of the press"
and possibly criminal. (MOSCOW TIMES, 10 Feb 00; via www.moscowtimes.ru)
And now, the intrigue. On 10 January, a young man named Denis Filin was
detained for questioning regarding a purse that had been stolen by one of
his friends. What makes this special is that Filin's mother, Eleonora Filina,
is host of a cultural music program on NTV. What makes this even more special
is that, according to Filina, the FSB tried to force the local authorities
to charge her son formally as an accomplice, and then allegedly made an
attempt to recruit her as an agent within NTV. A month after the mugging,
Filina received a phone call from a man named Andrei Ganenko, who identified
himself as working with "institutes of higher learning." Ganenko
suggested that he could help her with her son's troubles, but not for money
or plain goodwill, and instructed her to keep the conversation secret. What
struck Filina was that her son had only been held temporarily for questioning,
and had not been charged, so her son required no "help."
Two days after Ganenko's call, a police investigator called her to inform
her that he, too, had been the recipient of peculiar calls from Ganenko.
She was told by the officer that Ganenko had tried to persuade him to charge
young Denis in order to "keep his mother in tension," but the
officer assured her that such efforts would not work. The officer, when
interviewed by Novaya gazeta, confirmed Ganenko's attempts to affect the
case, and also said that Ganenko had told him that he was interested in
Filin's mother because of "the very tense relations between NTV and
the FSB." For the agency's part, FSB spokesman Zdanovich denied that
NTV was being targeted.
As for the "institutes of higher learning" comment, according
to the Moscow Times, Putin said in an interview for Kommersant that when
he was in law school at Leningrad State University, he was approached by
a KGB recruiter at his home who identified himself as one who "works
with institutions of higher learning." (MOSCOW TIMES, 14 Mar 00; via
www.moscowtimes.ru) If what Filina claims is true, then she was indeed the
target of a hostile recruiting attempt by a state security agency that sought
to place a mole within NTV. Putin was not kidding when he said that "Russia
should be a dictatorship of law."
The not-so-covert war on the media
Putin's recent statements that, in his future administration, the influence
of the oligarchs would be drastically reduced, seems to have struck Boris
Berezovky where it counts. ORT was a strong supporter of the Kremlin-allied
Unity bloc in the December elections. But recently, ORT's coverage style
For once, Rossiyskaya gazeta astutely observed "one of the country's
main television channels, which previously refrained from playing up the
federal casualties in Chechnya, has recently begun steering everything in
that direction." The government rag suggested that the reason was to
"drive down the popularity rating of the most likely contender for
the presidency" because "the actual owner of the television station
associates this contender with the establishment of an economy based on
corporate entities, which he does not want, to replace the present economy
based on individual entities." (ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA, 2 Mar 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0302,
via World News Connection) Not too subtle, was it?
On 29 February, Press Minister Mikhail Leslin announced that ORT's broadcast
license, as well as that of Luzhkov-allied TV Center, would not be automatically
renewed, and that their licenses would be put up for a tender of 30 million
rubles on 24 May. (INTERFAX, 1202 GMT, 29 Feb 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0229, via
World News Connection)
Even the independent Moscow Times is under assault. According to its editor,
Matt Bivens, a $9 million tax bill was recently levied against the paper
based upon the claim that "any article mentioning anything that can
be bought or sold is an advertisement," but they beat it in the courts.
(THE WASHINGTON TIMES, 27 Feb 00) No subtlety lost here, either.
Putin's campaign also issued an alarming statement on 4 March that can be
interpreted as a harbinger of much of what has been mentioned in this piece.
"The press service of the election headquarters will continue to closely
watch all facts or lies in respect of the candidate for the post of Russian
President V. V. Putin, and reserves the right to use all means available
in its arsenal for -- as it has been stated more than once -- an 'asymmetrical'
answer to the provocations."(ITAR-TASS, 1220 GMT, 4 Mar 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0304,
via World News Connection) Arsenals? Asymmetrical responses? It sounds more
like a statement issued during an international game of crisis brinksmanship
than something that would come out of the campaign office of a baby-kissing
Ladies and gentlemen, a multi-front, open war has been declared upon the
press in Russia.
by Jonathan Solomon
DOMESTIC ISSUES & LEGISLATIVE BRANCH
The reintegration of Chechnya into the Russian fold continues
The Russian government is bringing Chechnya back into the federation in
three ways. First, 10-12 districts in Chechnya will be allowed to participate
in the 26 March presidential elections. Over 300 electoral stations have
been set up in anticipation of the upcoming vote. All eligible voters are
encouraged to participate, though there appears to be a problem with the
availability of identification papers as a result of the recent fighting.
CEC chairman Vladimir Veshnyakov says that a solution will be devised soon.
(ITAR-TASS, 1050 GMT, 1 Mar 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0301, via World News Connection)
Second, there are suggestions for rebuilding the Chechen economy. Acting
President Vladimir Putin has drafted a program for developing the North
Caucasus including, of course, Chechnya. He envisions a large public works
program for Chechnya to rebuild its damaged infrastructure as well as its
more viable industry. The plan also calls for the creation of small plots
of agricultural land to be distributed to the population to increase self-sufficiency.
How he plans to pay for this plan is not clear. (ITAR-TASS, 1408 GMT, 24
Feb 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0224)
The third development is disturbing and has the potential to increase the
power of the presidency significantly. Putin is being pressured by Federation
Council Chairman Yegor Stroev, among others, to extend direct rule over
Chechnya. Stroev says that "[Putin] agreed that direct presidential
supervision over Chechnya is necessary, but only after the presidential
elections." He has assured Putin that whatever laws are needed to facilitate
Moscow's direct rule would be quickly drafted and passed. Stroev believes
that both houses of the Federal Assembly would be willing to pass a bill
"on a special administrative regime in places where federal laws
are not observed." [Emphasis added] He makes the troubling request,
"Let Chechnya be a precedent." (ITAR-TASS, 1446 GMT, 12 Mar 00;
FBIS-SOV-2000- 0312, via World News Connection)
The last thing Russian democracy needs is a law allowing the president to
suspend local government and impose direct rule based on some vague assessment
of regional observance of federal law. Such a law would constitute the thin
edge of a wedge leading to the slow elimination of the last check on the
president's almost imperial power -- federalism.
Back to the future, or from election to appointment
Once again, the proposal has been made to return to a system of selecting
regional governors by presidential appointment. This system was used from
1991 to 1994 when governorships in all 89 regions became elective posts.
Aman Tuleev, the head of the Kemerovo Oblast' and a presidential candidate,
issued the suggestion last month. There has been some support from other
governors, though not much. It should also be noted that this idea is usually
presented as part of a larger slate of reform proposals intended to strengthen
state control over the regions. Other proposals include cutting the number
of regions from 89 to 32, or alternatively establishing "super-regions"
which would roughly coincide with the present eight economics associations.
Also discussed are proposals to extend the Russian president's term of office
from four years to seven, as well as doing the same for the offices of the
The proposal to return to the system of appointed governors-general has
received more attention than the other proposals most likely because, first,
it accords with Putin's autocratic tendencies, such as his quiet replacement
of 14 presidential representatives in the regions with former FSB officers.
Appointing governors, therefore, may be a more attractive option for extending
his power than the reorganization of Russia's regions. And second, it is
election time. Issues that normally would not have been given much attention
often become topics of great debate during campaign seasons and this may
be such a case.
Even so, it is hard to understand why duly elected governors with a significant
amount of autonomy from Moscow due precisely to their elective status would
want to subjugate themselves to the whims of a potential autocrat through
a process of appointment. There are several possible reasons. First, and
these all fall under the same heading of protecting governors from their
own constituents, some governors may not be re-electable. By swearing allegiance
to Putin, they may retain their offices and not-inconsequential perks. Second,
an appointive position may provide protection from local power brokers,
such as mayors and heads of important business concerns. This would significantly
change the balance of power in favor of the governors if they knew they
had the federal state on their side when battling with local foes. Third,
eliminating elections would not only do away with the unpleasant business
of kissing babies and stumping around the backwoods looking for votes, it
would also remove the need to drum up campaign funds, which often leaves
politicians indebted to their contributors who are again those same local
A fourth reason may be more tactical. Citizens who are unhappy with their
regional leaders may find it presently attractive, though maybe unwise,
to have their leaders appointed by a popular president. Tuleev is running
for the presidency and this may be a campaign position -- one which Putin
and his supporters find easy to support.
Yet the constitutionality of such a law or edict is questionable, regardless
of the legality of its passage. First, Article 131 of the constitution states
that, "[t]he structure of bodies of local self-government shall be
determined by the population independently." This suggests that, regardless
of what Putin or any of the governors say, the people (or their elected
representatives) in each region must independently decide if they want the
president to appoint their chief executive. It would undoubtedly require
amending a good number of regional constitutions one at a time, a tortuous
process which would most likely net a mixed system of both appointed and
Second, the constitution states that each region is to have two representatives
in the Federation Council -- one from the executive branch and one from
the legislative. If the governors are appointed, one-half of the Federation
Council would be indirect presidential appointees. This would mean a violation
of Article 10 of the constitution which says that, "[s]tate power in
the Russian Federation shall be exercised on the basis of the separation
of the legislative, executive and judiciary branches. The bodies of legislative,
executive and judiciary powers shall be independent."
One way out is to change the Constitution, but many proposals for amending
it have met with no success. It is no doubt a very difficult process and
may not be possible -- or necessary. Yel'tsin's past acts suggest another
option by his own lackadaisical adherence to the constitution. Putin could
simply ignore it.
Whether Russians have a natural affinity for strongmen as leaders is certainly
debatable, but the popular clamor for Putin, considering his ominous mutterings
about Russia's need for an Iron Presidency (an obvious reference to Bismarck's
own Iron Chancellery), certainly fits the pattern. Putin's potential victory
on 26 March may be Russia's last real presidential election for a long while.
If his recent comments are to be believed, Putin may find elections in the
future to be "destabilizing" and therefore unwise in a time of
national "disunity." Perhaps Putin's Unity [sic] will triumph
by Michael DeMar Thurman
Feuding neighbors on the Black Sea
Spring hopes for more neighborly relations between Russia's Black Sea Fleet
and its Ukrainian hosts have foundered as the two parties quarrel over energy
debts and accusations of broken agreements. On 28 February, Ukraine froze
the bank accounts of 15 Russian Black Sea fleet units in the ports Sevastopol
and Feodosiya due to the fleet's unpaid electrical bill. (RIA NEWS AGENCY,
28 Feb 00; BBC, via lexis-nexis) On 29 February Ukraine authorities commenced
cutting off electricity to the units. Ukraine authorities also allegedly
detained fleet officials for tax evasion. The Russian defense ministry called
the detentions "groundless" and hurled back accusations that Ukraine
was discriminating against the Russian fleet and also breaking a July agreement
to offset Russia's electrical debt with Ukraine's natural gas debt. (UKRAINIAN
NEWS CHANNEL TELEVISION, 3 Mar 00; BBC, via lexis-nexis) Another indication
that relations between the two neighbors were heading downward was Ukraine's
announcement that it would restrict participation with Russia's Black Sea
Fleet in the joint naval exercise "Peace Waterway" scheduled for
Autumn 2000. The Russian media were quick to point out that, despite fuel
and financing problems, Ukraine actively participates in NATO's Partnership
for Peace program; one article threatened a continued deterioration in relations
would result in a new naval build-up on the Crimea. (KOMMERSANT-DAILY, 2
Mar 00; Agency WPS, via lexis-nexis) However, the Russian press did not
acknowledge the fact that the US Navy gives substantial material and expert
assistance to the Ukraine Navy, allowing for participation in NATO-sanctioned
exercises. In an effort to further their new relationship, US Navy vessels
have visited Ukraine ports on 19 occasions since 1994. (PROCEEDINGS, March
00) It is doubtful Ukraine receives much in return from Russia.
Like nearly everyone else living in Ukraine, personnel in the Black Sea
Fleet may be experiencing the effects of Ukraine's energy shortage. (THE
NIS OBSERVED, 6 Dec 99) The power interruptions usually begin in the early
evenings and last for a few hours, a peak demand period for Ukraine's utilities.
However, Ukraine has experienced an energy crisis for nearly three months
without any reported power cuts to the Black Sea Fleet, so the blackouts'
timing may be tied to the dispute over the value of Ukraine's natural gas
debt to Russia, and the fleet's electrical bill arrears. Until there is
an agreement over the value of their respective energy debts, there cannot
be a subsequent offset agreement. Ukraine appears to be using the situation
to put pressure on Russia for additional negotiating leverage.
Erratic electrical service may be only a nuisance to Russian units, however,
it degrades the fleet's readiness. For safety and security reasons its meager
fuel allowances must be used to power shipboard emergency diesel generators
instead of at-sea training. (NTV INTERNATIONAL, 5 Mar 00; BBC, via lexis-nexis)
This is probably a small price to pay for the fleet's influence. Russia
views the Black Sea bases as strategically important for continued access
to the Mediterranean, influence in Eastern Europe, and the proximity of
"external threats" such as NATO member Turkey and other non-NATO,
Western-leaning states like Ukraine and Georgia. The gray warships flying
the Russian flag in Ukraine territory also promote Russia's self-proclaimed
"great power" status, not a mutually beneficial security arrangement.
by LCDR James Duke
NEWLY INDEPENDENT STATES
Russian scheme gets nowhere, but the message is loud and clear
In a bold pre-election move, acting President Vladimir Putin has provided
yet another glimpse of Russia's CIS policy. Under the guise of combating
terrorism, the CIS interior ministers held an emergency session in Moscow
from 10-11 March at Russia's behest. Although the meeting produced few tangible
results, Russia made its power designs in the CIS clear.
The participants at the Moscow meeting discussed the findings of the CIS
Executive Working Group's project on terrorism. Discussion of the project
began as early as last September, when Russia first used terms like "antiterrorism"
to legitimize its actions in Dagestan. At the time, several CIS bodies --
including the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly, CIS defense ministers, and
then Prime Minister Putin -- began to discuss possible joint efforts, resulting
in the formation of the working group. (THE NIS OBSERVED, 27 Sep 99 and
1 Nov 99) Upon the conclusion of the March meeting, Putin reiterated the
pervasiveness of terrorism and the "broad network of centers"
that pose a threat to stability across the globe, especially in the Balkans,
Caucasus and Central Asia.
Despite Putin's strong rhetoric to the contrary, the emergency meeting produced
few results. According to Putin, the CIS will decide to create a Russian-led
and -financed antiterrorism center and an antiterrorism program which could
allow Russian FSB units to be stationed in CIS countries "when necessary."
Despite Putin's matter-of-fact statement, he downplayed the fact that the
interior ministers' vote on the matter had been only "nearly unanimous,"
forcing the issue back to the working group to be "perfected."
(INTERFAX, 1852 GMT, 10 Mar 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0310, via World News Connection)
In an apparent attempt to clarify the acting president's ominous statements,
Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov emphasized that there are
no plans to form a joint CIS antiterrorism special forces unit. But his
statement only reconfirmed the possibility that Russian troops might be
stationed on foreign soil, a sobering prospect for many CIS states. According
to Ivanov, once a CIS-wide antiterrorism database is up and working, they
will move to "practical cooperation," meaning possible Russian
deployment of Alfa unit troops to CIS countries. (INTERFAX, 2022 GMT, 10
Mar 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0310, via World News Connection) Not surprisingly,
the initiative did not gain unanimous support.
Thus far, CIS member state officials have made no statements on the matter,
but given their past aversion to Russian dominance, it is worth hypothesizing
that most GUUAM members are opposed to this latest Russian shenanigan. According
to CIS Executive Secretary Yuri Yarov, now that the issue has been sent
back to the working group, discussion will have to wait until the next CIS
foreign ministers' meeting in either April or May. However, if the latest
meeting serves as evidence, the chances of approval by GUUAM members are
slim, and without their approval, the CIS-wide center and program will never
materialize. But even if the issue is never adopted by the CIS as a whole,
it serves as an ominous reminder of Russia's newly invigorated and aggressive
CIS policy under Putin.
by Sarah K. Miller
Clinton just says 'no' to Yushchenko
Administration officials, financial analysts and opposition party leaders
must be waiting for the other shoe to drop. On 14 March, the IMF accused
Ukraine of falsifying data in order to qualify for loan tranches, and imposed
a limited penalty on the country. The fund is still waiting, however, for
the results of a PricewatershouseCoopers audit of the Ukrainian National
Bank that will be completed on 31 March.
Even without further revelations, Ukraine's relationship with the IMF has
taken a pummeling. That pummeling has, in turn, reportedly led to a not-so-subtle
snub from President Bill Clinton. Clinton had been scheduled to meet with
Viktor Yushchenko during Yushchenko's first visit to Washington, DC as Ukrainian
prime minister. According to The New York Times, however, just days before
Yushchenko was to leave for the US, he was told that Clinton would be unable
to meet with him after all. "There was the sense that they should go
fix this and then talk about a visit," a senior administration official
was quoted as saying. "They clearly have some business to do at home
to clean up this problem." (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 16 Mar 00) Of course,
Ukraine denies that Yushchenko's trip was canceled due to any snub by Clinton;
they say Yushchenko needed to stay home to head the investigation of the
The IMF problem apparently stems from a system of "round-tripping"
developed by Ukrainian officials to give the impression that their cash
reserves were higher than they actually were. The IMF said last week that,
had they known how low the reserves really were, they would not have dispersed
the last three or four tranches to the country. The National Bank reportedly
transferred approximately $150 million to a bank in Cyprus, and then transferred
it back to Ukraine's reserve accounts in order to present the appearance
of higher cash availability.
It is important to note, however, that there does not seem to be -- at least
at this point -- any suggestion of an improper use of IMF money. Unlike
the recent Russian money-laundering scandal, where officials may have used
IMF money for personal gain, it appears that the entire Ukrainian problem
revolves around the "round-tripping" scheme.
Knowing this, it is interesting that the penalty just imposed on Ukraine
is the same one given to Russia: All future disbursements will remain in
an IMF account and will never actually be transferred to Ukraine. It is
also interesting to note that, while US administration officials are apparently
refusing to meet with Ukraine's leaders, they have been eager to meet with
Vladimir Putin whenever and wherever he wants. While Ukraine is told to
"clean" its house, Russia keeps dropping bombs on Chechnya and
awaits its next IMF tranche.
Helping the Communist Party grow
On 9 March, a group of students took over the Communist Party headquarters
in Kyiv, poured gasoline around the building and threatened to burn it down
if a list of demands was not met. The students, who are reported to be from
a group called either "Independent Ukraine" or the "Ukraine
Self-Dependence Group," demanded that the Communist Party be outlawed,
Russian-language schools be closed, pensions be paid in full and Ukraine
leave the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Throughout the ordeal, which lasted 13 hours, Rukh leader Gennady Udavenko
acted as mediator, thereby identifying his organization with the students
who had been termed "radicals" by the media. The Communist Party,
meanwhile, took full advantage of the standoff, distributing a leaflet condemning
the students as "terrorists," and urging "all honest people"
to stand up against "fascism, dictatorship and lawlessness." (REUTERS,
1204 GMT, 10 Mar 00; via America Online) Largely thanks to Udavenko's efforts,
the students eventually surrendered, promising to use their trial as a trial
of the Communist Party.
Following the arrest of the group -- which consisted of 10 men and one woman
-- it was revealed that four of the students were members of Rukh, and that
the organization would be paying for their attorneys. "This action
was a customary way of protest against the domination of former Communist
cadres, [and] the domination of pro-Russian sentiments in our mass media,"
said Olena Bendarenko, the deputy head of Rukh. (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 1443
EST, 10 Mar 00; via America Online)
President Kuchma's administration has been quick to distance itself from
the students. It is unfortunate that Rukh did not follow such a strategy.
At a time when Russia is once again complaining about what it perceives
as restrictions on the Russian language, and when the country faces its
worst ever economic downturn, extremism and radicalization can be dangerous.
Most of all, they can push individuals to support the very thing being protested.
The Communist Party, withering on the vine, may just have been given a healthy
dose of water. Unfortunately, it seems to have come out of Rukh's rations.
Marching for freedom -- again
It seems the protesters who participated in the Freedom March II on 15 March
didn't give the Belarusian government what it was looking for -- an excuse
to crack down on demonstrations. So, they had to make up one.
The protest, which included anywhere from 15,000 to 25,000 persons, depending
on whose estimate you believe, concluded peacefully and without incident.
Belarusian authorities seem to have learned an important lesson from last
year's Freedom March I; attacking protesters will get you more international
attention than not attacking protesters. So, according to all reports, the
police were civil and even friendly.
Following the event, the deputy of the Minsk City Council, Viktor Chikin,
told Belarusian Television that the march had gone without incident. The
head of the OSCE monitoring delegation in Belarus wrote to several government
officials following the march and took note of Chikin's remarks. Hans-Georg
Weick wrote, "As far as I understand, according to a public statement
by the Deputy of the Minsk City Council, Mr. Viktor Chikin, the march was
carried out with almost no incident of violence or unrest and with little
disruption to the life of the city. Furthermore, according to Mr. Chikin,
the march organizers fulfilled all promises made to the city authorities
regarding the conduct of the event." (BELAPAN, 0330 GMT, 17 Mar 00)
Less than one day later, however, Chikin revised his comments. Chikin appeared
on television on 16 March to say that marches like these will no longer
be allowed in Minsk, based on the bad behavior of the protesters. According
to Belapan, Chikin said demonstrators had "failed to keep their promise
not to block traffic. The official pointed out that the movement of vehicles
was stopped for several hours because of the demonstration." He also
"accused demonstrators of provoking an assault on a correspondent of
Russia's NTV television network and said that only the police's self-restraint
helped prevent disorder in the city." (BELAPAN, 0330 GMT, 17 Mar 00)
Presumably, officials hope they can stop, or at least limit, the next demonstration
scheduled to be held in Minsk on 25 March. So far, however, that plan doesn't
appear to working, as opposition figures now seem more determined than ever
to hold the demonstration. They were no doubt emboldened by the massive
response to this last demonstration, which attracted more participants than
any protest in the last year.
Belarusian authorities will keep trying, however. One day after they announced
the restriction on demonstrations in Minsk, opposition leader Andrei Klimov
was sentenced to six years in prison for "tax fraud and abuse of power."
(AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE, 17 Mar 00; via lexis-nexis) At the same time, officials
fired Yaraslaw Beklyamishchaw, the host of the "Krok-2" television
program, for "flagrant violation of the rules of presentation of the
program on the air and its non-compliance with the cue sheet." (BELAPAN,
0725 GMT, 16 Mar 00; BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, via lexis-nexis) What
does that mean in English? Beklyamishchaw apparently allowed a filmmaker
to say, "I flatly refuse to take money from this government" on
the air. Shame, shame!
How much will Lukashenka allow the demonstrators to say during their now
illegal protest on 25 March? This is an interesting question that will no
doubt have an enlightening answer.
by Tammy Lunch
If not a parade, how about a show trial?
If the Russian military can't get a victory by 26 March, than perhaps the
FSB can organize a show trial instead. Just as more and more Russians are
beginning to ask probing questions about the authorship of the explosions
in Buinansk, Volgodonsk, and Moscow, the FSB has nabbed a very plausible
Russian spokesmen rushed to interpret the capture of Salman Raduev on 12
March as heralding a change in strategy against the Chechen resistance.
Isn't it interesting that after more than six months of unbridled assault
on the Chechen population, Moscow has announced a shift to the sort of limited
operations against Chechen commanders it was supposedly carrying out all
Indeed the federal forces sustained considerable losses as the Chechen resistance
started to rely increasingly on guerrilla tactics. There were three humiliating
defeats: On 1 March, 85 Russian servicemen from the Pskov MVD perished in
an ambush near Ulus-Kert. On 2 March, dozens of MVD troops were killed in
an ambush in Alkhan-Kala near Dzhokhar. On 12 March, a noted commander,
Ruslan Gelaev, escaped from an encircled village, Komsomol'skaya. In view
of these setbacks, repeated Russian assertions to the effect that the war
is all but won ring hollow.
The real significance of the operation against Raduev lies in its propagandistic
value. The Moscow papers Novoya gazeta and Versiya have been investigating
the possibility that the FSB covered up the discovery of similar explosives
in Ryazan by saying they were part of a training exercise. (See Media section
of this issue and the Caucasus section of THE NIS OBSERVED, 29 Feb 00) Based
on those reports, the YABLOKO Duma faction moved to hold a parliamentary
inquiry into the Ryazan incident on 17 March. The initiative was blocked
by other Duma factions, Putin's Unity faction chief among them. (www.yabloko.ru)
Unity is certainly behaving as though there is something to hide and the
FSB is hurriedly concocting a "show trial" that would draw public
attention away from the Ryazan incident.
One Moscow-based analyst, Sergei Khodorovsky, reports that "Raduyev
was reportedly betrayed by his own bodyguards whilst negotiating a cash
deal with the Russian secret agents. ... Now Russian TV audiences can look
forward to a noisy show trial." (IWPR, 17 Mar 00) Raduev previously
had promised to deliver Basaev to the FSB in return for $1 million. It seems
he was negotiating this deal with the FSB when he was arrested.
Raduev is charged with banditry, terrorism and murder in connection with
the hostage-taking operation into the Dagestani city Kizlyar in December
1995. In addition, according to Deputy Prosecutor General Vasili Kolmogorov,
only three days after his capture, Raduev had started "giving evidence,
including evidence on the explosions in Moscow, Buinansk and Volgodonsk."
(INTERFAX, 15 Mar 00; via lexis-nexis) Of course there are still some suspenseful
aspects to this story: For instance, is it possible to bring to light some
convenient connections with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban? Can all this
be served up to the cameras before the elections?
Raduev was captured near Gudermes -- a stronghold of the Russian puppet
and ex-convict Beslan Gantemirov. Four years ago, Raduev broke through several
rings of federal troops to escape through mine fields from the village of
Pervomayskoye, but last week he was arrested without a single shot.
During the last war he suffered head wounds which left him with "one
glass eye, partial sight in the other, a plastic nose and a titanium
plate in his skull," and came to be regarded as more than a little
strange. Many conjectured that he was in the employ of the FSB or insane,
particularly when he made the outrageous claim to have been behind the 1998
assassination attempt against Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. A
political outcast, Raduev played no role in the present war.
A region held hostage
Regional cooperation in the energy field was boosted substantially when
Azerbaijan and Georgia resolved the tariff issue that had been stalling
negotiations on the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline for several months. The agreement
was announced after a meeting of President Heyder Aliev and President Eduard
Shevardnadze in Tbilisi. (CAUCASUS PRESS, 22 Mar 00) Azerbaijani concessions
to Georgia follow closely on other concessions to Turkmenistan for the trans-Caspian
line. These developments may reignite Western enthusiasm for the region
and create some momentum for improving the regional security arrangements.
Visions for a regional security architecture were presented as early as
the November OSCE summit by Aliev and Armenian President Robert Kocharian.
A fuller version of the concept, The Stability Pact, was presented by Turkey's
President Suleiman Demirel at a meeting in Tbilisi in January. While the
Caucasian states and Turkey seem eager to develop a regional pact, the Western
leaders have been very slow to respond. Russia's acting President Vladimir
Putin sent a positive response to Demirel's suggestion and President Jacques
Chirac of France gave a lukewarm response; however, Bill Clinton kept mum
on the matter until 23 March when Voice of Turkey Radio announced that he
supported the idea of a regional pact and hoped it could be used to resolve
the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
In recent weeks Putin has been pushing his version of a regional infrastructure,
the "Borjomi 4" (the three Caucasian states plus Russia), which
held the first such meeting at the January CIS summit. The second such meeting
is planned to accompany the April CIS summit and there is talk of holding
more regular consultations. In a chilling recent statement, Putin aired
plans to use Russian special forces on the territories of CIS states to
quell "terrorism." The brutality with which Putin has implemented
such ideas in Chechnya gives some indication of the danger the Caucasian
states face if left alone with Russia.
When asked if "the four" could sign a stability pact at their
next meeting, the Azerbaijani foreign minister, Vilayet Guliev, reiterated
that it cannot be considered "until the Karabakh conflict is solved."
(CAUCASUS PRESS, 10 Mar 00) So, the formation of an institution to promote
regional cooperation and security is on hold not only until the West responds
positively but until Armenia regains stability.
For the time being the Armenian political scene remains very tense as the
standoff between Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian and President Kocharian continues.
Early in March the Sarkisian faction demanded the resignation of presidential
supporters on the presidential staff and in the state television management
because they had complained about the conduct of the investigation into
the slayings of eight leading politicians in October 99. Kocharian responded
by vigorously defending his allies and assuming greater control over military
appointments, thus lessening his rival's influence over the military. Nagorno-Karabakh
mirrored the tumult of Yerevan's political scene when an assassination attempt
left the republic's president, Arkadi Ghukasian, seriously wounded. A rival
politician, former Defense Minister Samvel Babayan, was immediately arrested
in connection with the shooting.
Armenian politicians are deeply worried by the violence against top officials
and the obviously politicized investigation which has targeted the president.
Some, like the former vice speaker of the parliament, Ara Sahakian, say
that the attack on the president's circle of advisers is a "catastrophe
which could lead to us losing our independence." (IWPR, 17 Mar 00)
Indeed, there is a 27-member group of parliamentarians pushing the idea
of joining the Belarus-Russia Union. (CAUCASUS PRESS, 8 Mar 00)
Possibility of expanding the OSCE observer mission seen
During his conversation with visiting OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis,
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze proposed extending the responsibilities
of the OSCE observer mission to cover the entire length of the Georgian-Chechen
border. Shevardnadze also suggested an expanded role for OSCE observers
to work with UN observers in the Gali region in Abkhazia. (CAUCASUS PRESS,
21 Mar 00)
The need for this mission became evident during the Fall when repeated Russian
assertions that arms and mercenaries were reaching Chechnya from Georgian
territory raised fears of a Russian incursion into Georgia; the observers
were deployed during the winter. In the Spring, as the field of operations
moves into the southern parts of Chechnya and the snow melts, allowing easier
passage over the mountain passes, the danger of such spillover into Georgian
territory mounts. In fact, a recent article in the Russian military newspaper
Krasnaya zvezda charged that 30 Chechen gunmen and two Pakistanis were detained
by Russian and Georgian border guards. (CAUCASUS PRESS, 21 Mar 00) An international
presence on the border is essential to ensuring that such incidents don't
escalate into more violent confrontations and are not used by Russia to
reassert control over Georgia's borders.
Presently the OSCE mission consists of 17 officers and between 20-30 Tbilisi-based
civilian personnel. The vast majority of the observers are from East European
and post-Soviet states, but the recent addition of two retired American
officers raises hopes that more Western countries may contribute personnel
to an expanded mission. According to the Georgian Border Guards chief, Valeri
Chkheidze, the US has promised to supply surveillance equipment to monitor
the border and the Georgians plan to establish 12 additional observation
posts on the border.
For the most part, Russian representatives have refrained from commenting
on the mission. Since Russia has frequently supported the idea of an OSCE
security architecture for Europe, it's awkward to complain about the OSCE
taking on this role in this instance. However, when the mission was being
established in December, the Russian representatives tried to pack it with
Russian officers, only to be rebuffed by the OSCE officers in charge.
by Miriam Lanskoy
Strange bedfellows indeed
The Baltic states continued their attempts to deal with their pasts, despite
adversarial Russian reaction and skepticism from Israel, in a clear demonstration
that the dissolution of the Soviet Union did not create a blank slate for
domestic or international relations.
Russia's acting president, Vladimir Putin, repeatedly tried to involve the
West in his country's clamor over the trials of former KGB personnel, to
no avail. Without mentioning the Baltic states directly, Putin demanded
that US lawmakers stigmatize states "where veteran anti-fascists are
being prosecuted with the connivance of former Nazis." (ITAR-TASS,
0956 GMT, 15 Mar 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0315, via World News Connection) Since
Latvia's conviction of Vasily Kononov has brought about repeated accusations
of human rights abuses by Putin et al., no country's name had to be listed
in the demand to America. Alas, the US must live with the shame of being
the second group, not the first, to be contacted by an offended Putin. The
acting president earlier had tried to obtain OSCE intervention in the case,
only to be told that such intervention does not fall within the OSCE's mandate
in Latvia. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1400 GMT, 1 Mar 00)
Despite Putin's exclamations, such prosecutions are destined to continue.
The trial of another Soviet war veteran, Yevgeny Savenko, began in February.
He is charged with crimes committed immediately following the Soviet Union's
1940 occupation of Latvia. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1400 GMT,
28 Feb 00) "Again a veteran of the Great Patriotic War has stood before
the trial, an old, ill man...," decried a statement from the Russian
foreign ministry. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1400 GMT, 1 Mar 00)
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga has repeatedly rejected claims by
Russia that such trials were ideologically based and aimed at actions taken
as persons fought Nazi supporters. She pointed out that Savenko is charged
with crimes that occurred before war broke out between Nazi Germany and
the Soviet Union. (BNS, 1313 GMT, 2 Mar 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0302, via World
Although certainly the most vocal, Russia isn't the only country unhappy
with the tenor of trials in the Baltic states. While the international community
has been encouraging the countries to increase their attempts to prosecute
war criminals (See THE NIS OBSERVED, 29 Feb 00), Israel has remained skeptical
about Lithuania's willingness to seek justice. Conflict has arisen over
the case of Nakhman Dushanski, a former high-ranking Soviet security officer
suspected in the 1965 murder of Antanas Kraujelis. Prosecution of Dushanski,
who is now living in Israel, was suspended last year after the Israeli Prosecutor's
Office refused to provide legal assistance. However, the case has resumed
now that war criminals may be tried in absentia. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY
REPORT, 1100 GMT, 25 Feb 00) According to the Israeli embassy for the Baltic
states, Israel's Ministry of Justice views the prosecution of Dushanski
as "discriminatory," since Israel can list over 20 high-ranking
former Lithuanian officers of the KGB and NKVD who are still living in Lithuania
and who are not facing charges. "The decision to proceed vigorously
against Mr. Dushanski while not proceeding at all against those Lithuanian
nationals who served as his superior in the KGB... seems to be singling
him out in a discriminatory manner," the statement said. (BALTIC NEWS
SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1700 GMT, 28 Feb 00) Such "singling out"
cannot help but exacerbate the existing tensions between the two countries,
especially given the continuing anti-Semitism that exists in Lithuania,
and demonstrates the diffidence with which that country continues to approach
any acknowledgment of crimes committed against its citizens by its citizens
in the past.
Another lingering effect of the past has generated further controversy,
and serves to highlight the dilemma many in the Baltics face in coming to
terms with a history that includes Soviet and Nazi occupations. Estonian
Riigikogu members have begun to debate a law on restoring property to persons
who emigrated to Germany at the beginning of World War II. Prime Minister
Mart Laar backs passage of the law, however, the bill faces the opposition
of the People's Union faction. People's Union leader Villu Reiljan explained:
"One cannot speak of citizenship as of June 16, 1940, because the people
who then emigrated from Estonia renounced their Estonian citizenship."
While neither side has shown much flexibility in the debate, Tonu Kauba,
a member of the Center Party, said he holds out hope that some compromise
is possible. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1900 GMT, 22 Feb 00)
Meanwhile, repatriates of Estonian descent from the former Soviet Union
may soon begin to receive subsidies if they have no other sources of income.
The Estonian government approved a plan under which persons of Estonian
descent, Estonian citizens, and their next of kin repatriating from the
former USSR who are of pension age and lack any income over 800 kroons would
be eligible for a government subsidy. The government submitted amendments
to the social insurance law to include those provisions to parliament at
the end of February. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1700 GMT, 29 Feb
Countries try to cope with not-so-silent minorities
In addition to focusing on their citizens' pasts, the Baltic countries are
looking to improve the present, with active attempts to integrate the diverse
segments of society. In fact, Estonian's population minister, Katrin Saks,
agreed to share the wisdom Estonian experts had gained in drafting their
national program for the integration of ethnic minorities. (BALTIC NEWS
SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1900 GMT, 21 Feb 00) This move is all the more interesting
since the Estonian program continues to be criticized within the country
and is due to be revised to incorporate input from the president's ethnic
minorities roundtable. Hagi Sein, the president's representative to the
roundtable, said members made a number of proposals, including an increase
in opportunities for language training. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT,
1100 GMT, 28 Feb 00) The language requirement remains a stumbling block:
While the government has set up training centers, there has been a demonstrative
lack of qualified teachers, funding, and materials. Thus, the fluency requirements
and bureaucratic delays have been called "disincentives" for securing
citizenship, according to a review by the US Department of State. (1999
COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, US Department of State; via www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1999_hrp_report/estonia.html)
The report added, however, that there are at least 10 NGOs devoted to developing
and implementing local integration assistance programs.
One government move that may increase the numbers of persons eligible for
citizenship is the decision by the Ministry of Education to equate school-leaving
exams with language fluency. Students attending non-Estonian institutions
now may earn language proficiency certificates with their school exams.
(BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1700 GMT, 3 Mar 00)
While Estonia and Latvia grapple with unceasing Russian complaints of (undocumented)
human rights violations, representatives from another country -- Poland
-- are claiming a "persecution of Lithuanian Poles." About 12
members of the Polish parliament, the Sejm, decried actions by the Lithuanian
government which they perceive as impinging on the rights of ethnic Poles
in Lithuania. Polish Foreign Minister Radislaw Sikorski assured the MPs
that the ministry was paying attention to their concern and that, "in
spite of existing problems, the situation of Lithuanian Poles is good."
(BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1100 GMT, 22 Feb 00)
Women and children first? Not yet
A recent review by the US Department of State once more found no systematic
violations of the rights of ethnic minorities in the Baltic states; however,
the country reports noted problems still exist, particularly for women,
children and prisoners.
In Estonia, prison conditions remain poor, the report notes, and there continue
"to be credible reports that police used excessive force and verbal
abuse during the arrest and questioning of suspects." The government
has refurbished some prison buildings and is working towards alleviating
some of the overcrowding; in addition, a multi-year plan to refurbish and
restructure all the country's prison and to close Tallinn Central Prison
has been drafted, but has not yet been implemented, the report stated. News
was good on one juridical layer, however. The State Department said the
Estonian judicial system is independent in practice. Moreover, in general
civil liberties are respected. And, the report noted, despite repeated allegations
from Russia of human rights violations affecting noncitizens, the OSCE mission
in Estonia and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities said they
could find no pattern of such abuses in the country. (1999 COUNTRY REPORTS
ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, US Department of State; via www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1999_hrp_report/estonia.html)
Latvia also received generally favorable remarks in its country report,
although, like Estonia, crime doesn't pay. The State Department noted there
were "credible reports that police and prison personnel beat and mistreated
prison inmates." And, unlike its neighbor to the north, in Latvia an
"inefficient judiciary did not always ensure the fair administration
of justice." The courts "must rely on the Ministry of Justice
for administrative support, and the judiciary is not well trained, efficient,
or free from corruption," the review warned. (1999 COUNTRY REPORTS
ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, US Department of State; via www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1999_hrp_report/latvia.html)
Other concerns cited by the report included poor treatment of women in the
home and the workplace, and child prostitution and abuse.
Lithuania shared many of the same problems with the other Baltic states,
chiefly prison conditions as well as violence and discrimination against
women and children. The review noted some progress made by the government
toward bringing police corruption under control, however, media reports
indicate "incidents of police brutality are becoming more common."
Physical abuse is not limited to the judicial system either: "Abuse
of women at home is reportedly common, especially in connection with alcohol
abuse by husbands," the report noted. "Child abuse in connection
with alcohol abuse by parents is a serious problem" as well, the State
Department said. Also noted was the fact that "a certain level of anti-Semitic
sentiment persists," as indicated by the desecration of several Jewish
cemeteries and the Holocaust Memorial at Paneriai, Nazi graffiti on a wall
of a Jewish community building, and attacks by pro-Fascist youths. (1999
COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, US Department of State; via www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1999_hrp_report/lithuani.html)
Further indication of such sentiment is provided by plans to found a Lithuanian
National Social Party. A declaration to establish the new political bloc
was signed by persons from Siauliai, Kaunas, Klaipeda, Panevezys, Marijampole
and smaller towns. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1100 GMT, 28 Feb 00)
by Kate Martin