Volume I No. 4(18 December
1996) No. 3(4 December 1996) No. 2(20 November
1996) No. 1(6 November 1996)
Putin's polish tarnished
President Vladimir Putin's tin-eared response to the Kursk tragedy unfolding
in the Barents Sea has provoked the first sustained public criticism of
his actions as president. As has been widely reported, Putin was vacationing
at the Black Sea when news broke that the submarine had sunk during a large
naval training exercise. Putin made his first television appearance to comment
on the situation five days after the accident, which he described as "critical,"
but nonetheless refused offers of foreign assistance. (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE,
0710 PDT, 18 Aug 00; via Cfirstname.lastname@example.org) It was another two days before
he finally returned to Moscow and began to respond to the growing criticism
of his handling of the rescue effort. By this time the press, leading politicians
(noticeably Boris Nemtsov), and the public were expressing outrage, not
only at the delay in accepting international help with the rescue, but also
with Putin's reticence to acknowledge the seriousness of the incident through
his presence in Murmansk.
Explaining his absence from the scene as an effort not to interfere, Putin
noted "the arrival of nonspecialists and high-ranking officials on
the scene of a disaster does not help, and very often it gets in the way."
(AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, 0710 PDT, 18 Aug 00; via Cemail@example.com)
Clearly becoming aware of the public anger with his nonchalant reaction
to events, Putin changed the tone of his remarks and actions upon his arrival
in Moscow. He called a meeting with top ministers, spoke of watching the
rescue efforts "with pain in our hearts" before an assembly of
Orthodox clergy, and promised assistance to the families of those who perished.
(AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, 0840 PDT, 20 Aug 00; via Cfirstname.lastname@example.org)
The naval disaster, which has apparently ended with the tragic deaths of
the whole crew, provides a cautionary note for Putin -- even in an authoritarian-style
democracy, public opinion still matters. The press, generally believed to
be cowering under government control, has liberally reported the disaffection
and distrust resonating in the population over the president's, government's
and military's failures to respond appropriately and honestly to this crisis.
No ethnic stereotyping?
In marked contrast to his response to the Kursk incident, Putin quickly
assumed direct presidential control of the investigation into the 8 August
bombing of an underground walkway in Pushkin Square. (ITAR-TASS, 1824 GMT,
8 Aug 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0808, via World News Connection) He also appeared
to direct his security and policing services, as well as the public, away
from blaming Chechen terrorists for the explosion. While the investigation
almost immediately seemed to view economic crime as the motive, Putin highlighted
possible mafia involvement rather than an "ethnic" dimension,
adding "One cannot put a stamp on an entire nation because crime has
no nationality nor confession." (MOSCOW TIMES, 10 Aug 00; via lexis-nexis)
Really? Lest anyone think that might suggest an easing of the brutal war
in Chechnya, Putin did reiterate his intention to root the terrorists out
of "their lair."
SECURITY SERVICES Dagestani bombing investigation wraps up
Five Dagestanis, labeled as Wahhabites by authorities, have been arrested
and charged in the September 1999 bombing of an apartment building in Buinansk,
Dagestan. Investigators from the North Caucasus Prosecutor's Office claim
that the five carried out the bombing by order of Chechen Field Commander
Ibn-ul-Khattab. (INTERFAX, 0619 GMT, 4 Aug 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0804, via World
New security regime follows bombing
In the wake of the 8 August explosion in Pushkin Square, the Moscow police
has instituted an aggressive new security operation, which includes widespread
passport controls and strengthening of security in residential areas, patrols
and inspections of garages, basements, vehicles and transportation facilities,
as well as state institutions. By 14 August, Aleksandr Chekalin, head of
the MVD's main directorate for maintaining public order, announced that
8,000 persons had been detained, 200 of them for committing crimes. (RIA,
1115 GMT, 14 Aug 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0814, via World News Connection) It is
unclear why the other 7,800 persons were detained.
SECURITY COUNCIL Will compromise cool tempers?
At a packed Security Council session on 11 August, President Putin stressed
the need for adequate funding of the military, as Chief of the General Staff
Anatoly Kvashnin and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev chose not to continue
their public squabbling over military development and policy. One reason
for that may have been the long conversation the president had with his
defense minister just prior to the Security Council meeting. Compromise
is in the air, although it seems clear that the Strategic Rocket Forces
will not be given the full emphasis requested by Sergeev. (ITAR-TASS, 1542
GMT, 11 Aug 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0811, via World News Connection) The difficulty
of weighing economic realities when attempting military reform has stymied
the Russian leadership for years, but rarely had it flared up as openly
as the Kvashnin-Sergeev dispute. Nor have the true dangers of inadequate
military financing been as terribly illustrated than in the Kursk incident.
GOVERNMENT President's representatives to attend meetings
The creation of super-districts and presidential representatives to administer
them may have seemed like an efficient way to help keep the governors in
line, but the actual institution appears to be a bureaucratic nightmare.
The representatives are part of the presidential team, and attend Security
Council meetings, but they also need to co-ordinate with government members
and now will attend government meetings as well. Their functions are not
well-defined, so that the actual distribution of authority between regional
government offices and the representatives will probably vary from region
to region. Apparently the arrangement to have them at government meetings
had to be negotiated between Vice Premier Viktor Khristenko and members
of the Kremlin apparat. For now, the representatives will not have voting
rights at the government sessions, but other details are not yet available.
(ITAR-TASS, 1221 GMT, 11 Aug 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0811, via World News Connection)
by Susan J. Cavan
The tragedy of the Barents Sea, in which 118 Russian sailors drowned in
a damaged Russian submarine, has won broad sympathy from Russians and foreigners
alike. Sadly, the poor preparation of the Russian Navy to handle the catastrophe
of the Kursk has revealed how little Western aid has actually helped to
rehabilitate the competence of the Russian state. The government's slow
reaction has also shown how little a decade of assistance has eased suspicions
of the West that are still prevalent in the country's political and military
The price of symbols
Among the most poignant ironies of the catastrophe is that the Kursk had
set sail to join exercises based on a scenario of armed confrontations with
the very Western states that later tried to save its crew. The Kursk was
taking part in Russia's largest naval exercises of the year, operations
that brought the Baltic Fleet together with units of the Federal Border
Guard Service and Belarusian Air Defense. (ITAR-TASS, 7 Aug 00; via lexis-nexis)
The exercise was designed to "repel aerial attacks from the Western
direction," according to Vremya novosti. (RFE/RL NEWSLINE, 9 Aug 00)
Embarrassingly, the disaster fell within two weeks of Russian President
Vladimir Putin's public declaration that a strong Russian Navy was vital
to Russia's greatness on the world stage. Speaking in Kaliningrad on Navy
Day, Putin said that the holiday was "dear to anyone who loves Russia,
who is proud of its heroic past and believes in its future. The navy has
always been and remains the symbol of a strong Russian state and a pillar
of its defense capability." (ITAR-TASS, 0834 GMT, 30 Jul 00; via lexis-nexis)
Perhaps these naval exercises directed against putative Western foes were
meant to augment an image abroad of a strong and independent Russia under
an effective leader. If so, the disaster of Kursk had the opposite effect.
"The reaction to this accident by the overall Russian leadership, the
military as well, but Putin in particular, was catastrophic," former
German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel told South West German Radio. "I
think it's fair to say that the security partnership between Russia and
the West has been damaged." (REUTERS, 0252 PM, 21 Aug 00; via uk.news.yahoo.com)
When news broke that the Russian government had waited four days before
allowing the West to help, critics savaged the government and military for
being stuck in a Soviet mindset of secrecy and pride.
"If we had not refused Western aid at the outset the chances of saving
sailors would have been greater," Pavel Felgenhauer, a military analyst,
told Agence France-Presse. The delay in seeking Western aid was due, Felgenhauer
said, to "the ideology of the Northern Fleet, the most anti-Western
of all and which has no other enemy than NATO, its only reason for existing."
(AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, 1311 GMT, 21 Aug 2000; via www.russiatoday.com)
There was little evidence, however, that the disaster had caused leading
Russian officials to reconsider their suspicions. In a move that appeared
to shift blame for the disaster to the West, unnamed Russian military sources
alleged that wreckage from a foreign sub had been found near the grounded
Kursk. The sources claimed that this confirmed suspicions that the Russian
vessel had collided with a British or American submarine spying on its operations.
(UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL, 1052 ET, 21 Aug 00; via lexis-nexis) British
and American officials strongly denied the accusations.
Money for nothing?
The Kursk disaster also coincided with renewed concern about the endemic
corruption that has weakened the Russian state and misdirected funds meant
to improve the lives of ordinary Russians. Indeed, some suspect that the
very government that has based its authority on rebuilding the glory of
Russia appears instead to have been robbing her.
Military prosecutors are reported to be investigating whether from 1995
to 1996, officials in the Ministry of Defense embezzled $450 million from
funds meant to procure military hardware. According to Nezavisimaya gazeta,
the prosecutors believe that Georgy Oleinik, then director of the Main Directorate
of Military Budget and Finances, authorized payment for nonexistent construction
supplies from Ukraine. Three accomplices in the ministry are suspected of
helping Oleinik carry out the fraud. (NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA, 2 Aug 00, Defense
and Security; via lexis-nexis)
Oleinik and his colleagues, all of whom remain in their posts, may well
be victims of an attempt to smear them in the midst of power struggles within
the Ministry of Defense. And although misappropriation of defense funds
will look especially bad in the wake of the Kursk disaster, Putin's government
may not fear that scandals from the Yel'tsin era will undermine its authority.
Russia's largest financial scandal, however, appears to be coming closer
to touching Putin's inner circle. Two years after a $4.8 billion International
Monetary Fund loan disappeared in a swirling financial crisis, investigators
are pursuing a case that may help confirm suspicions that Mikhail Kasyanov,
now Russia's prime minister, was involved in diverting the funds abroad.
Nikolai Volkov, an investigator with the Russian Prosecutor General's Office,
suggested late in July that he had found evidence in Switzerland to justify
opening an investigation into the disappearance of the IMF funds. On 14
August, a Swiss magistrate looking into the scandal seized documents from
two Swiss banks, one of which transferred $1.4 billion to the Bank of New
York after the August 1998 crash. (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, 14 Aug 00; via
lexis-nexis) Officials at the Bank of New York have been indicted already
for laundering funds from Russia, but no connection to the lost IMF funds
has yet been proven.
Leaders of the Yabloko faction in the Russian Duma have accused Kasyanov,
who handled foreign debt negotiations for the finance ministry before his
promotion, of helping to spirit the IMF funds to secret bank accounts abroad.
(THE MOSCOW TIMES, 29 Jul 00; via lexis-nexis)
Questions from a catastrophe
What does it say about their government, Russians might well ask, that billions
disappear from state coffers while the military is unable to save its own
men? What kinds of politicians, they might wonder, are so suspicious of
the West that they wait until the last minute to seek desperately needed
help? Is "the greatness of Russia," the purported aim of everything
the Kremlin pursues, so compelling a cause that the Russian government can
indulge in symbols at the price of taking care of its own?
For relatives and friends of the drowned sailors, the political fallout
of the Barents Sea catastrophe will never assuage their private grief. For
the citizens of the Russian Federation, however, the disaster may well prompt
some outrage at how their rulers have abused Western goodwill and assistance,
and at what cost.
by Chandler Rosenberger
* * * * *
Not a laughing matter
After President Putin made his grand entrance at the G-8 Okinawa summit
bearing a supposed pledge from Kim Jong-il to halt the North Korean missile
development program, it seemed that Putin had officially elevated himself
to the same diplomatic, if not economic, footing as his counterparts in
the G-8. And although the news seemed incredible, those who had been with
Putin verified his success. As a result, not only had Putin proven himself
a capable diplomat in the North Korean case, but he also brought with him
the backing of a considerable number of "rogue" states, all of
which oppose US unilateralism and National Missile Defense (NMD) plans.
(See THE NIS OBSERVED, 12 Jul 00)
Shortly after the summit, however, unsurprising news from Pyongyang revealed
that Kim's comments were made "as a laughing matter" during the
course of a conversation with Putin on "scientific and sophisticated
technologies." (BBC MONITORING, 14 Aug 00; via RussiaToday.com) The
Russian government responded by saying that Kim had made the remarks in
the most serious tone. Regardless of whether Kim's joke was a hoax, though,
Putin had already made his point to the G-8, namely that the US supposedly
exaggerates the North Korean missile threat to suit its own needs, and that
a number of non-NATO states across the globe share this opinion.
Over the past few months, Putin has taken steps to reinvigorate Russia's
ties not only to NATO members, but to non-NATO states as well. In particular,
Putin has received or has plans to conduct visits with diplomats from a
variety of "states of concern." Libya, North Korea, Iraq, and
Iran are counted among such states with which Putin is strengthening diplomatic
and, most importantly, economic ties. These plans suit Russia's needs politically,
as a tool to counter US claims that it must implement an NMD to protect
itself against such states, and to bolster Russia's economy through arms
and technology sales. It seems likely that as long as Putin courts these
countries, his ties with the US will continue to suffer; but Russia's international
prestige may very well increase, as long as Putin limits the number of times
he uses "joke tactics" to score a diplomatic point.
by Sarah K. Miller
DOMESTIC ISSUES & LEGISLATIVE BRANCH
REGIONS Talk over the creation of a state council continues
Putin has called for a state council since he came into office even if it
meant refashioning the Federation Council, which was in fact a form of state
council as Putin envisages it. It is unclear how a new council would be
constructed or how it would function at this point, but most likely all
89 regions would have some government and parliamentary representation as
well. Its purpose is wholly unclear, however, one can expect that it would
be advisory: The last thing Russia needs now is yet another deliberative
body with no power.
Putin must be hoping to provide the regions' governors with a sense of some
power and access so as to make them more pliable in the future and more
willing to listen to his suggestions. But seeing that the regions' governors
and legislatures appoint representatives to sit in the Federation Council
under the new system recently passed, the creation of a state council would
seem to be redundant. However, while the Russian government may be incompetent
when it comes to running the economy, ensuring equality before the law,
stabilizing the currency, or even saving its own citizens during times of
crisis, it can build hollow organizations like nobody else. (ROSSIYSKAYA
GAZETA, 5 Aug 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0807, via World News Connection)
FEDERAL ASSEMBLY Where, oh where, is the Federal Assembly?
Imagine the doomed submarine "Kursk" sinking to the bottom of
the Barents Sea during Boris Yel'tsin's watch. Howls from the Federal Assembly,
especially the Duma, would have been heard from Murmansk to Vladivostok.
Demands for his resignation, for his impeachment would have been the news
headlines. But for some reason, this does not happen to Vladimir Putin.
Indeed, not much is heard from the Federal Assembly, except praise for Putin's
reorganization of the Federation Council and the senseless creation of yet
another level of bureaucracy with the formation of federal districts.
Duma Vice Speaker Vladimir Lukin explains why help was not requested as
soon as the submarine sank. He claims that Russians most likely have superior
technology, thereby rendering Western offers of assistance of little use.
The fact that a leading member of the Duma can say this with a straight
face is telling enough. (OFFICIAL KREMLIN INTERNATIONAL NEWS BROADCAST,
16 Aug 00; Federal News Service, Inc., via lexis-nexis)
And where is the people's branch -- the parliament? If the Federal Assembly
does not institute a meaningful and penetrating investigation into the executive
branch's response to this tragedy as well as the military's duplicity, the
last pretense of Russian democracy will have been removed. With a little
less concern for national honor and a little more concern for the welfare
of Russia's own citizens, the sailors onboard the Kursk conceivably might
now be at home with their families. In most functioning democracies, tragedies
like this often elicit wide-ranging reforms both to prevent similar disasters
from occurring, and to encourage greater transparency and accountability
among the authorities in the future. No doubt the Duma will investigate,
and perhaps a couple of small fry will be punished, but the systemic failure
of both the Russian military and civil authorities most likely will have
no practical consequences, leaving room for future tragedy.
by Michael DeMar Thurman
NEWLY INDEPENDENT STATES CIS
A moribund forum?
A summer summit at Yalta may have sounded like a good idea last spring,
but that was before Islamic rebels invaded some CIS states and a Russian
submarine sank mysteriously to the bottom of the Barents Sea. As a result,
the already informal CIS Heads of State summit originally scheduled for
18-19 August lost all semblance of order and substance.
While Islamic rebels kept Uzbek President Islam Karimov and Kyrgyz President
Askar Akaev away, President Putin arrived mid-day on Friday and stayed just
long enough to hold a series of bilateral and multilateral meetings. Afterwards,
he returned belatedly to Moscow to address the sub accident, but not before
holding a hastily rescheduled meeting with the remaining heads of state.
As a result of all the commotion, the get-together dissolved into less of
a serious summit on CIS affairs than a chance for Russia to conduct smaller-scale
meetings on a series of separate, regional issues such as Central Asian
security and Nagorno-Karabakh. (ITAR-TASS, 1003 GMT, 18 Aug 00; via lexis-nexis)
Although these issues are of great importance for regional security, lack
of a substantive dialogue on CIS issues once again reveals the overall lack
of substance in CIS affairs. In fact, the presidents neither had a formal
program for their two-hour meeting on Friday, nor did they publicize its
results. (INTERFAX, 18 Aug 00; via lexis-nexis) Like their Moscow gathering
in January, the informal meeting was held behind tightly closed doors.
However, their decision to opt out of a formal program was probably a good
choice for the presidents, because at the two most recent summits they scrambled
to prove that they had dealt with any of the items on their agenda. So far,
the items to which they did agree earlier this year -- most notably a Free
Trade Zone and a Joint Antiterrorism Center -- have not been implemented.
However, by not publicizing the contents of the most recent meeting or the
outcome of their talks, the presidents leave the public wondering what exactly
they did in Yalta. Without any information to the contrary, it can only
be assumed that, as usual, CIS issues were pushed aside in favor of more
pressing concerns. Perhaps it is time to recognize that the real utility
of the CIS lies not in its role as a viable supranational institution, but
as a forum for bilateral dialogue among the former republics.
by Sarah K. Miller
UKRAINE Ukraine, meet reality; Reality, meet Ukraine
Ukraine's leaders this month finally began to accept the inevitable: There
appears to be no other way to settle Ukraine's gas debt to Russia than to
offer Russia some of the country's state assets.
Ukraine's problems stem from two separate but related situations. First,
the country has fallen over $1.5 billion in arrears for gas purchased from
Russia. Second, Ukraine has admitted to stealing up to $1 billion of additional
gas from transit pipelines that run through the country -- gas that should
have gone to other countries that have contracts with Russia for supplies.
The huge payment arrears have resulted in frequent service interruptions
and shortages throughout the country, while the stolen gas has caused Moscow
to consider building transit pipelines around Ukraine. This would deprive
Ukraine of the transit fees it receives from Russia -- fees that one newspaper
says total nearly 40 percent of Ukraine's yearly budget revenues. (2000,
4 Aug 00; BBC Monitoring, via FT.com) While the percentage of revenues provided
by the transit fees is, in fact, hard to confirm, there is no question that
it is very substantial.
Clearly, Ukraine could not continue to escape reality by disputing the level
of arrears and claiming an inability to stop the gas theft. Ukrainian Prime
Minister Viktor Yushchenko put it simply. "If we fail to find a compromise
with the Russian side," he said, "then we can say Ukraine will
lose absolutely its ability to transit gas by 2006." (REUTERS, 1143
GMT, 21 Aug 00; via America Online)
Consequently, a group of Ukrainian and Russian government experts began
negotiating a compromise late in July. Shortly thereafter, Yushchenko quietly
suggested that perhaps state assets would need to be surrendered, at least
temporarily. Perhaps, he said, the country would need to grant Russia part
of its gas transportation system. (INTERFAX, 1327 GMT, 1 Aug 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0801,
via World News Connection)
Reactions to this suggestion from government officials and the media were
loud and, for the most part, negative. As details of Ukraine's offer to
Russia continue to filter out, however, certain benefits do become obvious.
While the concession is a definite blow to Ukraine's attempts to throw off
the proverbial Russian yoke, it is, in fact, necessary, and could lead to
more transparency, accountability and diversity in Ukraine's energy system.
Ukraine is offering to create a joint venture composed of the Ukrainian
gas and oil company, Naftohaz Ukrayiny, and the Russian gas giant, Gazprom.
This joint venture would control -- and profit from -- Ukraine's pipeline
transit system for not less than 25 years, with a portion of Gazprom's profits
going toward Ukraine's gas debt. After 25 years, if the debt is paid, control
of the system, along with its profits, would revert to Ukraine.
According to Kievskiye Vedomosti, which claims to be in possession of the
"draft document being strongly lobbied for at the Cabinet of Ministers,"
the Ukrainian proposal would give Gazprom the majority stake in the venture.
"To ensure real control over the technological process of Russian gas
transit and rule out the possibility of unauthorized gas siphoning by Ukrainian
consumers in excess of contractual volumes," the paper said, "the
share of Gazprom in the joint venture is to be at least 51 per cent."
(KIEVSKIYE VEDOMOSTI, 17 Aug 00; BBC Monitoring, via FT.com)
This would, in the short term, result in a significant loss of revenue for
the state's budget. Transit fees are currently essential to the balanced
budget. In fact, Kievskiye Vedomosti is calling the concession "a Gazprom
enslavement of the Ukrainian economy."
Other politicians, most notably Yushchenko and National Security and Defense
Council Secretary Yevhen Marchuk, have said that the idea is manageable.
Marchuk, who envisions an arrangement where Gazprom would receive a one-third
share not only of Ukraine's pipeline transit system, but also its refineries,
states, "Of course, this is a very bad situation for us, but I would
not make a tragedy out of it." He continues, "At first glance,
the idea may sound offensive. But what is better: to give Russia a 30 percent
stake in [Ukraine's] refineries as well as gas and oil transporting system,
ensure the viability of this system, and obtain profits from this deal --
or 'to fight to the bitter end' and subsequently show vacated (gas and oil
industry) facilities to tourists?" (INTERFAX, 26 Jul 00; via RFE/RL
Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report)
In fact, both Marchuk and Yushchenko have suggested that by dealing with
the situation, Ukraine will be able to move forward more successfully. Better
a manageable joint venture with Russia today, they suggest, than endless
pressure and international questions tomorrow. "Quite often,"
Marchuk explains, "it is we who provide Russia with opportunities to
use such unpleasant forms of influence on Ukraine as Russia's appeals to
the IMF, the World Bank, and other organizations."
Ukraine, Marchuk says, appears "unable to engage in rational economic
management and, as a result, the country's image is suffering, major investment
is being held up, and work with international financial structures in being
complicated." (NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA, 5 Aug 00; BBC Monitoring, via FT.com)
This agreement, for all of its faults, would in fact provide Ukraine with
the ability to move out from under continual Russian pressure, and would
allow the country to meet Russia on at least a somewhat more equal footing.
The two gas companies would be partners in a newly privatized state asset,
and would divide their profits accordingly. Ukraine would be able to face
the IMF and World Bank, having solved its largest debt problem, and having
achieved full transparency. As Yushchenko told New Channel Television during
a live interview on 18 August, "This is all extremely complicated.
I am happy at the moment that Ukraine is finding itself at such a stage
in negotiations that it has put everything on the table and said: Dear colleagues,
we want to work under a transparent scheme which would be understandable
to all .... I am confident that government members from both sides will
wish the same." (NEW CHANNEL TV, 1600 GMT, 18 Aug 00; BBC Monitoring,
via FT.com) He will learn if his confidence is justified when the two sides
meet again on 2 September in an attempt to finalize an agreement. Should
Russia wish to end the continual squabbling over gas debt, it now has a
viable proposal to do so. If not, it will become obvious that the goals
of both sides are not at all the same.
by Tammy M. Lynch
CHECHNYA Domestic patrons of the 'slave trade'
A recent article in the liberal weekly Moskovskie novosti reveals that the
FSB has been shielding notorious Chechen hostage takers Arbi Baraev and
the brothers Akhmadov. The three were not listed among wanted criminals
and were able to travel freely because they carried documentation identifying
them as Russian intelligence operatives. That information came to light
when military intelligence (GRU) officers issued a complaint, obtained the
removal of a local FSB commissioner, and leaked the news to the Russian
press. The paper draws the conclusion that "the patrons of the Chechen
slave trade occupy powerful offices in Moscow." (8 Aug 00, www.kompromat.ru;
via Johnson's Russia List)
This story is only the latest among several accounts which suggest that
Russian security services have been sponsoring hostage takers in Chechnya.
In May veteran human rights activist and parliamentarian Sergei Kovalev,
in an interview with the author, had raised the possibility that Baraev
and the Akhmadov brothers had FSB protection. He also questioned how it
was possible for Salavdi Abdrazakov (who was associated with the abductions
of prominent Russian and foreign journalists) to obtain a license from FAPSI
to operate a cellular phone network in Chechnya. Similarly, Vyacheslav Izmailov,
who engineered Abdrazakov's arrest in December of 1999 noted that the wanted
hostage taker carried MVD credentials which were issued to him in Moscow.
(NOVAYA GAZETA, 6-12 Dec 99)
All this corroborates what Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has been saying
all along: that Russian oligarchs and special services promoted the hostage-taking
business to subvert the Chechen government and its efforts to maintain independence.
In a recent open letter, Maskhadov says that the abductors Adam Deniev (also
featured in the Andrei Babitsky affair as the person to whom the FSB turned
over the journalist -- see THE NIS OBSERVED, 29 Feb 00) and the gangs headed
by the Saidov brothers and Sulim Yamadaev were sponsored by Russian Security
Services. Maskhadov says that he can provide evidence of these and other
outrages and would welcome an international inquiry into the matter. (OPEN
LETTER BY MASKHADOV, Turkistan Bulletin, 3 Aug 00)
GEORGIA Kidnappings in the Pankisi gorge
Three Red Cross workers who were abducted in Georgia's Pankisi gorge on
4 August were released a week later. The humanitarian aid workers were freed
without ransom and without the use of force in exchange for a promise of
immunity from prosecution. Although Georgian politicians were careful not
to identify the perpetrators, some media reported that they were Kistin
Chechens, who are native to Pankisi gorge (which borders Chechnya). According
to these accounts, the captors sought to secure the release of friends from
a Georgian prison. (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, 13 Aug 00, and SEGODNYA, 14 Aug
00; via lexis-nexis)
In a 14 August interview President Eduard Shevardnadze thanked all the residents
of the area, especially the "guests" (refugees) from Chechnya,
for helping the authorities resolve the situation. He went on to comment
that the incident confirms that "foreign" forces are not needed
to police the area and the introduction of a foreign military presence could
lead to a widening of the war. (GEORGIAN RADIO, 0600 GMT, 14 Aug 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0814,
via World News Connection)
More mujahadin visions
On a recent visit to the OSCE border observation post at Shatili, Liviu
Bota, Romania's ambassador to the OSCE who was previously the UN secretary-general's
special representative for the Abkhaz conflict, said that the mission had
not detected any unauthorized border crossings. (RFE/RL NEWSLINE, 11 Aug
00) The mission, which has been in place since January, has 42 monitors
(12 at any one time) at the Shatili crossing, which was chosen because it
is the only place along the border where trucks with crates could pass.
(www.osce.org) This has not stopped the Russian military and media from
issuing unsubstantiated claims. A group of Afghan mujahadin "is in
combat readiness in Georgia's Akhmet district" Tass reported, based
on information from unnamed sources in the joint group of forces. (ITAR-TASS,
11 Aug 00; via lexis-nexis) The Georgian foreign ministry issued a denial
on 14 August.
Really on their way out?
While it is certainly good news that the Russian side is making good on
some of its Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) obligations, Moscow
is still dragging its feet on all the other obligations it undertook at
the OSCE summit in Istanbul. The Georgian side speaks of the Treaty Limited
Equipment (TLE) removal as the first stage and the base closings as the
second stage in the process of a complete Russian withdrawal from the country
by the end of 2002.
Since 5 August, Russia removed tanks and other weaponry (49 pieces) from
its Vaziani base to comply with the ceiling stipulated under the CFE. The
next batch of Russian military equipment (61 items) will be pulled out of
Georgia in September. A total of 335 TLE units will be withdrawn and another
1116 TLE destroyed in Georgia. (INTERFAX, 20 Aug 00; via lexis-nexis) The
US state department has promised to cover the costs of the withdrawal to
the tune of $10 million while the UK will contribute $100,000.
During the Istanbul summit Russia and Georgia stipulated that Russia would
reduce its level of equipment in Georgia not to exceed 153 tanks, 241 armored
combat vehicles (ACVs) and 140 artillery systems by 31 December 2000. All
the treaty-limited equipment has to be removed from Vaziani and Gudauta
by the same date. The Vaziani and Gudauta bases were to be disbanded and
destroyed by 1 July 2000. The duration and modalities of the functioning
of the remaining bases (at Batumi and Akhalkalaki) are to be decided before
the end of the year. However, the treaty leaves two loopholes, which the
Russian side has been exploiting. First, it leaves open the possibility
of joint use of the military facilities and infrastructure of the disbanded
Russian military bases. Second, it speaks of unspecified "military
facilities within the territory of Georgia," the fate of which (in
addition to the Batumi and Akhalkalaki bases) will be decided during the
year 2000. (www.osce.org)
The last round of Russian-Georgian talks produced a schedule for withdrawing
Russian TLE, but differences persist on the question of closing the bases.
The commander of the Russian Group of Forces in the Transcaucasus, Vladimir
Andreev, claimed the airport at Vaziani is needed to support the activities
of the remaining bases. Therefore, the Russian side wants to have joint
use of the airfield even after the base is dismantled. (INTERFAX, 2 Aug
and 31 Jul 00; via lexis-nexis) Since Russia has used the airfield to supply
Abkhaz rebels and sneak coup plotters out of the country, it is hardly surprising
that the Georgian side would prefer to have complete control over the airfield.
A recent visit by a NATO delegation which examined Georgia's air defense
capabilities spawned rumors that the Vaziani base would be turned over to
NATO after the Russians pull out. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili
rejected these ideas as sheer "fantasy." (RFE/RL NEWSLINE, 8 Aug
In a similar effort to hold onto a base they have promised to vacate, the
Russians demand that Gudauta, which is situated in Abkhazia, should be designated
a peacekeeping facility. (WHAT THE PAPERS SAY, 11 Aug 00; via lexis-nexis)
For his part, Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba told a reporter that his
people would sooner "lie down in front of Russian tanks" than
let them leave. (IWPR CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE, 18 Aug 00) In view of
the presence of Russian "peacekeepers" in Abkhazia, the phraseology
seems melodramatic, but the argument could prove effective in stalling the
by Miriam Lanskoy
Yet another summer of insurgency
Violence has erupted again in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) appears to be back in full force, and
it is unclear who its fellow extremists are -- although Osama bin Laden
and the Taliban are being rehashed as the Wahhabis du jour. This year's
round of insurgency is producing a few surprises, ranging from rumors that
Pakistani boats were ferrying insurgents to the front, to an announcement
by Uzbek authorities that the February 1999 Tashkent bomber has reappeared
in the mountains of southern Uzbekistan. It seems that the IMU is conducting
its infiltration in "waves" with the ultimate goal of destabilizing
the three republics to ensure a smooth flow of drugs throughout the region.
The Central Asian republics and Russia are mobilizing furiously, and preemptive
strikes on Tajik or Afghan territory may be just around the corner.
Right on cue, but with a twist
The IMU has started its quest for the Fergana Valley for the second straight
summer. The lead-up to this drama has been anything but surprising. For
the past several months, events such as the stern words of the Shanghai-5
summit, Kyrgyzstan's announcement that it was "ready" for an IMU
invasion in June, and the red-handed capture of various IMU officers with
maps of the mountainous terrain have telegraphed that another invasion would
In this year's Central Asian summer classic, the IMU has employed some different
tactics. Last year, insurgents invaded Kyrgyzstan's Batken province via
Tajikistan and held ground for nearly two months. This time the IMU began
its invasion by the same route, sending through 100 troops on 11 August.
Kyrgyz security forces claimed that they encircled the militants and eliminated
them with air strikes -- suffering as many as 40 casualties although the
real figure is far from clear. (ITAR-TASS, 13 Aug 00: FBIS-SOV-2000-0813,
via World News Connection) At the same time, the IMU invaded southern Uzbekistan
through a different route -- attacking three villages and blocking a strategic
highway in Uzbekistan's Surkhandarya region, also with 100 troops. (VREMYA,
8 Aug 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0811, via World News Connection) According to Major
General Yuri Filonenko, Uzbek forces have also destroyed the invaders. In
a tradition of grand Uzbek rhetoric, the three villages were "evacuated"
immediately because of both terrorism and the danger of imminent landslides.
(BBC SUMMARY OF WORLD BROADCASTS, 19 Aug 00; via lexis-nexis)
These two 100-troop invasions into Kyrgyzstan's Batken province and Uzbekistan's
Surkhandarya province appear to constitute only a small diversion by the
IMU. In Uzbekistan, insurgents have been sneaking into the mountains at
least since last winter, and may be laying a groundwork for a much larger
assault on the Fergana Valley. Not only is Tashkent's quick proclamation
of victory over the current wave of rebels suspect, but it is probable that
Uzbek forces will have to deal with this problem for the foreseeable future.
(NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA, 16 Aug 00; via lexis-nexis) In Kyrgyzstan, small IMU
formations of 40 to 50 rebels are reportedly lurking near several mountain
passes on the Tajik-Kyrgyz border, while insurgents on the Tajik-Kyrgyz
border number between 700-800. (BBC SUMMARY OF WORLD BROADCASTS, 17 Aug
00; via lexis-nexis)
For the three republics, the worst is yet to come. As many as 2,000 IMU
rebels are reportedly massing on the Afghan-Tajik and Afghan-Uzbek borders.
(INTERFAX RUSSIAN NEWS, 20 Aug 00; via lexis-nexis) The IMU appears to be
well-trained, knowledgeable of the geography, and even may possess some
attack helicopters in its arsenal. (IZVESTIA, 18 Aug 00, via lexis-nexis)
The IMU's goals and motives are not crystal clear -- it is hard to determine
whether they are truly driven by Islam, or they want to create a blanket
of instability to allow for their lucrative drug trade. Whatever their motives,
they have the manpower and training to generate a great deal of instability
in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan or Tajikistan.
Separating bizarre rhetoric from bizarre facts
Between the shadowy potential allies of the IMU and the Shanghai-5's Machiavellian
use of instability to cement a Moscow-centered security system in Central
Asia, the latest round of violence has produced a few interesting but suspect
factoids. First, it has been reported "by military sources in Dushanbe"
that Pakistan has supplied IMU troops with boats to guide them safely across
rivers separating northern Afghanistan and southern Tajikistan. (ITAR-TASS,
13 Aug 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0813, via World News Connection) The implications
of this are potentially very large and could pit Pakistan against the Shanghai-5.
But the allegations raise a few questions: most importantly, does "Pakistan"
mean the Pakistani government, the intelligence services (ISI) or non-governmental
elements under the control of the ruling regime?
The potential for fabricating sensationalism linked to this conflict certainly
exists. For example, even the Russian foreign ministry chided Interfax over
sloppy reporting after an article suggested that the Taliban had invaded
sovereign Uzbek territory with two army units to support the IMU. (INTERFAX,
9 Aug 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0809, via World News Connection) Allegations that
the Taliban has donated several helicopters to IMU leader Juma Namangani
are more plausible. But what is to be made of the strange allegations of
the Uzbek chief prosecutor's office that the mastermind behind the 1999
bombings in Tashkent, Ulugbek Babadzhanov, has reappeared and is fighting
in Kyrgyzstan? Uzbek authorities did not reveal where they obtained this
information, but given Islam Karimov's tendency to use Islamist movements
for his own political ends, one can assume that this allegation may be a
"gateway" for Uzbekistan to become involved militarily in the
wider Central Asian conflict.
Towards the redrawing of Central Asian borders?
Swift and massive action by Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Russia
could occur at any time, especially to preempt IMU reinforcements as they
stream into Central Asia from Afghanistan. The assertion of greater Russian
influence in the region, perhaps under the auspices of the Shanghai-5, seems
likely. It is even possible that Russia may consider a direct military presence
in Kyrgyzstan given the incursions into Batken province. (BBC SUMMARY OF
WORLD BROADCASTS, 17 Aug 00; via lexis-nexis) However, the biggest loser
in the equation may be Tajikistan. Uzbek rhetoric has been remarkably quiet
on this point. On the other hand, Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev has lashed
out at Dushanbe's inability to secure its territory, and has called for
joint military action against targets in Tajikistan. Akaev has proclaimed:
"...we have to take a decision to destroy their [the IMU's] bases in
Tajikistan to liquidate the seat of terrorism in Central Asia. We have to
join forces to finally destroy rebels and those bases which feed them ...."
(AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, 19 Aug 00; via lexis-nexis)
Akaev's wrath toward Tajikistan is understandable given the imminent danger
the IMU poses to his country. At the same time, his militant calls for action
are somewhat surprising, considering Kyrgyzstan's position as a relatively
weak Central Asian state. Preeminent Central Asian power Uzbekistan meanwhile
has been quiet -- only withdrawing its ambassador from Dushanbe after the
incursion into Surkhandarya province. (ITAR-TASS, 9 Aug 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0809,
via World News Connection) Akaev is certainly conscious that its powerful
Uzbek neighbor may consider stepping into Kyrgyzstan to take care of the
IMU problem itself. By blaming Dushanbe, he may be trying to divert Tashkent's
attention to Tajikistan. After a high-level meeting between Kyrgyz, Uzbek,
Tajik and Russian officials on 20 August, collective military action against
targets in Tajikistan and Afghanistan are likely. This chapter in the IMU
story has just begun. It remains to be seen whether the sovereign borders
of Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan remain intact before it finishes.
by Nicholas M. Burk
ESTONIA Much energy expended on NRG deal
The Estonian government has spent an incredible amount of time debating,
demanding and defending its agreement to sell a 49-percent share in Eesti
Energia's (Estonian Energy's) Narva Power Stations to the US company NRG
Energy. When the dust settled, it was quite clear that the government does
not have a mandate for this accord: Rather, the agreement has served as
a lightning rod around which gather political opponents, members of the
management board of Eesti Energia, and much of the general population. And,
to make sure that tempers remain on the boil, the government has managed
to stir up additional antagonisms with heavy-handed behavior, including
an initial refusal to release the terms of the deal and a planned memorandum
demanding that Eesti Energia's management board members swallow their criticism
and endorse the government plan ... or else.
While some opposition, to be sure, stemmed from the fact that the state-owned
utility was for sale at all, most of the outcry resulted from the manner
in which the sale was being held. At the end of June, President Lennart
Meri urged the government to rethink the transaction, which he sees as belonging
under parliament's -- not the government's -- purview. (INTERFAX, 1546 GMT,
27 Jun 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0627, via World News Connection) Business leaders
and consumer groups also voiced opposition to the agreement, particularly
to the inevitable increase in energy prices that will result.
In a move of underwhelming diplomatic finesse, word came from the finance
ministry that Economics Minister Mihkel Parnoja and Finance Minister Siim
Kallas planned to issue written instructions to the Eesti Energia supervisory
council mandating support of the sale. "By this, the ministers demand
that members of the council vote in agreement with the government decision
and it is an order on behalf of the state," finance ministry advisor
Daniel Vaarik explained. The chairman of the supervisory council, Juri Kao,
said he doubted that such instructions, if issued, would override any personal
opposition of council members. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1600 GMT,
11 Aug 00)
Such government heavy-handedness is especially noteworthy primarily because
it wasn't necessary: Council objections focused on aspects of the agreement
that were still under negotiation, such as the location of energy station
renovations and details of energy prices. And representatives from NRG had
accepted the final conditions; at the time of the possible memorandum showdown,
the agreements were being sent for translation. (ETA NEWS AGENCY, 1620 GMT,
1 Aug 00; BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, via lexis-nexis) But few persons
outside of government and the council were privy to the details, as Parnoja
had ordered complete secrecy concerning the negotiations. (BNS, 1658 GMT,
7 Aug 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0807, via World News Connection)
That secrecy had prompted a lawsuit by opposition leaders Edgar Savisaar
and Villu Reiljan, who claimed that a government protocol was unconstitutional
and that, like the president, they saw the responsibility for any such sale
as resting with parliament. And, although the Tallinn Administrative Court
denied the suit, a larger contingent from the opposition subsequently proposed
to oust the economics minister. "We have no confidence in ... Parnoja,
not only because of what we know about his activity, but also because of
what we do not know," the cover letter to the motion explained. (BALTIC
NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1300 GMT, 14 Aug 00) While Parnoja survived the
threat to his seat (the no-confidence vote had the support of 45 members
of parliament, short of the 51 votes needed, and so was tabled), Riigikogu
deputies grilled Prime Minister Mart Laar for hours on 18 August. The session
ended when there was no quorum. (ESTONIAN TELEVISION, 1645 GMT, 14 Aug 00;
BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, via lexis-nexis)
After weeks of often-acrimonious debate, there was little surprise when
the research firm EMOR announced a recent poll had shown that two-thirds
of the Estonian population opposed the sale. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE, 17 Aug
00; via lexis-nexis) Regardless, the agreement is expected to be signed
LATVIA The devil is still in the details
Latvia's language law once again has become a subject of international conversation
as the government works to develop an implementation program for the law
it passed following considerable external scrutiny.
While Russian organizations staged yet more demonstrations (protesting drafts
that had yet to be completed), European Human Rights Court Justice Egils
Levits met with members of the Latvian Human Rights Office to review the
proposed regulations. The consensus from the meeting was that there was
no reason to believe the implementation program under discussion would contravene
international standards. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1600 GMT, 12
The now-completed draft regulations have been submitted to Organization
for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) High Commissioner for National
Minorities Max van der Stoel. The director of the state Human Rights Office,
Olafs Bruvers, told BNS that none of Stoel's recommendations had been rejected,
although some of the commissioner's proposals were only partially included.
(BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1800 GMT, 9 Aug 00) While Stoel reviews
the program, the campaign for approval continues. Hoping to avoid an OSCE
rejection, Latvian Minister of Justice Ingrida Labucka sent a letter to
the commissioner explaining some of the reasoning behind the government's
decision not to heed all of Stoel's concerns. (LETA, 1643 GMT, 16 Aug 00;
FBIS-SOV-2000-0816, via World News Connection)
Questions over language fluency continue to demonstrate that all the kinks
have not been ironed out as yet. The Strasbourg Human Rights Court has agreed
to review a complaint from a Latvian resident from Daugavpils whose fluency
certification was not accepted by the Central Election Commission. That
rejection prevented Ingrida Podkolzina from running in the 1998 parliamentary
elections. According to Baltic News Service, forged language proficiency
certificates often turn up in Daugavpils. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT,
1600 GMT, 19 Jul 00)
LITHUANIA Bean counters of the world, unite!
Work has begun on gathering data necessary to put into effect the Seimas'
highly controversial bill demanding compensation from Russia for damages
incurred during decades of Soviet occupation.
A commission headed by Deputy Minister of Justice Rasa Budbergyte said one
problem has resulted from contradictory data. A calculation of damages based
on statistics from the USSR would only account for material damage, she
said, and not all of that data are reliable anyway. However, United Nations'
methods would account for other kinds of losses as well. The government
has asked ministries to supply, by 10 September, data which can be verified
by archival material and statistics. The commission hopes to present its
information to Russia, the UN, and the Council of Europe by 1 November.
"We will start thinking about negotiations after hearing a response
from Russia," she said. (BNS, 1005 GMT, 11 Aug 00; FBIS-SOV-2000-0811)
One can only imagine what that response will be.