Why did the FSB not prevent the Stavropol train bombing?
On Friday morning 5 December, terrorists struck at Russias rail network for the third time in as many months. A commuter train traveling between Mineralniye Vody and Kislovodsk in the Stavropol region exploded as it pulled into Yessentuki station. Fourteen persons were thrown from the train by the blast; there were 42 fatalities and 170 other casualties, most of whom were students traveling to University. (AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE, 6 Dec 03 via ISI Emerging Markets Database)
Extrapolating from the variety of stories in the Russian press, the bombing seems to have been botched, resulting in a suicide attack that may not have been planned as such. According to Izvestia, FSB sapper teams working at the site of the explosion discovered the body of one of the bombers, who reportedly had several hand-grenades strapped to his legs. (IZVESTIA PRESS DIGEST, 6 Dec 03 via ISI Emerging Markets Database) The reports from other agencies such as Agence France-Presse and Prime-Tass vary slightly, claiming that the grenades were found near, rather than on the body.
FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev has stated that the attack was carried out by three women and one man. Patrushev added that an accomplice had been filming the attack from a nearby car, and that two of the women jumped off the moving train seconds before the blast, leaving the others behind to die. FSB explosives experts have since concluded that the bomb produced an explosion roughly equivalent to between six and ten pounds of TNT. (IZVESTIA PRESS DIGEST, 6 Dec 03, via ISI Emerging Markets Database) There has been no suggestion that the FSB captured the two women who allegedly leaped from the train, nor has the accomplice, who was alleged to be recording the incident, been confirmed to be in custody. Details of how the FSB became aware of these three conspirators have not been forthcoming.
The Russian media did not question that the attack was carried out by Chechens, or that it was timed to cause maximum disruption and publicity prior to Sundays parliamentary elections. Based on a story carried in Izvestia however, a more serious question needs to be asked: namely, did the FSB and Putin allow the explosion to happen in the hopes that it would affect Sundays election results?
Izvestia has claimed that "FSB officers who were working at the site of the tragedy did not hide the fact that they had received operational information at the end of last week about terrorist acts being planned in southern Russia." (BBC MONITORING, 6 Dec 03 via www.bbc.co.uk/news)
Similar allegations have been made previously against Putin and the FSB. In 2001, Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandr Litvinenko, an FSB defector to Britain, published a book alleging that the FSB had carried out the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow in order to provide Putin with a pretext for launching war in Chechnya, enhancing his electoral chances in 2000. (See The NIS Observed, Vol. VI, No. 14, 12 Sept 01) Although these allegations have been neither proved nor disproved, the apparent ease with which the Chechen groups have been able to strike raises serious questions regarding the effectiveness or complicity of Russias Security Services.
Former FSB Director on Georgia revolution
On 30 November, an interview with Nikolai Kovalyov, former head of the FSB and current deputy chairman of the Security Committee of the Duma, was aired by Rossia Channel in its weekly news program, Vesti Nedeli. Kovalyov stated during the interview that he saw clear parallels between the toppling last month of President Shevardnadze, and the overthrow of the Milosevic government in Yugoslavia three years ago. Specifically, Kovalyov alleged that "promising politicians who could help bring about the scenario of a velvet revolution were singled out," and that they were taken to U.S.-funded training camps, 70 kilometers from Belgrade, where training was provided. Kovalyov further asserted that it was known to his committee that Mikhail Saakashvili spent six months in Yugoslavia after Milosevics removal, and that he visited the training camps. (RTR RUSSIA TV, 30 Nov 03; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets Database)
Kovalyov claimed that his allegations were based on a deep investigation into the events in Georgia carried out by the Security Committee. The evidence provided however, is circumstantial at best: Kovalyov credits what is little more than his suspicion that law enforcement officials in Tblisi had withdrawn from the demonstrations "as if under orders, even though they had been given the strictest instructions from the Georgian President to restore order." (Ibid.) Secondly, Kovalyov cited his belief that the appointment of the new U.S. Ambassador to Tblisi, Richard Miles, was no coincidence. Miles was Ambassador to Yugoslavia at the time of Milosevics removal, and prior to that "worked in Azerbaijan during the 1992 coup." (Ibid.)
Kovalyovs fears regarding covert U.S. involvement in the Georgian situation are worrisome in and of themselves. But they are made even more so by comments made at the end of the interview: Kovalyov alleges that "politicians from other CIS States" were trained in Yugoslavia, and that these "representatives from Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, and Azerbaijan" participated in Georgias revolution. The fact that these countries have been singled out specifically by a man of Kovalyovs importance provides an insight into the "liberal imperial" (or not so "liberal") mindset penetrating the uppermost levels of the Russian establishment.
By Fabian Adami (email@example.com)
Moscow moves to shape Georgias future
Moscow has been one of the most visible outside players in the recent events in Tblisi, Georgia. Although Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has declared that Russias task in Georgia was "to prevent violence," it is clear Moscow is more concerned with enhancing its influence in the former Soviet republic. The "velvet revolution" may have brought a temporary closure to the tensions, but with elections scheduled for 4 January to decide on the permanent new leadership in Georgia, internal and external maneuvering to shape the outcome is fully underway.
As the demonstrations against former President Eduard Shevardnadze were gaining momentum in late November, Igor Ivanov arrived in Tblisi for talks with him. Shortly thereafter, Shevardnadze resigned, and Moscow immediately began sending signals to remind Tblisi of the importance of its relationship with its northern neighbor. The first of them came when Russian President Vladimir Putin stated, "According to approximate figures from Georgian experts, the total value of money flowing from Russia to Georgia, both officially and unofficially, is about 2bn dollars a year. This is much greater than the total volume of foreign aid the country receives." (CHANNEL ONE TV, 24 Nov 03; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets Database)
The Kremlin presumably is concerned that opposition figure Mikhail Saakashvili, who is also the leading candidate in the upcoming elections, is not submissive to Russia. Therefore, Moscow appears to have begun applying pressure to Georgia. One of the levers the Kremlin has pulled involves its influence in Georgias three secessionist regions of Abkhazia, Adjaria and South Ossetia. Between 26 and 28 November, representatives from the three regions met in Moscow with the Russian foreign minister. The meetings did not go unnoticed by acting Georgian President Nino Burjanadze, who expressed her concern that Russia would hold such potentially destabilizing meetings without first informing Georgian officials. (NEW YORK TIMES, 1 Dec 03 via Johnsons Russia List (JRL) #7445, 1 Dec 03)
Intensifying Moscows rhetoric was Ivanovs statement on 29 November that any attempt by the new Georgian leadership against Abkhazia could "pose a real threat to the territorial integrity of the country." Although Ivanov in the same statement reiterated Moscows recognition that Abkhazia is part of Georgia, he reminded Tblisi of the Kremlins concern for the many Russian citizens living there. (ITAR-TASS, 29 Nov 03; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets Database) In the last Soviet census, 1989, only 91,000 ethnic Abkhaz, and only 74,000 Russians were in Abkhazia, as compared with 242,000 ethnic Georgians, almost all of whom are now refugees. Moreover, there was a motion in the Russian parliament to begin a debate about annexing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which, this time, was quickly voted down. (WWW.EURASIANET.ORG, 1 Dec 03; JRL # 7448, 2 Dec 03) If the message wasnt clear enough, Interfax quoted a senior member of the Russian General Staff who restated Russias position that the withdrawal of its approximately 5,000 troops from Georgia would still take ten more years. (AFP, 26 Nov 03; JRL #7438, 26 Nov 03)
Shortly after the change of power in Tblisi, the new leadership requested emergency energy aid from Moscow. The Russian suppliers, which have a monopoly on energy imports to Georgia, reportedly have the capability to double those supplies. They are, however, unwilling to increase the supply until Georgia settles its unpaid energy debts. (ITAR-TASS, 29 Nov 03; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets Database) But according to Moscow, Georgia never specified its special energy request, and on 29 November the Russian foreign ministry declared energy issues "almost completely resolved." (ITAR-TASS, 29 Nov 03; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets Database) On the same day, Russian energy suppliers cut off electricity to half of Georgia for 12 hours, citing necessary repairs. Such a controlled blackout was no doubt taken by the Georgians as a not-so-friendly reminder from Moscow of the leverage at its disposal. (WWW.GAZETA.RU; www.eurasianet.org via JRL #7448, 1 Dec 03)
The Guardian reported (1 Dec 03; JRL #7445, 1 Dec 03) that Russias military counterintelligence unit, the GRU, is working on a plan to sabotage the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline running through Georgia. Such a report, in and of itself, regardless of the veracity of the story, can have a significant impact on the new authorities in Tblisi as they consider Georgias future course. [For more on the Georgian elections, see the "Caucasus" below]
While Moscow has been jockeying for position in Georgia, it has been simultaneously active in the whole southern Caucasus region. On 26 November, First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov (formerly of the SVR Foreign Intelligence Service) visited Baku to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and issues of Russo-Azeri economic and energy cooperation. Earlier in the month, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov had suggested the establishment of a joint group of Russian and Armenian forces to be stationed in Armenia as part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. (MEDIAMAX, 23 Nov 03; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets Database) Azerbaijan, fresh from the instability of its recent elections, is likely to understand the warnings inherent in the Russian maneuvers.
Primakov and Ivanov double-team Warsaw
Moscow continues to try to set the conditions for its relations with the soon-to-be European Union (E.U.) members. After recently suggesting separate standards for Baltic countries despite their impending E.U. accession. (See The NIS Observed, Vol. VIII, No. 19, 21 Nov 03) Russia seems to be attempting similar measures with Poland.
Stage one of a Russian foreign ministry visit to Warsaw began on 24 November with a meeting between Yevgeni Primakov, former Director of the SVR, then Foreign Minister, now the president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation (CCI) and his Polish counterpart. The negotiations resulted in an agreement between the two chambers on several technical business matters and business information sharing. The CCIs official news website referred to improving Russian-Polish trade figure totals: 2001-$5.1 billion, 2002-$5.7 billion, first eight months of 2003-$4.3 billion. It acknowledged, however, Polish disappointment that the trade was so imbalanced in favor of Russian exports to Poland. (eng.tpprf.ru/ru/main/news)
For stage two, on 25 November, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov arrived in Warsaw where he met with his Polish counterpart Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz. Though neither media reports nor the CCI website officially connected the Primakov visit with that of his successor in the Foreign Ministry, the economic nature of the talks and the mere 24 hours of separation suggest the visits were coordinated. Ivanov, prior to his visit, stated his concern that when Poland joins the E.U. in May 2004, there will be a sort of "legal vacuum" in Polish-Russian trade and economic relations. In this regard the Russian foreign minister said he planned to propose a "transitory period" for Poland before it "joined the mechanism of the joint E.U.-Russia cooperation council." (PAP, 25 Nov 03; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets Database)
Warsaw, however, wants an immediate start to E.U. accession and, therefore, has already informed Moscow that it will renounce the Russian-Polish agreement on trade and economic cooperation as of 30 April 2004. Poland still has some requests of Russia, as it is apparently not yet completely ready to abandon the relationship: Warsaw has suggested it would prefer to maintain its Polish-owned supermarkets in Russia and would like to continue the work of the joint Russian-Polish commission on economic affairs. (PAP, 25 Nov 03; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets Database)
Another Russian concern raised at the talks was the possibility of moving United States military bases into Poland. Although Cimoszewicz said Poland had not so far received such a request from Washington, he did not rule out the possibility. In response, Ivanov simply said he expects Russias security concerns to be considered in the matter. (PAP, 26 Nov 03; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets Database) This reminder by Ivanov may be a sign that Moscow realizes that such moves among NATO allies are inevitable.
At the conclusion of the visit, both ministers expressed dissatisfaction with the progress of the talks: The main stumbling blocks were historical issues for which the so-called Polish-Russian Group for the Difficult Issues was created. This group, formed in 2001 explores historical disputes between Warsaw and Moscow, including the issue of Poles who were deported to Siberia during the Stalin era. (POLISH RADIO 1, 26 Nov 03; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets Database)
Poland appears unwilling to bow to Russias requests for a gradual transformation from a bilateral economic relationship to one subordinate to the E.U.-Russian council. Though Moscow may have stopped fighting against NATO expansion, it is likely to continue to use all the diplomatic and economic tools it has available to establish special bilateral economic relationships with the upcoming E.U. members before its too late.
Kyotomore mixed messages
In late November at a meeting between Russian and Japanese deputy ministers, Tokyo, recognizing that Russia still holds the key to the survival of the climate treaty, urged Russia quickly to ratify the Kyoto protocol. (KYODO, 21 Nov 03; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets Database) The United Nations climate talks, which got underway in Milan on 1 December, were shrouded in an atmosphere of gloom considering Russias apparent abandonment of the treaty evident in remarks by Russian President Vladimir Putin in October (See The NIS Observed, Vol. VIII, No. 16, 10 Oct 03), compounded by the recent statements by Putins top advisor on Kyoto, Andrei Illarionov, that "Russia [would not] ratify the Kyoto protocol in its present form." (RTR, 2 Dec 03; BBC Monitoring via ISI Emerging Markets Database)
However, new hope was born when Russian Deputy Economic Minister Mukhamed Tsikhanov announced at the Milan talks that Russia was "moving towards ratification" of the protocol. Illarionov however, quickly dismissed the deputy economic ministers statement as derived from old information. (REUTERS, 4 Dec 03; JRL #7452, 4 Dec 03)
Officially, only the Russian Duma can reject the Kyoto protocol (THE ECONOMIST GLOBAL AGENDA, 3 Dec 03; JRL #7450, 3 Dec 03), and until that happens, Kyoto supporters may continue to believe that their work is not in vain. If Kyoto truly is dead, then why hasnt Moscow formally finished it off? Moreover, the wording of Illiarnovs statements indicates that Moscow believes that Kyoto could still be modified to suit Russia. The mixed signals might be a sign of poor coordination between government offices or between the government and the president; it could also mean that Moscow is using Kyoto as a bargaining chip, testing the waters for other possible concessions before abandoning the protocol for good.
By Scott C. Dullea (firstname.lastname@example.org)
DOMESTIC ISSUES & LEGISLATIVE BRANCH
Polling upset for YABLOKO, SPS ... and democracy
Preliminary results indicate, to little surprise, that the 7 December elections were slanted to encourage the rise of one party in the State Duma that will guarantee President Vladimir Putin as easy a time as possible to pass legislation. The administrations role in the elections, in fact, earned criticism from the United States and Europe. Nevertheless, United Russia, often referred to as "Putins party," now can officially change its sobriquet to the "party of power." United Russia polled 31.7 percent in the parliamentary elections, with 98 percent of the returns received, giving the party a clear victory over its challengers for Duma seats. Candidates from the Communist Party (KPRF), Vladimir Zhirinovskys ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), and the Rodina (Motherland) election bloc led by Sergei Glazyev and Dmitri Rogozin, will fill the rest of the 225 party list seats up for grabs, with 12.7%, 11.6% and 9.1% of the votes, respectively. (BBC NEWS, 2149 GMT, 8 Dec 03 via news.bbc.co.uk)
It appears as though the two parties that consistently teetered on the verge of the five-percent requirement to obtain party list seatsYABLOKO, led by Grigori Yavlinsky, and the Union of Right Forces (SPS), led by Boris Nemtsovcould not overcome the hurdle; neither could their leaders surmount their personal animosity long enough to create an election bloc that might have catapulted them over the minimum-vote obstacle. (TRUD, 22 Nov 03; FBIS-SOV-2003-1124 via World News Connection)
United Russias blazing success was expected by all candidates, including several who charged that the Putin administration, and state-controlled media, had given unfair preference to the party. (See, for example, ITAR-TASS, 24 Nov 03; FBIS-SOV-2003-1124, and Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 25 Nov 03; FBIS-SOV-2003-1125 via World News Connection) Central Election Commission chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov admitted that certain parties were mentioned more often than others, but this was a result, he implied, of an underdeveloped democratic "culture" rather than intentional intervention in the campaign. (ITAR-TASS, 1545 GMT, 28 Nov 03; FBIS-SOV-2003-1128 via World News Connection) All in all, Veshnyakov reported that he was pleased with how the media handled the electoral process.
Administrative partiality could not be denied. Certainly, Putin did what he could, including praising United Russia in a nationally televised interview a week before the election. "I am very certain that as we discuss the balance of political forces in the current State Duma that made it possible to achieve certain results in parliament's work, we must be aware that the balance is largely owed to the centrist parties, in the first place, United Russia," Putin said. (Legally, members of the executive branch are prohibited from intervening in legislature elections by word or deed.) The president added that the party was the political force he had relied on for the past four years, although he himself was not a member of the party. (ITAR-TASS,1336 GMT, 28 Nov 03; FBIS-SOV-2003-1128 via World News Connection) [Not surprisingly, United Russias leader, Boris Gryzlov, announced on 25 November that the party would nominate Putin in the 14 March 2004 presidential elections. (ITAR-TASS, 1129 GMT, 25 Nov 03; FBIS-SOV-2003-1125 via World News Connection)]
In addition to such blatant campaigning (and mutual backscratching), one newspaper reported that the Federal Government Communications and Information Agency (FAPSI) had conducted a poll in the Urals region which demonstrated a low level of support for United Russia, compared with the Communist Party. (NOVAYA GAZETA, 13 Nov 03; FBIS-SOV-2003-1117 via World News Connection) Interestingly, discussion in the article centered on possible reasons for the partys poor showing; apparently few were alarmed that a government agency (descended from the former KGB and still greatly occupied with "security issues") would be so involved in pre-election polling.
The campaign process did manage to alarm international observers, however. The elections results were deemed "overwhelmingly distorted," indicating a "regression in the democratization of this country" by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which had hundreds of observers in Russia for the polling. (BBC NEWS, 1242 GMT, 8 Dec 03 via news.bbc.co.uk) The White House said the U.S. shared concerns about the election. (BBC NEWS, 2149 GMT, 8 Dec 03 via news.bbc.co.uk)
The OSCE had sent both long-term advisors into the country to follow the entire election campaign and shorter-term visitors to monitor polling stations, according to OSCE deputy chairman Rita Suessmuth. (ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA, 2 Dec 03; FBIS-SOV-2003-1202 via World News Connection) Suessmuth praised the professional preparation for the elections by Veshnyakovs office, but warned that there remained a need for vigilance. "The elections to the Duma are special, since we at the OSCE believe that they are actually the prologue to the future presidential elections in March 2004. Consequently, we are working in close contact with all political forces without exception. We are attentively listening to their problems and complaints at all levels," she said. Yet OSCE officials were unwilling at that point to note too many specific problems, aside from "feeble interest" on the part of voters, skepticism regarding the results and an obvious bias by state media. (ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA, 3 Dec 03; FBIS-SOV-2003-1203 via World News Connection) That reticence ended, however, when the results came in.
Meanwhile, as international observers traveled to Russia for the parliamentary elections, the CEC was sending out observers of its own. Two working groups were directed, to Bashkortostan and Tatarstan, to supervise the preparation for, as well as the actual conduct of, elections in those regions. While Bashkortostans elections have warranted extra CEC attention, not to mention direct intervention in the registration process for parliamentary and presidential candidates, CEC working groups also were sent to St. Petersburg, and the Leningrad, Volgograd and Vologda regions, as well as Krasnodar Territory and Chuvashia, Veshnyakov said. (ITAR-TASS, 2032 GMT, 18 Nov 03; FBIS-SOV-2003-1118 via World News Connection)
These observers were not meant to be focusing exclusively on the State Duma contests, as other elections were held in many areas simultaneously with the parliamentary polling. Gubernatorial elections were scheduled for Vologda, Kirov, Moscow, Novosibirsk, Orenburg, Sakhalin, Tver, Tambov, and Yaroslavl Oblasts; regional assembly elections were held in Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Kalmykia, Mordovia, and Volgograd, Vologda, and Ulyanovsk Oblasts. (ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA, 27 Nov 03; FBIS-SOV-2003-1128 via World News Connection) Final results on those contests, as well as the State Dumas single-seat constituencies, will be available later in the week.
Aside from United Russias success, other election results were somewhat unexpected. To be sure, SPS remained on the brink of the minimum vote limit throughout the campaign. And YABLOKOs downfall was foreseen by at least one newspaper, which attributed the partys loss of support during the election campaign to several factors, including internal bickering and the near-constant personality battles with Nemtsov that helped to prevent the two parties from merging into a viable election bloc. (ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA, 22 Nov 03; FBIS-SOV-2003-1125 via World News Connection) Yet YABLOKOs longevity, and pre-election polling around the five-percent mark, were assumed by many to be strong enough factors to bring the party into the next Duma.
Rodinas triumph certainly exceeded all expectations. The party, led by Putins envoy to Kaliningrad, Federation Council chairman Rogozin, and former KPRF deputy Glazyev, had been perceived as a Kremlin-backed attempt to peel away support from the KPRF. (THE NIS OBSERVED, 12 Sep 03) And, indeed, if it was such an attempt, then it worked, although it had looked, for much of the campaign, as if it would not. Surveys taken midway in the election campaign consistently placed the bloc behind United Russia, the KPRF, the LDPR, SPS, and YABLOKO. (ITAR-TASS, 20 Nov 03; FBIS- SOV-2003-1120, TRIBUNA, 22 Nov 03; FBIS-SOV-2003-1124, IZVESTIYA, 25 Nov 03; FBIS-SOV-2003-1125, and ITAR-TASS, 1928 GMT, 28 Nov 03; FBIS-SOV-2003-1128 via World News Connection)
Kremlin backing did appear to be a primary factor in electoral success. United Russias decision against participating in election debates clearly had no adverse effect on its level of support, although that decision garnered a lot of criticism from other parties as well as from Central Election Commission chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov. Gryzlov had said the Russian people were tired of hearing about politics, and that may be the biggest reason behind United Russias alleged success at the polls. Some surveys supported Gryzlov's contentions, indicating that many respondents would not have been swayed by candidate debates into changing their party vote. (ITAR-TASS, 0122 GMT, 22 Nov 03; FBIS-SOV-2003-1122 via World News Connection)
Other, earlier surveys also had indicated that many Russians had little faith in their government, particularly the Duma. Those poll results hinted that many voters would select the "none of the above option," or not show up at all. (THE NIS OBSERVED, 12 Sep 03) Yet turnout, reportedly at about 56 percent, far exceeded the 25 percent necessary to validate the results. Only 4.7 percent voted against all parties. (BBC NEWS, 2149 GMT, 8 Dec 03 via news.bbc.co.uk) So now the big question is, did voters choose because they were happy with the path President Putin and his party are taking, or because they think that the election process doesnt matter anyway? Thats the question that will determine how far democracy goes in Russia.
By Kate Martin (email@example.com)
Theres always a market for mini-vans
While the United States is still the world's leading arms exporter, Russias exports of $4.6-$4.7 billion in 2003 award it second place. According to Sergei Chemezov, deputy director of Rosoboronexport, the main Russian arms export enterprise, "Technical and electronic characteristics of our products are not as advanced as the American equivalent, but our machinery is easy to operate, more reliable and requires less maintenance." Chemezov, attending the Dubai Air Show 2003, went on to say that Russia participates in all the regional arms exhibitions in the Middle East because "
the Arab market is our most promising." Russians order book, worth $12 billion over the next three to four years, gives it a promising start to the second half of the decade. As has been the case since the Khrushchev era, Russia is using the sale of its weapons to help leverage its foreign policy in an area it continues to consider of significant strategic importance. However, there are two key differences between todays Russian arms sales and those of the Soviet past. First, Russian weapons sales today are usually cash deals at something approximating market price (although, as before, R&D costs are not included in the calculation, making Russian weapons appear significantly cheaper), because the Russian Federation relies on arms sales to augment its oil and natural resources sales for its hard currency and government revenues. (However, some of the recipients continue to run up debts that Moscow occasionally writes off -- Ed.) Second, much like France in the 1960s and 1970s, Russia today is seen as a legitimate alternative around the world to U.S. dominance in the weapons arena, open for business to almost any country, regardless of ideologyalthough clearly, strategic interests still obtain. So, while American weapons may still be the best in the world in most categories, many states, for political as well as financial reasons, may choose to walk past the expensive, frill-laden American SUV and kick the tires on a stripped-down Russian mini-van. (RIA NOVOSTI, 8 Dec 03; http://en.rian.ru/rian/)
United Russia may have won, but Space Forces opened and closed the polls
Much of the news out of Russia this week has focused on the apparent electoral triumph of the United Russia party, strongly supported by President Vladimir Putin. Lost in the news are interesting data concerning the efforts of the Russian government to ensure that the military is involved in the process, including a reach for the stars that made the earth-bound portion of the Russian Space Forces both the first and last to vote in this 2003 Duma election.
According to Vyacheslav Davidenko, Chief of the Russian Space Forces press service, about 80,000 officers, their family members and civil personnel, were expected to vote at 106 polling stations, 12 of which are located in the former Soviet republics of Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Russian troops in Ust-Kamchatskoye, the most remote northeastern settlement of Russia, started the voting at 2300 Moscow Time, Saturday, 6 December. Space Force service members in the westernmost Russian military facility, the recently activated Volga radar station, at Baranovichi, Belarus (See The NIS Observed, Vol. VIII, No. 16, 10 Oct 03) ended the voting one hour after the end of elections on Russian territory. At the main Russian space launch complex, Baikonaur Cosmodrome, located in Kazakhstan and leased by Russia, and in the nearby city of the same name, about 20,000 Russian citizens were expected to vote for Duma deputies, including troops of the Russian Space Forces and their families, as well as civil personnel and employees of Rosaviakosmos, the main Russian space enterprise. According to a representative of the Baikonaur election commission, these citizens voted as though they were residents of the Odintsovo election district of the Moscow region. (RIA NOVOSTI, 6 Dec 03 via http://en.rian.ru/rian/)