CIA HEAD VISITS MOSCOW
Kommersant-daily, August 19, 2000, p. 2
CIA Director George Tennet began a visit to Moscow on August 18. Although officials deny any connection between the visit and the Kursk submarine disaster, it is evident that it will be impossible to enirely ignore the “sub issue” in conversations between Tennet and his Russian colleagues.
As always, the visit of the head of a security service is surrounded by mystery. The U.S. Embassy only confirmed the fact of Tennet’s arrival in Moscow, and Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (FIS) refused to make any comments at all. The only addition to this provided by the U.S. Embassy was that the visit was planned long in advance, and the date was set long before the incident with the Russian nuclear submarine. “Of course,” as the U.S. Embassy reported, “Tennet expressed regret to Russian sailors and their families, but this was all he said concerning the emergency in the Barents Sea”.
Generally speaking, there is nothing extraordinary in contacts between heads of security services. The CIA and Russian security services regularly discuss such issues as international terrorism, organized crime, the arms trade, and drug dealing. Tennet’s visit to Moscow is even more natural, considering that his colleague, Sergei Lebedev, current director of the Foreign Intelligence Service, worked as head of the US branch of the FIS before being appointed to his current post. He and Tennet could not fail to get acquainted, although there were hardly any contacts in Washington between them as “intelligence agents”.
It is clear that the CIA director came to Moscow not to quarrel, but to cooperate, especially since both Russia and the US face a threat from international terrorism and extremism. Moreover, there have been no large-scale “spy” scandals between the two countries lately. The most notable was the arrest of Edmond Pope, an American businessman, in early April in Moscow. He is charged with gathering secret information about Russian Shkval anti-submarine missiles. At present, Pope is in the Lefortovo prison; and American representatives are unsuccessfully trying to get permission from the Russian authorities to have Pope examined by an American doctor because of his cancer condition. It is possible that the fate of the American intelligence officer will become an issue for bargaining between the heads of Russian and US security services. It is obvious that the Americans know Pope’s Russian colleagues in the US, and Russians may agree to make concessions for the sake of their intelligence operations.
SIGNS OF BREAKTHROUGH IN ELECTRICITY-RAILROADS DISPUTE
Segodnya, August 19, 2000, p. 3
Negotiations between Alexander Mishcharin, deputy railroads minister, and Leonid Melamed, senior deputy chair of the board of Russian Joint Energy Systems, have shown some practical results for the first time since the conflict arose. Until now, the relations between rail transport and the electricity monopoly were becoming more problematic every day. RJES demanded that the Railroads Ministry pay 3.5 billion rubles of debt, whereas the ministry agreed to pay only 300 million rubles. No sum was agreed on during the meeting, but the negotiators set a deadline for resolving this issue – September 1. Besides, the parties agreed to exclude RJES from the process of negotiations and continue the process of settlement on the local level.
This suggestion suited the opponents for different reasons. The Railroads Ministry held that it is easier to come to terms with local authorities concerning mutual write-offs and barter. The RJES executives seized the opportunity to “wash their hands”. The fact that negotiations between Railroads Minister Nikolai Aksenenko and head of RJES Anatoly Chubais, planned earlier, will not be held was the main practical consequence of the decision. Sergei Pinchuk, PR manager for RJES, reported that such a meeting is possible, but not necessary.
MEDIA DEMAND EQUAL ACCESS TO THE KURSK DISASTER SCENE
Vremya MN, August 19, 2000, p. 3
Now that the entire world is intently listening to the news about the rescue operation in the Barents Sea, it is unacceptable and counter-productive to create an information blockade and grant some particular companies advantages in covering the events. This statement was made yesterday by the Russian Union of Journalists.
Only the camera crew of the Russian State Television and Radio Company has been allowed access to the rescue site. This caused justifiable indignation not only among Russian and Western TV journalists, but among the press as well. “About 200 journalists are waiting in Murmansk for an opportunity to do their professional duty,” says the statement of the Russian Union of Journalists.
The access of the RSTRC camera crew to the cruiser Pyotr Veliky, where the rescue operation is based, means that there is no reason to deny other journalists access to the rescue scene. Therefore, the Union of Journalists holds that it was not only illegal to grant a state TV company the exclusive right to broadcast live from the disaster area, but this can be considered an act of unfair competition.
The Union of Journalists called on Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and Navy Commander-In-Chief Vladimir Kuroyedov to provide free access for journalists to the disaster scene. It may be possible for the Northern Fleet Staff to organize a temporary floating press center.
LARGE-SCALE MILITARY EXERCISES IN SIBERIA AND RUSSIAN FAR EAST
Vremya MN, August 19, 2000, p. 2
“Due to the problematic military political situation in the region, the troops of the district are mobilized and moved to concentration districts to be deployed in order to resist the enemy’s aggression…” Fortunately, this phrase does not mean that Russia has become involved a new war, but marks the beginning of large-scale exercises in the Siberia and Russian Far East military districts, which will take place between August 23 and 28. According to Colonel General Yuri Baluyevsky, head of the Main Operative Department of the General Staff, the purpose of the exercises will be “to improve professional skills of commanders and staff.” This means that all military action will take place only on paper. Only the so-called “indicator troops”, i.e. one or two battalions and one or two regiments at most, will get an opportunity for “real fighting”. And this is at a time when one of the main reasons for the majority of accidents in the army is the lack of combat training – and, consequently, lack of combat skills among soldiers and officers. Even these exercises can be considered a significant achievement for the Armed Forces, since, according to Baluyevsky, exercises on a similar scale were last conducted 12 years ago.
KURSK TRAGEDY AFFECTS THE AGENDA OF CIS SUMMIT
Vremya MN, August 19, 2000, p. 1
The first unofficial meeting of the presidents of the CIS countries in Yalta was affected by the tragedy in the Barents Sea. Alexander Martynenko, press secretary of the Ukrainian president, said yesterday that the agenda of the summit had been altered: “Due to the tragedy in the Barents Sea, the presidents do not consider it possible to participate in entertainment events.” The wives of CIS leaders did not come to the Crimea, and the presidents themselves refused to attend a concert at the second international folk festival “Yalta 2000” or to take part in a cruise on the Taras Shevchenko. Moreover, the summit lasted only a day, since Vladimir Putin interrupted his vacation and flew to Moscow.
Bilateral meetings between the presidents were held on Friday. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma alone had five meetings, including one with President Putin. Journalists were not allowed to cover the meetings, although, as we were informed, heads of Ukraine and Russia discussed “the whole range of bilateral relations”. The main issues for discussion, as some members of the Ukrainian delegation stated, concerned the creation of a free trade zone in the CIS and Ukraine’s debt for Russian gas. Putin also met with the presidents of Georgia, Moldova, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. There was also a meeting between the leaders of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan.
A group meeting between all the presidents, first scheduled for Saturday, was also held on Friday. Its main purpose was to sum up the results of the previous summit and work out a joint position of the CIS countries to be presented at the UN “millenium summit” in September.
BORIS NEMTSOV CRITICIZES PRESIDENT PUTIN
Novye Izvestia, August 19, 2000, p. 2
Boris Nemtsov, leader of the Union of Right Forces Duma faction, has been harshly critical of President Vladimir Putin’s position on the Kursk nuclear submarine accident in the Barents Sea. “I consider the conduct of President Vladimir Putin immoral,” Nemtsov stated. “He, as Commander-In-Chief, has no right to be on vacation when his subordinates – sailors of the Northern Fleet – have found themselves in such a dramatic situation.” As Nemtsov put it, “it cannot be explained why Putin gave permission to accept help from other states only on Wednesday, when precious time had already been lost.”
SHAIMIYEV DEFIES THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION
Moskovsky Komsomolets, August 19, 2000, p. 2
The opinion that Putin’s legislative “regional reform” will put an end to governors’ despotism seems to be too optimistic. This is supported by a recent statement by President Mintimer Shaimiyev of Tatarstan. He said he had not yet decided whether he will run for a third term in office during 2001 elections in Tatarstan. However, he holds that “there are no legal obstacles to being elected for a third term, since the Tatarstan Constitution contains an article providing for this, and several years have been granted for bringing regional laws into conformity with federal law.” This means that Shaimiyev still considers the law of Tatarstan to have priority over the Constitution of the Russian Federation, and is not afraid that the General Prosecutor’s Office is taking note of all violations of this kind.
WHAT DOES RUSSIA BELIEVE IN?
Moskovsky Komsomolets, August 19, 2000, p. 2
The Public Opinion Foundation conducted an opinion poll to learn Russians’ attitude toward religion. Fifty-six percent of respondents said they were Russian Orthodox, and 5% were Muslims. A third of respondents turned out to be atheists. At the same time, over a third of respondents stated that they had never been in a church; and only 6% go to church more often than once a month. Forty-nine percent of respondents admitted that they never pray; 8% use church prayers, and 11% “do not adhere to strict rules, combining church prayers with their own”. Pollsters included a sample question on holy relics brought to Russia from Greece. It is interesting that 12% of those who described themselves as atheists believe that these relics possess some kind of curative power.
THE INTERNET AS A POLITICAL TOOL
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, August 19, 2000, p. 3
These days it is impossible to win elections without having access to the media. However, the experience of campaigning in Russia has shown that there is a new, less labor-intensive way of exerting influence over the minds of voters: via the Internet. Still, can the Web be considered an effective campaign tool? It is no secret that the Internet has its own peculiarities, which make it impossible to compare it with traditional media. For instance, it is impossible to monopolize the Internet. Moreover, the influence of the Internet over Russian society, according to research done by the Monitoring.ru agency, is not very large: 76% of the population lives outside the area of influence of the Internet. The majority of Internet users live in Moscow or St. Petersburg. At the same time, over 26 million Russians, with an average age of under 33 years, get information from the Internet on a regular basis. The fact that the online “press” is now regarded as a serious tool of political influence is confirmed by the sums invested in it by media tycoons. The authorities also realize that the Web plays a very active role in politics. They began to use the Internet during the recent election campaign between December 1999 and March 2000. Suffice it to recall the sensational project of the Effective Policy Foundation, when it published preliminary election results on its website, regardless of protests from the Central Election Commission and the General Prosecutor’s Office.
GREF, ILLARIONOV TO HEAD THE GOVERNMENT?
Zavtra, No. 33, August, 2000, p. 1
According to a number of sources close to the Kremlin, Mikhail Kasianov’s dismissal from the post of prime minister is “almost settled”, since the main result of Kasianov’s talks on restructuring Russia’s foreign debts has been the enrichment of financial structures close to Boris Yeltsin’s “Inner Circle” which used to actively speculate on fluctuations in the value of Russian securities. At the same time, the foreign debt remains President Putin’s major concern. The 2001 payments, estimated at $8-9 billion, are the maximum permissible load on the Russian budget, and there is practically no hope that Moscow will manage to pay its 2002 commitments, which total around $17 billion. In this situation the Kremlin is inclined to appoint Andrei Illarionov and Herman Gref to head the government this autumn, for the latter could ensure “a real cancellation of Russia’s debts”. At the same time, it is later planned to hold Illarionov and Gref responsible for the impending “domestic catastrophe” connected with a sharp increase in the basic cost of living (power, public transport, taxes, etc.) Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev may also be appointed President Putin’s special envoy for talks with the Paris Club of creditors, taking into account Gorbachev’s “special relationship” with Germany.