BOMBS FALL ON GEORGIA AGAIN
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 17, 2001, p. 1
In the early hours of March 15, aircraft dropped bombs on the territory of Georgia – along the Chechnya section of the Georgian-Russian border, where the Girevi checkpoint is located near the village of Chonto. Georgia immediately sent a protest to Russia over the event, stating that it was a Russian aircraft which had violated Georgian airspace and dropped bombs on its territory. Avtandil Napetvaridze, a special envoy of the Georgian Interior Ministry, said Georgian border guards had been unable to determine the “country of origin” of the aircraft; but he added that “it is logical to assume that the aircraft was Russian.”
The Russian Defense Ministry announced that due to bad weather, no Russian planes had been flying on March 13 or 14 in the area where the incident occurred.
There was a similar incident in August 1998, when a Russian plane, aiming for the territory of Chechnya, accidentally dropped its charges over Georgia. Russia denied accusations at first, but later acknowledged the error and apologized to Georgia.
ISRAEL APPEALS TO SPAIN ON GUSINSKY’S BEHALF
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 17, 2001, p. 3
The Spanish media, which had long since lost interest in the fate of Vladimir Gusinsky, have now noted that in the lead-up to the extradition hearing of the Media-Most owner, the Israeli government has started putting pressure on Spain, for leniency toward the Russian media magnate. “El Pais” reports that this case has stirred up so much interest in Israel that Knesset leader Abram Burg has demanded that the Spanish authorities “release Gusinsky from detention immediately.” Similar appeals to Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar had been received earlier from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, his predecessor Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Shimon Perez, and many groups and individuals in Israel.
Gusinsky has instantly become virtually a “national hero” in Israel. Of course, there are many “patriots” in all nations. But not all of them have such a broad range of experience of carrying out successful operations in places far more distant from Tel Aviv than the vicinity of Gibraltar. Local analysts don’t rule out that the powerful Israeli movement to free Gusinsky, capable of pushing hot-heads into taking unpredictable action, may actually have some influence on the Spanish judiciary. If so, then the mysterious hint in their statement about Gusinsky’s Israeli citizenship takes on a very significant meaning.
CHECHNYA: USE THE CARROT, NOT THE STICK
Novye Izvestia, March 17, 2001, p. 3
Opinion polls indicate that 56% of respondents believe it is necessary for the federal government to gain the trust of the people of Chechnya in order to normalize the situation there. Only 29% believe that the situation can be normalized by keeping the people of Chechnya in a state of fear.
This poll was done by the Public Opinion Foundation on March 10, with 1,500 respondents from urban and rural areas across Russia.
The pollsters conclude that most respondents consider the “carrot” will eventually be more effective than the “stick” in resolving the problem of Chechnya.
The same poll showed that 45% of respondents believe media reports about some federal soldiers releasing captive guerrillas in exchange for money; and 37% do not believe this. Meanwhile, the majority of respondents (64%) do not believe that federal soldiers detain civilians with the aim of making them pay for their release.
FANATICS BURN BOOKS IN GEORGIA
Novye Izvestia, March 17, 2001, p. 1
Supporters of defrocked priest Vasilii burned several thousand books belonging to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tbilisi today.
They took around 5,000 books from the premises of a private publishing company, carried them into the street, and publicly burned them.
Father Vasilii was defrocked and expelled from the Georgian Orthodox Church three years ago for “violating church rules and regulations.” His supporters declare that they “will not permit religious cults to import and distribute reading material which undermines the foundations of the Orthodox Church.”
NIKOLAEV AND CO. TAKE THE OFFENSIVE
Novye Izvestia, March 17, 2001, p. 3
The valiant border guards general Andrei Nikolaev, with a group of sympathizers, has submitted to the Duma another bill on civilian alternatives to military service. This is an alternative option to the relatively liberal existing bill on alternative service, submitted by Duma deputies Yulii Rybakov and Eduard Vorobiev.
The first response to the general’s counter-attack came yesterday, when parliamentary hearings on alternative civilian service were held. General Vasilii Smirnov, deputy head of the General Staff’s mobilization department, clearly explained the real motive behind Nikolaev’s bill: the Defense Ministry is absolutely opposed to the Rybakov-Vorobiev bill.
So what have the Duma generals come up with, to meet the requirements of their comrades in arms? The Nikolaev bill is simply being used as a pretext to amend the existing law on military obligations and military service. The proposed amendments would immediately abolish all forms of postponing military service. Thus, the generals aren’t just seeking a way to compensate for the loss of conscripts once alternative civilian service is introduced; such losses would be insignificant, since the terms for alternative service according to Nikolaev’s bill are virtually unacceptable. The generals are actually trying to resolve all their manpower problems. If this bill is passed, the following categories of citizens will become ineligible for an exemption from military service: holders of Masters degrees and doctorates; rural teachers and medical personnel; only children of elderly or invalid parents; eldest sons from families with many children; sole brothers and sons of servicemen killed in action. Of course, these people would be able to apply for alternative civilian service, just like anyone else; but will a Ph.D. really be useful to the nation, working as a cleaner in a military hospital? It’s interesting to note that the generals have drawn the line at ethnic minorities living traditional lifestyles, assigning them to compulsory civilian service.
According to the Nikolaev bill, any conscript applying for alternative civilian service will have to “provide proof that his beliefs are genuine”, including witnesses. This runs counter to accepted worldwide practice (no country requires proof for alternative service), and even counter to the Russian Constitution, which says “no one can be forced to state their opinions or beliefs” (Article 3, part 29). So that alternative service won’t be “too easy”, the generals want to ban “alternativists” from taking part in any studies or paid work during their free time. Note that even prison inmates have the right to pursue an education while serving their term.
It is also worth noting that there are persistent rumors of Duma deputy Nikolaev replacing Igor Sergeev as defense minister.
INTERIOR MINISTER RUSHAILO ON CHECHNYA
Izvestia (Moscow edition), March 17, 2001, pp. 1, 3
President Putin has set the Interior Ministry a number of goals for this year: protecting property rights, fighting organized crime and drug trafficking, and improving its personnel. The problems generated by the unstable situation in Chechnya undoubtedly remain a priority. Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo comments on his ministry’s activities.
Question: Separatist field commander Ruslan Akhmadov was detained in Azerbaijan earlier this week. More and more often, Chechen guerrillas are being captured in distant locations. Is there a trend here?
Vladimir Rushailo: To some degree, yes. Some guerrillas are trying to leave for neighboring states, while others are trying to blend in with the residents of Russian cities. We are working together with the FSB to track them down. For example, seven more guerrillas were detained the day after Akhmadov.
Six phases of Operation Whirlwind-Antiterror were carried out last year. As a result, we confiscated 4.7 million rounds of ammunition, almost 40,000 firearms including around 5,000 automatic weapons, 814 tons of explosives, and 20,600 explosive devices.
Question: There is a lot of talk about corruption, and some even cite specific figures – like up to 70% of Russian state officials are susceptible to this disease…
Rushailo: Well, I don’t accept that figure at all. Such accusations are unfounded. After all, what is corruption? It’s when state officials take action – or take no action – in the interests of an organized crime group. So corruption should not be confused with petty graft; crimes are basically linked to the dishonesty of officials.
IN CONTROL OF CHECHNYA?
Tribuna, March 17, 2001, p. 2
The 74th mobile infantry brigade has left Chechnya for its home base in the Siberian town of Yurga. The Siberian troops have been involved in the second war in Chechnya since summer 1999, when they were sent into Dagestan; later they saw action at the Tersk ridge, at Serzhen-Yurt, and the Argun canyon. The 74th brigade’s casualties totalled 80 dead and around 200 wounded. Now it has become the first unit of the federal forces in the North Caucasus to be withdrawn from the “pacified” Chechnya.
A group of experts recently presented a report to the Security Council about the situation in just one part of Chechnya – its capital, the city of Grozny. Their conclusions about what they saw are not comforting: during the day the federal forces hold power in Grozny, but after dark the guerrillas rule without restraint.
Mine warfare is widespread in Chechnya these days. The guerrillas have laid mines along the entire length of many roads. Each unit of the federal troops is responsible for a section of roads within Grozny. But the total length of roads within Grozny is 120-130 kilometers, so mine-clearing cannot be 100% effective. Federal soldiers clear mines each morning, while the guerrillas replace them each day.
Periodic searches involve “casting a wide net”. Occasionally they do lead to members of illegal armed formations being captured, but more frequently they are ineffective. The local police recently issued new ID papers for everyone in Grozny. The results of this project surprised even the police themselves: somehow it turned out that the number of ID papers distributed was double the number of people who actually live in Grozny. Needless to say, guerrillas received their new, “clean” ID papers ahead of elderly women living in ruined buildings.
According to the experts, three to five thousand guerrillas in Grozny have now managed to acquire legal status. If necessary, their leaders can call in reinforcements of up to 10,000 armed “civilians”.
WITH THE SHIELD OR ON IT?
Kontinent, No. 11, March, 2001, p. 4
President Putin has described intercontinental ballistic missiles as “the most terrible, most powerful weapons, which enable global strategic nuclear parity to be maintained.” But it seems that these weapons could very soon become just part of Russia’s history. Over the next five years, the Strategic Missile Forces (SMF) are due to decommission up to 80% of their old missile systems, in accordance with START II; but the process of replacing these with new ICBMs is proceeding at a snail’s pace.
Last year, the SMF deployed a third (incomplete) regiment of the new Topol-M missile systems – only six ICBMs, though there were meant to be ten. One regiment of ten Topol-Ms was deployed in 1998, and another in 1999. SMF chief Vladmir Yakovlev says these missile systems are meant to form the foundation for Russia’s ground-based nuclear arsenal in the 21st century.
However, given that the process of redistributing resources away from the SMF and into the conventional forces has begun, analysts believe Russia will only be able to deploy 150-160 Topol-M missile systems by 2007, instead of the 600-700 required. Unfortunately, the rate at which Topol-Ms are being produced tends to confirm this prediction.
BOGOMOL VERSUS THE TERRORISTS
Kontinent, No. 11, March, 2001, p. 2
The Resource research center has developed a bomb disposal robot. The first prototype has been tested by a number of Interior Ministry divisions.
The robot, called Bogomol by its inventors, can easily maneuver into locations which are difficult to access; it can disarm bombs or retrieve dangerous objects. The Chelyabinsk regional branch of the Interior Ministry has already put in a request for a Bogomol robot.
BEREZOVSKY HAS HIS EYE ON GEORGIA
Argumenty i Fakty, No. 11, March, 2001, p. 2
It was recently reported that Boris Berezovsky has gained full control of the TV-6 television network and the “Kommersant” newspaper. This has been accompanied by rumors that the fugitive oligarch is planning to sell off the “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” newspaper. A price has even been mentioned: up to $10 million. Berezovsky sold his stake in the ORT network to Roman Abramovich for a reported $150 million. In the wake of this deal, Berezovsky was talking of extending some financial support to the troubled NTV network – but he changed his mind.
Now Berezovsky has decided to set up some foundations to aid ethnic Russians in several CIS countries. It is unclear whether he will use these foundations for political purposes; but he is still involved in intrigues. Badri Patartkatsishvili, Berezovsky’s right-hand man, has been appointed secretary of state in Georgia. In this capacity, he has reportedly already met with Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov.