A DECREE OF INTENTIONS
Kommersant, March 24, 2001, p. 1
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov has signed a Cabinet decree on the operation to raise the Kursk submarine. The state client of the retrieval operation is the Defense Ministry. It will determine the procedure and terms of the operation, and administrer it. From April to June, the Finance Ministry will allocate the Defense Ministry up to 500 million rubles to repair vessels that will be used for this operation, and to develop the technical projects required to raise the Kursk. Besides, the Finance Ministry has been instructed to determine revenue sources for purchasing the retrieval equipment. Up to 900 million rubles will be required for this purpose.
The Rubin design bureau, based in St. Petersburg, will sign a contract for this operation with the international consortium.
However, it is not clear as yet when the necessary $25 million will be paid to the contractors. This decree only mentions the intention to find revenue sources. Meanwhile, the delay in state funding is keeping the contract from being signed; so even the preparatory work has not begun yet. This puts a question mark over whether the operation will go ahead this year.
CHECHENS GATHER FOR A CONGRESS
Kommersant, March 24, 2001, p. 1
The Union for Restoration of Peace and Concord in Chechnya, led by Duma deputy Aslambek Aslakhanov, held a national conference on March 23. Its participants decided to hold a national congress of Chechens in May. At the first such congress in 1990 its delegates split in two: half insisted on absolute independence from the Russian Federation, while the other half were supporters of moderate sovereignty like that of Tatarstan. A year later, power in Chechnya was seized by supporters of absolute independence, led by retired air force general Djokhar Dudaev.
According to Aslakhanov, his idea has been supported by Chechen public movements, regional diasporas, Chechen leader Kadyrov, and federal authorities. Aslan Maskhadov’s representatives are also invited to the congress. Aslakhanov has denied rumors that he is counting on becoming the leader of the Chechen people. He said, “We won’t discuss the issue of leadership, in principle. We will only set up a temporary representative body that will carry out lawmaking duties until a Chechen parliament is elected.”
RUSSIAN POLITICIANS ON THE EXPULSION OF FIVE RUSSIAN DIPLOMATS
Trud, March 24, 2001, p. 1
Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Lukin, former Russian ambassador to the US: I don’t think it is worth over-dramatizing the situation with the expulsion of Russian diplomats. It’s like the old joke: a man is trying to rape a girl in a stairwell; the girl screams, “No! Never! I don’t want to!” The man replies: “Do you think I want to? But that’s life!”
This situation is life. Certainly I mean the political aspect, not the spy scandal itself.
There are two alternatives for responding to this event. First, Russia may take a similar measure. For instance, in response to the US administration’s reception of a “foreign minister of Ichkeria” Russia could receive some separatist from Texas or Puerto Rico at an improperly high level.
It is also possible to swallow the insult, although the special services will take retaliatory measures in any case. I prefer the second option, since the current US administration is only imitating Reagan policy, although the two targets of that policy – communism and the Soviet regime – are missing.
Duma Foreign Affairs Committee head Dmitry Rogozin: This situation shouldn’t be dramatized. Reciprocal outbursts between countries with their own national interests is normal in foreign affairs. Besides, the new US administration has not announced its foreign policy priorities yet. Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice are competing with each another. Both politicians developed their careers when Russia was undergoing the perestroika experiment, and Russian foreign ministers were all compliant. Therefore, the expulsion of Russian diplomats and the demonstrative reception of Ilyas Akhmadov, a representative of the Chechen separatists, shows that both Powell and Rice are at a loss, and are trying to test the Russian president.
The US is in a curious position now. The idea of building a missile defense is condemned even by some of America’s allies. The US policy in the Balkans has been a failure, due to the activation of Albanian extremists in Kosovo and Macedonia. These facts necessitate America’s political rehabilitation. And the cliche of “rogue states” is also worn out. In this context, Russia is a reliable target for attacks.
Russia should be tolerant toward the problems of the US administration. If Russia assumes the role of the injured party, it will thus accept the rules of the game proposed by Washington. To all appearances, the US does not view Russia as a strong, economically developed, and democratic state.
SERGEI IVANOV EXPANDS THE EUROPEAN UNION
Kommersant, March 24, 2001, p. 2
Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov has met with Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski. They discussed issues in Russian-Polish relations and prospects for regional cooperation.
Poland will soon become a member of the European Union, and will make the procedures for entering Poland harder for residents of the Kaliningrad region.
After the meeting Sergei Ivanov stressed that both Poland and Russia are interested in developing bilateral relations, mainly in trade.
He also noted that both countries are equally interested in integration into the European Union. He said, “We disagree on NATO’s expansion to the east, but our viewpoints on expansion of the European Union coincide.”
Izvestia, March 24, 2001, p. 2
On March 23, the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office issued charges in absentia against the two terrorists who highjacked a Tu-154 plane in Saudi Arabia last week. Moscow Prosecutor Mikhail Avdyukov said that Iriskhad Arsaev, aged 16, and Deni Magomerzaev, aged 19, are charged with taking people hostage and highjacking (Article 206 Part 3 and Article 211 Part 3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation).
The third terrorist, Supyan Arsaev, aged 42, is registered as dead.
Avdyukov has stressed that the terrorists are identified as Chechens according to information received from local sources through diplomatic channels.
DOES RUSSIA NEED FREEDOM OF SPEECH?
Segodnya, March 24, 2001, p. 2
The Public Opinion Foundation has interviewed Russians about their attitude toward censorship. According to the poll, 57% of respondents think it necessary to introduce censorship, while in November this figure was 49%.
Another question was about the specific areas in which censorship is necessary. It turned out that 38% of respondents think it acceptable to conceal information about the latest military developments, location of military bases and nuclear weapons, military exercises, and space technologies. In other words, views do not differ greatly from those of citizens of countries with a developed democracy. It is clear that in any country, information about location of military bases is not made public.
Only 12% of respondents think that media should not publicize “state secrets” or inform people about activities of intelligence agencies. Some 5% believe that it is necessary to keep silent about major disasters; 4% think it necessary to keep secrets of high technologies and “certain aspects of foreign policy.”
Another question was whether information may be distorted. Some 45% of respondents are sure that media should not distort information; 3% of respondents believe it is possible to distort information about the actual situation in Chechnya.
Most respondents believe that censorship is a means for gaining security and order. However, regardless of the “political fashion,” respondents want to know the true facts about the economic situation, disasters, the situation in Chechnya, etc. Thus, while voting for censorship with one hand, respondents vote for freedom of speech with the other.
MULTIPLE MURDERS IN GROZNY BECOMING A TREND
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 24, 2001, p. 2
Another multiple murder of ethnic Russians has been committed in Grozny. Six Russians have been killed.
These crimes prove that the current announcements of the federal and local authorities that the situation in Chechnya has improved are not true. For the past month alone, three ethnic Russian families (10 people), four elderly Russian women, and 12 more civilians, most of whom were ethnic Russians, have been murdered. Official structures view these murders as actions of intimidation aimed at the public.
Grozny Mayor Bislan Gantamirov has announced that residents of the city are shocked, and some refugees who recently returned to the city have left it again.
At the same time, various forces are trying to find a formula for political regulation of the conflict. First of all, it is necessary to create some temporary legislative agency in Chechnya, form law enforcement agencies and judiciary structures.
However, not a single political initiative in Chechnya has had any results so far.
RUSSIAN SHIPS PREPARE TO SAIL OUT
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 24, 2001, p. 2
Vice Admiral Vladislav Ilyin, Deputy Director of the General Staff of the Russian Navy, has announced that in August and September the Russian cruiser Moskva is to visit the French port of Cannes, and probable the main base of the French Navy in Toulone. In August, a submarine of the Northern Fleet will visit the UK. The newest Russian anti-submarine vessel Admiral Chabanenko will pay a friendship visit to Cuba.
The staff of the Navy plans to conduct an expedition of a squadron of Russian combat vessels to the Mediterranean. This squadron will include the missile cruiser Pyotr Velikiy, the heavy aircraft-carrier cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov, Admiral Chabanenko, a multi-target nuclear submarine from the Northern Fleet, the destroyer Sovremenniy from the Baltic Fleet, and several ships from the Black Sea Fleet.
On March 28, a squadron of Pasific Fleet ships is to return to Vladivostok. This squadron includes the anti-submarine cruisers Admiral Vinogradov and Admiral Panteleev, and a tanker. Currently, this squadron is monitoring the American aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk.
On March 19, Ilyin announced that overall, 10 to 12 nuclear submarines are on combat duty at the Northern Fleet and the Pacific Fleet. The staff of the Navy reduces or increases this number depending on the situation.
According to foreign military sources, the Russian Navy now has 78 submarines: 19 are nuclear submarine missile cruisers loaded with ballistic missiles, 43 are multi-target nuclear submarines, and 16 are diesel-powered submarines.
As for operations of “showing the flag,” the Russian Navy is far behind the US Navy as yet. US Navy vessels are always present in all strategically important regions of the world.
PRESIDENT SUMMING UP PROPOSALS
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 24, 2001, p. 3
The president’s annual address to the Federal Assembly has been postponed again, until April 3.
According to our sources in the Kremlin, the text of the address will soon be edited in the Kremlin.
Director of the Presidential Administration Alexander Voloshin and all his deputies have made their proposals regarding the text of the address. The economic issues have been prepared by the Economic Development Ministry.
The economy is expected to be one of the main topics of the presidential address. Many analysts say that liberal economic ideas will be expressed in it. It is clear that the main issues in this connection will be deregulation of the economy, liberalization of hard currency laws, and the reforms of the judiciary and pension systems.
THE AGRARIAN VERSION OF A LAND CODE
Rossiiskaya Gazeta, March 24, 2001, p. 2
Agrarian Party chairman Mikhail Lapshin: We consider that land sales are necessary. It is normal for land to be transferred from one master to a more successful one. However, the government is imposing a sole method of land turnover on Russian agricultural workers: unrestricted purchase and sale of land. We oppose this.
Our party has developed a statement on this topic and an address to the president, in which we ask him to use his authority and accept the Land Code in the edition favorable for agricultural workers.