TERROR IN GROZNY

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TERROR IN GROZNY

Izvestia, May 30, 2001, p. 3

Despite all the promises from the government of Chechnya, gunfire is still being heard in Grozny. All kinds of people are being killed: soldiers, police, civilians. But the most frequent victims are ethnic Russian residents of Grozny. The guerrillas have unleashed a real terror campaign against them.

From police records: “On May 27, around 5.10 p.m., Elena S., aged 40, was killed by a person or persons unknown on Sunzhenskaya Street near Grozny University. A criminal investigation is underway.”

Prosecutors are accustomed to death – dealing with it is part of their job. But they literally shake with rage when their radios once again send out the message: “Body found. A woman. Russian.” After work, among friends, they don’t hide their hatred: “Those bastards kill the people who are most defenseless, alone, poor. After all, anyone who had any money has already left Grozny.” According to prosecutors, the killings are usually professional: “One gunshot – one body.” This ominous “signature” already links several cases. No one knows exactly how many ethnic Russians have been killed, since no separate figures are compiled. But the general consensus is that ethnic Russians make up 60-70% of civilians killed by guerrillas.

However, not only Russians suffer from the “excesses” of the guerrillas. Rashid, who drove me from Makhachkala to Grozny, spent the whole journey complaining about the powerlessness of the authorities: “In our suburb, which is considered peaceful, there’s almost no one left – people have just gone. Two families have been murdered in the past month. The killers didn’t even steal anything, they just messed the place up. There are five of us in the house: me, my mother and father, my sister and her daughter. At night we lock all the doors and windows, but anyone who wants to get in will still get in. There are soldiers nearby, the checkpoint is 300 meters away, but they don’t go outside at night. We can’t defend ourselves – if the federal troops find a gun in our house, they’ll say I’m a guerrilla. So that’s how we live – going to sleep at night without knowing if we’ll wake up in the morning. We’re used to it… You can even get used to living in fear…”

The Grozny law enforcement agencies realize how difficult the situation has become: “At present, we really can’t prevent ethnic Russians from being murdered. We have the authority, but we lack the actual capacity to exercise it.”

Officers at the military commandant’s office were even more direct: “We only control the territory of our units. At night, and frequently during the day, the whole city belongs to the guerrillas. They don’t have to take Grozny by storm, as they did in 1996 – it’s already theirs. And until we can make a breakthrough in this situation, the killings here will continue…”

HARD LABOR

Izvestia, May 30, 2001, p. 1

At a news conference in Moscow yesterday, Valerii Sergeev, regional representative for Penal Reform International (PNI), reported that the Main Penitentiary Directorate of the Justice Ministry and the London-based PNI group intend to change the penal system in Russia. They will start with an experiment in the Ryazan, Samara, and Tomsk regions. Courts will hand down more sentences which do not involve imprisonment. Among other measures, those convicted of minor and mid-level crimes will be sentenced to unpaid community service.

Prisoners and their guards make up around 3.5% of Russia’s population. The Justice Ministry and PRI hope that by developing the system of alternative punishment, the number of prison inmates can be significantly reduced. However, statistics say only 4.7% of sentences handed down by Russian courts do not involve some form of imprisonment. Each year, around one million people are convicted by Russian courts, and a third of them receive prison sentences. Still, since the prison amnesty in 2000, Russia no longer has the world’s highest number of prisoners per 100,000 citizens; this honor is now held by the United States.

THE BATTLE FOR GAZPROM

Izvestia, May 30, 2001, p. 2

In the lead-up to today’s Gazprom board meeting, “The Financial Times” has predicted two possible candidates for chairman of the board. The term of the incumbent chairman, Rem Vyakhirev, expires tomorrow. Officially, the board of directors is supposed to decide whether to extend his term. According to “The Financial Times”, Vyakhirev’s main challenger is Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko. Another candidate is Sergei Bogdanchikov, head of the Rosneft oil company.

The news that Viktor Khristenko aspires to head Gazprom seems sensational. However, our sources among Khristenko’s staff say this “bears no relation to reality. This is a ploy to make it seem that Rem Vyakhirev is replaceable.” If Khristenko does become chairman of the board, it would be a sign that President Putin has decided to “tighten up” procedures at Gazprom.

According to a source close to Rosneft executives, Bogdanchikov himself says he has not been approached with an offer to head Gazprom. However, it is still possible that Bogdanchikov was on the list of potential candidates considered at a special meeting in the Kremlin.

Rumor has it that this meeting was chaired by President Putin. None of our sources have confirmed that the meeting took place, but none have denied it either. It seems that the presidential administration has received a stern warning about not permitting any leaks before the Gazprom board announces its official decision. Nevertheless, it is very likely that Vyakhirev will retain his post – at least for a while. This will be conditional on Gazprom executives making some significant concessions to the state.

No matter who wins the battle to head Gazprom, the new (or old?) chairman of the board will not have the same extent of independence from the state.

RUSSIA AND JAPAN DISCUSS COOPERATION

Izvestia, May 30, 2001, p. 2

A bilateral forum on Russian-Japanese relations in the Asia-Pacific region and globalization concludes in Moscow today. The issues discussed at the forum may well be described as a thaw in relations between Russia and Japan, taking them to an entirely new level of partnership.

The forum was chaired by Economic Development and Trade Minister Herman Gref and Tatsuo Arima, a representative of the Japanese government. Gref noted that Japanese-Russian relations are at a stage where contacts are increasing, and both countries should do all they can to expand cooperation in investment, energy, transport, cultural exchange, and other areas. The Japanese representative called on Russia to become more involved in the Asia-Pacific; according to Arima, Russia is one of the strongest nations in the area, but is using less than a quarter of its potential.

Cooperation and contacts between Russia and Japan are not confined to the forum. A 240-member delegation from the Entrepreneurs Union of Japan is due to arrive in Russia today. It is meant to be headed by the organization’s president, Takashi Imai.

THE PRESIDENT IS WATCHING

Trud, May 30, 2001, p. 1

President Putin will visit Yakutia in September in order to personally check progress on cleaning up the consequences of the recent floods. At a meeting with Cabinet members in the Kremlin on Monday, Putin stressed that Anvar Shamuzafarov, head of the State Construction Committee, will be accountable to the Cabinet for ensuring that residents of flood-ravaged areas are provided with housing by next winter.

Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Kudrin said yesterday that the government plans to allocate between 2 billion and 2.3 billion rubles to restore housing wrecked by floods in Yakutia. The amount of compensation payable to flood victims has not yet been set, but is likely to be around 1,000 rubles per person. Kudrin noted that this figure is an estimate, to be confirmed by the president. The government of Yakutia has calculated that 7.5 billion rubles will be required to cover the cost of flood damage. Seventeen districts of Yakutia were hit by the unprecedented floods, and over 70 towns and villages, with 42,000 residents. The town of Lensk was the most severely affected.

GOLD FOR FLOOD DAMAGE

Rossiiskaia Gazeta, May 30, 2001, p. 1

Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to President Putin yesterday evening on the situation in Yakutia, severely affected by recent floods.

According to the latest information, flood damage in Yakutia alone is up to 3 billion rubles. Shoigu emphasized that all compensation payments promised by the government will be paid to flood victims.

President Putin’s statement that Russia would be prepared to sell some of its gold and diamonds reserves in order to restore the wrecked town of Lensk and other towns in Yakutia did not cause panic on world markets. Gold prices on the New York Stock Exchange only dropped by 2%, according to the Bloomberg agency.

Although world markets have had to cope with larger gold sales by various central banks over the past two years, no one was expecting such a move from Russia.

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