US AMBASSADOR GOES ON VACATION WITHOUT MEETING PUTIN

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US AMBASSADOR GOES ON VACATION WITHOUT MEETING PUTIN

Komsomolskaya Pravda, August 28, 2001, p. 2

On Monday, President Putin received the official letters of several newly-appointed ambassadors to Russia. Although this is purely a matter of protocol, it is an occasion of high ceremony and very significant in diplomatic practice.

The ambassadors of Uruguay, Colombia, Denmark, China, Slovenia, Brunei, Iceland, and India arrived at the Kremlin on schedule, strictly according to diplomatic etiquette. The only one missing was newly-appointed US ambassador in Moscow, Alexander Vershbow.

He received his invitation to the Kremlin on time – no errors were possible here. So what happened? It turns out that the ambassador, who arrived in Russia in July, is on “a scheduled vacation, which he is spending in the United States”. That’s what we were told at the US Embassy.

It would be a different matter if the ambassador had been urgently summoned to Washington for consultations. It would have been a setback as well, but at least it would have been “polite”. There have been no coherent explanations as yet from the Americans.

According to our sources at the Foreign Ministry, “there’s no need to look for any kind of political subtext in the fact that the new US ambassador was absent from Monday’s ceremony at the Kremlin”; he will be able to participate in a similar ceremony along with a different group of new ambassadors. It seems that our Foreign Ministry has decided to be diplomatic about this and avoid making a fuss.

From our files: Alexander Vershbow, 48, is an experienced diplomat – so his dubious vacation timing can’t be put down to inexperience.

Vershbow is known as a strong proponent of NATO eastward expansion and US national missile defense plans.

RETURN TO SODOM?

Moskovskii Komsomolets, August 29, 2001, p. 2

On President Putin’s instructions, the Security Council met yesterday to consider “measures for returning Chechen refugees to their permanent places of residence”.

It’s not the first time this issue has been raised, but there’s still no progress. According to Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo, this time the whole range of problems associated with returning refugees will be considered. Rushailo says: “Unfortunately, by no means all problems have been solved regarding subsistence and security for people returning to their homes. We need to take some measures which would be capable of fundamentally changing and improving the situation for the relocated people.”

However, Rushailo didn’t say a word about any specific measures for alleviating the situation. It’s no secret that refugees are reluctant to return – not so much because their homes have been destroyed, but because they fear for their lives. Even if food supplies are secured and schools are reopened, people can’t live in a place where landmines explode every day and there is fighting every night. So in order to fundamentally change the situation, the Security Council will have to spend less time discussing reconstruction of housing and provision of food supplies, and focus on the problem of bringing the counter-terrorist operation to an end.

DIVERS COMPLETE DRILLING HOLES IN KURSK SUBMARINE

Izvestia, August 29, 2001, p. 2

Divers working on the Kursk nuclear submarine completed drilling 26 openings in the hull yesterday. This was reported from the MAYO vessel, from which the divers descend to the Kursk. Sources on the MAYO said there were no “unusual situations” during this phase of the operation, and “all tasks have been carried out calmly, without any sudden moves, as it should be”.

Five Russian divers who have been working on the Kursk will soon spend a period of rehabilitation at the Solnechnogorsk sanitarium near Moscow.

The next phase of the operation – cutting the front section away from the rest of the submarine – is scheduled to start on August 29. The Carrier barge is due to reach the Kursk site on that day. It is transporting five cutting systems which will be used to work on the front section of the Kursk.

PUBLIC OPINION ON EDUCATION REFORM

Izvestia, August 29, 2001, p. 3

On behalf of the presidential administration, the Public Opinion Foundation has done a poll involving 1,500 respondents from all walks of life and all regions of Russia. The results are a cold shower for opponents of education reform, but also a wake-up call for the Education Ministry.

In this poll, 74% of respondents consider that tertiary education is important; 23% take the opposite view. Among young people (35 and under) 80% consider tertiary education important. Around 67% of respondents say they would be prepared to spend a significant amount of money on their children’s education; and 73% of young respondents hold this view. Before the crisis of 1998, only 45% of respondents in similar polls said they would be prepared to do so. Clearly, an education is now seen as a guarantee against economic upheavals. One can love the idea of free education, without really believing it is viable.

A different question: people might be prepared to pay, but are they able to pay? It turns out that 90% of respondents have given money to state schools. Not just to cover excursions and gifts for teachers. Most of this money is contributed to programs that are meant to be state-funded. Like cockroaches, money has crept into an education system which is theoretically free. This means that children whose parents are unable to bear the financial burden end up being outcasts.

This year, we have crossed a symbolic Rubicon: 51% of tertiary students are paying fees. This is double the number of those who are capable of paying for a full five-year tertiary course. It’s not surprising that only half of students who enroll in fee-based courses end up completing the course.

CABINET UPDATE

Izvestia, August 29, 2001, p. 4

A bill entailing a provisional ban on human cloning will be submitted to the Duma on the instruction of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov. The prime minister has appointed Vladimir Kniazhev, deputy minister for industry, science, and technology, as the Cabinet’s official representative for parliamentary debates on this issue.

Viktor Kalyuzhny, deputy foreign minister and special presidential envoy for the status of the Caspian Sea, left for Teheran on Tuesday, to hold talks with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Akhani. The Teheran talks will be the concluding round of bilateral consultations before deputy foreign ministers from all five Caspian states meet in Astana on September 18-20. After the talks in Iran, Kalyuzhny will arrive in Baku on August 30, for talks with senior officials of the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan.

PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE UPDATE

Izvestia, August 29, 2001, p. 4

The Main Military Prosecutor’s Office has lodged an appeal against the Moscow City Court’s decision on former Foreign Ministry official Valentin Moiseev, convicted of spying for South Korea. The prosecutors say the penalty handed out to Moiseev – four and a half years imprisonment – “doesn’t correspond with the seriousness of the crime and the identity of the prisoner”.

On August 14, the Moscow City Court found the former diplomat guilty of espionage in favor of the South Korean intelligence services. In its decision, the court took into account positive references from the defendant’s previous employers, as well as his age, state of health, lengthy period in pre-trial detention, and the absence of exacerbating factors; as a result, Moiseev’s penalty was “below minimum” (12 years imprisonment) according to Article 275 of the Criminal Code (treason in the form of espionage).

RUSSIA CAN BUY OUT ITS FOREIGN DEBTS

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, August 29, 2001, p. 2

The Cabinet intends to take a fairly hard line during Duma debates on the draft budget for 2002, according to a senior Cabinet official. Our source says the core parameters of the draft budget must not be revised. The Cabinet is only prepared to discuss distribution of expenditure. Moreover, the Finance Ministry doesn’t rule out some operations to buy out foreign debts in order to help with the debt servicing peak coming up in 2003. This could be done by means of open auctions, where anyone who is willing to sell Russian debts can do so. However, our Cabinet source says it is still too early to speak of any specific plans to hold public auctions; and stresses that the Cabinet will buy out foreign debts “only if it is advantageous for us to do so, and only at an appropriate discount”.

RUSSIA AND BELARUS DISCUSS JOINT BUDGET

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, August 29, 2001, p. 2

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov will chair a meeting of the Council of Ministers of Russia and Belarus in Moscow today. It is planned to discuss the basic figures in the budget for the Russia-Belarus Union in 2002. The meeting will also be attended by Belarussian Prime Minister Vladimir Ermoshin.

There are 17 issues on the preliminary agenda. The Council of Ministers will consider a draft military doctrine for the union state, and discuss forming a joint working group on preparing a draft constitution and a program for securing the external borders of the Russia-Belarus Union during 2002-05.

DOZENS OF BANKS ACCUSED OF STEALING STATE FUNDS

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, August 29, 2001, p. 2

The Interior Ministry’s main directorate for combating white-collar crime is investigating a number of firms and banks in Moscow and St. Petersburg in connection with misappropriation of 12 billion rubles from state resources. This was announced yesterday by directorate chief Alexei Orlov. According to Orlov, around 1,500 companies and 30 banks participated in fraudulent export operations. These organizations allegedly formed an illicit chain of deals, as a result of which the value of exported goods was inflated up to 4,000 times the real value. Subsequently, the errant banks would apply for a value-added tax refund. Orlov noted that 70% of the misappropriated money would soon be returned to the state.

ENOUGH HOLES IN THE SUBMARINE

Trud, August 29, 2001, p. 2

The Carrier barge from the Norwegian port of Kirkines will arrive at the Kursk site today, with equipment for cutting the damaged front section of the submarine away from the rest. According to Vyacheslav Zakharov, Russian representative of the Dutch company Mammoet, the underwater saw has been perfected in Norway and is ready for use. Work will start immediately to unload it and install it on the sea floor next to the front of the submarine. A recent storm in the area has died down, and it’s vital to take full advantage of the good weather.

But the operation headquarters is facing another unexpected problem. As we have reported previously, the Severodvinsk shipyard has been premature in preparing and launching two pontoons which are meant to support the Kursk on its way into dock. This has taken aback the punctual Dutch salvage workers from Mammoet; they are not at all happy about the pontoons being ready ahead of schedule. They ask a reasonable question: where can these huge pontoons (measuring 100 meters by 15 meters) be stored? Who will guard them, and how? The Russian Navy, the Rubin design bureau, and the salvage operation headquarters are now seeking answers.

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