NORTHERN FLEET EXERCISES

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NORTHERN FLEET EXERCISES

Izvestia, September 19, 2002, p. 3

The Northern Fleet’s largest exercises since the sinking of the Kursk submarine began in the Barents Sea yesterday. The maneuvers, involving both submarines and surface vessels, will last a week. Northern Fleet press secretary Vladimir Navrotsky said: “Crews have been preparing for the exercises since September 15. In the course of the exercises, crews will practise missile, artillery, and torpedo firing against targets at sea, on land, and along the shore; they will practise locating enemy submarines and landing teams of marines on unsecured beaches controlled by the hypothetical enemy.” According to Navrotsky, Northern Fleet crews have been enthusiastic about taking part in the exercises, which will mark the end of the Northern Fleet’s training year. The assessment of how well ships perform specific tasks will be made by Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov.

ANOTHER HICCUP FROM SHEVARDNADZE

Moskovskii Komsomolets, September 19, 2002, p. 2

The Prosecutor General’s Office intends to carry out a legal analysis of the US-Soviet agreement on delimitation of the Bering Strait and Chukotka Sea, signed in 1990 by James Baker and Eduard Shevardnadze.

Deputy Prosecutor General Konstantin Chaika said that a corresponding investigation has begun: the Prosecutor General’s Office has formed a working group on the issue, following an appeal from Alexander Nazarov, chairman of the Federation Council committee on the Arctic and ethnic minorities. Nazarov raised the issue of whether Shevardnadze, formerly foreign minister of the Soviet Union, could be held accountable for the fact that the United States took possession of certain waters in the Bering Strait and Chukotka Sea in 1990. This had the effect of altering the sea border between Russia and the US established in 1867, and Russian fishing vessels lost access to 200 square miles of the Bering Sea.

JUSTIFIED RUDENESS

Moskovskii Komsomolets, September 19, 2002, p. 2

A huge scandal broke out in the Duma yesterday. It was probably the first time since Putin came to power that the Duma failed to pass a bill the Kremlin wanted, despite three attempts at doing so.

The Kremlin had gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the Communist Party’s plan to hold a referendum would be stillborn. The centrist factions, along with the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko, decided to table bills aimed at prohibiting nationwide referendums during the year leading up to parliamentary or presidential elections. Why was the Kremlin so concerned about the referendum idea? The president’s approval rating remains high, and the Kremlin has plenty of ways to block a referendum at various stages of the process. But the point here is that this time the Communists are behind the referendum move – and the Kremlin considers the Communist Party to be a real threat at the next elections; so why give the Communists any extra opportunity for self-promotion?

The interests of the presidential administration fully coincided with those of the Communist Party’s political rivals: United Russia, the Union of Right Forces, and Yabloko. As is usually the case when the Kremlin wants something very badly, it was decided to override regulations and vote on the bill in all three readings at once. Some supporters of the bill admitted this was a low thing to do, but there was apparently no other way to stop the Communist referendum.

URF leader Boris Nemtsov said: “The leftists are attempting to change the political order.”

Sergei Ivanenko (Yabloko faction) said: “You’re once again proposing to take up axes and pitchforks against each other.”

Oleg Morozov, leader of the Russian Regions group, said: “The law on private ownership of agricultural land, and the Land Code, have already been passed and will soon come into effect; but if they’re invalidated by a referendum in a year’s time, what will happen? Civil war.”

Duma member Nikitchuk (Communist faction) said: “I no longer wish to participate in this farce, where for every question there is an answer paid for in advance.”

Although the centrist factions and groups had mobilized all their members as much as possible, as we went to print the bills still had not been passed: one of them is a constitutional bill, requiring 300 votes. Three attempts to vote on it resulted in counts of 299, 297, and another 297 votes in favor. The flummoxed centrists declared there must be some sort of problem with the new electronic voting system, and called an end to the Duma session. As we went to print, it was still unclear what the outcome would be.

WHY ARE THE TWO IVANOVS GOING TO WASHINGTON?

Trud-7, September 19-25, 2002, p. 2

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov are expected in Washington, DC by the end of this week. Their visit was scheduled as far back as August; so it is no extraordinary event triggered by the Iraq situation. It was known in advance that both ministers would meet with their U.S. counterparts and perhaps with President George W. Bush.

But now the Iraq problem is sure to come to the foreground, though this does not necessarily mean that the media will be informed about the details of talks and agreements, if any, on that score. The matter undoubtedly concerns Baghdad’s unconditional agreement to admit UN weapons inspectors. This agreement was delivered on Monday evening to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Moscow has approved this step, believing it has prevented war. But Washington thinks otherwise: according to a statement released by the White House, this is only a tactical trick on Iraq’s part, in an attempt to avoid severe punitive measures from the UN Security Council; and as such, this trick is doomed to fail.

As for Moscow’s position, there has been some speculation to the effect that it wants to “exchange Saddam for Shevardnadze”; and if the Russian ministers can gain tacit approval for that, Bush would be free to act as he pleases. Undoubtedly, relations with the United States are fundamentally more important for Russia than “love for Milosevic”. Economic observers say Russia has no wish to see another fall in oil prices like those that followed the announcement of Baghdad’s consent to unconditionally admit UN inspectors.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell insists that the United Nations should adopt a “strong resolution” entailing real punishment for Saddam Hussein if he starts stalling the inspectors again. President Bush is more likely interested in a Congress resolution which would give him a free hand in choosing measures against Iraq. On Wednesday, Bush had a private meeting with the four Congress leaders to agree on the final text of the document.

At a Pentagon briefing on Monday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld – who had previously avoided speaking about a military operation in Iraq – raised this question unexpectedly. He said that as far back as a month ago he had given an order to the military to concentrate on command and signalling office centers during bombing, rather than on air defense emplacements and radar stations. Neutralizing Iraq’s air defense abilities is likely to be a prerequisite for the U.S.-led operation.

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