RUSSIAN SHIPS BOUND FOR THE PERSIAN GULF

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RUSSIAN SHIPS BOUND FOR THE PERSIAN GULF

Izvestia, January 14, 2003, EV

Sources at the Pacific Fleet headquarters say that big anti-submarine warfare ships “Admiral Panteleev” and “Marshal Shaposhnikov” will make a sortie to the Persian Gulf in the second half of February. The ships will defend Russian national interests in the region in a potential armed conflict between the United States and Iraq. Nothing is known about how much time the ships will stay in the region, but they are to be accompanied by a tender (a must, since Russia no longer has a naval base in Cam Ranh, Vietnam).

A staff officer: As a matter of fact, in late 2002 funds were allocated for the current repairs of most surface combatants and auxiliary ships… That is why the Black Sea Fleet and Pacific Fleet are in the midst of preparations for command exercises. They will take place in the Black Sea in March and in the Pacific in summer…

The last time Russian ships monitored the situation in the Persian Gulf was in 2000, when the American Navy arrested several Russian tankers. A spyship of the Black Sea Fleet monitored the Persian Gulf from its station in the Mediterranean then.

Rear Admiral (retired) Georgy Kostev: Unfortunately, our Navy cannot display its pennant in any region of the world anymore. We could choose ships for sorties in the past. These days, however, we send out only what is seaworthy.

DUMA CENTRISTS VS. ALEXANDER BESPALOV

Izvestia, January 14, 2003, EV

The split in United Russia is deepening. The conflict between supporters and antagonists of Alexander Bespalov flared up over the principal matter, the date of the next party congress. The United Russia General Council was supposed to set the date, but Bespalov and his faction wanted the General Council meeting, and therefore the congress as such, postponed for as long as possible…preferably until September. For Bespalov’s enemies, supported by the Presidential Administration, the sooner the congress takes place, the better. The General Council was to meet today, but the Executive Council insisted on a meeting on January 27.

Vladimir Pekhtin, Oleg Morozov, and Vyacheslav Volodin (leaders of three centrist factions of the Duma and members of the General Council) were to resolve the matter yesterday. They agreed to have the General Council meet today and have it pass the decision to convene the congress on March 29. Things may sour up for Bespalov rather quickly.

As head of the General Council and Executive Committee, Bespalov wields the right to sign documents and make key decisions all on his own. The party opposition calls it an “injustice” only the congress may correct. It wants the congress to amend the United Russia charter and have it stipulate a rotation of leaders. Its success would probably mean the loss of both posts for Bespalov.

Purges in the Executive Committee began in late December 2002. Insiders say that most pro-Bespalov members of the structure were advised to step down of their own volition.

"NEW HEROIN YEAR" BEGINS IN RUSSIA

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, January 14, 2003, EV

The amount of heroin that will end up in Russia in 2003 may amount to twenty times the amount smuggled in 2002. The raw opium crop in Afghanistan in 2002 was eighteen times the crop harvested the year before and amounted to 320 – 325 tons in terms of pure heroin.

According to the Main Directorate for Combating Drugs of the Interior Ministry, the amounts of heroin confiscated on the borders grew considerably in 2002. Last Tuesday, Russian border guards on the Kazakh border discovered 119 kg of heroin in a Gazel mini-bus. Specialists say that the heroin originated in Afghanistan and the consignment was worth about $2 million.

Afghani heroin is smuggled to Europe via Tajikistan and Russia, but a lot never makes it to the destination. Specialists warn that the problem actually poses a threat to national security. Drug cartels no longer view Russia as a transit country; they consider it a colossal market as well.

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