|Saturday, 26 September 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, 02-10-25
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 MOSCOW HOSTAGE CRISIS ENTERS ITS THIRD DAYArmed Chechen fighters continued on 25 October to hold approximately 700 people hostage in the Moscow theater that they seized on 23 October, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Seven hostages were released in the early morning hours, and eight children were released late in the afternoon, however negotiations to secure the release of the estimated 40 remaining children being held and of the estimated 75 non-Russian citizens were unsuccessful. Authorities estimated that there are from 650-800 remaining hostages in the building and have released the names of 97 of them. The hostage takers continue to refuse to negotiate with the government and to maintain their demand for a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. RC
 PUTIN SAYS HOSTAGE TAKING PLANNED FROM ABROAD...During a meeting with Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev and Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov on 24 October, President Vladimir Putin alleged that the seizure of a Moscow theater on 23 October by Chechen separatists was masterminded at "foreign terrorist centers," Russian television reported. "There is no doubt that the terrorist act was planned in foreign terrorist centers. They originated the plan and recruited the perpetrators," Putin said. He also instructed security officials that their main task is to protect the lives and safety of the hostages. "These criminals are provoking us to introduce the same order that they imposed in Chechnya in their time, but we are not going to do this," Putin said. VY
 ...AS HOSTAGE TAKERS DENY FOREIGN LINKSThe hostage takers on 24 October allowed a group of 12 journalists from ITAR-TASS, Interfax, ORT, REN-TV, and NTV into the besieged theater to interview both them and some of their hostages, newsru.com (formerly, ntvru.com) reported. The group's leader, Movsar Baraev, confirmed that he is the nephew of slain Chechen field commander Arbi Baraev. Movsar Baraev rejected President Putin's statement that he and his comrades are controlled from abroad and said his group had been preparing the operation for a long time. He said he had studied the building carefully and attended several performances in the theater. He admitted that he had given a videotaped statement to Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV. VY
 AL-JAZEERA TV BROADCASTS 'TESTIMONY' OF HOSTAGE TAKERSAl-Jazeera Satellite TV broadcast the "testimonies" of two Chechen hostage takers on 24 October. The first hostage taker of "the Sabotage and Military Surveillance Group of the Riaydh al-Salihin Martyrs," as he identified himself, said the group is operating under the orders of the military commander of the Chechen Republic, apparently referring to President Maskhadov or Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev. Maskhadov is commander-in-chief of the Chechen armed forces; Basaev is head of the military committee and armed forces deputy commander-in-chief. "Our demands are an end to the war and a withdrawal of Russian forces.... Each one of us is prepared to sacrifice himself for the sake of God and Chechen independence," the unidentified man said. Al-Jazeera also carried the "testimony" of a female hostage taker who stressed the Chechens' right of self-determination, saying that Russia has taken away this right. "We have been waiting for a just, humanitarian solution, but humanity is living in a state of slumber and does not care about the killing of innocent people. Old men, women, and children are being killed in Chechnya. Therefore, we have chosen this path, the path of struggle for the Chechen people's freedom," the unidentified woman said. "Our patriots are being wiped out, and they are called terrorists and criminals. However, Russia is the real terrorist." ITAR-TASS on 25 October distributed Baraev's statement to Al Jazeera, in which he says his goal is to end the war in Chechnya. "We are ready to die for the independence of our fatherland, and we choose to die in Moscow and to take with us the souls of the infidels," Baraev is quoted as saying. KR/VY
 SECURITY CHIEFS ACCUSE MASKHADOV OF 'CONTROLLING' THE HOSTAGE TAKING...Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasiliev alleged on 25 October that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov is the "direct controller" of the Moscow hostage taking, ORT and NTV reported. FSB spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko told journalists that the FSB has a videotape on which Maskhadov allegedly says he is preparing an operation that "will soon change the entire course of the Chechen war." Ignatchenko added that the video will be made public. He said the antiterrorism command center dealing with the crisis has information that Maskhadov is personally guiding the operation, including reports from FSB agents; statements by the alleged leader of the hostage takers, Movsar Baraev; and statements by Maskhadov. VY
 ...AS CHECHEN LEADERSHIP CONDEMNS ITChechen Vice Premier Akhmed Zakaev, who is President Maskhadov's special envoy, said at a press conference in Copenhagen on 24 October that Maskhadov disassociates himself from the hostage takers and condemns their actions, RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service reported. He added that Maskhadov tried "until the last minute" to restrain the armed forces subordinate to him from taking such radical action, but that "what was bound to happen, happened," according to chechenpress.com. Zakaev again said that the ultimate blame for the hostage taking lies with the Russian leadership, which has rejected all offers of peace talks. LF
 ONE CIVILIAN KILLEDFSB spokesman Ignatchenko confirmed on 24 October that a young woman was killed by the Chechen militants, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Ignatchenko said the woman was killed by automatic gunfire and her body had broken fingers and burns, apparently from trying to protect herself from being shot at close range. Ignatchenko said the woman was likely killed during or shortly after the seizure of the theater on 23 October. News agencies on 25 October identified the victim as 26-year-old Olga Romanova of Moscow and reported that she most likely had not been a hostage, but was killed while attempting to enter the theater. Meanwhile, the hostage takers allowed three doctors, accompanied by "Novaya gazeta" journalist Anna Politkovskaya, into the building to examine the hostages and bring in medicine. One doctor, Grigorii Roshal, said that he also treated one of the hostage takers, who has a wounded arm. VY
 GROZNY ADMINISTRATION HEAD IGNORES DEMAND TO TAKE PLACE OF HOSTAGESInterfax on 24 October quoted one of the hostage takers, who gave his name as Khasmamat, as saying that he and his comrades are prepared to free 50 hostages if Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov enters the captured theater. But Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii denied later the same day that Kadyrov was either at the scene of hostage taking or that he had participated in negotiations with the hostage takers. LF
 DUMA URGES PUBLIC NOT TO PANIC...State Duma deputies unanimously adopted on 24 October a special resolution on the hostage crisis that says the crisis "should not cause panic or provoke interethnic and religious hatred in Russia, which could threaten Russian statehood," RIA-Novosti reported on 24 October. The resolution also states that "the lives and safety of the people" must be the state's highest priority and called on "all political parties to come together in the face of this challenge to all of Russian society." VY
 ...AS FEDERATION COUNCIL SPEAKER APPEALS TO THE HOSTAGE TAKERSSergei Mironov urged the Chechen militants on 24 October to release their hostages in exchange for free passage back to Chechnya, RIA-Novosti reported. Mironov pointed out to the hostage takers that they have already achieved their public-relations aims, as "the entire world is already talking" about their action. "Please, set your hostages free and give realistic demands, and you will be free to leave Moscow and Russia," Mironov said. VY
 ANTIWAR PROTEST HELD NEAR KREMLINApproximately 100 protesters -- including friends and relatives of those taken hostage at the theater, cultural figures, and human right activists -- assembled near Red Square on 25 October, RFE/RL's Russian Service. The protestors held placards reading, "Stop the Bloodshed" and chanted, "Peace for Chechnya; Calm for Russia." Prominent filmmaker Mark Rozovskii, whose daughter is one of the hostages; playwright Yurii Gelman; and actor Mikhail Kosakov participated in the protest, at which speakers appealed to President Putin to resolve the crisis peacefully and to reach a settlement with the separatists in Chechnya. The protest was not authorized, but no attempt was made to interfere with it. VY
 MINISTRY WARNS MEDIA, EKHO MOSKVY...The Media Ministry issued a statement on 24 October asking the country's media to strictly observe the law in its reporting on the hostage crisis, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, the ministry singled out Ekho Moskvy, noting that it is "unacceptable" for "certain organs of the mass media to provide members of terrorist groups with airtime." The statement continued that the ministry reserves the right to take necessary actions "even suspending the operations of those mass media that commit violations of existing legislation." JAC
 ...AS CALL FOR MEDIA CONTROL GOES OUT...State Duma Deputy Valerii Zubov (People's Deputy), who is also a former governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai, also criticized the media for its coverage of the events, asserting that news outlets have covered the incident in a way that contradicts Russia's national interests, regions.ru reported, citing Yenisei-Inform. "The mass media openly showed terrorists how our side was behaving," he said. According to Zubov, the special services should be given full freedom in the struggle against terrorism. Former Prime Minister and State Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin went still further, calling for state control over the media. "There must be one center for making political and information-management decisions during this crisis situation," Stepashin was quoted by RosBalt as saying on 24 October. "The mass media must -- and has the right -- to inform society of what is going on, but it cannot become an element of pressure on the decision-making center and, more importantly, it cannot give terrorists an additional opportunity to control the situation around them." Stepashin also condemned unidentified Russian politicians for trying to earn "political capital" from the crisis. St. Petersburg University Professor of Political Psychology Aleksandr Yuriev told RosBalt the same day that "it is essential to shut the mouth of television, especially [those channels that] work on behalf of terrorists." He accused Russian television of "providing public relations" for terrorists and of betraying operational information about the situation. JAC/RC
 ...AND NTV TOES THE LINEAt one point during its coverage of the situation, one of NTV's on-air correspondents, Kirill Posdnyakov, was speaking by telephone with one of the hostages, and a hostage taker got on the line. At that point, Posdnyakov told the audience the connection had been severed, "Kommersant Daily" reported on 25 October. However, according to the daily, the voice of the hostage taker was still perfectly audible and unidentified sources at the station report the decision not to give the separatists air time was made by the television company's management. JAC
 REGIONAL LEADERS LINK MOSCOW SITUATION WITH RISING GLOBAL TERRORISM...Regional leaders across the Russian Federation endeavored on 24 October to reassure local populations that the situation in the regions is under control. Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev issued a statement telling local residents that "there is no reason for panic, and the situation is under strict control," regions.ru reported. Tkachev added that there is only one way to evaluate the situation. "This is the brazen challenge of bandits not only in Russia, but throughout the world," he said. According to the website, Tyumen Oblast Governor Sergei Sobyanin noted: "We should understand that Russia is in a state of war against international terrorism, and we cannot avoid similar situations.... Terrorism is the horrible plague of our times." JAC
 ...AND INCOMPETENCE OF LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALSHowever, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov took a slightly different tack, telling Interfax-Eurasia he considers the hostage taking a direct result of the powerlessness and weakness of Russia's security agencies. He said it is difficult for him to understand how two buses filled with armed men dressed in camouflage managed to take over a theater in central Moscow and take such a large number of hostages. JAC
 COMMUNISTS APPEAL TO PUTIN'S SENSE OF MILITARY HONORMembers of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation's (KPRF) St. Petersburg branch have sent President Putin a letter in which they call on him to observe Russian military tradition and "to behave according to its unwritten code," RosBalt reported on 25 October. Apparently, the Communists were referring to the tradition of committing suicide following a major failure. "The 'small, victorious war' that Putin initiated in Chechnya to boost his popularity rating has ended in that war coming to Moscow," they stated in the letter. The letter also stated that the Putin administration "loves public relations too much" and, as a result, is not prepared to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. VY
 CAUCASIANS TOLD TO AVOID GOING OUT AT NIGHT...Several acts of violence against people who appear to be from the Caucasus occurred in Vologda Oblast on the night of 23-24 October following the taking of hostages in Moscow, regions.ru reported on 24 October, citing SeverInform. Mikhail Surov, leader of the Vologda Public-Political Organization recommended that people from the Caucasus refrain from taking walks by themselves at night or participating in any heated discussions. On the afternoon of 24 October, a crowd of young men severely beat up a man who appeared to be an immigrant from the Caucasus outside a Moscow metro station, gazeta.ru reported. The man was taken to the hospital with serious injuries. JAC
 ...AS MOSCOW BEGINS CHECKING DOCUMENTSPolice in Moscow have begun randomly stopping people of Caucasian appearance in the subway and on the street to check the validity of their documents, "Izvestiya" reported on 25 October. For the estimated 100,000 Chechens living in Moscow, this essentially means that they cannot leave their homes, attend school, or go to work, the daily commented. Salambek Maigov, deputy chairman of the Eurasia party and a leader of the Chechen diaspora, said that he had been stopped and searched, allegedly for narcotics and weapons, on 24 October. The Chechen cultural center Daimokkh was closed on 24 October. "In September 1999 [when the second war in Chechnya began], we didn't manage to close in time," said center Director Abuyazit Apaev, "and the Interior Ministry came and trashed the place." "Instead of trying to answer questions like how the terrorists got to Moscow, where they lived, how they prepared the operation, who helped them, and what our security forces were doing," said diaspora leader Dzhabrail Gakkaev, "the authorities are scared and have begun these useless passport checks." RC
 MOSCOW GOVERNOR MULLS BAN ON MOSQUE CONSTRUCTION"Vremya novostei" reported on 25 October that Moscow Oblast Governor Boris Gromov is considering an appeal from the Union of Russian Orthodox Citizens to ban immediately the construction of a mosque in the oblast town of Sergiev Posad. The head of the Sergiev Posad Raion told journalists no decision has yet been made and the area's Muslim community numbers about 10,000. The leader of the raion's Muslim community, Arslan Sadriev, said the construction issue is not a pressing one, since there is already a place in the area to gather for prayers. According to the daily, the authors of the appeal to Gromov are actually interested in Muslim activities in Tatarstan. Authorities in the Russian Orthodox Church are reportedly looking for an opportunity to issue a kind of "symmetrical response" to the leaders of the Muslim church regarding earlier acts of vandalism against an Orthodox church under construction in that republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2002). JAC
 HOSTAGE TAKERS HERALD ASCENT OF CHECHNYA'S 'LOST GENERATION'The website zerkalo.az on 25 October quoted President Maskhadov's representative in Azerbaijan, Ali Asaev, as stressing that the Moscow hostage takers are all young, in their early 20s. "Die Welt" quoted a friend of Movsar Baraev's family as saying that Baraev "belongs to a generation that has never known anything but war." Former Russian parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov warned two years ago of the imminent emergence of a new generation of Chechen fighters who were born in the early 1990s and will come to maturity and join the ranks of the resistance. Those young men, Khasbulatov says, will be "cruel and merciless," devoid of any education, speak no Russian, and acknowledge no authority, not even that of their parents and elders (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 21, 25 May 2000). The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on 25 October quoted Khasbulatov as saying that Movsar Baraev belongs to the "most radical" among the Chechen fighters who do not acknowledge Maskhadov's authority and act independently. LF
 RUSSIAN HOSTAGE CRISIS:For complete coverage, see the RFE/RL Regional Analysis website at http://www.regionalanalysis.org and the RFE/RL homepage at http://www.rferl.org. For information in Russian, see the RFE/RL Russian Service website at http://www.svoboda.org.
 DUMA GIVES PRESIDENTIAL-ELECTION LAW INITIAL SUPPORT...State Duma deputies voted on 24 October to approve in its first reading a law on presidential elections, RIA-Novosti reported. The vote was 416 in favor, with zero against and two abstentions. Before the vote, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said it is necessary to amend existing legislation to bring it into conformity with other federal election laws. The new bill preserves the existing two-round system, under which if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round, a second-round runoff must be held. However, under the new bill, political parties that received more than 5 percent of the vote in the immediately preceding federal legislative elections may nominate presidential candidates without gathering supporting signatures. Candidates who are not nominated by such parties would have to gather 2 million signatures. The maximum amount that candidates may spend on their campaign is 150 million rubles ($5 million). Under current law, the limit is only 30 million rubles. JAC
 ...AND RAISES BAR FOR DUMA REPRESENTATIONThe Duma also adopted on 25 October in its second reading the law on elections to the State Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. Some 500 amendments were proposed to the bill, according to Aleksandr Salii, deputy chairman of the State Construction Committee. The most important of these is an amendment raising from 5 percent to 7 percent the minimum amount of votes necessary for political parties to gain party-list seats in Duma elections, strana.ru reported. If the bill is adopted in its current form, the new threshold will take effect during the 2007 parliamentary election. The vote on the amendment was 344 in favor and 31 opposed, with three abstentions. VY/JAC
 INFLUENTIAL REGIONAL LEADERS WEIGH IN ON NEW SELF-GOVERNMENT REFORMSIn an interview with "Novyi region" on 24 October, Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel said that adoption of the draft legislation on local self-government outlined at the meeting of the State Council the previous day will constitute a serious step forward in the development of vertical power and the demarcation of responsibilities among the various levels of government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2002). However, he suggested that rather than the reforms coming into effect at the beginning of 2005, it would make more sense for them to be enacted by 1 January 2003. RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported that Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev told RTR: "As long as the draft [laws] do not stipulate funding sources for local self-government bodies, then we must criticize these new laws just as we did the old ones. In most cases, these bodies are not self-sufficient and need support from federal or regional budgets." However, Shaimiev told Interfax-Eurasia the same day that he expects the Duma to approve the bill. JAC
 BASHKIR PRESIDENT WON'T NEED TO KNOW BASHKIRThe latest version of Bashkortostan's constitution does not require the president of the republic to know Bashkir, RosBalt reported on 24 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2002). Under the previous version, a president had to demonstrate knowledge of both of the republic's state languages -- Russian and Bashkir. Another change made in the new constitution is that the president's term will be four years rather than five. According to the agency, under the current draft of the constitution, current President Rakhimov may seek the post of republican legislator and then the post of chairman of the legislature, which under the draft is the head of the republican government. However, Rakhimov has not yet declared his intention to seek another high-level republican post after his present term. JAC
 SELEZNEV CUTS MORE TIES WITH FORMER COMRADESState Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev's Rossiya movement has officially announced it will leave the People's Patriotic Union of Russia (NPSR), ITAR-TASS reported on 24 October. The decision was made at a session of the movement's political council. Seleznev told reporters, "We can no longer stand the boorishness of the union's leaders toward the party and its leadership." Seleznev first raised the prospect of his movement leaving the NPSR after "Zavtra" Editor-in-Chief Aleksandr Prokhanov, who is also an NPSR leader, raised the prospect of cooperation with self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2002). JAC
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 FORMER ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SAYS HE MAY RUN IN 2003 POLLContradicting a statement by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Levon Ter-Petrossian issued a statement in Yerevan on 24 October saying he will decide whether to participate in the February 2003 presidential elections "within the time frame set down by law," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Yeltsin said that during their meeting in Yerevan on 15 October, Ter-Petrossian informed him that he would not contest that ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2002). Ter-Petrossian's statement suggested that Yeltsin's pronouncement was "a misunderstanding." LF
 ARMENIAN MINISTER WANTS PARLIAMENT GUNMEN PUBLICLY EXECUTEDTestifying on 23 October at the trial of the five gunmen who murdered eight senior officials in the Armenian parliament three years ago, Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian, who was severely injured in that assault, argued forcibly that the five "must be subjected to brutal punishment, they must be hanged on [Yerevan's] Freedom Square," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Manukian, who in 1999 was a parliament deputy, said the shootings were clearly well organized, but he excluded any involvement in the bloodbath on the part of the Armenian leadership, according to Arminfo on 23 October, as cited by Groong. LF
 FORMER ARMENIAN OFFICIAL DENIES SPYING FOR TURKEYAt the opening day of his trial on espionage charges, former Armenian Foreign Ministry official Murad Bojolian pleaded not guilty to charges of high treason, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 24 October. Bojolian's lawyer claimed the charges are without foundation and that the investigation was conducted with serious procedural violations. The prosecution claims that beginning in 1998, Bojolian, who was arrested in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 4 February 2002), supplied information on the political and economic situation in Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to Turkish intelligence agents operating under the guise of journalists, including one Turkish journalist who interviewed Armenian President Robert Kocharian in 2000. LF
 RUSSIAN GOVERNOR SEEKS TO REASSURE ARMENIAN LEADERSHIPVisiting Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev told President Kocharian and other senior Armenian officials in Yerevan on 24 October that he has taken measures to prevent further "provocations" against Armenians living in Krasnodar, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Beginning in April this year, when Tkachev announced plans to expel "illegal immigrants" from the Caucasus and Central Asia, the Krai's Armenian community has been subjected to repeated violent reprisals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April, and 17 and 28 May 2002). LF
 NGO CREATED TO SUPPORT GEORGIA'S NATO MEMBERSHIPA group of Georgian politicians including the "New Rightists" have founded an NGO to lobby for Georgia's membership of NATO as a prerequisite for preserving the country's sovereign status, Caucasus Press reported on 23 October. The following day, opposition parties and NGOs signed a memorandum affirming their support for Georgia's accession to NATO. The signatories suggested that President Eduard Shevardnadze should adduce the memorandum when he formally requests at the 20-21 November Prague summit that Georgia be considered for future membership of the alliance, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPER CALLS FOR REMOVAL OF NEW GEORGIAN POLICE POSTSMajor General Vasilii Prizemlin, who commands the Russian contingent of the quadrilateral peacekeeping force deployed in Georgia's breakaway unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, called on 24 October for the closure of three additional Georgian police posts recently set up near the internal border between South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 October 2002), Interfax reported. Prizemlin claimed the Georgian police are extorting money from local residents. In Tskhinvali, South Ossetian parliament speaker Stanislav Kochiev warned that any attempt by Georgian police to enter South Ossetia in the course of their ongoing "anticrime" operation could trigger "irreversible and dangerous processes," according to "Rezonansi" on 25 October, as cited by Caucasus Press. LF
 KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY SAYS AUTHORITIES HAVE SWITCHED TACTICSAt a press conference in Almaty on 22 October, leaders of regional branches of the opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan (RNPK) described how the Kazakh leadership is now concentrating its repressive tactics against opposition parties and publications and any public protest in the regions of the country, rather than the cities of Almaty and Astana, according to an RNPK press release of 24 October posted on forumkz.org. The party leaders urged foreign ambassadors and the OSCE to pay greater attention to developments in the provinces. LF
 KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT APPROVES 2003 DRAFT BUDGET IN FIRST READINGThe People's Assembly (the upper chamber of Kyrgyzstan's legislature) on 24 October approved in the first reading the government's draft budget for 2003, akipress.org and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The draft now envisages revenues of 13.84 billion soms ($302.4 million) and expenditures of 13.50 billion soms. Finance Minister Bolot Abdildaev told deputies that the 340-million-som increase in both expenditures and revenues that deputies to the Legislative Assembly (the lower parliament chamber) had insisted on (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002) will be financed from income taxes, VAT on domestic goods, the road tax, and state dividends in joint-stock companies, Interfax reported. LF
 PRESIDENT NOT CONSIDERED AMONG KYRGYZSTAN'S 100 WEALTHIEST CITIZENSAkipress.org on 25 October reproduced from the Djalalabad newspaper "Ferghana" a list of the 100 individuals perceived by the people of Kyrgyzstan as the wealthiest in the country. The list was compiled on the basis of a five-month public-opinion survey that resulted in a list of 1,000 individuals. The list, in alphabetical order, includes five oblast governors, the mayors of Bishkek and Osh, five government ministers or deputy ministers, 22 parliament deputies, and imprisoned former Vice President Feliks Kulov. President Askar Akaev is not listed, but his son-in-law, businessman Adil Toigonbaev, is. The list does not include estimates of individuals' personal fortunes. LF
 KYRGYZ OPPOSITIONIST, SECURITY CHIEF REACH SETTLEMENT IN LIBEL SUITParliament deputy Tursunbai Bakir Uulu reached a private settlement on 24 October and dropped his libel case against National Security Service head Kalyk Imankulov, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Bakir Uulu apparently accepted Imankulov's claim that remarks he made about Bakir Uulu in an interview with the newspaper "Aghym" were incorrectly translated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2002). The newspaper has undertaken to print a correction. LF
 POLISH PRESIDENT VISITS TAJIKISTANOn a two-day visit to Dushanbe, Aleksandr Kwasniewski met on 23 October with his Tajik counterpart Imomali Rakhmonov to discuss expanding bilateral cooperation, especially in trade and economic ties, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 24 October. They focused specifically on the possibility of Polish participation in building hydroelectric-power stations in Tajikistan. Bilateral trade turnover in 2001 amounted to $20 million, most of which was imports by Poland of cotton and aluminum from Tajikistan. At a press conference on 24 October, Rakhmonov noted that Poland's experience in economic reform is of particular interest to Tajikistan. LF
 UZBEK PRESIDENT CHAIRS MEETINGS OF FORCE BODIES TO DISCUSS MOSCOW HOSTAGE TAKINGIn the wake of the 23 October hostage taking in Moscow by Chechen militants, Islam Karimov summoned force ministers on 24 October to review the implementation of earlier directives aimed at strengthening public security, uza.uz reported. Further, unspecified measures to prevent acts of terrorism in Uzbekistan were agreed at the meeting. LF
 NEW UZBEK DEPUTY PREMIER APPOINTEDKarimov has named to the position of deputy prime minister with responsibility for foreign economic ties 42-year-old Eler Ganiev, who served previously as minister for foreign economic ties, Interfax reported. That ministry will now be abolished and replaced by an Agency for Foreign Economic Ties. LF
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT DEMANDS WESTERN MONEY FOR BORDER CONTROL...During his inspection of a border-guard unit in Lida (Hrodna Oblast) on 24 October, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka reiterated his demand that West European countries reimburse Belarus for costs related to stemming illegal migration and the flow of contraband to Europe from the East (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 October 2002), Belapan and Belarusian Television reported. "My strictest, iron demand from Europeans is...that they should pay us for this [border control]," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. "We have some 200,000 people [in Belarus], if not more, whom we have prevented from going to the West, to Germany, France, Great Britain, and so on. Since we are [still] doing so, we incur expenses." JM
 ...COMMENTS ON RUSSIAN POLITICIAN'S EXPULSION FROM MINSK...President Lukashenka also commented on the recent expulsion from Minsk of the Russian Union of Rightist Forces party's Boris Nemtsov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2002). Lukashenka said the incident will not affect Belarusian-Russian relations in any way. Lukashenka said Nemtsov was trying to bring $50,000 in cash into Belarus illegally. "[Nemtsov] said yesterday that...he and [party colleague Irina Khakamada, who accompanied Nemtsov on his Minsk trip] are now inseparable for life. I don't think they needed to take $50,000 with them to Minsk [to prove that]. We could arrange their wedding for life free of charge," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. "There are people in Russia who have sickened not only the authorities but also society as a whole. I think [Nemtsov and Khakamada] are of their kind," the Belarusian president added. JM
 ...AND CONGRATULATES SADDAM HUSSEIN ON REFERENDUM VICTORYLukashenka has congratulated Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on the 100 percent support he officially received in a 15 October referendum on his rule, Belapan reported on 24 October, quoting the presidential press service. Lukashenka reportedly said in his congratulatory message that the referendum "graphically demonstrated the desire of the Iraqi people to decide their fate on their own and to repel any attempts at interfering in their country's internal affairs." Lukashenka also reaffirmed Belarus's interest in strengthening political and economic ties with Iraq to the benefit of both countries. JM
 UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS DRAFT RESOLUTIONS ON POLITICAL CRISISThe Verkhovna Rada on 24 October failed to pass any resolution to sum up a debate the same day devoted to the current political situation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2002), UNIAN reported. The opposition's draft resolution, proposed by Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, was supported by 200 lawmakers, while the pro-presidential majority's draft received 222 votes. Two hundred and twenty-six votes were required for passage. Later the same day, lawmakers managed to pass several other bills, including one on the introduction of a 30 percent tax on exports of scrap ferrous metals from Ukraine. JM
 ESTONIAN SOCIAL AFFAIRS MINISTER DISCUSSES LABOR-MARKET ISSUES IN FINLANDSiiri Oviir held talks on the free movement of persons and labor-market developments with Finnish Labor Minister Tarja Filatov in Helsinki on 24 October, BNS reported. Their ministries have established a joint working group to discuss labor movement between the two countries. Estonia has provisionally closed the chapter on the free movement of persons in its membership talks with the European Union but would prefer to negotiate a shorter transition period via bilateral agreements with each EU member country. Oviir also met with Social Affairs and Health Minister Maija Perho. SG
 LATVIA'S ELECTRICITY UTILITY TO GET $24.6 MILLION LOANLatvenergo concluded an agreement on 24 October for a loan of 15 million lats ($24.6 million) for the reconstruction of Riga's Thermoelectric Power Station No. 1 (TEC-1), BNS reported. Parex Bank President Valerijs Kargins said the syndicated loan, joined by Parex Bankas in Lithuania and the Baltic investment company Suprema, "is the largest loan ever organized by a local syndicate in Latvia." The loan is for a five-year period and carries an interest rate of the six-month LIBOR plus 0.5 percent (50 basis points). The reconstruction of TEC-1 is expected to begin next year and be completed in 2005. It is expected to increase the station's capacity and thus reduce the need for energy imports from the other Baltic states and Russia. Latvenergo received loans of 22 million lats from the Nordic Investment Bank in May and of 48 million lats from the European Investment Bank in June. SG
 ENLARGEMENT COMMISSIONER SUPPORTS ADDITIONAL EU AID TO CLOSE LITHUANIAN POWER PLANTPrime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas persuaded EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen in Brussels on 24 October that Lithuania needs additional support to dismantle reactors at its Ignalina nuclear-power plant, modernize other power stations, and carry out related environmental and other projects, BNS reported. Verheugen pledged to support Lithuania's stance in discussions with European Commission President Romano Prodi and leaders of other EU member states. He also thanked Lithuania for its "flexible" position on the Kaliningrad transit issue and said Vilnius will receive guarantees in the EU accession agreement that it may join the Schengen zone together with the first new members of the EU. SG
 POLAND'S IPN ASKS UKRAINE FOR ACCESS TO UPA FILESThe National Remembrance Institute has requested that Ukrainian authorities grant access to documents of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) that may shed light on atrocities perpetrated by the UPA against Poles during World War II, primarily in the Volhynia region of northwestern Ukraine in 1943-44, PAP reported on 24 October. IPN Chairman Leon Kieres said the request concerns "the UPA's own documents" and the journals of UPA commanders that were seized by the KGB, as well as protocols of interrogations by the KGB of UPA commanders who were responsible, as Kieres put it, for "the atrocities in Volhynia." Kieres noted that the IPN would like to publish these documents. "Please do not take these activities by the IPN in political categories; the point is just getting to know the whole truth," Kieres commented on the request. According to Polish historians, as many as 80,000 Poles may have been killed by the UPA during the war. The IPN has launched an investigation into what it called "the crimes of genocide perpetrated by Ukrainian nationalists on the territory of the Wolyn [Volhynia] Province of the Second [Polish] Republic in the years 1939-45" (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 8 May 2001). JM
 CZECH BALLOTING STARTS FOR CONTROL OF UPPER HOUSEVoting began on 25 October in the first round of elections to replace one-third of the Czech Republic's 81 senators. At stake is the governing coalition's one-seat majority in the upper house and considerable influence in the run-up to elections for a new president to replace Vaclav Havel, whose term expires in January 2003. First-round voting continues on 26 October, with the second round scheduled for 1-2 December. The Senate wields limited legislative powers in relation to the Chamber of Deputies, but the ruling parties' one-seat majority in the chamber has heightened the importance of the upper house. AH
 CZECHS CLOSE EU COMPETITION CHAPTER...Czech and EU negotiators closed the competition chapter in accession talks on 24 October following the withdrawal of Dutch objections to state subsidies to the Czech steel sector, CTK reported. Prague has now closed 26 of 30 opened chapters. The Czechs accepted tough conditions under which the state can continue to subsidize steel companies through 2003, including restructuring, production caps, and productivity targets, the news agency reported. Production is to be reduced to 470,000 tons by the end of 2006. BW
 ...AS DO SLOVAKSSlovakia closed the competition chapter in EU accession negotiations on 24 October, TASR reported the same day. The victory came despite opposition from Spain over state subsidies to U.S. Steel Kosice and Volkswagen Slovakia. In the end, Madrid agreed to allow $500 million in subsidies to U.S. Steel Kosice through 2009. Volkswagen will be allowed to receive state subsidies totaling 30 percent of the company's initial investment through 2008. "The main feeling is relief and satisfaction, because after long, difficult, and sensitive talks, we managed to reach agreement satisfying both sides," Slovakia's chief negotiator with the EU, Jan Figel, said. BW
 PRIME MINISTER SAYS HIS GOVERNMENT WILL TRANSFORM SLOVAKIAPrime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told foreign diplomats on 24 October that his center-right coalition will transform the country, TASR reported the same day. "We believe Slovakia will become a member of the European Union and NATO during this electoral term. The dream will come true," Dzurinda said. Slovakia is scheduled to join the EU in 2004 and expects to receive an invitation to join NATO when the alliance meets in Prague in November. "We are looking beyond the horizon of the summit in Prague, and we will seek, together with our neighbors, an optimal place within NATO," Dzurinda said. BW
 HUNGARIAN PARTY LEADERS SQUABBLE OVER 1956 COMMEMORATION SCANDALSSocialist Party (MSZP) Chairman Laszlo Kovacs chided the opposition in parliament on 24 October, saying his ruling party hoped after the 20 October local elections that the opposition was "learning from its disasters," Budapest dailies reported. Instead, according to Kovacs, scandalous events have continued. He said the opposition FIDESZ party's boycott of parliament's solemn session marking the 23 October 1956 anti-Soviet uprising was one such scandal. Kovacs also charged that leading right-wing politicians did not dissociate themselves from those who engaged in scandal-mongering at last year's commemorations of the uprising, thereby providing encouragement for the hatred displayed at Imre Nagy's grave this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2002). In response, FIDESZ parliamentary group leader Janos Ader said that if there is any scandal related to 1956, it is the suppression of the uprising and the "didactic tone" of a person who for decades classified the events of 1956 as a "counterrevolution," a thinly veiled reference to Kovacs's activities under the communist regime. MSZ
 HUNGARIAN LABOR MINISTRY BRACES FOR IBM PLANT CLOSUREThe Labor Ministry will draw up an action plan to find work for 3,700 people who will lose their jobs as a result of IBM's decision to close a production factory in Szekesfehervar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2002), Labor Minister Peter Kiss told reporters on 24 October. Kiss has appointed the head of the local labor office as a ministerial commissioner to prepare the plan, Hungarian radio reported. Economist Miklos Hegedus of the Economic Research Institute observed that IBM's departure from the Hungarian market highlights the uphill climb for Hungarian exporters. In addition to the global recession, Hungarian economic policy has not always reflected reality, he added, noting a doubling of the minimum wage in two years and a 15 percent appreciation of the forint. MSZ
 HUNGARIAN NOBEL PRIZE WINNER INVITED TO WHITE HOUSEU.S. President George W. Bush has invited Hungary's Nobel Prize recipient for literature, Imre Kertesz, to the White House, Hungarian-born U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos announced in Washington on 23 October, "Nepszava" reported. Andras Simonyi, Hungary's ambassador to the United States, told "Magyar Hirlap" that the awarding of the world's most prestigious literary prize to Kertesz prompted a "tremendous reaction in U.S. intellectual circles." MSZ
 BOSNIAN SERBS ADMIT BREAKING IRAQ ARMS EMBARGO...Following weeks of denial, the Republika Srpska Defense Ministry admitted on 24 October that the Bijeljina-based Orao company violated the UN arms embargo against Iraq, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 October 2002, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2002). That same day, the Bosnian Serb government sacked Milan Prica, general director of Orao. The government also fired Miljan Vlacic, who heads the air-defense administration, and Spasoje Orasanin, who is in charge of arms trading. PM
 ...AMID WARNINGS OF SANCTIONSAfter talks at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on 24 October, the international community's high representative in Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown, said Bosnia faces sanctions if the Republika Srpska does not urgently and thoroughly investigate its arms trade with Iraq, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In Sarajevo, the Bosnian government called on Bosnian Serb authorities to carry out an investigation of the illegal arms dealings and punish those responsible. The cabinet warned that Bosnia could face serious consequences if authorities fail to take all possible legal measures in clearing up the scandal. In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the previous day, "This is an opportunity...for Bosnia and Herzegovina to move forward on its recent promise to establish effective export controls, and we'll be following this very closely." PM
 CASHIERED SERBIAN ARMS TRADER TELLS HIS STORYFormer Yugoimport head General Jovan Cekovic said his company has been under strong pressure for several months from top Belgrade officials to make its records available to the United States, Beta news agency reported from Belgrade on 24 October. He said Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic and Serbian Deputy Prime Ministers Zarko Korac and Nebojsa Covic were instrumental in pressuring his firm, which is the former Federal Directorate of Supply and Procurement (SDPR). Cekovic argued that the Americans' aim is to undermine Yugoslavia's arms industry and claimed his company was framed, AP reported. He noted that Iraq is heavily in debt to Yugoslavia, which stands to lose much money in the current affair, "Vesti" reported. AP noted that Yugoimport's offices were twice targeted by NATO in its 1999 bombing campaign. The first attack resulted in the destruction of the Chinese Embassy, while the second caused considerable damage to Yugoimport. PM
 WAS A MONTENEGRIN FREIGHTER HEADED FOR IRAQ?Croatian police said on 24 October in Rijeka that there is an unspecified quantity of containers of explosives on board the freighter "Boka Star," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2002). Reuters reported that the powder could be "used for the ignition of Scud missiles" and quoted police sources as saying, "There is evidence that the military equipment...was headed for Iraq." The ship is registered under a foreign flag of convenience but has a mainly Montenegrin crew and sailed from the Montenegrin port of Bar. Croatia seized the ship "with the help of the United States and [unspecified] NATO allies," the news agency reported. It quoted an unnamed Western source as adding that this "was not the first time" that such a seizure has been made. PM
 ETHNIC ALBANIAN PARTY IN MACEDONIA FEARS 'NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES' OF UNMIK PLANThe Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), the junior coalition partner in the outgoing government, has criticized the decentralization plans of Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civil administration in Kosova (UNMIK), Makfax news agency reported on 24 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2002). The news agency quoted an article in the Albanian-language daily "Fakti" discussing the PDSH's views on possible negative consequences of Steiner's proposal, which many fear raises the possibility of territorial partitions on ethnic grounds. According to the PDSH, the plan would also allow Belgrade to orchestrate the decisions of the Kosovar Serbs both in legal and parallel institutions (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002). "The PDSH is highly concerned about [possible] precedents created by Steiner's plan...[and their negative effects on] the fragile stability of the Republic of Macedonia," the article added. UB
 UN SECURITY COUNCIL CALLS ON ALL KOSOVARS TO VOTEThe Security Council appealed on 24 October to all registered voters in Kosova to cast their ballots in the 26 October local elections, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2002). The statement said, "Wide participation in the voting is essential to provide the best opportunity for future progress towards the building of a multiethnic and tolerant society." Antonio Martins da Cruz, who is Portugal's foreign minister and rotating OSCE chairman, called on all Kosovars not to "let others decide for you," AP reported from Prishtina. Steiner has repeatedly warned Serbs that they must vote if they want to participate in government and help provide a safe return for refugees. PM
 WILL SERBIA DEVALUE THE DINAR?Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 24 October that the government is considering devaluing the dinar by about 20 percent, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 10 and 17 October 2002). Yugoslav National Bank Governor Mladjan Dinkic sharply criticized Djindjic's remarks, calling them "damaging, irresponsible, and incompetent." Dinkic added that the only positive aspect of the matter is that the Serbian government "does not have any influence" on setting the exchange rate, which stands at just over 62 dinars to the U.S. dollar. In a country that is no stranger to hyperinflation, Dinkic has prided himself on the stability of the currency. Critics charge that the dinar is overvalued, which has led to an influx of imports and damage to domestic industries. Dinkic's supporters respond that Serbia's industries have major problems that go well beyond those posed by the exchange rate. PM
 ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT TOUGHENS PUNISHMENT FOR PEDOPHILESThe Romanian government issued an urgent ordinance on 24 October implementing stricter punishment for child-sex offenders, Romanian Television reported. Those charged with engaging in sexual relations with a person under the age of 15 face three- to 10-year prison sentences. Forced intercourse with person under the age of 15 is punishable by 10 to 25 years in prison. The government's measure was triggered by the recent arrest of U.S. historian Kurt Treptow on pedophilia charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2002). Premier Adrian Nastase recently said he personally prefers reintroducing the death penalty for pedophilia cases. ZsM
 PUBLIC SERVANTS PROTEST LOW WAGESOn 24 October, some 1,000 public servants protested in Bucharest against low wages, Romanian media reported. Trade union leader Vasile Marica said the protesters are demanding that the minimum monthly wage for their sector be raised from the current 2.5 million lei ($75) to 4 million lei. Union members protested for two hours and submitted a petition to the government. The same day, government spokesman Claudiu Lucaci said raising the minimum wage is not possible at present. A day earlier, Public Administration Minister Octav Cozmanca said the issue would be resolved by 2004. ZsM
 JOURNALIST, EDITOR OF MOLDOVAN WEEKLY RELEASED FROM DETENTIONSergiu Afanasiu, editor in chief of the weekly "Accente," and journalist Valeriu Manea, who were charged with blackmail and accepting bribes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2002), were freed on 23 October, Flux reported the next day. A Chisinau court rejected prosecutors' request to extend by 30 days their detention pending investigation. Prosecutors argued that the two "could influence the investigation" by publishing articles pertaining to the case. ZsM
 BUCHAREST COURT REJECTS UDMR HONORARY CHAIRMAN'S REQUESTA Bucharest court on 25 October rejected a request by Transylvanian Calvinist Bishop Laszlo Tokes, the honorary chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), to annul the UDMR's recent decision to convene a party congress next February, Mediafax reported. Tokes filed suit against his own party, arguing that a 21 September Council of Representatives (CRU) vote on the issue was "illegitimate." Tokes is insisting that the UDMR must hold direct internal elections prior to the next congress. UDMR Chairman Bela Marko said he was not surprised that Tokes's request was denied, as "the UDMR is known as an organization strictly respecting the rules of democracy." However, he added that the ruling only solves the juridical problem and not the "political and moral" one. He added that Tokes's attitude will be discussed at the next CRU meeting on 26 October or at the party's congress. ZsM
 REGIONAL TOP BRASS MEET IN BULGARIA TO DISCUSS NATO, COMBATING TERRORISMAt a joint press conference in Sofia on 24 October, the chiefs of general staffs of Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and Turkey called for more international intelligence cooperation to prevent terrorist attacks in the region, bnn news agency reported. Generals Georgios Antonakopoulos of Greece, Mihail Popescu of Romania, and Hilmi Ozkok of Turkey met in Sofia at the request of Chief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev to discuss Bulgaria's and Romania's bid for NATO accession. In a joint statement, the generals called on international intelligence and security services to pool their efforts in fighting terrorism. "The terrorist act in Moscow is another piece of evidence that the world must unite in its efforts against international terrorism," Kolev said. UB
 CONSERVATIVE OPPOSITION, TRADE UNIONS PROTEST BULGARIAN TELECOMS PRIVATIZATIONConservative opposition United Democratic Forces (ODS) legislator Blagoy Dimitrov on 24 October criticized the state Privatization Agency's decision to name Vienna-based Viva Ventures Holding the winner of the tender for state-owned Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK), mediapool.bg reported. Dimitrov demanded that the privatization process be halted until after the 21-22 November NATO summit in Prague, as BTK is of vital importance to the country's national security. Dimitrov also criticized Viva Ventures' bid as too low and said the consortium is a newcomer to the telecoms field. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (KNSB) sent an open letter to President Georgi Parvanov, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski, and Privatization Agency Executive Director Apostol Apostolov saying Viva Ventures' plans to lay off approximately 9,000 workers within three years, as outlined in its bid, are unacceptable. UB
 THE MOSCOW HOSTAGE CRISIS: 'THERE IS STILL A CHANCE.'By Ivan Rybkin
The great misfortune that has been going on in the North Caucasus has now come to Moscow. And now we are looking for a solution -- a way to resolve this issue and to ensure that this misfortune that is happening in Moscow does not develop into a tragedy. And since the causes of this situation come from the policies of Russia in Chechnya, we should look not only at the effect of these policies but also at the primary cause. We should stop the hostilities in Chechnya and start political peace negotiations.
In June, I was alone in appealing to President Vladimir Putin with the formula of a peace settlement. But today there are many politicians who advocate the same. I totally subscribe to one of the points of the plan advanced by former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov when he said that we should stop lying to ourselves and to the rest of the world about the situation in Chechnya. To put it in diplomatic terminology: An adequate analysis of the situation in Chechnya will lead to adequate solutions.
For the past year, the whole world has been largely silent about Chechnya. We're all involved in the international counterterrorist operation. This is a very noble and important cause, but the essence of the conflict of Chechnya is of a different kind.
Anybody, any politician who has a drop of conscience left, understands that what we're dealing with in Chechnya is pure separatism. We are dealing with rebels, with a mutiny against federal authority. Of course, these separatists have many fellow travelers: gangsters, all kinds of con artists, and terrorists -- even Al-Qaeda people. Of course, these fellow travelers should be dealt with by the security services, perhaps by Russian security services in cooperation with other structures of other countries. But separatists should be addressed at a political level.
I have met with the special envoy of President Aslan Maskhadov, Chechen Vice Premier Akhmed Zakaev. Other Russian politicians have made similar kinds of efforts. But today, the time has come when, personally, President Putin and President Maskhadov should sit down at the negotiating table. No special envoys of the two presidents are empowered to solve the principle questions. To emphasize this point, I should relate that when, in Zurich -- personally to me and then on the next day at the conference in Liechtenstein -- Zakaev said it is the opinion and suggestion of the Chechen side that they would welcome direct presidential rule by President Putin in Chechnya for an interim period.
For the past three years, President Putin's team has treated his high popularity rating as a sacred cow. They carry this cup of ratings like an Oriental beauty -- on their head making sure that not a drop spills. Ratings represent the hope of the people, their expectations for practical results. And now is the time when we should start seeing those results. We should see what's in that cup; I sincerely hope that it is some rejuvenating drink for Russia.
As for the specific points of a peace settlement, they're no secret. They're very well known and have been publicized: the cessation of hostilities and an end to the mine, bomb, and assassination war that is going on. Amnesty for the participants in hostilities on both sides who might have committed crimes during the war in Chechnya. Granting Chechnya wide autonomy -- the widest possible autonomy -- while it remains a part of Russian territory.
In late 1997 and early 1998, I discussed with Maskhadov a form of status for Chechnya that would be somewhat similar to the status of the Aland Islands, a territory contested by Finland and Sweden. At that time, we were so close to striking an agreement. But the so-called "party of war" was very strong at that time, too, both in Russia and in Chechnya, and this party prevailed. Today, Yevgenii Primakov speaks about a possible status for Chechnya similar to the one that Finland had in the Russian Empire before the October Revolution. And one could accept that formula.
I think President Putin should return to his early statements. As the expression goes, one's first thought comes from God. I called the president, and he said then: "I don't care about the status of Chechnya. I care about the integrity of Russia." And from then on, his entourage -- his aides -- started to correct him and interpret him; and in the process, they totally voided the initial meaning from this statement.
The hardest task would be the reconstruction of the economy of Chechnya; the creation of a peaceful, normal life; the reconstruction of a second Stalingrad, which is what we have in today's Grozny. In our previous beginning to the effort at trying to normalize Chechnya, I dealt with and started creating a detailed inventory of what is to be reconstructed there. I know the costs that would be involved. In today's Russia, this cost would be economically unbearable for Russia. We have payments coming to the Western community on our debt in 2003, 2005, and 2007, and these amount to about $50 billion. This is a figure that is comparable to today's Russian annual budget.
An editorial that was printed in the "Financial Times" about two months ago is becoming increasingly relevant with each passing day. I know that many in the United States and in Europe would agree to this suggestion. The editorial says that if Russia wants to speak about the international terrorist threat in and around its south, then it must accept an international approach. The editorial suggests introducing some international peacekeeping force that would separate the fighting entities and, importantly, would be accompanied by a large package of economic aid in the amount of billions of dollars. A part of this aid package would be earmarked for the Russian federal fight, in order to compensate and to help accommodate the 100,000-strong contingent of Russian federal forces stationed in Chechnya. But I think that the implementation of any plan -- regardless of who is the author -- would be a job for President Putin and President Maskhadov. Their direct contact cannot be delayed any longer.
The hostage crisis in Moscow can be resolved today with lots of bloodshed, some bloodshed, or even very little bloodshed. But the primary cause of this situation remains. And similar situations will happen again and again and again. If in midsummer there was still an opportunity to reach an accord with Maskhadov without any intermediaries, maybe there is still a chance of finding some sort of resolution with Maskhadov with the help of our Western friends. In the future, maybe all these opportunities will vanish.
People say: "What about Maskhadov? Maskhadov controls about one-third of the Chechen resistance there." And I always answer, "Well, so let's find who controls the other two-thirds." Today the situation has significantly, quantitatively changed. This stubborn policy has resulted in a consolidation of all kinds of people around Maskhadov, because the time was wasted. Now we see that all the field commanders and warlords of Chechnya are rallying around Maskhadov -- including all of those mentioned -- and the military wing of his government is headed by Shamil Basaev. So the situation has become more difficult.
This situation continues to deteriorate, and I should say the work of the federal forces results in a situation in which Maskhadov has no shortage of volunteers to fight, and more and more young people are joining his fighters' ranks. I should say that even the Russian top military commanders -- not to mention simple soldiers -- are sick and tired of this war. I mean even the chief of staff and the defense minister. They feel they have become the hostages of a failed policy. The military is trying to find a way out of this situation. They understand the regular army can never fight a successful war against guerrillas, particularly guerrillas that enjoy the support of the whole population.
If you go back to the days [in August 1999] when the forces of Basaev entered Russian Daghestan and occupied villages, the forceful response of the Russian military against the incursion was welcomed by the majority of the Russian population and even by many people by Chechnya. But now, Russians are disillusioned, and the three years that have passed since then have been wasted.
The National Union of the Committees of Soldiers' Mothers, which had a conference in Moscow last week, has come up with its own statistics of Russian casualties, which are different from official numbers. By contrast to the figure of 4,000 casualties released by the federal authorities, the soldiers' mothers say that -- including those who were killed in action, died in hospitals, or committed suicide as a result of this war -- the Russian military has lost 14,000 people.
The Chechen side has its own grim statistics, which they worked out with the help of the human-rights group Memorial. They are talking about 80,000 people having perished in this conflict. They also speak about 35 people who disappeared as the result of so-called mop-up operations. They have very particular statistics with names -- last names, first names, dates of birth, and circumstances of the disappearances in each particular village. The bitterness, the frustration, the hate that is created by these things have now reached a totally unthinkable level, and it spills out into events like those that we have today in Moscow.
Ivan Rybkin is a former Russian State Duma speaker and former Russian Security Council secretary. This article was adapted from his remarks at RFE/RL's Washington, D.C., office on 24 October 2002.