|Thursday, 21 November 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 04-06-09
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 PUTIN HEADS FOR G-8 SUMMIT...President Vladimir Putin arrived in the U.S. state of Georgia on 8 June to participate in a summit of the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrialized countries, Russian and Western media reported. As at the two previous G-8 summits, Putin will participate in all the events and discussions. Putin met privately with U.S. President George W. Bush on 8 June and lauded the strength of the U.S. economy. "I congratulate the U.S. president on the positive changes in the U.S. economy. We all have a stake in this positive process. The economy of the world, including that of Russia, depends to a great extent on the U.S. economy," Putin said, according to ITAR-TASS. Putin also noted that "Russian-U.S. relations are developing in all areas, including the sensitive sphere of military-technical cooperation." RC
 ...AS RUSSIA DEBATES G-8 ROLEInstitute of the U.S.A. and Canada Director Sergei Rogov told Ekho Moskvy on 8 June that "Russia is approaching the G-8 summit in a very strong position." He described the event as "a rare occasion when the United States needs Russia more than Russia needs the United States." An editorial in "Vedomosti" on 8 June, however, argued that "Russia still differs considerably from the other seven members in terms of average income, quality of life, and the quality of the state." "The others have long ceased to expect from us the building of a democratic society and the continuation of economic reforms," the daily continued. "They are inviting Russia into the club as an important partner in the energy dialogue, that is, as an aide on raw-materials questions." RC
 SUPREME COURT OVERTURNS ACCUSED SPY'S ACQUITTALThe Russian Supreme Court on 9 June revoked the not-guilty verdict on charges of spying and fraud against physicist Valentin Danilov, Russian news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2003). According to Interfax, the prosecutors in the case accused Danilov's attorneys of pressuring the jurors in the trial. The Supreme Court concluded that Danilov's lawyers violated procedure during the trial. The court ordered the case sent back to Krasnoyarsk Krai, where a new trial will be held without a jury in a krai-level court. One of Danilov's attorneys said that she expected the decision. Sergei Pashin, a professor at the Moscow Institute for Economics, Politics, and the Law, also called the decision expected, noting that Danilov's lawyer should not have discussed access to evidence in front of the jury, gazeta.ru reported. However, he also noted that "no civilized county in the world would overturn a jury's verdict because of violations in an attorney's speech." Danilov was arrested in February 2001 on charges that he transferred classified information about a Russian satellite to Chinese intelligence agents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2003). Danilov's lawyer, Yelena Yevmenova, told ITAR-TASS last year that prosecutors did everything possible to block the presentation of evidence showing that the information Danilov had transferred was not secret and was in the public domain. JAC
 RUSSIA SEEKS GREATER COORDINATION WITH NATO TO PREVENT ACCIDENTAL CLASHES...Russia has presented NATO with a draft agreement on forestalling potential military clashes, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 June, citing Russian envoy to NATO Rear Admiral Valentin Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov said the document was prepared following a NATO decision in March to patrol the airspace of the Baltic states (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 24 March 2004). "NATO had time to discuss the issue in advance, but Russia was presented with a fait accompli," Kuznetsov said. He explained that the draft document outlines mechanisms for preventing conflicts caused by navigational errors and mechanical malfunctions, including provisions for the aircraft of each side to land at the other's air bases in cases of emergency. RC
 ...AND REMAINS CONCERNED ABOUT BALTIC STATES"We also want to know NATO's plans in the Baltic region," Kuznetsov said, according to ITAR-TASS on 8 June. "We would like to know the limits of the NATO infrastructure in the Baltic region in advance so that we can take adequate measures." ITAR-TASS reported on 8 June that Russia might join NATO naval patrols around the Strait of Gibraltar. However, first there will be a series of joint naval exercises and exchanges over the next two years. The NATO-Russia sea-rescue working group will meet in St. Petersburg this month to discuss the design of a universal rescue ship to assist endangered ships and submarines. RC
 QATARI PROSECUTORS ASK FOR DEATH SENTENCES FOR YANDARBIEV MURDER SUSPECTSProsecutors in the trial of two Russian secret-service employees charged in Qatar with carrying out the 13 February assassination of former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 20 February 2004) asked the court on 8 June to sentence the suspects to death, Russian media reported. Defense lawyer Dmitrii Afanasev commented on the closed hearing and said that the court will announce a verdict in the case on 30 June. The two suspects maintain that they are innocent, have alleged that they were tortured while in Qatari custody, and have charged that their arrests were illegal because police seized them in a house that had diplomatic status. The Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 8 June saying that the government is doing everything it can to secure the release of the two men. RC
 KHODORKOVSKII TRIAL TO BEGIN ON 16 JUNEMoscow's Meshchanskii Raion Court held a closed pretrial hearing in the tax-evasion case of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii on 8 June and set the date for the beginning of the trial as 16 June, Russian and international media reported. The court further granted a defense motion combining Khodorkovskii's trial with that of Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev, who faces similar charges. The ruling means that the two men cannot be compelled to testify against one another, Troika Dialog analyst Kakha Kiknavelidze told Reuters. Lebedev was arrested in July and Khodorkovskii in October. RC
 HEARING IN CASE OF YUKOS SECURITY OFFICIAL POSTPONEDThe Basmannyi Raion Court on 8 June postponed until 11 June hearing a defense motion in the case of Yukos security official Aleksei Pichugin, who is accused of organizing murders and attempted murders, newsru.com and other Russian media reported. The defense has alleged that prosecutors injected Pichugin with a psychotropic substance while he was in custody, and the court postponed the hearing in order to study the medical evidence. Pichugin was arrested in July, and defense lawyers told Interfax that his trial will likely begin in the middle of next month. RC
 GOVERNMENT PLANS TO CUT VAT RATE BY 2006The government intends to reduce the rate of the value-added tax (VAT) by 2-3 percent as of 2006, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 7 June, citing Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov. The current VAT rate is 18 percent. The daily cited Yevgenii Gurvich, head of the government's Economic Experts Group, as saying that lowering the VAT rate to 15 percent would increase VAT collections from the current estimated 60 percent to about 80 percent. The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) has called for a VAT rate of 10 percent. RC
 FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS BRITISH COUNCIL HAS NO DIPLOMATIC STATUSResponding to media reports that the Interior Ministry is investigating the British Council for alleged violations of tax law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2004), the Foreign Ministry released a statement on 8 June saying that the council does not have diplomatic status and must pay taxes, Interfax and other Russian media reported. The Foreign Ministry "does not regard the offices of the British Council in Russian cities to be culture departments of the British Embassy," the statement said, according to ITAR-TASS. "The British Council offices function within the framework of the relevant Russian laws. This extends to the field of taxation as well." RC
 ADVERTISING GIANT LOSES MAJOR CLIENT...Advertising giant Video International will lose its long-held monopoly over advertising time on state television within the next two years, "Delovoi Peterburg," "Kommersant-Daily," and other Russian media reported on 9 June. The company, which was founded by former Media Minister Mikhail Lesin, has signed a new, five-year contract to sell advertising for state-controlled ORT that prohibits it from acting as the agent for state-owned All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTKR) after VGTKR creates its own advertising-sales service. VGTRK, which runs RTR, Kultura, Euronews, and Sport television and Radio Rossii and Mayak, announced the same day that it will create such a service within the next two years. At present, Video International controls about 70 percent of Russia's television-advertising market, "Vedomosti" reported, selling for VGTKR, ORT, STS, REN-TV, and others. The daily also quoted ORT Director Konstantin Ernst as saying that Video International was taking advantage of the fact that it had contracts with both RTR and ORT, a situation "that constantly creates conflicts." An unidentified media analyst told "The Moscow Times" on 9 June: "This just goes to show how much of [Video International's] success depended on its connections to the government. A lot of people I talked to predicted Video International would crumble when Lesin stepped down." RC
 PROTEST OVER SOCIAL BENEFITS TO WIDENThe Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR) expects 36 million Russians to participate in a nationwide protest on 10 June against changes in the laws governing social benefits, gazeta.ru reported on 8 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2004). FNPR Deputy Chairman Aleksei Surikov told the website that unions are planning rallies in more than 300 cities. The federation wants the government to withdraw draft legislation that would alter more than 155 federal laws, including the Labor Code. If the bills are adopted, the minimum monthly wage will be guaranteed only for workers in the state sector, according to FNPR activists. If the government does not recall the draft amendments, the FNPR's leadership threatens to halt work throughout country in the fall. Meanwhile, the State Duma is expected to consider on 2 July a bill substituting monetary compensation for such in-kind benefits as free public transportation and other services, RosBalt reported. First Deputy Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin (Unified Russia) told reporters on 8 June that his faction will support the government bill, although a number of questions remain that are expected to be sorted out by the deputies working with the government before the first reading. JAC
 REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT WARNS OF 'SOCIAL TENSIONS' IF PLANT IS RE-REGISTEREDCommenting on a 21 May decision by shareholders in the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric complex to re-register the plant from Khakasia to Krasnoyarsk Krai, "Rossiisskaya gazeta" on 8 June suggested that if this occurs, Khakasia will become one of the poorest regions in Russia (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 26 May 2004). The hydroelectric plant provides about 18 percent of the republic's annual budget revenues, and, according to the daily, the disappearance of these funds will mean that one in five families in the republic will not receive child subsidies and one in every five pensioners and invalids will not receive their pensions. Khakasia President Aleksei Lebed has warned that if the plan is registered, this "could provoke serious social tensions in the region," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 4 June. On 3 June, about 1,000 people held a demonstration in Khakasia's capital, Abakan, against the company's plan to re-register in Krasnoyarsk. "Rossisskaya gazeta" concluded that the Supreme Arbitration Court might have the final word in the conflict. It will consider an appeal filed by Unified Energy Systems (EES) challenging the previous ruling of a republican court declaring EES's 1993 privatization of the plant invalid on 12 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004). JAC
 RUSSIA TOPS IN ASYLUM SEEKERSRussia has the highest number of citizens seeking political asylum abroad, "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 8 June, citing data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. According to the daily, 7,508 Russian citizens applied for political asylum abroad during the first quarter of this year. Most were former residents of Chechnya, according the United Nations. Asylum applications from Russians fell by 26 percent during the past six months, but Russia remains the country with the highest number of asylum seekers. JAC
 HUMAN RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN CRITICIZES REFERENDUM LEGISLATIONThe Duma's Committee for Constitutional Legislation recommended on 8 June that a controversial draft law on referendums be adopted in its second reading, Russian media reported. The committee also decided to reject all proposed changes that might have significantly altered the bill, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 9 June. Meanwhile, human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin issued a statement criticizing the draft, Interfax reported. According to Lukin, the bill provides for an unduly complicated procedure for calling a referendum, starting with the formation of an initiative group. Lukin also called on the Duma to pay special attention to those amendments that could remedy the weaknesses he found. The State Duma will continue its spring session until 10 July, after which deputies will take a three-week break and then return to Moscow for two special sessions, on 31 July and 3 August, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. The Duma Council approved the changes in the lower chamber's schedule on 8 June at the request of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. JAC
 RENEGADE FORMER INTERIOR MINISTER FINEDKalmykia's Supreme Court passed sentence on former republican Interior Minister General Timofei Sasykov on 8 June, RTR and Interfax reported. Sasykov was convicted of abuse of office and forgery of an official document and will have to pay a fine of 200,000 rubles ($6,900), according to RTR. Interfax reported the fine was 250,000 rubles. According to RTR, Sasykov was arrested last year in the middle of a ministry session in Nalchik and taken away in handcuffs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2003). He was originally suspected of having arranged the illegal allocation of apartments to military officials. Sasykov and his attorneys are reportedly satisfied with the court's sentence, according to the station. Sasykov has retained his rank of general and is free to seek re-employment at the Interior Ministry. Sasykov's immediate predecessor at the Interior Ministry was dismissed after the federal Interior Ministry determined that he was coordinating his work with the dismissed Sasykov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2003). JAC
 REGIONAL CITY REMEMBERS ANDROPOV WITH MONUMENTAuthorities in Petrozavodsk, the capital of Karelia, unveiled a monument to former KGB Chairman and Communist Party of the Soviet Union General Secretary Yurii Andropov in the city's central square across from the city's Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters on 8 June, gazeta.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2004). The website calls it the first new monument to Andropov since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The 2.5 million-ruble ($86,000) monument was paid for out of the city's budget, the website reported. At the unveiling ceremony, all top local officials were present, including the head of the republic, Sergei Katanandov. FSB Deputy Director Vyacheslav Ushakov came from Moscow, and deputy presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Mikhail Motsak came in from St. Petersburg. Katanandov said that although the project sparked some controversy, the creative group that worked on the sculpture decided to depict Andropov as a young man, when he headed the partisan movement in Karelia during WWII, according to Regnum. Local police detained a group of about 10 students who called themselves antifascists and tried to protest the unveiling, Regnum reported. JAC
 ACCUSED MURDERER DIES IN APPARENT BLOOD-FEUD KILLING IN INGUSHETIABekkhan Tsumtolgov died in a Nazran hospital on 8 June of wounds received earlier that day when unknown gunmen opened fire on him from a passing car, ingushetiya.ru reported. Tsumtolgov was on trial for the shooting in April 2002 of several young men from the Tagiev family; he was shot while being escorted from the Ingush Supreme Court. Observers assume that his slaying was a revenge killing by the Tagievs. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN PREMIER CONDEMNS 'ILLEGAL' POLICE RAIDSAndranik Markarian told journalists in Yerevan on 8 June that a criminal investigation has been opened into what he termed the "illegal" ransacking of the offices of major opposition parties in the wake of a police crackdown on 13 April on demonstrators in Yerevan calling for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2004). At the same time, Markarian argued that Armenia is more democratic now than before last year's presidential and parliamentary elections, Noyan Tapan reported. He pointed out that the authorities do not prevent unsanctioned demonstrations, and that there is complete freedom of the press. LF
 ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT DETERMINED TO PROLONG OPERATION OF NUCLEAR POWER STATIONArmenian officials made clear to EU representatives in Brussels last week that Yerevan will not set a deadline for shutting down the Medzamor nuclear power plant until an alternative source of energy is available, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 8 June, citing Industry Minister Karen Chshmaritian. The EU has been pressuring Yerevan since the late 1990s to decommission the plant by late 2004 and has offered 100 million euros ($123 million) toward the cost of doing so and of providing inexpensive alternative sources of energy. Chshmaritian said that at least $1 billion is needed to that end, and that the government wants to keep the plant operating until 2016. LF
 ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT MOVES TO FACILITATE TROOP DEPLOYMENT TO IRAQThe Armenian parliament ratified on 8 June an intergovernmental agreement with Kuwait signed in February that regulates the status of Armenian servicemen in Kuwait en route for service with the international peacekeeping force in Iraq, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Armenia plans to send up to 50 doctors, demining experts and drivers to Iraq, but Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Artur Aghabekian told Noyan Tapan on 19 May that no date for their departure has yet been set. LF
 SEVERAL EXCHANGES OF FIRE REPORTED BETWEEN ARMENIA, AZERBAIJANAt least four exchanges of fire between Armenian and Azerbaijani troops have been reported over the past three days. According to the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, Armenian troops opened fire on Azerbaijani positions in two locations in Azaerbaijan's Gazakh Raion late on 6 June, according to Turan on 7 June and Interfax on 8 June. In addition, one Azerbaijani serviceman was killed and a second injured when Armenian forces opened fire on Azerbaijani positions in Goradiz, some 260 kilometers southwest of Baku, "Izvestiya" and ITAR-TASS reported on 8 June, citing the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry. Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Seyran Shakhsuvarian told ITAR-TASS on 8 June that Armenian troops in the village of Berkaber in Tavush Raion halted an attempt by Azerbaijani forces early the previous day to advance to more strategically advantageous positions near the two countries' common border. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO CREATE NEW JOBS, LIBERATE OCCUPIED TERRITORIESVisiting Yevlakh and Mingechaur on 8 June, Ilham Aliyev pledged to reduce poverty and provide funds for the creation of new jobs, Turan and Interfax reported. He said the commissioning, expected in the early summer of 2005, of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil-export pipeline will provide additional budget revenues that will be used to improve social conditions. Formally opening 412 new homes in Mingechaur for families forced to flee during the 1992-94 Karabakh war, Aliyev predicted that within a few years all tent camps for such displaced persons will be closed, ITAR-TASS reported. He also affirmed again that if it proves impossible to restore Azerbaijan's control over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh Republic by means of a political settlement, the Azerbaijani government will resort to all available means to restore its territorial integrity. LF
 NGO DEMANDS IMMEDIATE RELEASE OF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADERSAt a roundtable discussion in Baku on 8 June, the International Press Center issued a statement calling for the release of seven prominent opposition politicians facing trial for their role in the clashes between police and opposition supporters in Baku on 15-16 October following the disputed presidential election, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May and 1 and 2 June 2004). Also on 8 June, parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov rejected attempts to designate the seven men and others sentenced in connection with the postelection violence political prisoners, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan's Appeals Court reduced on 8 June the sentences handed down to six opposition Musavat party members for their alleged participation in those clashes, Turan reported. LF
 NGO PROTESTS REPRISALS IN AZERBAIJANI EXCLAVEAn NGO in Nakhichevan has addressed a protest to President Aliyev and to the OSCE, the Council of Europe and other international and human rights bodies in connection with systematic reprisals by the authorities in Nakhichevan against the opposition and the independent media, Turan reported on 8 June. The protest gave details of reprisals against independent journalists and against opposition activists who declared a hunger strike to protest police brutality against participants in a demonstration on 28 May, the anniversary of the declaration in 1918 of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2004). LF
 CHECHEN REFUGEES IN GEORGIA UNWILLING TO RETURN HOMESome 50 of the Chechen refugees who have settled in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge met on 8 June with a Russian delegation led by Federal Migration Service deputy head Igor Yunash, Georgian and Russian media reported. A spokesman for the Chechens said that the overwhelming majority of them are reluctant to return to Chechnya because they fear for their safety, but they welcomed the Russian government's offer to pay compensation for their destroyed property. Some refugees also voiced an interest in receiving humanitarian aid sent last year by the Russian government and which they initially rejected. Most of the Chechens still hope to be granted political asylum in a third country. LF
 GUUAM SUMMIT POSTPONEDThe planned meeting of the presidents of the five member states of GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova), which was scheduled to take place in Batumi on 16 June, has been postponed indefinitely, Caucasus Press and Russian news agencies reported on 8 June. ITAR-TASS cited the Georgian Foreign Ministry as saying that the date was not convenient for some members, while Caucasus Press cited Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin as saying that Batumi is not a suitable venue because the situation in Georgian remains unstable. Announcing the date and venue of the planned summit, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania told journalists in Tbilisi on 17 May that the choice of Batumi "proves that Georgia is more stable and developed than before," Caucasus Press reported. LF
 KAZAKH RESERVIST HEAD QUESTIONS IRAQ INVOLVEMENTRetired Major General Aytkali Isengulov, head of Kazakhstan's Union of Reserve Servicemen, told a news conference in Astana on 8 June that the involvement of Kazakh peacekeepers in Iraq raises many questions, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. "We should send our troops there if that country has invited us directly, but they should not be sent there by somebody else," he said. "Virtually all of Iraq is now involved in a fight against occupiers who are currently in that country without any support from the UN." Isengulov went on to suggest that most of the countries that have sent troops to Iraq have ulterior motives, such as a wish to join the EU or maintain good relations with the United States. Isengulov heads an organization with 30,000 members. A contingent of 27 Kazakh peacekeepers is currently stationed in Iraq. DK
 KAZAKHSTAN OFFERS OLYMPIANS REWARDSDaulet Turlykhanov, chairman of the State Agency for Tourism and Sports, announced on 8 June that Kazakhstan will pay its Olympic gold medalists $100,000 each, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. Silver medalists will receive $50,000, and bronze medalists $30,000. The announcement came one day after Uzbekistan offered similar rewards to its athletes participating in the 2004 Athens Games, which will take place from 13-29 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2004). However, Kazakh bronze medalists will receive $5,000 more than their Uzbek counterparts. DK
 KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SKEPTICAL ABOUT 'EXPORT OF DEMOCRACY'In an 8 June article in Russia's official "Rossiiskaya gazeta," President Askar Akaev likened the export of democracy to the Bolshevik export of revolution. The article takes its main theme from the upcoming Eurasia in the 21st Century conference to be held in Bishkek, arguing that scholars and political leaders must work to refute the "clash of civilizations" thesis advanced by American political scientist Samuel Huntington. In this regard, Akaev sees Eurasia as a "continent of synthesis." He said that "democracy-development issues top the agenda. This is the imperative of the age." However, he stressed that "genuine power of the people should grow organically within the countries themselves," and he warned against attempts to "export democracy" in the style of the Bolshevik effort to export revolution. Turning to geopolitical themes, Akaev explained that Kyrgyzstan hopes to maintain good relations with both Russia and the United States without becoming the focus of any rivalry. DK
 TAJIK DRUG POLICE BURN HALF-TON OF HEROINPolice in Dushanbe burned 600 kilograms of heroin on 8 June, RIA-Novosti reported. Faizullo Gadoev, head of the Tajik Interior Ministry's Drug Trafficking Department, told the news agency that the drugs were confiscated in the course of 2003-04. Senior prosecutor Rajab Tagaev told Asia Plus-Blitz that this is the third such drug burning in 2004, adding that 1,250 kilograms of narcotics have been confiscated in Tajikistan since the beginning of the year. Tagaev noted that while overall drug busts are down somewhat, the amount of heroin confiscated is on the rise. "If 6,724 kilograms of heroin were confiscated in 2000, by 2003 the amount was 9,408 kilograms," the news agency quoted him as saying. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported that experts from Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency expect a bumper crop this year on Afghan opium plantations, the major source of Tajikistan's drug worries. The experts warn that the new harvest will produce more than 400 tons of heroin, and that 20 heroin "mini-factories" have sprung up near the Tajik border, each capable of producing 20 kilograms of heroin a day. DK
 U.S. READY TO PROVIDE TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE FOR TAJIK BORDERA U.S.-EU group to evaluate the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border wound up its trip to Tajikistan with a news conference on 8 June, Avesta reported. John Fox, director of the U.S. State Department's Office of Caucasus and Central Asian Affairs, said that the United States wants to help, but will do so carefully. "The United States will not interfere in bilateral relations between Tajikistan and Russia on questions of guarding the Tajik-Afghan border," Fox said. RFE/RL's Tajik Service quoted Fox as saying: "I am confident that Tajik border guards, just like Russian border guards now, will be capable of providing security on the border. And if they need our assistance, we are ready [to provide it]." U.S. Ambassador Richard Hoagland stressed that U.S. assistance would be purely technical. In light of a new agreement between Tajikistan and Russia, Russian border troops will not be handing over control of the border until 2006. DK
 RABBI, MAYOR REACH AGREEMENT ON SYNAGOGUE IN TAJIKISTANAbe David Gurevich, chief rabbi of Central Asia, reached an agreement on 8 June with Dushanbe Mayor Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev on a location for the construction of a new synagogue in the Tajik capital, RIA-Novosti reported. Pronouncing himself satisfied with his visit to Tajikistan, Gurevich explained that the Jewish community selected a site close to the embankment of the Dushanbinka River. "The construction of a new synagogue may take place with the help of funds from sponsors," Gurevich said. He noted that Dushanbe's impoverished Jewish community today numbers approximately 200 people. City authorities have asked the community to vacate its current synagogue to make way for a new presidential palace (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2004). DK
 TURKMEN-RUSSIAN DIPLOMA ROW CONTINUESTurkmenistan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 8 June condemning Russian media reports that foreign diplomas are no longer valid in Turkmenistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2004). According to the statement, which was published on turkmenistan.ru, Russian state television has ignored official Turkmen assurances that foreign diplomas are merely being verified, not invalidated. The ministry took particular exception to a 6 June report on RTR television featuring an interview with Avdy Kuliev, former foreign minister of Turkmenistan and current chairman of the United Democratic Opposition of Turkmenistan, who lives in exile in Moscow. The statement expressed "profound indignation" at the appearance on Russian state television of a man Turkmen authorities consider a criminal. "The Turkmen side considers such actions unfriendly to Turkmenistan and not conducive to the strengthening of bilateral ties," the Foreign Ministry concluded. DK
 BELARUS SECURES GAS SUPPLY FOR 2004Beltranshaz, Belarus's state-owned gas transport company, and Russia's Gazprom signed a contract on 8 June for the supply of natural gas to Belarus and gas transit via that country in 2004, Belapan reported. Under the deal, Belarus will buy 10.2 billion cubic meters of gas from Gazprom at $46.68 for 1,000 cubic meters and collect $0.75 in transit fees for 1000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers for gas pipelined through Belarus by Beltranshaz's network, as well as $0.46 for gas transported by Gazprom's Yamal-Europe pipeline. The Belarusian government originally wanted the transit fees to be $1.02. In 2004, Belarus is expected to pump to Europe some 32 billion cubic meters of Russian gas, including 23 billion through the Yamal-Europe pipeline. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, who visited Minsk the same day, said that Beltranshaz and Gazprom "untied a difficult knot in our relations." He stressed that the contract creates preconditions for establishing a joint gas transport company that could control the Beltranshaz network. Minsk and Moscow have long been at odds because of differences in their estimations of Belatranshaz's value (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 2 March 2004). JM
 U.S. AMBASSADOR MEETS BELARUSIAN LAWMAKERS ON HUNGER STRIKEU.S. Ambassador to Belarus George Krol met on 8 June with lawmakers Uladzimir Parfyanovich, Syarhey Skrabets, and Valery Fralou, who have been on a hunger strike since 3 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2004), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. "I appreciate, as an individual, as a foreigner, as a representative of the United States, your aspiration for democracy and I appreciate your devotion to your homeland, to the future of Belarus," Krol told the deputies. The three lawmakers began the protest over the Chamber of Representatives leadership's reluctance to place their bill proposing changes to the Election Code on the agenda of the current session. However, on 8 June the Chamber of Representatives decided to consider the bill on 22 June. In the past few days, the deputies' protest, which is taking place at Fralou's apartment in Minsk, has been joined by five activists of the opposition United Civic Party and one from the opposition Belarusian Popular Front. JM
 UKRAINE SIGNS FIRST IRAQ-RECONSTRUCTION DEALUkrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskyy said on 8 June Ukraine has signed its first contract within the framework of the U.S.-funded reconstruction of Iraq, Interfax reported. "This is an economic secret, so I won't go into details," Lubkivskyy added. The U.S. Department of Defense reported on 27 May on its website (http://www.pentagon.gov) that the U.S.-based ANHAM joint venture was awarded a $120 million contract to equip 15 Iraqi battalions and "six brigade headquarters sets" of the Iraqi Army and security forces by the end of September 2006. The contract will involve several countries, with Ukraine's portion amounting to 65 percent of the deal, or $78 million. JM
 CONTROVERSIAL PRIVATIZATION OF UKRAINIAN STEEL GIANT STRUGGLES ONThe privatization of the Ukrainian steel manufacturer Kryvorizhstal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2004) underwent two notable twists on 8 June, as one district court in Kyiv ordered its suspension and another ruled that it may go on, Ukrainian news agencies reported. The Holosiyivskyy District Court, following a complaint by lawmaker Valentyna Semenyuk who sought better protection for Kryvorizhstal employees against layoffs, ruled to postpone the privatization. Later the same day, however, the documents of the case were transferred to the Pecherskyy District Court, whose jurisdiction was deemed more appropriate for the State Property Fund, which oversees the privatization on behalf of the government. The Pecherskyy District Court rejected Semenyuk's complaint and said the privatization may continue. The State Property Fund reportedly obtained six bids, three from domestic and three from foreign investors. The government is offering for sale a 93 percent stake in Kryvoryzhstal at a starting price of 3.8 billion hryvnyas ($713 million). Kryvoryzhstal's 56,000 employees have reportedly urged the government to sell the company to a domestic investor. JM
 ECRI EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER DISCRIMINATION AGAINST ROMA IN CZECH REPUBLIC, HUNGARYThe European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) said in separate reports released on 8 June that there are grounds for concern about continued discrimination against the Romany minorities in the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, and Hungary. The report on the Czech Republic cited the continued marginalization of Roma from mainstream society, according to a press release issued by the Council of Europe, which set up the ECRI. The report said the Romany minority faces "ghettoization" in substandard housing complexes on the outskirts of Czech cities, while racially motivated violence and ill treatment of Roma by police continue to be problems of concern. In Hungary, the Romany minority is described as being severely disadvantaged in most areas of life, particularly in the fields of health care, housing, employment, and education. Moreover, initiatives taken at the state level to combat racism and discrimination do not always successfully filter down to the local level, according to the report. Shortcomings in law and practice concerning the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Hungary were also identified by the ECRI. MS
 HAGUE TRIBUNAL SAYS SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO IS NO LONGER COOPERATINGCarla Del Ponte, the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, and Teodor Meron, who chairs that body, said in a statement to the UN Security Council on 8 June that Serbia and Montenegro has ceased cooperating with the tribunal, apparently since the beginning of 2004, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The statement noted that the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and SFOR peacekeepers have increased their efforts to catch war crimes indictees, but that the Bosnian Serb authorities have not shown any inclination to cooperate. The report noted that Croatia has significantly improved cooperation, adding that the arrest of fugitive indictee and former General Ante Gotovina remains the only outstanding problem between The Hague and Zagreb (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May, and 1 and 4 June 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January and 20 February 2004). The statement stressed that the tribunal cannot consider its work completed as long as Gotovina, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic remain at large, "Nezavisne novine" reported. The statement noted that if Karadzic and Mladic arrive in The Hague in 2005, their cases might last until 2009. PM
 PEACEKEEPERS MAKE 'INSPECTION' IN BOSNIAN SERB CAPITALSFOR peacekeepers made an unannounced "inspection" of an undisclosed location in Banja Luka between 4:00 and 6:00 a.m. local time, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. It is not clear what they were looking for or what, if anything, they might have found. SFOR said in a statement that such inspections are normal and fall within the scope of its mandate. PM
 ALBANIAN POLICE ARREST KOSOVAR TERROR SUSPECTSAlbanian police said in a statement on 8 June that they recently arrested Florim Ejupi, a Kosovar Albanian wanted for the killing of 11 Serbs in a bus bombing in February 2001, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 February 2001). Arrested shortly after the attack, he escaped from a prison at the U.S. Camp Bondsteel in April 2001 under unexplained circumstances. Ejupi is believed to have meanwhile undergone plastic surgery in Western Europe. A reputed member of the clandestine Albanian Liberation Army (AKSH), which the UN has declared a terrorist organization, he has been linked to several violent incidents since his escape. The Albanian police statement added that two other men were arrested in the same operation that nabbed Ejupi. One is Faik Shaqiri, who is also a reputed AKSH member, and against whom arrest warrants have been issued in Kosova and Germany. The other man, Xhevat Kosumi, also faces terrorism-related charges in Germany, RFE/RL's Albanian-language broadcasters reported. The three were extradited to Kosova on 9 June. PM
 ALBANIANS PROTEST POSSIBLE RUBBISH PACTSeveral thousand people demonstrated in front of government offices in Tirana on 8 June against a planned agreement with an Italian firm to import daily up to 1.4 tons of garbage from Italy, Reuters reported. The Italian firm pledged to build a $223 million treatment plant, which would produce electricity and process local rubbish for free in addition to incinerating the imported garbage. "We want to say 'stop' to turning Albania into the garbage bin of Europe," said Kreshnik Spahiu, who heads a consumer organization. Albania itself is awash with discarded plastic bottles, other rubbish, and automobile wrecks. Garbage collection even in cities is often spotty at best. "We want to clean up Albania but oppose the import of garbage from abroad," environmental journalist Xhemal Mato told the news agency. PM
 ROMANIA CLAIMS JOINT AUTHORSHIP OF SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION ON IRAQMediafax on 8 June cited Romanian "diplomatic sources" as saying that Bucharest drafted jointly with the United States and Great Britain the UN Security Council resolution on Iraq that was approved the same day. Resolution 1546 endorses the handover of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government, while authorizing a U.S.-led multinational force to maintain security in that country. Romania is a nonpermanent Security Council member and is slated to take over the council's rotating presidency in July. MS
 EU ENLARGEMENT COMMISSIONER OFFERS ASSURANCES TO ROMANIAEU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said in Sofia on 8 June that Romania "must not fear being left out" of the enlargement process, Mediafax reported. While Bulgaria has closed 29 chapters in its negotiations with the EU, Romania has closed only 24 of the acquis communautaire's 31 chapters. Verheugen said that Romania has made "remarkable progress" and that he wishes to encourage that country's government to intensify its accession efforts toward completing accession negotiations by the end of this year. Both Bulgaria and Romania are slated to join the EU on 1 January 2007. MS
 ROMANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT ELECTS NEW PRESIDENTConstitutional Court judges elected Ioan Vida on 8 June as the court's new president, Mediafax reported. Earlier that day, Acsinte Gaspar, Ion Predescu, and Aspazia Cojocaru were sworn in as judges on the court. Gaspar, who was minister in charge of relations with the parliament, was replaced in that position on 8 June by Serban Nicolae, who was counselor to President Ion Iliescu before taking up his new ministerial position. MS
 ROMANIAN UPPER HOUSE APPROVES AMENDMENT TO PENAL CODEThe Senate approved an amendment to the Penal Code on 8 June that makes defamation punishable by a fine instead of a prison sentence, Mediafax reported. The Chamber of Deputies already approved the amendment. MS
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT WANTS JOINT CENSUS WITH TRANSDNIESTERPresident Vladimir Voronin has proposed to the Transdniester authorities to hold a joint census, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 June. The census in Moldova is due on 5-12 October, after being postponed for lack of financial resources this spring. According to ITAR-TASS, the separatist authorities turned Voronin's proposal down and intend to conduct a census of their own. No date has been set for the separate population count in Transdniester. MS
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 U.S. MARINES KILL 21 SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTANU.S. Marines killed up to 21 neo-Taliban militiamen in fierce fighting in the Daychopan District of Zabul Province on 8 June, AFP reported on 9 June. "Marines...continued their assault into the Taliban heartland where they killed more Taliban fighters who were poised to ambush the Marines," the U.S. military said in a statement released on 8 June. While the U.S. statement did not reveal the number of combatants killed, General Abdul Wasay, a provincial military spokesman, told AFP that 21 neo-Taliban were killed on 8 June. "But 30 have been killed and about 10 injured in the past several days," he added. The mountainous regions of Zabul, including Daychopan, as well as areas in the north of the Oruzgan Province, are considered to be a neo-Taliban heartland. It is estimated that around 1,000 militants are hiding there and launching sporadic assaults on the U.S.-led coalition and pro-Kabul Afghan forces (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July and 13 November 2003, and 26 February, 19 May, 26 May, 2 June 2004). AT
 GOVERNMENT OFFICES SOUTH OF KABUL ATTACKED, CASUALTIES REPORTEDArmed men on 7 June attacked government offices in Kharwar District of Logar Province, Afghanistan Television reported on 8 June. One police officer is reported to have been killed in the attack. The identity of the attackers is still unclear. A report from Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran on 9 June indicated that four government troops were killed in the attack. The Iranian radio station blamed the attack on the neo-Taliban. AT
 BRIGADE IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN DISBANDS...Brigade No. 503 in Kandahar Province surrendered their weapons to officials from the UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program on 7 June and disbanded, Afghanistan Television reported. Major General Abdul Khaleq Halim, a DDR official, said that Infantry Division No. 7 in Kandahar has also been disbanded. Officers and soldiers attached to Brigade No. 503 will return to civilian life, the report added. Thus far, around 726 militiamen have joined the DDR program in Kandahar. AT
 ...AND MAIN PHASE OF DISARMAMENT BEGINS IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTANThe main phase of the DDR program was launched on 6 June in Mazar-e Sharif, the provincial capital of Balkh Province, Radio Afghanistan reported. Some 95 militiamen attached to Army Corps No. 8 surrendered their weapons. Despite recent agreements by major warlords, the DDR program has lagged behind schedule, as many regional commanders have been reluctant to disarm their militias (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 26 May and 2 June 2004). AT
 EUROPEAN STATES DISSATISFIED WITH IRAN'S NUCLEAR COOPERATIONFrance, Britain, and Germany circulated a draft resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna on 8 June that criticizes Iran's cooperation with the IAEA, Reuters and AP reported the same day. The draft text notes that Iran has allowed the IAEA access to various installations, but that Iranian cooperation has not been "complete, timely, and proactive," the agencies reported. The IAEA is checking to see if Iran's nuclear program is entirely peaceful, as Iran claims. Western powers, especially the United States, are concerned that the program is hiding nuclear bomb-making activities. The resolution, once finalized, is to be presented to a mid-June meeting of the IAEA governing board, which should discuss Iran's nuclear program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2004). The governing board, the text states, "deeply regrets" Iran's failure to suspend all uranium-enrichment activities, as promised last year, Reuters reported. The draft also urges Iran to reverse the decisions to begin operating a uranium-conversion facility and build a heavy-water reactor that could produce bomb-grade plutonium, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 and 12 April 2004). VS
 RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO IRAN HOPES NUCLEAR DOSSIER WILL CLOSE SOONRussia's Ambassador to Tehran Aleksandr Maryasov told ISNA on 8 June that Russia does not see "deviations, contradictions, or infringements" in Iran's nuclear program, and that "technical work" will help resolve certain outstanding questions on the program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2004). "With Iran's greater cooperation, [its] nuclear dossier should be closed soon," he said. Iran would like the IAEA to close its dossier at its mid-June meeting, and end special scrutiny of its activities. The IAEA wants a number of questions clarified first (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2004). Maryasov added that the Bushehr nuclear plant in southern Iran, which Russia is helping build, should become operational in late 2005. "We are prepared to build a second and third plant at Bushehr...and there is no problem in continuing this work," he said. Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran is "transparent," he added, and "we shall successfully take it to its conclusion." VS
 IRAN'S STATE COUNCIL ANNULS SECOND-ROUND ELECTION RESULTThe conservative Guardians Council, which oversees elections and confirms results, has annulled the result of the second round of parliamentary elections for the Qazvin constituency, northwest of Tehran, Iranian media reported on 8 June. Iran held elections for its 290-seat parliament on 20 February, with a second round on 7 May for undecided seats. Reza Zavarei, a Guardians Council member, confirmed the annulment in Tehran on 7 June and said the council has informed the Interior Ministry, which organizes the elections, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 8 June. Davud Mohammadi, the candidate who won the Qazvin seat, was identified by the "Iran" newspaper on 8 June as being a candidate affiliated with the 2nd of Khordad Front. The Guardians Council disqualified thousands of candidates, many of them reformists, before the February polls that resulted in a conservative majority in the new legislature (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 and 15 March 2004). VS
 IRANIAN PRESIDENT CALLS ISRAEL BIGGEST STATE TERRORISTPresident Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said in Tehran on 8 June that Israel, a state Iran does not recognize, constitutes the "greatest state terrorism organization," IRNA reported the same day. Iran often criticizes the United States for supporting Israel, which Iran says violates Palestinian rights. Khatami told the visiting Saudi justice minister, Abdullah bin Muhammad al-Sheikh, that extremism threatens Islam and the region, because it gives "others the excuse to pursue their illegitimate aims under the guise of fighting extremist movements," IRNA reported. He urged an end to the occupation of Iraq, and promoted the formation of an independent Iraqi government "that can establish suitable relations with neighboring countries." Separately, the commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, Yahya Rahim Safavi, said in Tehran on 7 June that the United States has "installed" a government in Iraq and failed to meet Iraqi demands for a democratic government. VS
 UN SECURITY COUNCIL GIVES UNANIMOUS SUPPORT FOR IRAQ RESOLUTION...The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1546 on Iraqi sovereignty in a unanimous vote on 8 June, setting out key elements of the formal end to the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq and a timetable for political steps such as national elections and the drafting of a constitution, international news agencies reported the same day. The U.S.-U.K.-proposed resolution sets out terms for the handover of authority from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority slated for 30 June, and it establishes conditions for cooperation between the Iraqi government and international forces that are expected to continue security operations after the handover. AH
 ...AND IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER HAILS MOVE...Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on 8 June welcomed the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution, saying it provides his interim government crucial "international legitimacy," AP reported. Zebari added that the resolution will have a "positive impact" on security by lifting perceptions of a U.S.-led occupation force in favor of a multinational force. "The significance of this resolution for us, for the Iraqis, is really to take away the concept of occupation, which I would say was the main reason for many of the difficulties that we have been going through since liberation," Zebari told the Council on Foreign Relations, according to AP. "We need it as Iraqis as much as our American friends and [the] British." AH
 ...BUT IRAQI KURDS PROTEST RESOLUTION'S WORDINGThe leaders of Iraq's two main Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), signaled in a 6 June letter to the United Nations their unhappiness with the eventual wording of Security Council Resolution 1546, international news agencies reported on 9 June. AP quoted PUK official Araz Talabany as saying that PUK leader Jalal Talabani and KDP head Mas'ud Barzani said that "in the future they might not participate in the government or in the coming elections" if the resolution did not endorse the interim constitution, or Transitional Administration Law, that was adopted in March and includes stipulations that Kurds say are their only safeguard of the self-rule they have enjoyed for more than a decade in Iraq. Talabany added that the Kurdish leaders threatened to "bar representatives of the central government from Kurdistan." On 6 June, Iraq's Kurdish interim public-works minister, Nasreen Mustafa Sideek Barwari, responded to the resolution with disappointment, according to Reuters, as cited by Al-Jazeera. She and other members of the interim government have said they will resign if they are called on to do so by their political leaders, Reuters added. Interim Foreign Minister Zebari said that while he lobbied unsuccessfully for an acknowledgement of the transitional law in the resolution, he is satisfied that it maintains the "spirit of the Transitional Administration Law," according to AP. AH
 MORTAR ATTACK TARGETS IRAQI POLICE FORCES, KILLING 12A mortar attack in the city of Al-Fallujah killed 12 members of an Iraqi security force and wounded 10 others on 9 June, marking the first attack on the so-called Al-Fallujah Brigade since it was established last month, Reuters reported. The guerrillas appeared to have targeted a camp that houses those security forces, which are commanded by Muhammad Latif, a former general and intelligence officer who eventually opposed Saddam Hussein. AH
 ATTACKS REPORTEDLY DISABLE MAJOR IRAQI POWER PLANTCoordinated attacks that recently shut down a major power plant south of Baghdad have heightened fears that insurgents will increasingly target Iraqi infrastructure in an effort to upend the country's interim government, "The New York Times" reported on 8 June. Attacks in the past week were aimed at fuel and transmission lines, the newspaper added, and an unspecified senior Electricity Ministry source said a weekend attack was the latest in a series of strikes. Deputy Electricity Minister Raad al-Haris cited a pattern of attacks on the high-tension lines that are the backbone of the national electricity grid, and he criticized the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority for not providing sufficient security for the transmission line. With a Middle East summer on the way, a senior U.S. source is quoted as saying, insurgents might be looking to spark discontent among Iraqis by damaging electrical and water infrastructure. AH
 SLOVAKIA DOES NOT PLAN TO WITHDRAW TROOPS AFTER SOLDIERS' DEATHS IN IRAQSlovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said in Bratislava on 8 June that his country does not plan to withdraw its troops from Iraq in the wake of the deaths of three Slovak soldiers in a land-mine explosion earlier that day, CTK and AFP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2004). "I do not think this incident should affect our mission in Iraq," AFP quoted Kukan as saying. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists that he is "deeply convinced" that "toying with the idea" of withdrawing the Slovak troops from Iraq would be "premature and cowardly." Two Polish soldiers and one Latvian also died in the incident, which occurred as they were engaged in a mine-clearing operation. TASR reported that the three Slovak soldiers were the first casualties suffered by the 105-strong Slovak contingent of military engineers deployed in Iraq. MS
 ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT MOVES TO FACILITATE TROOP DEPLOYMENT TO IRAQThe Armenian parliament ratified on 8 June an intergovernmental agreement with Kuwait signed in February that regulates the status of Armenian servicemen in Kuwait en route for service with the international peacekeeping force in Iraq, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Armenia plans to send up to 50 doctors, demining experts, and drivers to Iraq, but Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Artur Aghabekian told Noyan Tapan on 19 May that no date for their departure has been set. LF
 RUSSIAN AD GIANT LOSES ITS GRIPBy Robert Coalson
Video International, the Russian advertising behemoth that was founded by former Media Minister Mikhail Lesin in 1991, will lose its monopoly control over the sale of advertising on state television within the next two years, Russian media reported on 8 June.
State-controlled ORT announced that it has signed a new, five-year contract with Video International that stipulates that the company cannot sell airtime for the state-owned All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) after VGTRK creates its own advertising-sales structure. VGTRK -- which runs RTR, Kultura, Euronews, and Sport television, as well as Radio Rossii and Mayak -- announced the same day that it will create such a service within two years.
"We have a strategic interest in the advertising market," VGTRK Chairman Oleg Dobrodeev told "Kommersant-Daily." He said the new, state-owned advertising-sales structure will compete directly with Video International and NTV-Media, the sales arm of Gazprom-Media's NTV.
ORT and RTR have frequently complained that Video International played the two companies off against one another to its own advantage. "For the last five years, Video International has sold advertising time on ORT and on RTR," Dobrodeev told vesti.ru on 8 June. "At the time, that made sense. The market was emerging from the 1998 [financial] crisis. Now the market has stabilized, and such a concentration of advertising sales in one set of hands is no longer necessary."
Video International currently controls about 70 percent of the country's television-advertising market, selling advertising time on ORT, VGTRK, STS, REN-TV, and others. NTV is the only national network that works directly with advertisers. According to "The Moscow Times" on 9 June, Video International earns about $1 billion in annual revenues. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 June that advertising sales at ORT are worth about $370 million per year, while RTR's amount to about $300 million and NTV's to $215 million. Video International is also reported to be connected with TNS Gallup Media, the company that has controlled the ratings service used to set advertising rates in Russia since 1998.
Although Lesin has said that he has had no connection with Video International since 1994, the company's growth has been widely attributed to Lesin's close connections with the administration of former President Boris Yeltsin. Video International came to prominence handling Yeltsin's successful 1996 re-election campaign, and it was shortly thereafter given monopoly control over advertising sales on state television. Lesin was appointed media minister in June 1999 and left the cabinet when his ministry was dissolved in March. He is now President Vladimir Putin's adviser on media issues.
Media observers were quick to associate Video International's loss with the diminution of Lesin's power. "This just goes to show how much of [Video International's] success depended on its connections to the government," an unidentified media analyst told "The Moscow Times" on 9 June. "A lot of people I talked to predicted Video International would crumble when Lesin stepped down."
Video International's grip on the cash flows of Russia's media sector have long been cited as one of the key ways -- along with expanding state media ownership, increasingly restrictive legislation, the expanding use of libel suits by officials against the media, and others -- that the government has controlled the post-Soviet media sector.
However, it is far from certain that the breaking of Video International's hold through the creation of VGTRK's state-owned advertising-sales firm will actually result in an opening up of the television-advertising market. Analysts had earlier expected that the partially privatized ORT would create an advertising service and VGTRK would remain with Video International. When asked how things turned out exactly the opposite, Video International General Director Sergei Vasilev told "Izvestiya" on 9 June, "This was the result of 18 months of complex consultations and negotiations." Such comments would seem to indicate an uncomfortable degree of collusion in the market.
In the same interview, Vasilev supposed that the executives of ORT and VGTRK "held some sort of consultations" with the government before making the move.
Vasiliev, however, also cited a proverb that it is better to have a piece of a large pie than to have all of a small one. He said that under current market conditions it would be a mistake for Video International to control sales at two of the three networks and, therefore, the company will not seek a contract with NTV. "Although doing so would increase company revenues, it would create a strategic threat to the business as a whole and to the development of the market."