|Saturday, 26 September 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, 04-11-22
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 PUTIN MEETS WITH U.S. PRESIDENT AT APEC FORUM...President Vladimir Putin met with U.S. President George W. Bush on 20 November, the first day of a two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Santiago, Chile, RTR reported. During a working lunch, Putin and Bush discussed bilateral relations and the situations in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. The two leaders reportedly agreed to hold a U.S.-Russian summit at the beginning of 2005. Putin also invited Bush to Moscow in May to attend celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory in World War II. In response to a journalist's question as to whether the two presidents discussed Russia's policies in the CIS, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that "Russia has declared on numerous occasions that it does not have a desire to establish sole control over the CIS space, although it has certain interests there." VY
 ...AND WITH OTHER PACIFIC RIM LEADERSWhile in Santiago, Putin on 20 November held talks with Chilean President Ricardo Lagos that focused on bilateral-trade issues, RIA-Novosti reported. The two leaders signed agreements on the joint exploration of Antarctica and an accord on space cooperation under which a Chilean cosmonaut will participate in a Russian space mission. Putin also met on the sidelines of the forum on 20 November with Chinese President Hu Jintao and discussed the situations in Iraq and North Korea. The same day, Putin met with the leaders of Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Mexico. Putin's meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was closely watched following statements by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov regarding the disputed Kurile Islands (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 16, and 18 November 2004). Putin told reporters following his meeting with Koizumi that "Russia and Japan, regrettably, still have not come closer to the signing of a [World War II] peace treaty, but will continue to work to find a solution." VY
 PUTIN DENIES 'POLITICS' IS BEHIND YUKOS AFFAIR...In an interview on 21 November with the Brazilian newspapers "Folha de S. Paulo" and "O Globo" prior to his visit to Brazil, Putin said that as far as embattled oil giant Yukos concerned, it would be wrong to "replace the criminal aspect of this problem with a political one," RIA-Novosti reported. Putin denied that there are any political motives behind the imprisonment of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, noting that Khodorkovskii was "never a member of parliament, or any political party, or head of a political movement." However, Putin added, "it is obvious...that everyone -- regardless of rank, material status, or degree of influence -- should observe the law, pay taxes," and be subject to punishment for breaking the law. "Of course," Putin said, "everyone remains innocent until proven guilty by a court of law," stressing that this applies to Khodorkovskii as well. VY
 ...AS LAW ENFORCEMENT BODIES TWIST THE KNIFEYukos announced on 20 November that law enforcement officers were carrying out searches of the homes of members of the company's management, newsru.com reported. The company said in its statement that dozens of company personnel have been detained or listed as "wanted" by police. The statement was released following the arrest on 18 November of Aleksei Kurtsin, chief operations officer of Yukos-Moskva, on charges of embezzlement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2004). Meanwhile, Echo Moskvy on 19 November named the Italian State petrochemical company ENI, in partnership with an unidentified Russian oil company, as a key contender to purchase Yuganskneftegas, Yukos's main production unit. VY
 BRITAIN GRANTED ASYLUM TO RUSSIAN DESERTER"The Moscow Times" reported on 22 November that a British court in May granted political asylum to Andrei Krotov, a Russian conscript who fled hostilities in Chechnya. The court decision was only made public last week, the daily reported. According to documents obtained by the newspaper, Krotov arrived in the United Kingdom in February 2000 and requested asylum. Krotov argued that he should be granted asylum because as a deserter he would likely be imprisoned in Russia for an unduly long time under poor conditions. The court ruled that violations of human rights by federal forces in Chechnya were common at that time and that Krotov would not have been able to disobey orders to commit such violations, given "the sometimes brutal nature of the treatment that such conscripts receive." Neither the British government nor the Russian Foreign Ministry were willing to comment on the case, various Russian media reported. RC
 BELGIUM REPORTEDLY TO PREVENT ZAKAEV FROM MEETING WITH RUSSIAN DELEGATIONA delegation from the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers planned to leave Moscow for Brussels on 22 November in an effort to meet there on 23 November with Akhmed Zakaev, envoy of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, RosBalt and other Russian media reported. According to the report, the representatives expected to receive their visas during the day on 22 November. Zakaev told Ekho Moskvy on 20 November that he would attempt to attend the meeting despite a report that day in the Belgian newspaper "De Standaard" that Belgian authorities intend to arrest him if he tries to enter the country. "Without a doubt, if the representatives of the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers are granted visas, then on Tuesday morning [23 November] I will arrive in Brussels," Zakaev said by telephone from London. "I do not think I will be arrested or detained." Belgian Interior Minister Patrick Dewael told Belgium's VRT television that Zakaev will be refused entry if he attempts to enter the country. In a statement posted on chechenpress.com on 20 November, Zakaev wrote that he is surprised about the Belgian media reports. "Now, thanks to the initiative of the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, a unique opportunity has arisen to take a real step toward peace," he wrote. "This initiative comes from the depths of Russian society and it is supported by the majority of Russians and Chechens. Moscow's dissatisfaction merely underscores how important and serious this initiative is." RC
 SIXTH ANNIVERSARY OF STAROVOITOVA SLAYING PASSESLiberals gathered in Moscow on 21 November to mark the sixth anniversary of the slaying of liberal Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova, Interfax and other Russian media reported. Higher Economics School head Yevgenii Yasin told those gathered that "we could really use [Starovoitova] now." "Her example is uniquely important for us," Yasin said. "The spirit of freedom must never be expelled from Russia." In St. Petersburg, six men are currently on trial in connection with Starovoitova's 20 November 1998 killing. On 19 November, State Duma Deputy Speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia head Vladimir Zhirinovskii, who was summoned to testify in the Starovoitova trial, drank vodka next to Starovoitova's grave after his bodyguards broke into a tent over the monument that had been erected by liberals seeking to keep him out. "She was killed six years ago and in all these years he has never been seen at her grave," St. Petersburg Yabloko head Maksim Reznik said, according to "The Moscow Times" on 22 November. "But he goes only now when he is called to court to testify as a witness" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2004). After testifying on 19 November, Zhirinovskii told reporters that he believes Starovoitova's former aide, Ruslan Linkov, who was himself severely wounded during her assassination, was working for a foreign intelligence service and informed the killers about her movements. "I believe he should face criminal charges for participating in the assassination," Zhirinovskii said. RC
 CHECHEN ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH KLEBNIKOV CASEInvestigators probing the 9 July killing of "Forbes-Russia" Editor in Chief Paul Klebnikov arrested an ethnic Chechen in Moscow on 18 November, although it remains unclear what charges will be filed, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 November. The man was identified as Musa Vakhaev, a native of Urus-Martin, and police said that that main suspect in the Klebnikov case, a man identified as Kazbek, called Vakhaev's mobile phone several times on the day of Klebnikov's killing. The daily also reported that a fingerprint of Vakhaev's was found in the automobile that was believed to have been used by Klebnikov's killers to flee the scene of the crime. An unidentified police investigator told Interfax on 19 November that the authorities are focusing on the "Chechen trail" in the case, suspecting that the killing was carried out in connection with Klebnikov's 2003 book "Conversations With A Barbarian," which was based on interview with Khozh-Akhmed Nukhaev, a source of financing for the Chechen resistance. RC
 EMBATTLED GOVERNOR QUITS PRO-KREMLIN PARTYUlyanovsk Oblast Governor Vladimir Shamanov, who was recently named an adviser to Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2004), has quit the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, Interfax reported on 20 November. Shamanov said that he was quitting the party "until the split within the local party organization can be resolved." "The main task today is maintaining unity in our ranks," he added. On 15 October, the local branch of the party asked Shamanov to withdraw from the oblast's 5 December gubernatorial election and backed Dmitrovgrad Mayor Sergei Morozov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2004). Shamanov withdrew from the race following the announcement of his appointment by Fradkov. RC
 RUSSIAN OBSERVERS COMMENT ON UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONFederation Council Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Torshin said in Kyiv on 22 November that he is concerned about the vote count in the second round of Ukraine's 21 November presidential election between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, RTR and RosBalt reported (see today's Ukraine items, "RFE/RL Newsline Part 2"). "The situation with ballots in Ukraine is worse than in Chechnya," said Torshin, who was part of a delegation of election observers from the CIS. Meanwhile, Effective Politics Foundation head Gleb Pavlovskii said in Kyiv on 21 November that "there are elements of a revolutionary situation in the air," Ekho Moskvy reported. Noted journalist and publisher Vitalii Tretyakov told the radio station that the West and Russia are waging "a political war" for influence over Ukraine and the "geopolitical orientation it will take after the election." The delegation Russia sent to monitor the election included politicians and public figures, and was headed by Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov. Russia also provided transportation for 200,000 Ukrainian citizens living in Russia to travel to Ukraine to vote. Most Ukrainian citizens in Russia are believed to support Prime Minister Yanukovych. VY
 RUSSIA HOPES FOR RETURN TO IRAQRussia has agreed to a proposal by the United States to write off 80 percent of Iraq's debts, a proposal that has also been accepted by the Paris Club of creditors, RBK reported on 22 November. Iraq owes Russia approximately $8 billion. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said in Berlin on 21 November during an economic summit of the Group of 20 industrial and developing countries that, now that it has accepted Washington's proposal, Russia hopes it can return to the Iraqi oil market and implement some of the contracts it made with the former Iraqi government, RBK reported. VY
 INVESTIGATORS REFUSE TO RELEASE 'INNOCENT' INGUSH GIRLOfficials from the Prosecutor-General's Office have admitted that Marina Korigova, a 16-year-old Ingush girl held in detention in Vladikavkaz since 3 November on suspicion of links to one of the Beslan hostage takers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2004), is innocent, but will not release her, www.ingushetiya.ru reported on 21 November. The website quoted unnamed investigators as saying they will continue to hold Korigova until unspecified people they want to question as witnesses report for investigation. The website also reported that Korigova's family has paid unidentified officials the $5,000 bribe they demanded for her release, but those officials have now demanded a further $5,000. LF
 CHECHEN OFFICIAL PROPOSES MERGING NORTH CAUCASUS REPUBLICSChechen State Council (parliament) Chairman Taus Dzhabrailov has argued that merging the various republics of the North Caucasus into a single North Caucasus Territory "would help solve many acute socioeconomic and political problems," and help promote the "rational use" of labor resources, Interfax reported on 19 November. It would also, although Dzhabrailov was not quoted as making this point, conveniently nix Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov's aspirations to the post of pro-Moscow Chechen administration head. LF
 CHECHEN VILLAGES DEMAND DISMISSAL OF LOCAL ADMINISTRATORSome 500 residents of the town of Achkhoi-Martan, some 40 kilometers southwest of Grozny, attended a protest rally in the central square on 19 November organized by local clerics to demand the dismissal of local administration head Ali Dalnaev and his staff, Interfax reported. The protesters accused Dalnaev of bribe taking and of embezzling government funds. They appealed to Chechen Prime Minister Sergei Abramov to send a fact-finding commission to Achkhoi-Martan to evaluate the work of Dalnaev and his team. LF
 KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA PROSECUTOR RESIGNSVladimir Gannochka resigned on 18 November as republican prosecutor, Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia President Mustafa Batdyev told journalists the following day, Interfax reported. Batdyev noted that Gannochka's resignation was one of the demands leveled by demonstrators who congregated in the republican capital, Cherkessk, earlier this month. Also on 19 November, Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel told journalists in Cherkessk that the murder last month of seven young Karachai men, in connection with which Batdyev's son-in-law Ali Kaitov and a dozen suspects have been arrested, has been solved, Interfax reported. Shepel said that new evidence has made it possible to establish the degree of guilt of all those arrested; he added that police are still hunting for two further suspects. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN COMMUNISTS HOLD CONGRESSThe extraparliamentary Communist Party of Armenia held its 36th congress on 20 November, the first such major gathering since several leading members, including second secretary Sanatruk Saakian and Central Committee secretary Khoren Sargsian, were expelled after accusing First Secretary Ruben Tovmasian of corruption, according to Arminfo as cited by Groong. Supporters of Saakian gathered outside the building where the congress was held, demanding admission. Sargsian told journalists that Tovmasian has accepted $50,000 from Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. Tovmasian passed out while delivering his report to the congress, which adopted a resolution calling for the Armenian leadership to opt out of the Karabakh mediation process to permit the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to negotiate directly with Azerbaijan, Arminfo reported on 20 November. LF
 ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTERS AGREE TO RESUME KARABAKH TALKSVartan Oskanian and Elmar Mammadyarov met briefly on 19 November in Berlin, first one-on-one and then together with the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, according to the Azerbaijani daily "Ekspress" on 20 November as cited by Groong. The daily quoted Oskanian as saying that he and Mammadyarov agreed to continue their series of talks begun in Prague earlier this year on approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict. They also reportedly focused on the possible impact on the peace process of the UN General Assembly debate, scheduled for 23 November, on the occupation by Armenian forces of several districts of Azerbaijan that border the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Mammadyarov will be present at that debate. LF
 AZERBAIJANI COURT REJECTS OPPOSITIONISTS' APPEALAzerbaijan's Court of Appeals upheld on 19 November the jail terms handed down last month by the Court for Serious Crimes to seven prominent opposition politicians on charges of inciting violent protests in Baku in October 2003 against the outcome of the presidential election, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October and 18 November 2004). The seven men received sentences ranging from 2 1/2 to five years' imprisonment. President Ilham Aliyev has hinted that it is unlikely they will be pardoned in the near future. LF
 RIVAL RENEWS CRITICISM OF AZERBAIJANI EDUCATION MINISTERDuring the ongoing discussion in parliament of the draft budget for 2005, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Ali Nagiev on 19 November again harshly criticized embattled Education Minister Misir Mardanov, whom he held responsible for the allegedly deplorable state of the education system, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 19 and 20 November, respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2004). Nagiev, a leading member of the ruling Yeni Azerbayan Party, claimed that the "illiteracy" of the population today constitutes a more serious problem than does the Karabakh conflict. He argued that "building schools and providing them with computers is not an indicator of [the level of] education," and claimed that in the whole of Azerbaijan it is difficult to find even five qualified engineers. Speaking later to ANS television, Mardanov dismissed Nagiev's criticism as ungrounded and prejudiced, zerkalo.az reported. LF
 AZERBAIJANI RELIGIOUS LEADERS MEET WITH POPEPope John Paul II received in the Vatican on 19 November Sheikh ul Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade, Azerbaijani's top Muslim cleric; Aleksandr, Bishop of Baku and the Caspian; and the head of Azerbaijan's Mountain Jewish congregation, Semen Ihiilov, Turan reported. The pontiff expressed the hope that it will prove possible to resolve the Karabakh conflict, and he called for "a spirit of peace and reconciliation." LF
 GEORGIAN OFFICIALS ACCUSE RUSSIA OF PLANNING 'SABOTAGE'Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Parliament Defense and Security Committee Chairman Givi Targamadze told journalists separately on 20 November that Georgia's "enemies" are planning attacks on the country's energy facilities, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Targamadze said a 19 November attack by unidentified perpetrators on the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline was a "trial run" in preparation for further Russian attacks, an allegation that Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Vyacheslav Sedov dismissed as "absurd and groundless." Saakashvili told journalists in eastern Georgia that security for power lines and other energy facilities has been increased to prevent any attack on the anniversary of the so-called Rose Revolution that brought him to power one year ago, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER, ABKHAZ PRESIDENTIAL CHALLENGER DENY CLANDESTINE MEETINGNino Burdjanadze and Sergei Bagapsh, the officially proclaimed winner of the 3 October presidential election in the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, issued separate denials on 19 November of Russian media reports that they held a secret meeting in Moscow earlier this month. Caucasus Press on 19 November quoted Burdjanadze as dismissing that report as "absurd." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" the same day quoted Bagapsh as being dumbfounded by the allegation, which he attributed to rumors spread by former Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba. Khadjimba refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of Bagapsh's election victory and supports outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba's insistence on holding a repeat ballot. Bagapsh told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that he will not make any further attempt to reach a compromise with Khadjimba. On 21 November, Ardzinba's press secretary Roin Agrba said Arzdinba will not leave office on 6 December, as there is no legitimate president-elect to succeed him, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
 ABKHAZ PRIME MINISTER RULES OUT FOREIGN MILITARY INTERVENTIONAbkhaz Prime Minister Nodar Khashba told journalists in Sukhum on 20 November that there is no risk of foreign troops intervening to resolve the tensions resulting from the Abkhaz presidential election stalemate, Caucasus Press reported. On 19 November, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told journalists that Russia has "vital" interests in Abkhazia related to national security, Caucasus Press reported. Yakovenko said Russia wants stability in Abkhazia, as destabilization could spill over into neighboring regions of the North Caucasus. Georgian Defense Ministry officials have denied that some 700 Georgian troops have been sent to the internal border with Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported on 22 November. LF
 U.S. PLANS $36 MILLION IN AID TO KAZAKHSTAN FOR BIO LABSJohn Ordway, U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, told a news conference in Astana on 19 November that the United States plans to give Kazakhstan $36 million to set up biological laboratories to track dangerous pathogens and diseases, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Ordway lauded Kazakhstan for its cooperation in the war on terror and other security matters, saying, "We would like to continue cooperation in the military sphere, which is quite fruitful." Ordway said the United States would also like to expand cooperation in the oil and gas sphere. The ambassador noted that Kazakhstan has "quite an open market, which creates excellent business opportunities," but he warned that corruption remains a hazard of the local business environment. DK
 KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SAYS HE WILL NOT RUN IN 2005In an interview with Deutsche Welle on 18 November, Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev reiterated his decision not to run in the October 2005 presidential election. "I've worked for long enough," he said, adding, "We need to make way for the younger generation." He also said Kyrgyzstan had made "its entire infrastructure" available for the U.S.-led war on terror, noting that in its operations in Afghanistan, the United States acted as "the true leader of the international community." But on the issue of Iraq, Akaev said, "Our position corresponded to that of such countries as France and Germany." Akaev had kind words for Russia, saying, "Russia has been given to us by God and history." Queried about Feliks Kulov, the imprisoned leader of the opposition party Ar-Namys, Akaev said, "You know, Feliks Kulov is just a corrupt official whom certain international organizations have turned into this political figure." DK
 CONCERNS RISE OVER MISSING KYRGYZ RIGHTS DEFENDERMembers of the People's Patriotic Movement held a news conference in Bishkek on 19 November to highlight concerns over the disappearance of Tursunbek Akun, the movement's leader and a well-known human rights activist, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Akun has not been seen since 16 November. His supporters told journalists that they believe that Akun, who recently began a petition drive to remove President Akaev, disappeared as a result of his political activities. Akun's wife said that her husband left the house on 16 November after he was summoned to the National Security Service (SNB). For its part, the SNB issued a press release on 19 November denying any involvement in Akun's disappearance. Opposition legislator Azimbek Beknazarov said on 19 November that he and other deputies expressed their concern in a public statement in the Legislative Assembly, akipress.org reported. Beknazarov called Akun's disappearance a disgrace for Kyrgyzstan. DK
 BLAST KILLS TWO IN KYRGYZ TOWNA policeman and a fleeing suspect were killed on 20 November in Osh, Kyrgyzstan when the latter set off an explosive device, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The incident began when police stopped a car with four passengers and discovered a firearm. One of the passengers fled and, as a police officer chased him, detonated an explosive device, killing both. In the confusion, the other three passengers escaped. According to a Kyrgyz law-enforcement official, the fleeing suspect was a citizen of Uzbekistan who was wanted by Uzbek security services. Akipress.org reported on 22 November that six individuals are currently being sought in connection with the incident, one of whom is suspected of involvement in the bomb blasts that occurred in Tashkent in 1999. DK
 FORMER TAJIK DRUG AGENCY HEAD'S BROTHER LOSES BUSINESSESTajikistan's Supreme Economic Court has left in force a decision by a lower court transferring ownership of a meat-processing plant, casino, and store from Abdurasul Mirzoev, the brother of former Drug Control Agency head Ghaffor Mirzoev, to the state, Avesta reported on 19 November. Ghaffor Mirzoev is currently in jail awaiting trial on murder and corruption charges. The earlier decision invalidated Abdurasul Mirzoev's acquisition of shares in the enterprises in 2002, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Ownership of the businesses now reverts to the State Property Committee, which can put them up for auction. DK
 MOSCOW MAYOR MEETS WITH TAJIK PRESIDENTMoscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 20 November, RIA-Novosti reported. Their discussion focused on cultural and economic ties between the two countries' capital cities. Luzhkov said the city of Moscow will help to train teachers of Russian from Tajikistan and provide Russian textbooks for Tajik schools. On the economic front, Luzhkov said that Tajikistan's construction sector will receive more investment from Moscow and that an agreement has been reached for Moscow to supply a large shipment of trolleybuses to Dushanbe. DK
 TURKMEN, UZBEK LEADERS MEET IN BUKHARATurkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Uzbek President Islam Karimov met in Bukhara, Uzbekistan on 19 November, agencies reported. The two signed a friendship treaty and agreements simplifying travel between the two countries for residents of border areas and for service personnel employed at facilities located in border regions, Turkmenistan's official TDH news agency reported. The presidents also reaffirmed their commitment to a 1996 agreement on water use, a frequent cause of tension between the countries. The meeting, which was initiated by President Karimov, marks a thaw in relations that have been chilly since Turkmen authorities accused Uzbekistan of complicity in a November 2002 attempt on President Niyazov's life. Setting a new tone, Niyazov said on 19 November that his Uzbek counterpart has "managed to lead his country peacefully on a broader path of political, economic, and cultural development," Uzbek TV reported. Not to be outdone, Karimov said that "The Most High Himself sent the Turkmen people [Niyazov] at the most difficult and decisive moment in the nation's history," TDH reported. DK
 EU TO IMPOSE TRAVEL BAN ON BELARUSIAN OFFICIALS OVER RIGGED POLLSBrussels has prepared a draft document providing for a travel ban on Belarusian officials who were "directly responsible" for what the EU deems to have been fraudulent general elections and a presidential referendum on 17 October, Reuters reported on 19 November (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 20 October 2004). A tentative list of Belarusian candidates for the ban, which is to be completed within the next two weeks, includes the head of the Central Election Commission, the KGB chief, and the presidential-administration chief of staff. The EU is also planning to freeze bilateral contacts at the ministerial level between member states and Belarus, allowing Minsk to communicate only with the bloc's rotating presidency. JM
 BELARUS EXECUTED FIVE PEOPLE IN 2004Belarusian Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau said in an interview with "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" on 19 November that five people have been sentenced to death and executed in Belarus this year, Belapan reported. According Navumau, the death penalty is unlikely to be imposed on anyone else before the end of the year. "In the last five years, no more than seven people have been sentenced to death annually, which is much less than 1 percent of all those convicted of grave crimes," he said. "One-third of the 104 people currently serving life sentences [in Belarus] say they would have preferred the death penalty." JM
 UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION CANDIDATE ALLEGES PRESIDENTIAL-VOTE FRAUD, URGES POPULAR RESISTANCE...Opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko appealed to Ukrainians at a rally in central Kyiv on 22 November to organize popular resistance against what he believes to have been blatant fraud by the Central Election Commission (TsVK) in the counting of votes in the previous day's presidential runoff, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. With 99.14 percent of the vote counted, the TsVK reported that Yanukovych won 49.42 percent of the vote to Yushchenko's 46.69 percent. Exit polls organized by two separate groups of Ukrainians pollsters had suggested that Yushchenko beat Yanukovych by 54 percent to 43 percent and by 49.7 percent to 46.7 percent, respectively. Yushchenko called on Ukrainians to pitch tent camps in Ukrainian cities to protest the alleged electoral fraud peacefully and defend what he described as his election victory. Reuters estimated that 60,000 people attended the opposition demonstration on Independence Square in Kyiv. JM
 ...AS ALLY CALLS FOR NATIONWIDE STRIKEYuliya Tymoshenko, head of an eponymous opposition bloc that has supported Yushchenko's presidential bid, urged Kyiv residents at the 22 November rally to begin a nationwide strike to protest the alleged falsification of the 21 November presidential vote, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (www2.pravda.com.ua) reported. "Now is not the time to work," Tymoshenko said, "it is time to defend the country. I do not believe [President Leonid] Kuchma, who says that no Ukrainian nation has been born during the past 13 years of independence. We are [a nation]! And we will win!" she added. JM
 NGO ALLEGES MASSIVE IRREGULARITIES IN UKRAINIAN VOTEThe Committee of Voters of Ukraine (KVU), a nongovernmental electoral watchdog, reported on 21 November that illegal voting by absentee ballot was the biggest problem in the second round of the presidential election on 21 November, UNIAN reported. "Our observers have registered more than 100 buses carrying these people, and one can gather that tens of thousands [of people] have voted in this way," KVU head Ihor Popov told journalists. The KVU also reported numerous incidents of assaults on observers and journalists, and even kidnappings. "Up to a dozen people have been kidnapped today by criminal-looking individuals," Popov claimed. "Several observers and members of election commissions have disappeared. They were shoved into cars and taken away from the polling stations." Other alleged irregularities included preventing observers, both domestic and international, and journalists from entering polling stations, the use of counterfeit ballots, and the failure to sign or stamp ballot papers by some commission members. JM
 OUTGOING PRESIDENT RULES OUT 'REVOLUTION' IN UKRAINEPresident Leonid Kuchma told Ukrainians on national television on 20 November that there will be no "revolution' in Ukraine following the 21 November presidential runoff between Yanukovych and Yushchenko. "The authorities will never allow an aggressive minority to dictate political logic," Kuchma said. "We all know that revolutions are planned by dreamers and carried out by fanatics. And it is scoundrels who reap the benefits. There will be no revolutions," Kuchma said. JM
 WESTERN COUNTRIES REPORTEDLY SEEKING TO BLOCK APPOINTMENT OF KOSOVA'S PREMIER-DESIGNATEUnnamed Prishtina-based Western diplomats are working to block the appointment of Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) as prime minister in Kosova's new coalition government, Reuters reported on 19 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 April, 9 July, 20 August, and 10 September 2004). Haradinaj was a commander of the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) during the 1998-99 conflict and was involved in an incident with Russian peacekeepers in 2000. Belgrade has indicted him for war crimes, and international and regional media reports suggest that the Hague-based tribunal might soon do likewise, the news agency noted. One unnamed Western diplomat told Reuters in Prishtina that Haradinaj's appointment "is a problem for many countries. I hope the [Kosovar] political parties will realize where their interests are." Another unnamed diplomat told dpa: "If Haradinaj's nomination passes the parliamentary procedure, it would harm the process of solving the final status of Kosovo. On the other hand, if we manage to block this [nomination], the relations between Kosovars and internationals could deteriorate." Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian mission in Kosova (UNMIK), said he cannot reject the appointment, adding that "if I say no to this candidate, then I would be saying no to democracy." In Belgrade, Serbian President Boris Tadic said that Haradinaj's appointment is "absolutely unacceptable and could destabilize the whole region." PM
 'KOSOVA'S MANDELA' SAYS PROVINCE CAN BE EUROPEAN ONLY IF INDEPENDENTAdem Demaci, who was Kosova's leading dissident in communist times and widely known as "Kosova's Mandela," told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Prishtina on 19 November that Kosova has a European future only as an independent country. His remarks contrast with some recent proposals from German opposition politicians to make Kosova an EU protectorate, and with recent remarks by Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic that Kosova should become a "European region" within the boundaries of Serbia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 July and 20 August 2004). Turning to domestic affairs, Demaci told RFE/RL that there are advantages to ending the previous broad-based coalition of ethnic Albanian parties and replacing it with a smaller coalition and an opposition. He said that if the opposition is active and critical, "we will learn about many things that were previously swept under the rug." PM
 MACEDONIA'S PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER SEES NO POLITICAL CRISISParliamentary speaker Ljupco Jordanovski told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 21 November that he does not believe that Macedonia faces a political crisis following the resignation of Prime Minister Hari Kostov on 15 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 16, and 19 November 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 November 2004). Jordanovski said he expects a new government to be formed by the end of December. Asked whether the new government will have enough time to work on important economic questions, Jordanovski said he believes the next two years are sufficient for the government to show that the economy is beginning to grow. He also stressed that he expects the EU to grant candidate status to Macedonia early in 2005, which would mean that the country will have access to desperately needed foreign funds. Jordanovski added that Macedonia itself does not have the means to revive its shaky economy. UB
 ROMANIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES APPEAR IN SECOND TELEVISED DEBATE...The four leading presidential contenders appeared in a televised debate broadcast on private Antena 1 on 19 November, the second such event of the three-week-old campaign, the daily "Evenimentul zilei" reported. Political analyst Sabina Fati called it a draw between Social Democratic Party (PSD) candidate and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu, who is the candidate of the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance. The other two participants were Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor and Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania Chairman Bela Marko. Presidential and parliamentary elections are slated for 28 November. MS
 ...AND INTENSIFY ATTACKS ON OPPONENTS AT RALLIESSpeaking at a campaign rally in Alba-Iulia on 20 November, PNL-Democratic Party candidate Basescu used populist terminology reminiscent of that employed by PRM Chairman Tudor in the past, the daily "Adevarul" wrote on 22 November. Basescu pledged that he would "execute any corrupted minister with my own hand" if he were elected president. According to Mediafax, Basescu corrected himself the next day, explaining that he had in mind "political executions." AP on 20 November quoted Basescu as saying, "I shall liquidate the Mafia within 48 hours." Addressing a rally of PSD supporters in the same Transylvanian town, Nastase retorted, "I am not a mafioso" and later told a rally in Cluj to "watch your wallets" if the opposition alliance comes to power, according to "Adevarul." MS
 ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS 'ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE' IN FORTHCOMING ELECTIONSPresident Ion Iliescu said in an interview with the daily "Jurnalul national" of 22 November that "anything is possible" in the upcoming elections. Iliescu said he does not rule out that Romania would have to cope with a situation of "cohabitation," in which the president belongs to one party and the parliamentary majority that forms the government comprises other political formations. Iliescu said that while democratic countries should be able to cope with such situations, it would be preferable if the electorate opted for "continuity." Iliescu is running for the upper legislative chamber on the PSD lists. MS
 ROMANIAN JOURNALIST IN BULGARIA CHARGED AND RELEASED ON BAILJournalist George Buhnici, who was arrested in Bulgaria last week, was released on 5,000 leva ($3,330) bail on 19 November, Mediafax and international news agencies reported. Buhnici was charged by prosecutors with "holding, but not using, a special device used to covertly gather information without permission," according to his Bulgarian lawyer quoted by Reuters. Meanwhile, his detention was also protested by the Vienna-based South East European Media Organization and by the New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists. Buhnici was forbidden to leave Bulgaria for as long as the investigation continues. If found guilty, he faces up to three years in jail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2004). MS
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS GAGAUZ-YERI SHOULD BE MODEL FOR TRANSDNIESTRIAN CONFLICT'S RESOLUTIONPresident Vladimir Voronin said during a "working visit" to the Gagauz-Yeri Autonomous Region on 19 November that the region has turned into a "European example of how conflicts over territories populated by national minorities can be peacefully solved," Flux reported. The same model, he said, could well serve for ending the Transdniestrian conflict. The visit marked 10 years since the setting up of the autonomous republic. Voronin said that Moldova must create conditions under which both the primacy of "Moldovan" as the country's official language and the free use of minority languages are ensured. He said citizens belonging to national minorities must be equally fluent in Moldovan and their own language. MS
 MOLDOVAN OFFICIAL SAYS ANTICORRUPTION MECHANISM LACKINGSupreme Security Council Secretary and former Justice Minister Ion Morei said on 19 November that not enough is being done to prevent corruption in Moldova, Infotag and Flux reported. Morei said a first step in the direction of a mechanism to prevent corruption might be the establishment of a body including representatives of civil society and of civil servants. Morei was addressing a conference organized by the Moldovan Union of Journalists, Transparency International Moldova, and the U.S. Embassy. He also said that in order to successfully fight corruption, the wages of civil servants should be raised. "Corruption can only be fought against if the state is not corrupt," he said. MS
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 SUSPECTED INSURGENTS KILLED IN U.S.-LED ATTACK IN AFGHANISTANU.S.-led forces killed four suspected neo-Taliban insurgents and captured several others during an assault in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, AP reported 21 November. U.S. military officials said several Arab fighters were among those killed or captured on 20 November. A local official said only Afghans survived the attack. A U.S. military statement said the attack targeted militant compounds with "clear connections to Al-Qaeda." The assault came after a tip from local residents, the statement said. The statement also said the raid uncovered a cache of weapons, explosives, and cash. Afghan troops were also involved in the attack, said Faizan ul-Haq, a spokesman for the provincial governor. Ul-Haq said it was impossible to tell the identities of the insurgents killed in the raid because their bodies were burned beyond recognition. "We are not sure if they burned themselves before the operation started or if the Americans somehow burned them," ul-Haq said. MR
 UN RENEWS APPEALS FOR RELEASE OF HOSTAGESThe United Nations renewed calls for the release of three workers from the world body taken hostage three weeks ago, AFP reported on 21 November. "Annetta Flanigan, Shqipe Hebibi, and Angelito Nayan were taken away from us 25 days ago when they were abducted here in Kabul. We reiterate our request for those who hold them to let them go, to set them free so they can join their families and friends," said UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva. De Almeida e Silva said UN officials and the families of the hostages had been moved by the show of support from many Afghans who have offered to take the place of the UN workers being held apparently by neo-Taliban guerrillas. "Yesterday, for example, at a ceremony to launch new books by an Afghan woman writer Ms. Nahib, over 50 Afghan women repeated their offer to take the place of the hostages," he said. The three UN employees were abducted in downtown Kabul at midday on 28 October. A little-known group allegedly allied with neo-Taliban forces called Jaysh al-Muslimin (Army of the Muslims) says it has the three hostages and has threatened in public statements to kill them. But some Afghan authorities believe the group might simply be a criminal gang rather than organized insurgents. MR
 FUGITIVE FORMER AFGHAN LEADER AGAIN CALLS FOR INSURGENT ATTACKSIn a newly released recording, renegade warlord and former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar stepped up calls for Afghans to engage in jihad, or holy war, against the United States, AFP reported on 21 November. Hekmatyar, speaking in a 22-minute video filled with bloody images of violence against Muslims in places like Palestine and Iraq, compared the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan to the Crusades. "War in Afghanistan and Iraq is the second Crusade war, but the only difference is that in the first crusade Italy was leading the war and this time it is America," Hekmatyar says in the video. Hekmatyar, the leader of the militant group Hizb-e Islami, urged Afghans to employ suicide attacks, which so far have been rare in Afghanistan. "If [Afghans] cannot fight in an organized front, they can risk their lives and carry out suicide guerrilla attacks, which have given great defeats to the enemy," Hekmatyar said. "We have lots of young fighters who are ready to sacrifice their lives and wealth to save the religion." MR
 AFGHANS PROBE DEATH OF KIDNAPPING SUSPECTAfghan authorities have launched an investigation into the death of a suspect who was being held in connection with the ongoing abduction of three UN officials, AP reported on 21 November. An Afghan official said a government commission will seek to determine whether the suspect, named Kachkool, was tortured before he died in police custody several days ago. "Nobody knows if he died because of sickness or because of torture," said Interior Ministry spokesman Latfullah Mashal. "The commission will try to find out the real reasons." Afghan officials initially suggested Kachkool died as a result of heart problems and the lingering affects of an old bullet wound. They also said he might have been injured while resisting arrest. But members of Kachkool's family said his body bore signs of abuse when it was returned to them, Mashal said. Afghan police arrested a number of suspects after the three UN workers were kidnapped in Kabul on 28 October. Kachkool and several others were arrested in Paghman, a valley west of Kabul with a reputation for lawlessness. Afghan authorities suspect the hostages are still being held somewhere in that area. MR
 IRAN IS ACCUSED OF LAST-MINUTE ENRICHMENT ACTIVITIES...Unnamed diplomats claimed on 19 November that Iran continued to make uranium hexafluoride (UF6), the gas enriched in centrifuges to make fuel for power stations or nuclear weapons, right up to the 22 November deadline by which it promised to suspend enrichment-related activities to prove it is not violating nuclear nonproliferation commitments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 November 2004), AP and AFP reported the same day. The reports were noted by U.S. President George W. Bush, who said on 20 November on the sidelines of a summit in Santiago de Chile that "we are concerned" that Iran might "speed up processing of materials that could lead to a nuclear weapon" before the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) debates Iran's program on 25 November, AFP reported the same day. "It's very important for [Iran] to hear that we are concerned about their desires," Bush said. An unnamed Western diplomat alleged in Vienna on 20 November that Iran has converted 37 tons of uranium ore at a conversion facility in Isfahan in central Iran into "an unknown amount of UF6," AFP reported, without stating a time frame for the conversion. VS
 ...BUT DISMISSES SUSPICIONS...Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi told a news conference in Tehran on 21 November that Iran has "no hidden installations and there are no nuclear weapons in our defensive doctrine," IRNA reported the same day. "We made a commitment to begin suspension [on 22 November] and we shall, and [enrichment] cases so far have been based on the Paris agreement and [under IAEA] supervision," he said. There was "nothing special" going on, he added. The suspension, he stressed, "is voluntary and temporary, based on the agreement with European states," IRNA reported. "I do not imagine European states will ask for a cessation of enrichment, because that is not in keeping with the Paris agreement. If [this] is mentioned, we shall not agree to it," Assefi said. He said the IAEA governing board meeting should, "if [it] considers the facts," conclude that U.S. allegations of a covert weapons program are "baseless and false," although "the scandal they have provoked was not so unexpected for us," IRNA reported. VS
 ...AND SEEMS INDIFFERENT TO MEETING WITH U.S. OFFICIALSForeign Ministry spokesman Assefi said there are no plans "on the agenda" for a meeting of Iranian officials and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at a scheduled 22-24 November conference on Iraq, to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, IRNA reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 November 2004). "Powell had four years in which to change American policy...toward Iran and failed. Now that he has no formal position, negotiations cannot really be useful," he said. Iran will attend the gathering to protest "American methods" in Iraq, urge elections there, and "the departure of foreign forces," he said. He also distanced his government from Iranians he said might have volunteered to fight in Iraq, and stated this is not a "state...initiative." "Certain people might do such things because of the unpleasant events taking place in Iraq, for which [the United States] is principally responsible," he said. Separately, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim Shalan al-Khuza'i, who has intermittently accused Iran of meddling in Iraqi affairs, reportedly told Iraqi television on 21 November that terrorist activities in Iraq are made worse by a "security vacuum" on its frontiers, IRNA reported the same day. VS
 OFFICIAL SAYS IRAQI INSECURITY THREATENS IRAN'S SECURITYIranian Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi said in Tehran on 21 November that Iran wants "security to be established in Iraq," adding that insecurity "is not our wish," ISNA reported the same day. He told a gathering of security officials from the Ilam Province, near the Iraqi border, that while "anti-Iranian terrorists are free in Iraq, terrorists opposed to the Iraqi government are identified and arrested in Iran." ISNA interpreted the remark as referring to the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, a violent rebel group opposed to the Tehran government that retains an unspecified number of personnel at a camp in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 October 2004). Yunesi added that in the absence of Iranian police controls at the frontier, the "flow of a variety of...weapons into the country from the Iraq frontier region is...a serious threat to [Iranian] security," ISNA reported. "Of course we do not blame the Iraqi government in this case and hope stability is established in [Iraq] as quickly as possible," he said. VS
 OMANI ENVOY MEETS WITH OFFICIALS IN TEHRANIranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani met with the sultan of Oman's special envoy and adviser, Abd al-Aziz bin Muhammad al-Rowas, in Tehran on 21 November, Iranian news agencies reported the same day. The envoy discussed Iraqi affairs and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to farsnews.com and IRNA. Rafsanjani told the envoy that Iraqis "know very well" that the United States is not spending its money in Iraq to give them "freedom and democracy," farsnews.com reported. Iraqis, he added, will not "obey the occupiers' commands" or pursue their goal "to fall in line with Israel." VS
 PARIS CLUB WRITES OFF IRAQI DEBTThe Paris Club of major creditor countries agreed on 21 November to write off 80 percent of the $38.9 billion in sovereign debt owed by Iraq, AP reported. More than $31 billion in debt was absolved, although a clause allows the Paris Club to suspend the agreement if Arab governments, which have claims of more than $80 billion from Iraq, do not reduce their demands. Paris Club Chairman Jean-Pierre Jouyet said the debt will be written off in phases, with 30 percent absolved immediately. After Iraq undergoes reforms recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2005 and 2008, additional portions should be forgiven. France and Germany previously said that they did not want to forgive more than half of Iraq's debts, while U.S. officials pushed for a 90-95 percent reduction, Reuters reported. "This is a real milestone, and it shows the trans-Atlantic alliance remains a strong force for good in the world," U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow said. ERA
 IRAQI OFFICIALS SET JANUARY ELECTION DATE...Iraq's National Election Commission announced on 21 November that nationwide voting in Iraq will take place on 30 January, CNN reported. Under Iraq's Transitional Administrative Law, the elections must be held on or before 30 January. The vote should result in an Iraqi national assembly, a Kurdish national assembly, and 18 provincial governing councils. Nearly 200 groups have applied to take part in the elections, "The New York Times" reported. The date had been tentatively set for 27 January, Reuters reported. ERA
 ...BUT MOSUL OFFICIAL EXPRESSES DOUBTSThe deputy governor of Mosul, Khisro Koran, said the current instability makes elections impossible, "Azzaman" reported on 20 November. "The security situation is not suitable for the holding of the elections, particularly in the provincial center," Koran said. Mosul has traditionally played an important role in national politics, contributing key politicians and army officials. If Mosul does not participate in the January elections, the city might lose its standing in Iraqi affairs, Koran warned. Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, has seen an increase in violence recently despite a greater U.S. troop presence. Seven bodies, including that of an Iraqi soldier, were found on 21 November. Nine Iraqi soldiers were found dead the previous day, all apparently shot in the back of the head execution-style, CNN reported. ERA
 TROOPS RAID BAGHDAD MOSQUEU.S.-led forces invaded the Abu Hanifa Mosque in Baghdad on 19 November, "The Washington Post" reported. According to the BBC, the imam of the mosque was reportedly arrested. Iraqi officials prepared the public for the arrests, citing a law that equates support for the insurgency with the actions themselves. The Abu Hanifa contains the grave of one of Islam's most influential jurists. The raid, which occurred after Friday Prayer, sparked widespread outrage, "The Washington Post" reported. "They didn't find any weapons, but they killed some of our people," said Abdul Hadi Jasim Obaidy, a mosque employee. The Abu Hanifa raid was one of several against clerics who are sympathetic to the insurgency. In Qaim, near the Syrian border, U.S. troops also raided a mosque, the AP reported. ERA
 INSURGENTS RELEASE IRAQI PRIME MINISTER'S COUSINGhazi Allawi, the 75-year-old cousin of Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, was freed by his abductors on 20 November, AP reported. Ghazi Allawi was kidnapped from his Baghdad home along with his wife and pregnant daughter-in-law on 9 November. The two women were released on 15 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2004). A previously unknown insurgent group, Ansar Al-Jihad, claimed responsibility, demanding an end to the U.S.-led assault on Al-Fallujah and the release of all Iraqi detainees. Another captive, Polish hostage Teresa Borcz, was released on 20 November, AFP reported. She was seized on 28 October by the Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Fundamentalist Brigades, which demanded the withdrawal of all Polish forces from Iraq, AP reported. Some 170 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq this year, eight of them women. At least 34 hostages have been murdered. ERA
 RETURN DATE UNCERTAIN FOR AL-FALLUJAH RESIDENTSIt is unlikely that the more than 100,000 Iraqis who fled Al-Fallujah before the U.S.-led assault will be able to return soon, Reuters reported on 20 November. "This will be driven by events, not dates. We have to restore basic services such as water and electricity first," U.S. Army Major Francis Piccoli said. "We are also going from house to house to clear out any insurgents and weapons." Quoting a Marine-battalion spokesman, AFP reported that it may be February before Al-Fallujah residents are allowed to return. Efforts have been limited to volunteers from the neighboring town of Saqlawiya, clearing decomposing corpses from the streets, AFP reported. The U.S. Marine spokesman said about $50 million has been earmarked for the reconstruction of Al-Fallujah, Reuters reported. ERA
 RUSSIA'S POPULATION DECLINING BY TWO VILLAGES EVERY DAYBy Paul Goble
During the first eight months of 2004, Russia's population declined by more than 504,000, an amount equal to two villages every day or a small oblast in the course of the year, according to speakers at a recently concluded Moscow conference on that country's demographic future.
But the situation is even worse than those overall figures suggest, "Izvestiya" reported on 9 November. One-third of the total decline consists of working-age adults, a pattern unprecedented in industrialized countries during peacetime and one that puts enormous pressure on the economy, participants in the all-Russian forum on "The Past and Present of Population in Russia" said.
Moreover, they added, mortality rates among Russian men now exceed those among women by 400 percent in all age groups. And mortality rates among young people between the ages of 15 and 19 have increased by 40 percent over the last decade, a pattern that makes it ever more difficult for the Russian army to find enough draftees.
Because all those who will serve in the army or enter the workforce before 2015 have already been born, economist Leonid Abalkin told "Parlamentskaya gazeta" just before the conference opened, these pressures will continue for some time even if Moscow finally decides to devote more money to improving public health and welfare.
In-migration is no longer hiding this trend as it did in the 1990s. During that decade, immigrants from other post-Soviet states covered most of the decline among indigenous Russians. This year, participants said, in-migration from abroad compensate for only 3.2 percent of the domestic decline, a pattern they said will almost certainly continue.
And unexpectedly, this Russian demographic catastrophe appears to be even worse in some of the country's most developed areas than in some less well-off localities. For example, in Moscow -- the wealthiest place in the country -- the percentage of normal births is now lower than the rate for the Russian Federation as a whole, 29 percent as opposed to 31 percent.
That situation, participants said, reflects increases in the number of children born out of wedlock, increasing consumption of alcohol by expectant mothers, and difficulties even in the capital city of gaining access to good medical care. Indeed, one participant said, neglect or ill treatment by mothers there explained up to 50 percent of infant deaths.
And as a result, infant mortality rates in the Russian capital have risen every year over the past four, "RBC Daily" reported, and now stand at 11.4 deaths per 1,000 live births. (Because Russian officials use different definitions, this figure actually understates the number compared to mortality rates in Western countries.)
That pattern in turn suggests that economic improvements alone might not be enough to turn things around in the short term, as many Russian officials and Western observers now argue. Instead, participants in this latest Russian discussion suggested, potential parents and society as a whole might need to change their values.
That is the message Russia's religious leaders hope will find an audience. In a speech placed on the Orthodox Information Agency website "Russkaya liniya" (http://www.russian-line.ru) on 26 October, for example, Vladimir Pereslegin argued that only heightened attention to moral values can rescue Russia from what he called a demographic "holocaust."
Obviously, he said, the church welcomes state action, including more severe criminal sentences for drug trafficking. But he argued that the government is inconsistent even in that area: Moscow's decision to remove Russian border guards from the Afghan-Tajik border will allow the influx of still more drugs and increases in the diseases associated with them. Religious leaders thus must take a far more active role if Russia is to be saved, Pereslegin concluded.
Leonid Abalkin and other participants agreed, with Abalkin noting that the "main question" today is "whether Russia will exist or not." Obviously, all participants in this discussion expressed the hope that things will turn around. But one of them noted that the demographic future of Russia might turn out to be even worse than most current projections suggest. He pointed out that the demographic realities of the last decade in Russia have been far worse than the worst-case projections Russian scholars made a decade ago. Unless things change, and change quickly, in Russian society, he implied, the future could easily and tragically extend that disturbing trend.(Paul Goble, a former publisher of "RFE/RL Newsline" and a longtime Soviet nationalities expert with the U.S. government, is currently a research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia.)