|Monday, 27 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, 05-04-26
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 IN ANNUAL ADDRESS, PUTIN SAYS RUSSIA SHOULD BE 'STRONG' AND 'RESPECTED'...Addressing Russian citizens with his annual state of the nation address, President Vladimir Putin said on 25 April before a joint session of the Federal Assembly at the Kremlin that "Russia should be strong and successful in order to gain respect from abroad," Russian news agencies reported. "Those who thought that the young Russian democracy constitutes the death throes of the Soviet system, but not a continuation of Russian statehood, were mistaken," he said. Putin added that Russian foreign policy should secure its borders and guarantee the state's internal development. He noted that Russia and former Soviet republics are linked by a "common fate, history, and language" and said "The civilizing mission of the Russian nation on the Eurasian continent should continue." Putin added that the interests of ethnic Russians abroad must be protected. "Support for the rights of compatriots abroad is a crucial goal. It cannot be subject to a diplomatic or political bargain," he said. In an indirect criticism at the Baltic states, he added: "Those who do not respect, observe or ensure human rights have no right to demand that human rights be respected by others." VY
 ...PROMISES OPPOSITION ACCESS TO STATE MASS MEDIA...Putin said that Russia has "managed to rid itself of oligarchic censorship" and he stressed that it is important that citizens have objective information. Putin announced that Russia will soon adopt a law on access to government information and on greater transparency of the government. In a clear concession to the opposition, he added that all political parties represented in the Duma should have access to state TV channels: "State broadcasting must be maximally objective, free from group influence, and reflect a spectrum of opinions in the country." Putin also promised that the newly created Public Chamber will introduce greater civil control over state television. VY
 ...TELLS TAX COLLECTORS TO STOP 'TERRORIZING' BUSINESSESIn his address, Putin also ordered tax officials to stop harassing businesses, a practice that analysts say is driving away investment, international news agencies reported on 25 April. "Tax authorities have no right to terrorize business," Putin said in a 47-minute speech in the Kremlin's Marble Hall. "We should stimulate the return of capital earned by our people to our national economy," he added. Putin also urged Russians to bring back the billions of dollars that they have sent abroad and out of the reach of the taxman, promising they would only have to pay the 13 percent income-tax rate if they bring it back to Russia. BW
 PUTIN SAYS OLIGARCHS WANT TO OVERTHROW HIM...President Putin said on 22 April in an interview with the Israeli television channel Ayal Hasson (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2005) that some Russian "oligarch groups" are working to oust him from power, a transcript of the interview posted at kremlin.ru said. "I think that those who break the law and want to bring Russia back to the 'old times' might want that to happen," he said. Putin added that he is sure that most Russians still support his policies. "The vast majority of Russians think that many of the decisions made during privatization in the 1990s are, to put it mildly, very questionable. And average citizens ask the question: 'How can one make a personal fortune of $6 or 7 billion within 5-6 years in a normal economy without breaking the law?'" Putin said. He mentioned in this regard Yukos and its managers and quoted Menatep Group owner Leonid Nevzlin, the majority shareholder in Yukos, who once said: "Let them confiscate. These aren't our last $5 billion." Putin called Nevzlin's statement "amoral." Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on 22 April that he is categorically against the extradition of Nevzlin, who resides in Israel and whom Moscow wants extradited to Russia in connection with various crimes, TV-Tsentr reported on 23 April. VY
 ...AS ONE OLIGARCH WARNS PUTIN MAY FACE INTERNATIONAL TRIBUNALIn an interview to gazeta.ru on 22 April, Nevzlin said that he does not want to be involved in politics but he will continue his political fight until ex-Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii and the other Yukos officials who have been arrested in this case are released from prison. Asked about the possibility of Putin running for president for a third term in 2012, Nevzlin said Putin "must think not about new elections but of the Hague tribunal. He will have to be charged with Chechnya, the Nord-Ost [theater siege in Moscow in fall 2002], and the Beslan [school tragedy]," Gazeta.ru reported. Earlier, Nevzlin said he has proof that the head of Putin's administration, Dmitrii Medvedev, and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin were involved in the crackdown on Yukos, and he promised to sue them in international courts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2005). Meanwhile, Valerii Minaev, the rector of the Russian State Humanitarian University (RGGU), announced that the university has rejected a previously agreed offer from Yukos to contribute what amounts to $100 million over the next 10 years to the RGGU's budget. The RGGU also decided to revise the authority of its Board of Trustees, of which Nevzlin is a member. VY
 PUTIN MEETS BRITISH PETROLEUM CEO TO EASE FEARS OF A CRACKDOWN ON ITS SUBSIDIARYPresident Putin met in the Kremlin on 22 April with John Browne, the chief executive officer of British Petroleum (BP), telling him that the oil giant should not worry about its business in Russia, Russian and international media reported. The fear of a possible renationalization of the company's joint venture in Russia, known as TNK-BP, appeared earlier this month when Russian tax officials brought a claim against TNK-BP for more than $1.1 billion in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 April 2005). Putin told Browne that the two sides did the right thing when they signed an $8 billion investment contract in 2003 -- the biggest in Russia's post-Communist history, mosnews.ru reported. Putin also told Browne that he hopes that his business in Russia grows and he called BP "a good corporate citizen for Russia." VY
 ORTHODOX CHURCH STILL OBJECTS TO PAPAL VISIT TO RUSSIAWriting in the Italian daily "La Stampa" on 24 April, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church's Foreign Relations Department in the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill, said a meeting between Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Aleksii II and Pope Benedict XVI will only be possible after relations between the two churches improve. "In this sense, our position remains the same as during the pontificate of John Paul II," Kirill stressed. "It is necessary [for the Roman Catholic Church] to refrain from unhealthy missionary competition, which is taking place now, and to find ways to relieve tension between Russian Orthodox and Catholics," Kirill noted. "We sincerely hope for better relations, but time is needed to understand what the new line of the new pope will be towards the Russian Orthodox Church," he added. VY
 MANY RUSSIANS SEE DISINTEGRATION AS POSSIBLEAccording to a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Fund (FOM) this month, a majority of Russians believe their country is threatened by disintegration, posted by fom.ru. Of some 600 respondents in 100 Russian cities, 62 percent said they think the chance of Russia breaking apart is big while 25 percent said they do not view it as a danger. Moreover, 32 percent consider the threat of disintegration as having grown since last year; 36 percent said the possibility has not changed, and 14 percent said the chance of it happening has decreased. Some 35 percent believe the government underestimates such a threat, while 25 percent think the government has a proper understanding of such a risk, and 8 percent believe the Kremlin overestimates the danger of disintegration. Some 52 percent believe the reason for a possible disintegration would be acute domestic problems such as social inequality, regional disparity, and interethnic conflicts. Nearly 60 percent believe there are outside forces that "purposefully and persistently" work for Russia's disintegration. Among the countries interested in seeing Russia collapse, those surveyed named the United States, Japan, China, Israel, Ukraine, Georgia, and the Baltic states (in that order). VY
 DUMA PASSES BILL ON ELECTORAL CHANGESThe State Duma passed a bill on 23 April ending the election of independent lawmakers, Russian and international news agencies reported the same day. The Duma passed the legislation, which would have the lower house elected solely by party lists, by a 339-84 margin. To become law it must still be passed by the Federation Council and be signed by President Putin. The legislation, which eliminates single-mandate districts in the Duma, is part of Putin's controversial plan to consolidate political power in the country following attacks by Chechen militants last summer. Opposition leaders have called it an attempt to marginalize them and give greater leverage to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. Currently, the Duma's 450 seats are split evenly between lawmakers elected by party list and winners of elections in single-mandate constituencies. BW
 RUSSIAN PRESIDENT SAYS MOSCOW AND WASHINGTON SHARE SAME GOALS...Despite differences between Russia and the United States, Putin said that Moscow and Washington continue to share the same goals in foreign affairs, RIA-Novosti reported on 25 April, citing Putin's interview in the Egyptian newspaper "Al-Ahram." "Having different views on how to settle this or that international issue does not mean that we do not have close or even common positions on other, no less important, issues on the agenda today," Putin said in the "Al-Ahram" interview. "We work together to fight international terrorism.... We also have a broad range of economic ties. President Bush and I have established good personal relations. I think that he is a reliable person. He may take some decisions that I find debatable, but he is a consistent and predictable partner," Putin added. BW
 ...SAYS VETO SHOULD BE RETAINED FOR UN SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBERS...Putin also stressed that permanent members of a reformed United Nations Security Council should retain the right to veto resolutions, RIA-Novosti reported on 25 April, citing the "Al-Ahram" interview. "The more effective instruments of the UN should be preserved, including the right of a veto in the Security Council," Putin told "Al-Ahram." "We should preserve, and possibly add details to, some other forms of UN operations, such as the use of force with due regard for UN procedures," he added. Putin also said that any reform of the UN should consider changing international conditions and aim to strengthen, not weaken, the organization. "If everything that has been created in the past decades was emasculated by the reform, we will turn the UN into a weak shadow of the League of Nations, which did not survive confrontation with serious problems," Putin said. BW
 ...AND PRAISES PROGRESS IN IRAQPutin said Iraq has made enormous strides toward stability and pledged that Moscow will work with the country's new leaders, Interfax reported on 25 April. "Iraq has done enormous work lately to stabilize the situation," Putin told the Egyptian daily "Al-Ahram." Putin also urged Iraq's leaders to work toward religious reconciliation. "The new Iraqi leadership must find courage and the ability to come to terms with all religious groups, take their interests into account, reach an agreement on the principles of the future constitution, strengthen internal security on this basis, and negotiate a schedule and [the] terms of [the] foreign troops' pullout," he said. "We intend to cooperate with Iraq, with the new Iraqi leadership, and to assist restoration efforts in that country. We have stable and long-established ties with that country and we are determined to develop them further," Putin said.
 UNIFIED RUSSIA LEADER RULES OUT PARTY SPLITThe General Council of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party has ruled out the possibility of creating left and right factions, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 April. "The bear needs no wings," party leader and State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said. "We are standing firm on our legs and the party is a single whole," he added. On 21 April, Andrei Isaev, a member of United Russia's General Council, announced the emergence of a "left-wing" faction inside the party. Gryzlov added that Unified Russia "prefers social conservatism, relying on the middle class and acting in the interests of this class, defending the interests of those who need no revolutions, either financial, economic, cultural, political or orange, brown, red, or blue." BW
 THREE MEMBERS OF UNIFIED RUSSIA EXPELLED IN ALTAI REPUBLICThe Altai branch of Unified Russia has expelled the speaker of the regional legislature and two local lawmakers, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 April. Legislative Speaker Igor Yakimov and lawmakers Aleksandr Alchubaev and Viktor Khabaro quit the local Unified Russia bloc without the consent of the leadership on 11 April, saying the regional party does not have the respect of local residents. The three, who were formally expelled on 23 April, said they will remain part of the national party and plan to create a new local group that will support Putin. BW
 SLAIN CHECHEN RESISTANCE LEADER BURIEDPresident Aslan Maskhadov, who was killed on 8 March in the village of Tolstoi-Yurt reportedly by Russian special forces in circumstances that remain unclear, has been buried in an unmarked grave as required by Russian law on combating terrorism, Russian media reported on 22 April, quoting Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel. Maskhadov's widow and his son Anzor appealed to Western leaders to pressure the Russian authorities to hand over Maskhadov's body for burial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2005). LF
 PRO-MOSCOW CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD JOINS UNIFIED RUSSIAAlu Alkhanov formally joined the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party on 23 April, ITAR-TASS reported. Alkhanov said he is well aware of how much the party has done for Chechnya. LF
 THOUSANDS TAKE TO STREETS IN ADYGEYA TO PROTEST PLANNED TERRITORIAL MERGERSome 10,000 people attended a demonstration on 22 April in Maikop, capital of the Republic of Adygeya, to protest Moscow's plans to abolish the region's status and merge it with the surrounding Krasnodar Krai, www.kavkazweb.net reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 7 January and 22 April 2005). Two new organizations have emerged to mobilize public opinion against that planned merger: the Committee to Protect the Status of the Republic of Adygeya, which held its constituent meeting on 23 April, and the League of Social Unions. On 21 April, Vladimir Gromov, ataman of the Kuban Cossacks, warned in Maikop against changing any borders in the North Caucasus, AdygeyaNatPress reported. He reasoned that the region needs peace and stability, and that any move to abolish borders would only compound existing tensions. In Grozny, however, Chechen State Council Chairman Taus Dzhabrailov again proposed merging Chechnya, Ingushetia, Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Stavropol Krai into a single territorial unit, Interfax reported on 21 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2004). He argued that it is more difficult to cross internal borders between North Caucasian republics than the frontier "between the former USSR and a capitalist country," and that abolishing the existing checkpoints on those internal borders would save money. LF
 ESTONIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS PRESSURE MOSCOW TO PROTECT FINNO-UGRIC MINORITIESEstonian parliamentarians who attended the 19-20 April session of the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee in Moscow called on their Russian colleagues to investigate reprisals against members of the 650,000 Mari minority, including an assault on Vladimir Chizhov, chairman of the Mari Congress, according to a 22 April press release circulated by the Tallinn-based Information Center of Finno-Ugric Peoples. The Estonian representatives also deplored restrictions on the use of the Mari language in schools and broadcasting. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIA COMMEMORATES 1915 MASS KILLINGSHundreds of thousands of people, including Armenia's top leaders, marked on 24 April the 90th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, converging on the monument to genocide victims near Yerevan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and international media reported. In a written address to the Armenian people, President Robert Kocharian termed the genocide a watershed in Armenian history and said international recognition that the killings constituted a genocide should become an issue in regional and international politics. At the same time, he reaffirmed Armenia's readiness to establish "normal relations" with Turkey. Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian said on 24 April that he believes Turkey will eventually acknowledge it as a genocide, but he added that "the Turks must admit their ancestors' mistake." Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said that Armenia wants Turkey's accession to the EU to be made contingent on recognition of the genocide and the opening of its borders with Armenia. LF
 FORMER ARMENIAN PREMIER AGAIN QUERIES ECONOMIC DATAHrant Bagratian, who served as prime minister under President Levon Ter-Petrossian from February 1993 until November 1996, again challenged on 22 April government statistics showing that Armenia registered double-digit economic growth during each of the past four years, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January and 18 March 2002). Bagratian said the real figure is closer to 3-4 percent, and he partly attributed the discrepancy to a "propaganda effort" on the part of the government and partly to faulty methodology for collecting data. LF
 ARMENIAN POLITICAL PARTIES DEPLORE VIOLENCEThe three members of the governing coalition joined almost all of Armenia's opposition parties in signing a statement on 22 April condemning the wounding of a young activist at a rally in Sevan on 22 April convened by Aram Karapetian's Nor Zhamanakner party, Noyan Tapan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2005). The young man was wounded by a shot fired by a supporter of Yerkrapah Union Chairman General Manvel Grigorian, according to "Iravunk" on 22 April. Karapetian was summoned on 22 April to the Yerevan City Prosecutor's Office where he was questioned for several hours. LF
 AZERBAIJANI POLICE DISPERSE YOUTH PROTEST, DETAIN ACTIVISTSPolice in Baku dispersed some 100 people who planned to stage a demonstration outside the Baku city Prosecutor's Office on 22 April to protest that agency's failure to investigate police brutality on 9 April against members of the youth organization Yeni Fikir, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 8 April 2005). Later on 22 April, National Security Ministry officials detained five Yeni Fikir members for one hour and questioned them about the organization's objectives and its sources of funding. LF
 TWO NEW POLITICAL ALIGNMENTS EMERGE IN AZERBAIJANThe seven prominent Azerbaijani oppositionists jailed last October for their imputed role in the postpresidential clashes in Baku on 16 October 2003 and pardoned last month by President Ilham Aliyev launched the political movement "16 October" in Baku on 22 April, Turan and echo-az.com reported on 22 and 23 April, respectively. Former People's Party Chairman Panah Huseinov said the movement's primary objectives are to further democracy and the holding of free and fair elections, although the movement will not field candidates in the parliamentary elections due in November 2005, according to Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Secretary-General Serdar Djalaloglu. But Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," said that "if the people want a revolution, we shall bring one about." On 21 April, a group of NGO leaders, including Sabit Bagirov, former president of the state oil company SOCAR, announced their alignment in the election bloc Public Leaders, echo-az.com reported on 23 April. They affirmed their readiness to cooperate with other blocs to support amendments to the election law and ensure that NGOs are permitted to monitor the vote without any restrictions. LF
 RUSSIAN, GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKERS DISCUSS BASES CLOSUREDuring talks in Tbilisi on 22 April, Russian Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov assured Georgian Parliament Speaker Nino Burdjanadze of Russia's willingness to close its two remaining military bases in Georgia and proposed 1 January 2008 as the deadline for doing so, rustavi2.com reported. Burdjanadze, however, rejected that time frame, and Georgian parliament Defense and Security Committee Chairman Givi Targamadze proposed 1 January 2007. The Russian and Georgian foreign ministers, Sergei Lavrov and Salome Zourabichvili, are meeting in Moscow on 25 April to continue negotiations aimed at reaching a compromise agreement on the timetable for the closure and related issues. LF
 GEORGIA DEMANDS INVESTIGATION OF GALI SHOOTINGMeeting with Mironov on 22 April, Targamadze demanded that a bilateral Georgian-Russian commission be formed to investigate the circumstances under which a young Georgian was killed by Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia's Gali Raion on 20 April, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2005). LF
 ACTING KYRGYZ PRESIDENT VISITS KAZAKHSTANKurmanbek Bakiev met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in Almaty on 22 April, Khabar reported. In light of the political crisis in Kyrgyzstan, Nazarbaev pledged that Kazakhstan will soon supply its neighbor with 1,000 tons of wheat and 10,000 tons of fuel, Kazakh TV1 reported. Nazarbaev also said that the Kyrgyz side has agreed to examine the question of four Kazakh resorts in Kyrgyzstan's Issyk-Kul Province with an eye to creating joint ventures, while Kazakhstan will take measures to repair a jointly owned gas pipeline through Kyrgyzstan, which requires $20 million in investments, Khabar reported. For his part, acting President Bakiev praised Kazakhstan's economic reforms and reiterated his support for Nazarbaev's recent proposal to create a union of Central Asian states (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2005 and 18 April 2005). DK
 KAZAKH PRESIDENT SIGNS CHANGES TO ELECTION LAWPresident Nazarbaev has signed into law recently passed amendments to the country's election legislation, "Kazakhstan Today" reported on 23 April. The amendments require candidates to provide information on their income and restrict demonstrations during the election period (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2005). The opposition party Ak Zhol had urged Nazarbaev to veto the amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2005). DK
 ACTING KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SAYS HE WILL FACE KULOV IN 10 JULY ELECTIONSBakiev answered questions from viewers and listeners in a session broadcast live by Kyrgyz Television and Kyrgyz State Radio on 24 April. Noting that 30 days have passed since the administration of ousted President Askar Akaev fell on 24 March, Bakiev said, "Thanks to the efforts of our government and local authorities we have been able to stabilize the social and political situation by now." Bakiev also confirmed that he met with Ar-Namys party head Feliks Kulov on 23 April and that the two will face each other in 10 July presidential elections. Bakiev said, "[T]he two of us had a gentlemanly talk agreeing to hold fair elections and a fair fight and not to take people into the streets if one of us loses and not to buy votes by giving money to people." DK
 KYRGYZ PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAYS OUSTED PRESIDENT MEDDLED IN ELECTIONSAzimbek Beknazarov told the country's parliament on 22 April that materials discovered in the office of former President Akaev confirm that he and other top officials interfered in recent parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Beknazarov said that three folders and a text titled "Prolonging the powers of President Akaev until the end of 2010 through a referendum" were discovered in the office of former State Secretary Osmonakul Ibraimov. Beknazarov said that former deputy head of the presidential administration Bolot Januzakov was also involved in organizing election dirty tricks. Beknazarov said that the president recorded in his own hand notes about funds provided to certain parliamentary candidates. DK
 KYRGYZ STATE TELEVISION STAFF WANTS PUBLIC CONTROLEmployees of Kyrgyzstan's National Television and Radio Broadcasting Corporation (NTRK) held a news conference on 22 April demanding that state-run television be transformed into public television, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. They stated, "The destabilization of the information front will continue until NTRK becomes public television." Jainagul Maksimova, chair of the group Journalists for Law and Order and the head of a broadcasting company in Chuy Province, said, "Kyrgyz TV carries out the same political orders now as it did under the previous regime," akipress.org reported. She argued that only public control can bring freedom of expression to the airwaves. Tamara Valieva, a television staffer, said that new procedures are needed for appointing top management, or else "TV staff will stage attempts to stop broadcasts." Despite tension between the post-Akaev management of state-run television and employees, management is also prepared to accept public control over broadcasting, RFE/RL reported. DK
 PROSECUTORS TO REVIEW VOTE-BUYING CHARGES AGAINST AKAEV'S DAUGHTERKyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission ruled on 22 April that the Prosecutor-General's Office should review allegations of vote-buying on behalf of Bermet Akaeva, the daughter of former President Akaev, during her recent election to parliament, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Bolot Maripov, who lost to Akaeva in a 13 March runoff, charged that Akaeva engaged in vote-buying at a minimum of five polling stations. In a 21 April interview with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Akaeva denied the charges. DK
 FORMER TAJIK OFFICIAL SENTENCED FOR HIZB UT-TAHRIR LINKA court in Tajikistan's Sughd Province on 22 April sentenced Davron Jabborov to a 10-year prison term and confiscation of his property for membership in the banned Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir and bigamy, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Jabborov had worked in the counterterrorism section of the security services in Sughd Province from 1995 to 1998 before he was dismissed for a firearm mishap that led to the death of a colleague. Although Jabborov admitted to membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir, he denied any guilt, saying, "The sentence is unjust, since it was not proven that I broke the law, because Hizb ut-Tahrir does not set the goal of overthrowing the government by force." DK
 TAJIK PRESIDENT HOLDS MEETINGS AT JAKARTA SUMMITPresident Imomali Rakhmonov held a number of high-level meetings on 22-23 April at the Asia-Africa 2005 Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tajik Television and agencies reported. On 22 April, Rakhmonov met with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi, Tajik Television reported. Rakhmonov's discussion with Reza Aref-Yazdi focused on Iran's involvement in the construction of the Anzob tunnel and Sangtuda-2 hydropower plant in Tajikistan. On 23 April, Rakhmonov met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, discussing recent trade agreements and the prospect of Tajik electricity exports to Pakistan, Tajik Television reported. Also on 23 April, Rakhmonov met with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Xinhua reported. Their talks centered on bilateral relations and the role of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asian security. DK
 TURKMEN PRESIDENT CHANGES MARRIAGE LAW FOR FOREIGNERSSaparmurat Niyazov has changed the law regulating marriages between Turkmen citizens and foreigners, turkmenistan.ru reported on 22 April. Under the new law, foreigners will no longer have to pay a $50,000 deposit, although they will still have to reside in Turkmenistan for no less than one year. DK
 UZBEK CAPITAL GETS NEW MAYORRustam Shoabdurahmonov was removed from his post as the mayor of Tashkent at an extraordinary session of the city council on 22 April, UzA reported. President Islam Karimov, who attended the session, harshly criticized the city administration for negligence, noting that the public's debt for utilities exceeds 20 billion soms ($20 million), Uzbek radio reported. Deputy Prime Minister Abduqahhor Tukhtaev was appointed to replace Shoabdurahmonov, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. DK
 BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST DETAINED FOR ANTIPRESIDENTIAL RALLYPolice detained opposition politician Andrey Klimau in Minsk on 22 April, charging him with the organization of an unsanctioned rally on 25 March against the rule of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (see RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2005), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Klimau is currently standing trial on charges of defaming President Lukashenka in three books and a leaflet disseminated in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2005). Klimau spent four years in prison in 1998-2002 after being convicted of embezzlement charges that are widely regarded as politically motivated. JM
 ANOTHER BELARUSIAN HOPEFUL MAKES PRESIDENTIAL BIDAlyaksandr Vaytovich, former president of the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences (1997-2000) and chairman of the Council of the Republic (upper house of Belarus's National Assembly) from 2000-03, told Belapan on 24 April that he intends to run in the country's 2006 presidential election. The 67-year-old Vaytovich said there are several reasons behind his decision to vie for the presidency. "Firstly, this is the state of affairs in all spheres of the country's life, which are increasingly affected by Alyaksandr Lukashenka's dictatorship," Vaytovich said. "Secondly, I receive a lot of appeals from representatives of various groups of our society. And thirdly, I have experience of service at different levels with many organizations, including national ones." Meanwhile, regional conferences of opposition groups and nongovernmental organizations in Mahilyou on 23 April and Hrodna on 24 April threw their support behind Alyaksandr Milinkevich, one of the leaders of Belarus's third sector, as their choice for a joint presidential candidate to be proposed for approval by a congress of democratic forces later this year, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. JM
 CIS INTERIOR MINISTERS SIGN ACCORD ON FIGHTING CRIME, UKRAINE ABSTAINSTen CIS interior ministers met in Brest, southwestern Belarus, on 21 April and signed a joint plan to fight organized crime, terrorism, and illicit drug trafficking under an interstate program for 2005 through 2007, Belapan reported on 22 April. Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko did not sign the document, saying he needs to discuss it with his country's government. Lutsenko's spokeswoman, Inna Kisel, told the newspaper "Ukrayinska pravda" on 22 April that Ukraine will limit its role in the CIS Council of Interior Ministers to that of an observer. JM
 UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER SAYS FUEL CRISIS IS NEARLY OVERPrime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko told journalists in Kyiv on 23 April that Ukraine's fuel crisis is coming to an end, with the overwhelming majority of gasoline stations cutting prices to the level set by the Economy Ministry and oil traders resuming deliveries of cut-price diesel to farmers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2005), Interfax reported. Tymoshenko thanked the heads of Ukrainian oil companies who joined a government team to fight the crisis, as well as Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov and Prime Minister of Tatarstan Rustam Minikhanov. Tymoshenko added that the Russian oil companies TNK-BP and LUKoil also became part of the anti-crisis team. According to Interfax, LUKoil Chairman Vagit Alekperov agreed to cut retail fuel prices at the company's gasoline stations in Ukraine following a meeting with Tymoshenko in Kyiv on 22 April. JM
 UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION PARTY ELECTS NEW LEADERA congress of the Labor Ukraine Party in Kyiv on 23 April elected 38-year-old lawmaker Valeriy Konovalyuk from Donetsk as the party's new chairman, Interfax reported. The party's previous leader, Serhiy Tyhipko, who was manager of former Premier Viktor Yanukovych's presidential campaign in 2004, resigned his post at the congress. Last week Konovalyuk left the parliamentary caucus of the Regions of Ukraine Party led by Yanukovych. The "Ukrayina moloda" newspaper on 22 April described Konovalyuk as a "young, vigorous, and charismatic" politician who is likely to challenge Yanukovych's current leadership of the opposition against the government of President Viktor Yanukovych in the 2006 parliamentary-election campaign. JM
 FORMER SERBIAN COMMANDER LEAVES FOR THE HAGUEProminent war crimes indictee and retired General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who is also a former head of the Serbian General Staff, left Belgrade for The Hague on 25 April to face charges before the tribunal there in connection with his role in the 1998-99 Serbian ethnic-cleansing campaign in Kosova, the private Beta news agency reported. Pavkovic agreed on 22 April to go to The Hague "voluntarily" to spare Serbia possible difficulties when the EU foreign ministers meet on 25 April to consider starting negotiations with Belgrade leading to a Stabilization and Association Agreement, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 18 and 19 April 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 April 2005). Pavkovic's departure for The Hague was widely seen in both Brussels and Belgrade as an essential precondition for Serbia and Montenegro to get the green light for the EU foreign ministers. He will undergo a medical examination in Rotterdam before proceeding to the tribunal's prison. PM
 PROMINENT SERBIAN POLITICIAN TO LEAVE HIS PARTY'S LEGISLATIVE CAUCUS OVER KOSOVA...Goran Svilanovic, a member of the Serbian parliament for the Democratic Party and a former foreign minister of Serbia and Montenegro, said in Belgrade on 23 April that he will leave the party's parliamentary caucus and serve as an independent, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Svilanovic added that he reached the decision in a talk with Serbian President Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party because Svilanovic's position on Kosova is incompatible with that of Tadic and the party. Svilanovic belongs to an international Balkans advisory group that recently called for a sort of independence for Kosova under the close tutelage of the EU (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 April 2005). Tadic argues that independence for Kosova is "unacceptable" and has sought to make political capital out of the Kosova issue for the Serbian general elections widely expected later in 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 January, 18 February, and 25 March 2005). Tadic's main rivals -- Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and Tomas Nikolic the hard-line Serbian Radical Party (SRS) -- have also staked out firm positions against independence for Kosova. The SRS announced that it will bring a lawsuit against Svilanovic because of his stand on Kosova. PM
 ...AND DOES NOT MINCE HIS WORDSSvilanovic told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 25 April that he has become a "black sheep" for the Serbian political establishment because he had the courage to say in public what all the political leaders know in private, namely that the EU is serious about starting a process that will lead to independence for Kosova. Svilanovic argued that in the run-up to the expected elections, neither the governing parties nor the opposition want to be branded as "traitors" over the Kosova issues and have consequently avoided having a serious discussion about the problem, even though they are well aware of what the international community has in mind. PM
 MACEDONIAN COURT ACQUITS FOUR IN TRIAL OVER SLAIN MIGRANTS...A court in Skopje on 22 April acquitted three former senior police officers and a fourth man of charges that they had killed six Pakistanis and one Indian outside Skopje in March 2002, Reuters and Macedonian media reported. The court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prove charges that the defendants killed the migrants in a staged shoot-out, so that the Interior Ministry could claim that police killed Al-Qaeda members who were planning to attack western embassies in Skopje. Macedonian press reports suggested that the acquittal was due to poorly prepared charges, inconclusive testimony by prosecution witnesses, and good work by the defense attorneys. UB
 ...WITH POSSIBLE POLITICAL REPERCUSSIONSRepresentatives of the conservative opposition parties, which had supported the defendants as "defenders of Macedonia," hailed the 22 April verdict as a victory for an independent judiciary, Macedonian media reported. Prosecutors nonetheless announced that they will challenge the verdict, "Dnevnik" reported. It is not clear whether the verdict will affect the trial against former Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski. In February, Croatian prosecutors charged Boskovski with murder in connection with the killing of the migrants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 March 2002, 10 and 11 May 2004, and 28 February and 24 March 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 May 2004 and 26 March 2005). Croatia has since handed over Boskovski to the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal after the tribunal indicted him in connection with a police operation in 2001, in which 10 ethnic Albanian civilians were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2005). UB
 UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PRESENTS TRANSDNIESTER PEACE PLAN...Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko has presented a peace plan for Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region calling for a larger role for the United States and the European Union, Infotag reported on 22 April. Yushchenko's proposal, presented at the GUUAM summit meeting in Chisinau, calls for parliamentary elections in Transdniester that are monitored by Russia, the United States, the EU, and the Council of Europe. Yushchenko also said that an international force under the auspices of the OSCE should replace Russian troops in the region. Additionally, he called for the United States and the EU to become engaged in the negotiating process, for international monitors at Transdniester's military sites, and for OSCE observers to monitor the territory's borders. BW
 ...AND PROPOSES THAT GUUAM BECOME PERMANENT ORGANIZATIONYushchenko also proposed in Chisinau that GUUAM become a full-fledged regional organization with a headquarters and other necessary structures, Infotag reported on 22 April. "The philosophy of this organization should be based on three pillars -- democracy, economic development, and security. We all adhere to the principles of European and Euro-Atlantic integration, and should unite efforts to attain these goals," Yushchenko said. Some observers view GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) as a potential challenger to the Moscow-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States. Yushchenko also repeated his suggestion to create a GUUAM free-trade zone, which he said would create the conditions for greater stability and security in the region. BW
 MOLDOVAN AND TRANSDNIESTER OFFICIALS WELCOME UKRAINE'S PROPOSALBoth Moldovan and Transdniester authorities welcomed Yushchenko's proposal for resolving the Transdniester dispute and said they will give the plan serious consideration, Moldovan and Russian news agencies reported on 22 April. "We welcome the proposal of Viktor Yushchenko to invite observers from the United States, the EU, the OSCE, Russia, Ukraine, and other countries to the [Transdniester] regional elections," ITAR-TASS quoted Grigorii Marakutsa, speaker of Transdniester's parliament as saying. Moldova's President Vladimir Voronin said he takes the Ukrainian proposal very seriously, and will scrutinize it in detail, Infotag reported. BW
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 SIX NEO-TALIBAN KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHAN CLASH...Six suspected neo-Taliban militants were killed on 24 April in Zabul Province when they encountered a group of Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) security guards, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. The PRT unit reportedly arrested one militiaman. The PRT in Zabul is led by the United States. It is rare for PRTs, which are primarily established to help maintain security for reconstruction projects and provide assistance for such projects, to engage in firefights. The report could not be independently verified. AT
 ...AS MILITIA RELEASES CAPTURED AFGHAN SOLDIERSNeo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi said on 22 April that the militia has released eight Afghan soldiers who were recently captured in Shah Wali Kot District of Kandahar Province, west of Zabul, AIP reported. According to Hakimi, local "scholars and elders guaranteed" that the captive soldiers would not work with the Afghan government, therefore they were released. Hakimi had told AIP on 19 April that eight Afghan policemen were captured by the neo-Taliban in Shah Wali Kot and that the militia's "leadership will decide about their fate" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 April 2005). On 22 April, AIP commented that this incident marks the first time that the neo-Taliban have released captured government security forces. AT
 COMMENTARY SAYS AFGHAN DISARMAMENT IN DISARRAYCommenting on the UN-led Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program in Afghanistan, the Kabul daily "Erada" wrote on 23 April that both the Afghan government and the international community have failed "to implement the process successfully." Acknowledging that armed groups have been disarmed under the DDR program in some areas of the country, "Erada" complained that the program "has not encompassed all of the rogue armed men." The rogue elements not covered by the DDR program are involved in "illicit trade and smuggling of drugs, historic relics, timber, and looting private and public assets in rural areas," the commentary added (for more on the DDR process, see "RFE/RL Newsline" 20 April 2005). AT
 TWO AFGHAN CIVILIANS KILLED IN CLASH BETWEEN LOCAL WARLORDSA mother and her child were killed in a clash between two local commanders in Shahr-e Bozorg District of northeastern Afghanistan's Badakhshan Province, the official Radio Afghanistan reported on 23 April. The cause of the clash was reportedly a disagreement between a local armed commander and the district head. Badakhshan police have not succeeded in quelling the clashes. According to the report, "hundreds of civilians have been killed and wounded in armed clashes between local commanders in various parts" of Afghanistan. AT
 GUNMEN IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN ACCUSED OF HARASSING LOCAL POPULATIONResidents of Faryab Province have complained that local warlords are illegally occupying the shops, homes, and land of local residents, Radio Afghanistan reported on 22 April. Faryab Governor Abdul Latif Ebrahimi admitted that the warlords pose a threat to civilians in his province, but he said that Faryab is not the only province where such incidents occur. AT
 ONE ROMANIAN SOLDIER KILLED, TWO INJURED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTANA Romanian soldier died and two others were injured when their vehicle detonated a land mine in Kandahar Province, Pro TV reported on 24 April. The Romanians were serving with the U.S.-led coalition force in Afghanistan. AT
 SURVEY PREDICTS LOW VOTER TURNOUT IN IRANAccording to a recent opinion survey, some 42 to 51 percent of the Iranian public plans to vote in the 17 June presidential election, Interior Ministry Spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani said on 24 April, IRNA reported. Khanjani noted that until now participation in presidential elections has surpassed that in others -- an average of 64 percent in eight presidential elections, 61 percent in six parliamentary elections, 59 percent in three Assembly of Experts elections, and 57 percent in municipal-council elections. Meanwhile, a poll conducted by the state broadcasting agency of 13,912 people in 30 cities on 5 April found that Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani garnered the highest number of votes (16 percent) in response to the question, "Who would be the most suitable president?" Osoolgara.com went on to report on 23 April that Ali Larijani earned 5 percent; while Mustafa Moin, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Ali Akbar Velayati, and Mehdi Karrubi all earned around 4 percent. Earning less than 3 percent were Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, Ahmad Tavakoli, Hassan Rohani, Mohsen Rezai, and Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad. BS
 RINGLEADERS OF ETHNIC UNREST IN IRAN ARRESTEDAhvaz prosecutor Iraj Amirkhani said on 24 April that the five people mainly responsible for the 15-18 April unrest in the city have been arrested, Fars News Agency reported. All have criminal records, he said. Of the 330 people arrested in connection with the unrest, 155 have been released. Khuzestan Province judiciary official Mohsen Purabdullah said the same day that the five ringleaders have confessed, ILNA reported. The Ahwaz Human Rights Organization reported on 24 April that 1,700 people were arrested in the last week, and more than 130 were killed and 806 were injured (http://www.ahwaz.org.uk/2005/04/ahwaz-intifada-intensifies.html). The organization claimed that Arab demonstrations and state violence continue and a local natural-gas plant is on fire, and it added that personnel from Lebanese Hizballah are participating in the repression. Turning to the 22 April solidarity parade in Ahvaz, the organization said people were bussed in from predominantly Persian areas and given Arab clothing to wear. BS
 KURDISH JOURNALISTS SUMMONED TO COURT IN IRANJalal Qavami and Said Saedi, two Kurdish journalists, were summoned to the Revolutionary Court in the northwestern city of Sanandaj, ILNA reported on 24 April. Qavami said the charges against them were not specified in the summons, and added that the two will appear on 27 April. He speculated that the summons relates to their speeches on Kurdish reformists at Kurdistan University. BS
 ARMENIANS IN IRAN MARK TRAGEDY ANNIVERSARYArmenian-Iranians gathered in Tehran and Isfahan on 24 April to commemorate the killings and mass deportations of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey from 1915-17, Radio Farda reported. The number of casualties is disputed -- Armenians say at least 1.5 million died, but Ankara says 300,000 died and also says thousands of Turks died during that time. Ankara also attributes the deaths to the war and other factors, rather than a deliberate policy. Participants in the rally included the Armenian ambassador to Tehran and Armenian legislators. Radio Farda cited Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa as saying that Armenia is right to discourage the European Union from granting membership to Turkey until Ankara acknowledges the genocide. BS
 NUCLEAR ENRICHMENT WILL TAKE PLACE IN IRANAsked on 24 April about Iran-EU nuclear negotiations, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi repeated his country's position that it will enrich uranium, Islamic Republic of Iran News Network reported. "We will put enrichment on our agenda after a while," Assefi said. "We will resume it at the end of the talks, regardless of whether the talks fail or succeed. Therefore, we should not be concerned about enrichment. I believe that Europe and the international community will lose more than Iran if the talks fail." Assefi said the suspension will continue until the talks end. BS
 GERMAN MISSILE CRANE REPORTEDLY HEADING FOR IRANForeign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 24 April rejected a report in the weekly "Der Spiegel" about Iran's importation of equipment for its missile program, IRNA reported. The 25 April issue of "Der Spiegel" reports that an LTM 1100-5.1 crane from the Liebherr company was purchased for 600,000 euros ($784,000) by an Iranian firm named Mizan. German authorities believe the crane is for use in Iran's missile program. The ship carrying the crane to Iran reportedly left Hamburg on 7 April, and it was last seen in Port Said, Egypt. It was only after the ship left Hamburg that the authorities realized that Mizan is blacklisted as a front for the Iranian arms industry. The Germans are reportedly working to retrieve the crane before it reaches Iran. BS
 LEBANESE DRUZE LEADER IN TEHRANWalid Jumblatt, the Druze leader of Lebanon's Progressive Socialist Party, met in Tehran with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 24 April and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on 23 April, IRNA and the Lebanese National News Agency (LNNA) reported, respectively. Khatami pledged continuing support for the "resistance" and warned of the possibility of a civil war in Lebanon. Kharrazi and Jumblatt discussed Lebanese developments and the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country. They discussed the future of the "resistance" and stressed that its armament is an internal Lebanese issue. They agreed on "the danger of any new U.S. attempt to target the countries in the region under the banner of democratic change and devised chaos," LNNA reported. BS
 WEEKEND INSURGENT ATTACKS KILL MORE THAN 30 IN IRAQAt least 15 people were killed and 57 wounded when two bombs exploded near a mosque in Baghdad on 24 April, international news agencies reported. The bomb exploded in the predominantly Shi'ite district of Shu'la. As people surveyed the damage, a suicide bomber drove up into the crowd in a car and blew himself up, Reuters reported. In a similar attack the same day, suicide bombers attacked a police academy in Tikrit, killing at least seven people. As in Baghdad, a suicide bomber attacked a crowd of people examining the damage of a blast that went off minutes earlier. Al-Qaeda's wing in Iraq said that a pair from its "martyrs brigade" carried out the attack, according to an Internet posting. On 23 April, insurgents attacked an Iraqi National Guard convoy in Abu Ghurayb, killing nine and wounding 20, Reuters reported the same day. BW
 AL-QAEDA THREATENS TO KILL SUNNIS WHO JOIN GOVERNMENTAbu Musab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda affiliated organization in an Internet posting purportedly threatened to kill fellow Sunnis who join the country's new government, saying they will be considered infidels, international news agencies reported on 24 April. "We warn all those who want to join the politics of infidels and apostates that the steel sword will be their only fate," Al-Qaeda Organization for Holy War in Iraq said in the statement posted on the Internet the same day. "Those so-called Sunnis are racing into the open arms of the Jews and Christians...for the love of positions and earthly interests," the statement, which could not be independently verified, continued. BW
 NEW IRAQI CABINET IMMINENT, ALLAWI EXCLUDEDTransitional Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim Ja'fari is prepared to form a government that excludes outgoing caretaker Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, Reuters reported on 24 April. According to lawmakers, Ja'fari plans to present a list of ministers to parliament on 25 April. "It is more than 75 percent likely that a list of cabinet names will be presented to the National Assembly tomorrow," Hussain al-Shahristani, a senior member of the Shi'ite alliance, said on 24 April. "We will meet to sign off on the names tomorrow morning, and then the National Assembly will meet later to vote on the list. However, I cannot say how long it will take the assembly to approve the cabinet," he added. "Allawi will take no part, his party will have no ministries," an unidentified official involved in the negotiations told Reuters. Allawi had been demanding four ministries for his allies. BW
 U.S. MILITARY ARRESTS 10 SUSPECTS IN CONNECTION WITH DOWNING OF HELICOPTER IN IRAQThe U.S. military has detained a total of 10 Iraqi men in connection with the shooting down of a commercial helicopter, international news agencies reported on 23 and 25 April. Eleven people, including six Americans, were killed in the 21 April attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2005). "[An] Iraqi citizen told the soldiers he knew where the blue pickup truck the terrorists used during the attack was parked and led them to the site," the U.S. military's 3rd Infantry Division said in a statement. "When the soldiers got there, several other local residents confirmed the first tip and showed the soldiers where the terrorists lived." Three men and bomb-making material were found in one house, and three others who [were] in the process of making bombs were found in a second house, the military said. Six men were detained on 23 April and four more were arrested on 25 April. BW
 PAKISTANI HOSTAGE RELEASED IN IRAQA kidnapped Pakistani Embassy employee has been released unharmed, international news agencies reported on 24 April. "Malik Javed, who was kidnapped in Iraq, has been released. I have just talked to his wife and family," Reuters quoted Pakistan's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz as saying. Malik Mohammad Javed, an assistant at the Pakistani Embassy in Baghdad, disappeared on 9 April. Al-Jazeera television later broadcast a videotape of him in captivity in which he asked Islamabad to help secure his release. "As a result of efforts made by the government of Pakistan, he has been released," Jalil Abbas Jilani, a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said in remarks reported by Reuters. "He is absolutely fine. He will be returning in a day or two." BW
 KIRKUK OIL FIELD HIT BY EXPLOSIONA powerful explosion struck Iraq's second largest oil field on 24 April, dpa reported the next day. The explosion resulted from a deliberate attack on an oilfield near Kirkuk that recently resumed operations, officials said. Meanwhile, Iraqi and U.S. security forces arrested 24 suspected militants in Mosul on 25 April, dpa reported. The forces also uncovered a weapons dump and Iraqi police arrested six men suspected of planting roadside bombs. In other insurgent violence, a roadside bomb killed a U.S. soldier in eastern Baghdad on 25 April, international news agencies reported. BW
 'A YOUTH MOVEMENT NEEDS A LEADER'By Julie A. Corwin
On 15 April the pro-Kremlin youth organization Nashi (Ours) held its inaugural congress and elected Vasilii Grigorevich Yakemenko and four others as leaders of the movement. The same day, retired chess master Garri Kasparov blamed Nashi for an incident earlier that day in which a young man attacked him with a chessboard. Many political analysts -- and Kasparov, apparently -- see the group's agenda as trying to tap into Russia's growing nationalism and xenophobia.
In an interview with kreml.org on 1 March, National Strategy Institute Vice President Viktor Militarev argued that with Nashi, Yakemenko has developed a more effective doctrine than he did with the pro-Putin youth group Walking Together. Instead of "Putin is our president and he is always right," Militarev noted, Yakemenko gives lectures to youth activists in which he describes "the American authorities as our geopolitical opponent and says Russia needs to defend itself."
Although only 34, Yakemenko has launched many projects. He was born in 1971 in the Moscow Oblast town of Lyubertsy. He studied at the State Administration Institute, where he became a transport engineer, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 10 September 2002. After graduation at the age of 21, he established a company called Vento that assembled fans. The year after that he founded the wholesale outlet Akbars. His next project was Walking Together, which was officially registered on 14 July 2000.
Yakemenko confided in an interview with "Itogi" on 21 June 2004: "As soon as Putin was nominated for the post of prime minister [in 1999], my brother and I decided to create an organization. We created it for a nobody who was headed toward the presidency and who it seemed to us professed the same system of views as our own." At that point, Putin had only been known at national level as head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) for a little over a year.
In numerous interviews, Yakemenko has denied that he worked for the presidential administration when he formed Walking Together. Yakemenko told "Vechernyaya Moskva" on 18 September 2001 that "it is completely untrue" that the movement was created at the behest of the Kremlin. "I was invited to the Kremlin because I already had this movement," Yakemenko said. "Not the other way around. I wanted to create this organization five years ago. But I didn't create this five years ago because any movement, especially a youth movement, needs certain things: there should be a leader, there should be an idol. And without Putin the creation of such a movement was unrealistic. There was no unifying figure."
Yakemenko spent less than three months working for the presidential administration as head of a department for external relations. He answered then to Sergei Abramov, the head of the main administration for domestic policy in the presidential administration, and according to the "The New York Times" on 16 February, Yakemenko continues to meet with Abramov and with Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration. Yakemenko told "Vechernyaya Moskva" that he found "the presidential administration a very wonderful, but also a very sluggish organization," and at his level in the organizational chart it was very hard to make decisions. "Moskovskii komsomolets" suggested that after hooking up with "political technologists" such as Gleb Pavlovskii during his tenure at the Kremlin, Yakemenko realized that he could make bigger money on the outside.
The actual sources of financing of Walking Together and its offspring, Nashi, are unknown. At one of Walking Together's first big events, some 10,000 young people gathered on 7 May 2001 on Red Square to celebrate the first anniversary of Putin's inauguration. One student and a member of Walking Together told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau: "We are a very rich organization. Our heads have enormous funds. Do you think it is cheap to gather 10,000 people from the cities of Russia for a half-hour in the center of Moscow?" One student from Orel Oblast told AP on 7 May 2001 that the presidential administration had financed the event, though Yakemenko denied that his movement is funded by the presidential administration. He said the movement is financed by a "group of Russian companies," the names of which he declined to disclose.
However, in November 2001, he told NTV that Energomash, Russkii Aktseptnyi Dom, and other companies were the movement's backers. In December 2004, "Novaya gazeta" asked the State Duma to investigate the group's financing and charged that it had received more than 1.4 million rubles ($50,000) in 2003 from Western companies. Yakemenko dismissed the accusations as "laughable."
At a press conference following this month's Nashi's congress, Yakemenko stated "categorically" that he is "certain that the fatherland's large companies will support us," "Novaya gazeta," No. 28, reported.
When Yakemenko first got into the youth-movement business, he placed a decided emphasis on Putin. Walking Together's members attended rallies wearing T-shirts bearing Putin's gently smiling visage. In the interview with "Verchernyaya gazeta" in 2001, Yakemenko seemed almost unnerved when asked "what would happen [to the movement] if Putin suddenly resigned?" But Yakemenko regained his composure enough to answer: "I would hope that someone from Walking Together would replace him. Putin, whether or not he resigns, will remain in our hearts. The president will go, but the people will remain."
Next year, Yakemenko will turn 35, an age that marketers, at least, consider the cut-off for being considered youthful. If the past is prologue, Yakemenko may by then already be onto his next project. And by the time the 2008 presidential elections roll around, he will likely be considered a seasoned political operator ready to take on his next assignment.