|Thursday, 23 May 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 07-07-03
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 RUSSIAN PRESIDENT ARRIVES IN KENNEBUNKPORT...Vladimir Putin arrived in the U.S. state of Maine on July 1 for his planned meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush at the Bush family compound in the town of Kennebunkport. AP reported that the U.S. president waited at his family's seacoast estate as his father, former President George Bush, met Putin at a nearby airport. According to the news agency, the elder Bush rode with Putin in a helicopter to the compound and that Putin handed large bouquets of flowers to First Lady Laura Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush, then kissed them on both cheeks. On July 1, prior to his departure, Putin told a group of Russian Olympic athletes at his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow that "in politics, as in sports, there is competition" and that "it's important these competitions are held according to fixed rules and with respect for each other's interests," newsru.com reported. Referring to his upcoming meeting with Bush, Putin said: "I hope that dialogue with a man with whom I have had good...even friendly relations will be precisely of that nature. If that were not so, I would not have gone there and would not have received an invitation." JB
 ...AND DISCUSSES DEMOCRACY WITH U.S. COUNTERPART OVER DINNERNewsru.com, citing Interfax, quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on July 2 that Putin and Bush discussed the continuity of power and democracy during a lobster dinner following Putin's arrival at Kennebunkport on July 1. "The main conclusion of the first conversation that took place is that both presidents are focused on ensuring continuity and are certain that they have enough power to do their part precisely in such a development of relations," Lavrov told journalists in Moscow. He added that Putin and Bush agreed that relations "must not be held hostage" to election-campaign polemics in both countries. The two leaders had a substantive and positive conversation about bilateral relations, Lavrov said. "The two presidents and members of their teams in the course of the talks were very much inclined to discuss precisely the vital issues -- how the situation is developing in the United States and Russia, how the democratic systems of the two countries are evolving," he said. "All of this was [discussed] concretely, and with humor." Lavrov said the two sides reached agreement on various issues prior to the meeting. "We coordinated with the American side a whole series of agreements, but the presidents will decide when and how they will be announced," he said. As newsru.com reported, the main discussion between the two presidents will take place on July 2. Meanwhile, Russian presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko told reporters that Putin and Bush concluded during their July 1 dinner that enough has been done to ensure that what is positive in U.S.-Russian relations is preserved after they leave office. "There is certainty about this on both sides," newsru.com quoted Prikhodko as saying. JB
 VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT WINDS UP HIS VISIT TO RUSSIAAfter a side trip to Belarus on June 29, Hugo Chavez ended his visit to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28 and 29, 2007) on June 30 with a trip to Rostov-na-Donu. Interfax reported that after arriving in the southern Russian city, he joined President Putin, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, President Vladimir Voronin of Moldova, and President Robert Kocharian of Armenia to watch the annual President's Cup horse race, in which an outsider, Tirs -- a bay colt bred in Tver Oblast -- defeated Putin's Zigair and Djasil, a bay colt belonging to Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, regnum.ru reported on June 30. Chavez also visited the "Rosvertol" helicopter plant, where a group of Don Cossacks presented him with a Cossack saber and a certificate accepting him into their ranks, ANN reported on July 1. Newsru.com on June 30 quoted Chavez as saying in response: "Bolivar said that in Venezuela there are also Cossacks, they live on the plains and race horses. I am a Cossack." On June 29, while still in Moscow, Chavez addressed Russia's Chamber of Commerce and Industry and met with members of the State Duma. AP on June 29 quoted him as saying that he and President Putin have agreed to create a fund to support joint projects and that, with Russia's help, Venezuela is ready to build four oil refineries and plans another 13. According to AP, Chavez also invited Russian oil companies to help develop the Orinoco River basin, recognized as the world's single-largest known oil deposit, potentially holding 1.2 trillion barrels of extra-heavy crude. "Gazeta" on July 2 quoted Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko as saying during a meeting with Venezuela's energy and oil minister, Rafael Ramirez, that Rosneft and Gazpromneft, the gas monopoly's oil subsidiary, may begin operating in Venezuela, joining LUKoil and Gazprom, which already have a presence there. The daily also quoted Innokenty Naletov, an official with the state arms dealer Rosoboroneksport, as saying Russia and Venezuela are discussing Venezuela's possible purchase of five Project 636 Kilo-class diesel submarines. According to "Gazeta," the deal would be worth over $1 billion. Chavez, meanwhile, accused U.S. companies of acting "like Count Dracula, like vampires bleeding our country dry," AP reported. JB
 MEDIA FOUNDATION PRESIDENT FLEES RUSSIAManana Aslamazyan, president of the Educated Media Foundation, has fled Russia for fear she will be jailed, AP reported on June 29. Aslamazyan was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport in January after she brought more than $10,000 worth of cash into Russia without declaring it to customs, as required by law. A lawyer for Aslamazyan, Boris Kuznetsov, said that the small amount of money involved should not have been the basis for criminal prosecution, while another lawyer, Viktor Parshutkin, said authorities are also considering prosecuting the Educated Media Foundation, which trains Russian journalists, on money-laundering charges. Police in Moscow raided the U.S.-funded group's offices on April 18, seizing its financial documentation and all its computer servers and causing the suspension of activities aimed at supporting regional broadcasters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 17, 2007), Aslamazyan told AP from Paris that authorities used the customs violation as "a pretext for making the organization cease to exist," adding, "Blackening our reputation and discrediting our activities casts a shadow on NGOs in Russia that are financed from abroad, and it also tells regional media that they must be even more cautious in their activities." Aslamazyan told the news agency she fears being jailed if she returns to Russia. JB
 OPPOSITION MEMBERS DETAINED IN RYAZANSix people were detained during a March of Dissent held in the center of Ryazan on June 30. ITAR-TASS quoted a local police spokesman as telling journalists that the six, who were reportedly members of the banned National Bolshevik Party, set off firecrackers. A March of Dissent was also planned for Rostov-na-Donu on June 30 to coincide with the arrival of President Putin, who attended the annual President's Cup horse race along with Venezuelan President Chavez and the presidents of Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Moldova, and Armenia. The local authorities, however, apparently carried out a preemptive strike: "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on June 28 quoted Boris Baty, head of the Rostov branch of the opposition United Civil Front, as saying that police took 15 members of his group into custody ahead of the planned protest. JB
 ROSNEFT, GAZPROM KEEP THEIR BOARD CHAIRMENRosneft chief executive Sergei Bogdanchikov announced on June 30 that Kremlin deputy chief of staff Igor Sechin was reelected as chairman of the state oil company's board of directors at its annual shareholders meeting, RIA Novosti reported June 30. According to newsru.com, the Rosneft board of directors also includes Bogdanchikov, Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Kirill Androsov, Vneshtorgbank chief executive Andrei Kostin, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin, Russian Academy of Sciences Vice President Aleksandr Nekipelov, Gleb Nikitin of the Federal Property Management Agency (he heads the agency's division for managing the property of "commercial-sector" organizations), Deputy Industry and Energy Minister Andrei Reus, and Barclays Capital Chairman Hans-Joerg Rudloff. The bankrupt Yukos oil company nominated its receiver, Eduard Rebgun, and his aide, Sergei Tregub, to be on Rosneft's board of directors, but they were voted down. Rosneft, which is Yukos's second largest creditor, said on June 27 that it has received $9.2 billion owed to it by Yukos. Rosneft borrowed $22 billion to buy assets from Yukos, including five Yukos refineries, at liquidation auctions this year. Rosneft is now Russia's largest oil producer. Meanwhile, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was reelected chairman of the board of directors of Gazprom, Russia's state-controlled natural-gas monopoly, at its annual shareholders meeting on June 29, RIA Novosti reported. The rest of Gazprom's board members were also reelected. They include Gazprom chief executive Aleksei Miller, Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, and Igor Yusufov, President Putin's envoy for international energy contacts. JB
 PUTIN INSTIGATES CRITERIA FOR EVALUATING GOVERNORS' EFFICIENCYPresident Putin has issued a directive listing 43 criteria by which the activities of presidents and governors of federation subjects are to be evaluated annually, the daily "Kommersant" reported on June 30. A presidential commission will finalize by August 1 "a list of supplementary criteria," together with a relevant methodology. Governors will be required to supply initial data by May 1 to the commission, which will assess that data and forward its conclusions to the president by September 1. In 2005, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak proposed evaluating governors' work on the basis of the level of subsidies their territories receive from the federal budget. The governors, however, objected to that approach and proposed an alternative system based on multiple indicators of the pace of socioeconomic development. LF
 INGUSH PROTEST ABDUCTIONSSeveral dozen people, mostly women, congregated on June 29 at the Yekazhevo circle in Nazran to protest the republican authorities' failure to prevent and clarify the ongoing abductions and killings of civilians, the websites ingushetiya.ru and kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. Several senior police officials were dispatched to the scene of the protest, including Musa Medov, who was named acting Interior Minister the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 29, 2007). Medov asked the demonstrators for two weeks to clarify the situation and take the requisite measures, after which most of the protesters, some of whom carried placards saying "Don't touch our children!" dispersed. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 EUROPEAN COURT RULES AGAINST ARMENIA IN MURDER CONVICTIONThe Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled late on June 28 that the imprisonment of an Armenian soldier who confessed under torture to killing a fellow conscript in 1998 was illegal and unfair, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on June 29. The serviceman, Misha Harutiunian, was arrested in 1999 and sentenced two years later to 10 years' imprisonment for murdering a soldier from his unit. That death was initially attributed to an Azerbaijani sniper, but military police later blamed Harutiunian. The ECHR ruling noted that the military-police officers who interrogated and extracted a confession from Harutiunian were subsequently dismissed and prosecuted for torture. The court also ordered the Armenian authorities to pay Harutiunian 4,000 euros ($5,424) in damages. LF
 RELIGIOUS SITUATION IN AZERBAIJAN TERMED 'STABLE'Hidayat Orujev, who was named one year ago to head the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations, told journalists in Baku on June 29 that the authorities are taking unspecified measures to counter the influence of what he termed "nontraditional" religious organizations that violate human rights, zerkalo.az and echo-az.com reported on June 30. He added that religious literature imported into Azerbaijan is carefully vetted, and 90 of 350 volumes examined over the past 11 months were confiscated on the grounds of propagating "religious intolerance and discrimination." Orujev said he sees no need either to introduce religious education in schools, or to amend the 1992 law on freedom of belief and freedom of conscience. He admitted that "small groups representing radical religious forces" exist in Azerbaijan, but dismissed as "laughable" the idea that they might come to power. LF
 UN SECRETARY-GENERAL HOLDS SURPRISE TALKS WITH GEORGIAN LEADERSBan Ki-moon made a stopover in Georgia on June 29 on his return from visiting Afghanistan, Caucasus Press reported. Ban met with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze. No details of their talks were made public, but the most likely subject was the ongoing efforts by the UN to mediate a solution to the Abkhaz conflict. On June 27-28, senior diplomats from the so-called Friends of the UN Secretary-General Group (France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), together with UN Deputy Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno and the special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Abkhazia, Ambassador Jean Arnault, met separately in Bonn with Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Merab Antadze and with Sergei Shamba, foreign minister of the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported on June 30. The two sides reportedly agreed on the resumption of the weekly four-party talks, suspended late last year, to discuss the security situation in the conflict zone, and to form a joint commission to probe the disappearance in February of an Abkhaz local official, David Sigua (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 7 and June 13, 2007). They also reached agreement on cooperation in implementing a rehabilitation program funded by the European Commission, and on unspecified humanitarian initiatives. Shamba was quoted on June 28 as saying he did not meet face to face with Antadze. Abkhazia refuses to resume direct talks with Georgia until Georgia withdraws from the upper Kodori Gorge the Interior Ministry forces it deployed there one year ago and the so-called Abkhaz government-in-exile (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 20, 2006, and February 26, May 7, and June 11 and 13, 2007). But kavkaz-uzel.ru quoted Shamba as saying that Abkhazia would agree to government-level talks with Georgia if those talks resulted in the signing of a concrete agreement on security or economic issues, for example on the nonresumption of hostilities. Speaking on June 11 at RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli said Georgia would sign an agreement on the nonresumption of hostilities only as part of a broader agreement that would expedite the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons to Abkhazia and provide cast-iron guarantees of their security and human rights. LF
 GEORGIA, SOUTH OSSETIA EXCHANGE ACCUSATIONSDuring the night of June 28-29, the Ossetian-populated villages of Kokhat and Kvernet were subjected to mortar fire, while Tskhinvali, the capital of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia, was subjected twice on June 29 to similar mortar attacks in which a 19-year-old man was killed, Interfax and regnum.ru reported, quoting South Ossetian government sources. In a third such attack on Tskhinvali, on June 30, a man and a woman were injured. Although Russian, North Ossetian, and South Ossetian peacekeepers and members of the OSCE field office confirmed the first attack on June 29, Mamuka Kurashvili, who commands the Georgian peacekeeping contingent, denied that the Georgian side was responsible. Georgian media reported on June 30 that the Georgian-populated village of Tamarasheni was fired on with automatic weapons and mortars from Kvernet; a 17-year-old boy was reportedly injured in that attack. Meanwhile on June 29, the South Ossetian Foreign Ministry released a statement calling the attention of the international community to what it termed Georgia's demonstrative failure to comply with an agreements it previously signed, regnum.ru reported. It suggested that the unequivocal support Georgia receives from the international community has instilled in its leaders the conviction that they can act as they please with impunity. The ministry suggested that Tbilisi is desperate to resolve the South Ossetian conflict, by force if necessary, before formal international recognition of Kosova as an independent state creates a precedent that could be applied to territorial conflicts on Georgian territory. In Tbilisi, the Georgian Ministry for Conflict Resolution released a statement on June 30 expressing "extreme alarm" at the escalation in the conflict zone and condemning what it termed the "criminal inactivity" of the joint peacekeeping forces deployed in the conflict zone, first and foremost the Russian contingent. The statement stressed the need for the total demilitarization of the conflict zone and called on the international community to give "an appropriate evaluation" of the developments of the past few days. LF
 RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH DE FACTO SOUTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENTSergei Lavrov met in Moscow on June 29 with South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity to discuss the escalating tensions in the conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported. According to a summary of that meeting posted on the ministry's website (www.mid.ru) later on June 29, the two men registered their shared concern over the Georgian bombardment of Tskhinvali and Georgian "provocations" against the Russian peacekeepers deployed in the conflict zone, actions that they interpreted as intended to destabilize the situation in South Ossetia. Lavrov called on the leadership of South Ossetia to demonstrate "the maximum restraint and good will," and he stressed that it is imperative to respect the existing format for ongoing talks, meaning the Joint Control Commission (JCC) on which Georgia, Russia, North and South Ossetia, and the OSCE are represented. Both Lavrov and Kokoity urged the swiftest possible resumption of talks within that format. On June 30, Caucasus Press reported that Russia has proposed convening a session of the JCC in Tskhinvali on July 12-13. In Tbilisi, the Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on June 29 deploring the talks in Moscow between Lavrov and Kokoity, which it construed as evidence of Russia's "overt support for separatism," regnum.ru reported. The statement accused Kokoity of seeking to exploit the current tensions to secure the survival of his regime at the expense of the South Ossetian population, and affirmed that Russia would do better to seek an improvement of bilateral relations with Georgia based on "the universally accepted principles of international law." LF
 NORTH OSSETIA CONDEMNS GEORGIAN AGGRESSION...North Ossetian President Taymuraz Mamsurov and the parliament of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania issued separate statements on June 29 condemning the escalation of tensions in the South Ossetian conflict zone, regnum.ru reported. Mamsurov condemned Georgia's imputed rejection of "constructive dialogue" and its hopes of resolving the conflict by force of arms. He called for an immediate resumption of peace talks within the existing format, and warned that in the event of new hostilities, he would not be able to restrain the people of North Ossetia from flocking to fight on the side of their co-ethnics. "One should not forget that the north and the south of Ossetia constitute a single people," regnum.ru quoted him as saying. The republic's parliament protested the mortar attacks of preceding days and what it termed the Georgian leadership's efforts to sabotage the peace process and to draw not just South Ossetia but the entire Russian North Caucasus into a new conflict, regnum.ru reported. Parliament deputies called on the Georgian leadership to refrain from actions that could lead to new bloodshed and to return to the negotiating table under the aegis of the JCC. Some 1,500 people attended a rally on June 30 in the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, to express their support for the embattled South Ossetian leadership, Caucasus Press reported. Addressing the meeting, which was organized by the North Ossetian chapter of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, South Ossetian leader Kokoity pledged that "no matter how difficult it is for us, we shall not allow the dummy government in Tbilisi to draw us into an armed conflict." LF
 ...AS DOES ABKHAZIAThe Abkhaz Foreign Ministry released a statement on June 29 terming the escalation in tensions in the South Ossetian conflict zone "the result of targeted military and political provocation from the Georgian side" and as "clear evidence" of Georgia's determination to resolve the conflict by a new war, apsny.ru reported. Also on June 29, Khristian Bzhania, de facto Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh's spokesman, told journalists that Bagapsh spoke several times with Kokoity by telephone and assured him of his "support," regnum.ru reported. Bagapsh and Kokoity signed a formal bilateral agreement in September 2005 on cooperation in the political and economic sphere; that accord also reported also provided for mutual assistance in "extreme situations," but it is not clear whether it contained a military component (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20, 2005). The two leaders exchanged instruments of ratification of that accord in April 2006. Bagapsh convened a session of the Security Council on June 30 in the Abkhaz capital, Sukhum(i), to discuss the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone, apsny.ru and kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. Bagapsh laid the blame for the escalation in tensions squarely on Georgia and called on international mediators to condemn Georgia's "military provocation" and to persuade the Georgian leadership to desist from further aggression. He expressed bewilderment that the OSCE and other international organizations have not already done so. The political movements Aytayra and United Abkhazia likewise adopted statements on June 30 condemning the Georgian artillery attack on Tskhinvali and affirming their support for the South Ossetian people's determination to defend their freedom and independence, apsny.ru reported. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN REQUESTS OSCE ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSIONThe Kazakh leadership has submitted a formal request to the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to send an observation mission to monitor the preterm parliamentary elections scheduled for August 18, Interfax quoted Kazakh Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin as announcing on June 30 at a meeting in Berlin of foreign ministers from Central Asia and the EU troika (the foreign ministers of Germany and Portugal and EU representatives). Tazhin said the request for international monitors demonstrates Kazakhstan's commitment to democratic principles, and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the gathering that Kazakhstan's chances of assuming the rotating OSCE chairmanship in 2009 depend on whether the August ballot is deemed as corresponding to international standards for a fair election, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN ASKS AUSTRIA FOR SPEEDIER EXTRADITION OF ALIEVKazakhstan has asked Austria to accelerate the extradition process of former Ambassador to Austria Rakhat Aliev, the former son-in-law of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The request was made on July 2 by Kazakh Interior Ministry spokesman Bagdat Kozhakhmetov. Aliev, the former husband of Nazarbaev's eldest daughter Darigha Nazarbaeva, is wanted in Kazakhstan on charges of abduction, assault, and money laundering. He was arrested by Austrian authorities in June and later released on bail. Aliev was dismissed from his post of ambassador to Vienna in May. PB
 KYRGYZSTAN'S AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA DISMISSEDPresident Kurmanbek Bakiev has signed a decree dismissing Apas Jumagulov as Kyrgyz ambassador to Russia, Finland, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, regnum.ru and Interfax reported on July 2. A former Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic Council of Ministers chairman, Jumagulov ran unsuccessfully against Askar Akaev in the 1990 presidential elections. Jumagulov served as prime minister from 1993 until March 1998, when he unexpectedly resigned after rumors implicated him in illegal gold sales (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 24 and 25 and April 16, 1998). He was named ambassador to Germany in 1998 and ambassador to Russia in 2005. LF
 KYRGYZ PRESIDENT DISMISSES ELECTION COMMISSION HEADPresident Bakiev signed a decree on June 29 dismissing Central Election Commission chief Aychurek Eshimova, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The president's press service says the decision was based on the expiration of Eshimova's five-year term. Eshimova was named acting head of the commission in December, but had been a long-time member of the commission before that. She was formally approved as commission head in March. Bakiev nominated former Prosecutor-General Kambaraly Kongantiev to be the new commision chairman. His nomination must be approved by parliament. PB
 TURKISH DOCTORS SAY KYRGYZ PREMIER WAS POISONEDThe Kyrgyz government's press service said on June 29 that Turkish doctors who examined Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almaz Atambaev earlier this month confirm that Atambaev was poisoned, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Atambaev said in early May that he drank a glass of water and soon after lost consciousness for nearly two days. Kyrgyz doctors ran tests that also showed that Atambaev had ingested an unidentified toxic substance. Turkish doctors did not specify what kind of poison Atambaev had in his body. PB
 NEW PENSION LAW COMES INTO FORCE IN TURKMENISTANA new social-security law came into force on July 1 in Turkmenistan, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. The new law, adopted by parliament in March, is aimed at improving the pension system and to ensure social and financial support for pensioners, war veterans, disabled people, women with newborns, and others. Under the new law, Turkmen farmers will again be paid pensions that were suspended on January 1, 2006, by former President Saparmurat Niyazov. Pensions for the widows of soldiers who died during World War II will be increased to 1 million manats ($190). PB
 TURKMEN PRESIDENT AWARDS HIMSELF GIFTS, PAY RAISEGurbanguly Berdymukhammedov awarded himself on June 30 a large gold and diamond pendant to mark his 50th birthday, AP reported the same day. State media also reported that Berdymukhammedov received $20,000 and a 30 percent increase in his salary and his pension. The government has also issued 200 gold and 200 silver commemorative coins decorated with Berdymukhammedov's portrait. The awards are similar to those received by his late predecessor, President Niyazov, who was the object of a vast personality cult. PB
 UZBEK SENATE MOVES TO ABOLISH DEATH PENALTYUzbekistan's upper house of parliament, the Senate, adopted amendments to the constitution on June 29 that would abolish use of the death penalty, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. The amendments would replace capital punishment with life imprisonment. Uzbekistan is the only Central Asian country to still execute criminals, although it never provides figures for executions and relatives often learn of executions only days or weeks after the event. PB
 VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT VISITS 'BROTHER' IN BELARUSVenezuelan President Hugo Chavez on June 29 arrived in Minsk, where he met his Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka and vowed to pursue joint economic projects to consolidate their ties, AP, Reuters, and Belapan reported. "There are few peoples in the world who endure such strong pressure from the empire as Belarus. In this struggle we are brothers," Chavez told Lukashenka in Minsk. "The enemy's forces are trying to turn the world into a unipolar world. We must overcome many obstacles from these forces. The empire that has called us dictatorships itself wants to create a world dictatorship," Chavez added. Both presidents reportedly praised the dynamic economic cooperation between their countries. "If in one year we were able to do so much, then what will be able to do in the 20 years that we will be in power?" Chavez asked. "Don't scare the Americans," Lukashenka responded with a smile. Chavez reportedly promised that his country will increase the import of Belarusian television sets, tractors, electronic equipment, and various machines. "In the future, we'll be able to jointly occupy considerable market niches in Latin America, satisfying the real demand of people for food, building materials, household appliances, medicines, and machine-building products," Chavez noted. JM
 UKRAINIAN PREMIER WANTS ACCORD TO GUARANTEE DEMOCRATIC POLLSPrime Minister Viktor Yanukovych suggested in an article published in the June 30-July 6 issue of the weekly "Zerkalo nedeli" that the president, the prime minister, and leaders of parliamentary political forces sign an agreement obliging themselves to hold democratic elections in Ukraine. "Unfortunately, the amendments to the election legislation passed by the Verkhovna Rada do not solve all the problems. New political agreements, new guarantees of mutual trust are needed to hold the elections without disturbances," Yanukovych wrote. "If we fail to do this, we will head straight into crisis right after the elections," he stressed. President Viktor Yushchenko has scheduled preterm parliamentary polls for September 30. Yanukovych also noted the need to round out the reform of the political power system that was launched in December 2004 by a package of amendments to the constitution. "There is no point devising some new sort of constitutional vehicle or returning to the old model of power that an absolute majority of political forces rejected in 2004. That is unrealistic. A larger part of society will assess any attempt to cancel the constitutional reform as a return to the era of totalitarianism and will never allow that," Yanukovych wrote. JM
 KOSOVAR ALBANIANS RALLY TO DEMAND INDEPENDENCERoughly 500-600 Kosovar Albanians rallied on June 30 in central Prishtina to demand independence for Kosova and to protest against the perceived failure of Kosova's political leaders to lead the region to statehood, local and international media reported. There had been fears that the march could turn violent, as a much larger rally organized in February by the same group, the Self-Determination (Vetevendosje) movement, ended in fatal clashes with UN police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 13, 14, and 15, 2007, March 26, and April 5, 2007). In the event, the only violence was "artistic," as Vetevendosje had promised, with protesters stamping on effigies of the province's leaders and throwing toilet brushes and paper into the courtyard of the Kosovar parliament. "We are here to protest because we recognize only the language of self-determination, while the [Kosovar] negotiating team recognizes only the language of negotiations with Serbia," AFP quoted a Self-Determination leader, Glauk Konjufca, as saying. Western powers are calling for a fresh round of bilateral talks between Belgrade and Prishtina, a suggestion consistently and unanimously rejected in public by Kosovar leaders. However, Self-Determination's criticism does in part echo the increasing number of commentaries in the region's newspapers questioning the unity and continued mandate of the negotiating team (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 20, 25, 26, and 28, 2007). Self-Determination, which is demanding a referendum on independence, has rejected all international initiatives, including a UN package proposing supervised independence. Konjufca said the package proposed by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari "has brought about the division of Kosova" and would entrench Serbia's control over northern Kosova, where most Serbs live. The rally was held two days after Serbs gathered outside Prishtina to mark one of the key dates in their history, the Battle of Kosovo Polje, and on the eve of an informal meeting between U.S. President George W. Bush, the key supporter of Kosovar independence, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the key supporter of continued Serbian sovereignty over the UN-administered region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 25 and 29, 2007). Kosovar political leaders and media have expressed little optimism that the meeting will produce any breakthrough. AG
 SERBIA DENIES PROMISE TO ARREST MLADIC THIS YEARThe Serbian official charged with coordinating cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal, Rasim Ljajic, on June 29 denied claims that Belgrade has promised to apprehend the Bosnian Serbs' wartime commander, Ratko Mladic, this year, Radio-Television Serbia reported on June 30. Ljajic said no promise can be given, because that would imply that the Serbian government knows Mladic's whereabouts. Ljajic's comments came in response to a report by the news agency Beta, which reported on June 29 that the chief prosecutor of the UN's war crimes tribunal, Carla Del Ponte, said in an interview published by the Russian daily "Kommersant" the same day that Serbia has made a commitment to capture Mladic this year. The original report in Russian indicated that Del Ponte said Belgrade made a commitment to arrest Mladic, but did not say Serbia gave a timeline. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is, though, under time pressure as, under its mandate, the last date for it to open cases is 2008. The ICTY has stated several times in recent months that it believes Mladic has found refuge in Serbia, and Serbian forces searched for Mladic in mid-May in the suburbs of Belgrade and in mid-June in a mountainous region about 100 kilometers from Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 16 and 18, and June 7 and 19, 2007). Del Ponte was due to step down on September, but on June 28 said that she has been asked to continue in office until the end of 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 29, 2007). AG
 SLOVAK DIPLOMAT TAKES UP POST OF INTERNATIONAL ENVOY TO BOSNIAMiroslav Lajcak began his new job as high representative of the international community in Bosnia-Herzegovina on July 2, local and international media reported. Lajcak took over from German politician Christian Schwarz-Schilling, who occupied the office for just 17 months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 1, 2006). In a tradition begun by Schwarz-Schilling's predecessor Paddy Ashdown, Lajcak is also the European Union's special representative to Bosnia. Constitutional and police reform will top the agenda of the new envoy. It was Schwarz-Schilling's failure to achieve any progress in these areas that cost him his post and prompted the governments overseeing peace-building in Bosnia to delay the planned phaseout of the Office of the High Representative, originally scheduled for June. Under the 1995 Dayton peace agreement and the constitution it contained, Bosnia is divided into two largely self-governing entities, a setup that has made reform difficult and required the intervention of the high representative on numerous occasions. Schwarz-Schilling's reluctance to impose decisions has slowed down the pace of change; the technical sections of a preaccession agreement with the EU are complete, but the agreement itself cannot be signed unless the Bosnian Serbs agree to give up political control over their police force. Constitutional and police reform are part of an ongoing struggle between top Bosnian Muslim politicians, who want to overcome the country's division, and the Bosnian Serb leadership, which resists any further centralization as required by the European Union. "We need to move from postwar arrangements to the most normal possible constitution given the circumstances," Lajcak told the "Financial Times" of June 29. But in a message to Bosnian Muslim leaders who want to scrap the entity system and hope the international community will do the job for them if the stalemate continues, Lajcak added that normalization cannot be imposed, "because it won't work." TV
 MONTENEGRIN STATE 'WAS' INVOLVED IN SMUGGLINGA former Montenegrin president, Momir Bulatovic, has said that the Montenegrin state administration was involved in cigarette smuggling in the mid-1990s, TV Crna Gora reported on June 28. Bulatovic also said that some state officials siphoned off some of the income, and he ascribed his defeat in presidential elections in October 1997 to his efforts to stop the smuggling. Bulatovic was beaten in the elections by a former ally, Milo Djukanovic. Bulatovic refused to say whether Djukanovic, Montenegro's prime minister between 1991 and 1998, was involved in the scheme. "I consider Djukanovic guilty of many things, but I am not one of those who would inform on him in foreign courts," Bulatovic said. Bulatovic, who described himself as having been "chased out of Montenegro" after his defeat in 1997, served from 1998 to 2000 as prime minister of Yugoslavia under the presidency of the late Slobodan Milosevic. He later returned to Montenegro to set up a small party. Italian prosecutors said on June 22 that they plan to file charges against Djukanovic and a range of other former government officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 25, 2007). Montenegro was at the time part of Yugoslavia and was therefore under sanctions imposed in response to Yugoslavia's role in the Balkan wars of the 1990s. AG
 ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT MARKS 'GENOCIDE' OF CHAMSThe Albanian government on June 28 observed a minute of silence to commemorate victims of the wartime expulsion from Greece of the Chams, an Albanian ethnic group, local media reported. Several thousand Chams are thought to have died in 1944 when Greek antifascist partisans expelled up to 25,000 Chams from their homes in northern Greece. On June 24, thousands of Chams marched to the Greek border or protested in front of the Greek Embassy in Tirana. The demonstrations, which the daily "Koha jone" on June 26 said attracted "tens of thousands," were condemned by a group representing ethnic Greeks in Albania, OMONIA, which, according to the daily "Gazeta Shqiptare" on June 26, accused the Chams of "manipulative" and "anachronistic threats of war and occupation" while stressing the Greeks' antifascist stance in World War II and implying that the Cham community "openly collaborated with fascist and collaborationist forces." Reports in the Albanian media indicate the Chams called only for the restitution of property and made no call for a change of borders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 26, 2007). An international commission in 1913 divided the Chams' traditional homeland, Epirus, assigning the south to Greece and the north to Albania. The Albanian Orthodox Church rejected a request by Cham leaders to hold prayers for the victims, describing the protest as a "purely political issue," "Koha jone" reported on June 26. "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on June 25 that Catholic and Muslim religious leaders took part in the march. AG
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT HOLDS FRESH TALKS WITH RUSSIAVladimir Voronin on June 30 met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, for the third time in a month. According to the news agency IPN, Voronin's office provided no details about the agenda of the meeting, which was held in the southern Russian town of Rostov-na-Donu. However, in an apparent effort to counter domestic criticism about the allegedly nontransparent nature of his recent contacts with Russia, Voronin on June 28 held a meeting with a large number of diplomats stationed in Chisinau at which, according to IPN, he briefed them about the progress of talks on the future of Transdniester, a breakaway region of Moldova in which Russia continues to maintain a peacekeeping presence despite commitments to withdraw its troops. Voronin reiterated Chisinau's desire for a return to multilateral talks mediated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and outlined social and political guarantees that Moldova is willing to provide Transdniester to encourage it to reunite with Moldova. Multilateral talks ended in February 2006, when Transdniester walked out. Moldova then adopted a bilateral approach, dealing directly with Russia. However, calls for a return to a multilateral format reemerged forcefully in mid-April amid international alarm that Russia and Moldova were on the verge of a deal that would entrench Russian influence within Moldova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 23 and 27, and May 7, 19, and 25, 2007). Reports give no indication about the progress made on the issue of Transdniester at the two other recent meetings, on June 10 in St. Petersburg and on June 22 near Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12 and 25, 2007). AG
 MOLDOVA, ROMANIA MOVE TO IMPROVE RELATIONSThe prime ministers of Romania and Moldova on June 29 discussed a range of initiatives intended to ease strains in their relationship, including the possibility of holding joint cabinet meetings once a year, local media reported the same day. As well as joint cabinet meetings, Romania's prime minister, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, and his Moldovan counterpart Vasile Tarlev agreed that Romania will contribute to a fund for Moldova's development, discussed cooperation in energy projects, reviewed Romanian plans to boost investment in Moldova, and added details to cooperation aimed at bolstering Moldova's bid for EU membership. However, the meeting appeared to bring no progress toward the new treaty between the two countries that Moldova has been pressing for. Popescu-Tariceanu described the concept behind the current wide-ranging agreement between the two countries as "absolutely obsolete" in a European context, and said, "we must establish a modern, forward-looking relationship based on current realities." Another long-standing point of contention -- language -- clearly also remains a major problem. "Concepts such as a Moldovan language hinder a Romania-Moldova rapprochement and confidence," the news agency BASA quoted Popescu-Tariceanu as saying. "Bilateral relations will meet the expectations as soon as these issues are overcome," he predicted. Moldova's Communist government believes that linguistic differences between the two countries are large enough to justify calling Moldovans' speech a separate language. This was the first visit to Moldova by Popescu-Tariceanu, who has been in power for 30 months. Romania recently became Moldova's key economic partner, in part because Moldovan producers have been forced to find new markets following Russia's imposition of bans on Moldovan wine, spirits, meat, fruit, and vegetables (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 15 and June 25, 2007). AG
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 UNSOURCED REPORT SUGGESTS AFGHANS PRIVATELY WORRIED ABOUT IRANAFP quoted two unidentified Afghan Defense Ministry generals on July 1 as confirming "in private" U.S. and British allegations of Iranian weapons being supplied to Taliban fighters and expressing concern despite official soft-pedaling of those same allegations. The agency quoted a general within the Afghan Defense Ministry as saying on condition of anonymity that the government has "evidence" that the Iranian government has knowledge of the weapons entering Afghanistan. The same source alleged that in addition to helping the Taliban, Iran's "religious armed forces" and intelligence apparatus are aiding Afghan political opposition parties in an effort to pressure the United States, which has tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan. The source said that "Iran is baring its teeth to the U.S." in the international dispute over Tehran's nuclear program, adding that Afghan officials fear their country will become a battleground for a "proxy war" of the type that devastated Afghanistan in the 1980s, when U.S.-backed forces helped battle Soviet invaders. Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen is quoted as saying that officials "are seriously following the reports with concern" and they "want to continue our friendly relations with Iran." JC
 NATO AIR STRIKES REPORTEDLY KILL 45 CIVILIANS, 62 TALIBAN IN AFHGANISTANAfghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered an investigation into NATO-led air strikes in the south of the country on June 29 that reportedly killed 45 Afghan civilians and 62 Taliban insurgents, "The Guardian" reported on July 2. Coalition forces called in air strikes on houses believed to be sheltering insurgents in Hyderabad village in Helmand's Gareshk district after Taliban fighters reportedly ambushed a U.S.-Afghan military convoy. Local government officials have said the attacks killed 45 civilians and 62 Taliban militants. NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) spokesman Major John Thomas acknowledged that some civilians were killed but said ISAF has evidence that their number was lower than 12. Thomas blamed the Taliban for keeping civilians in enemy positions. International rights groups and Karzai have repeatedly accused the Taliban of using civilians as human shields, but they have also criticized NATO for failing to exercise more caution regarding noncombatants. Thomas said the ISAF will cooperate with Karzai's investigation. JC
 BRITISH SOLDIERS KILLED IN CLASHES WITH TALIBAN IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTANTwo British ISAF soldiers were killed on June 30 and July 1 during clashes with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand Province, the BBC reported on July 1. The first was fatally wounded by Taliban militants on June 30 after the vehicle he was traveling in with coalition forces was hit during fighting in Helmand Province; the second died on July 1 when his patrol came under attack as it left a training camp in Helmand's Gareshk district, the British Defense Ministry said in a statement, according to the BBC. The deaths increase to at least 63 the number of British troops killed in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban in 2001. JC
 AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PLEDGES $6 MILLION IN AID TO AFGHANISTANVisiting Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announced on June 30 a pledge of 7 million Australian dollars ($6 million) in development aid to Afghanistan to establish "peace and democracy," the Australian Associated Press reported on July 1. In a statement following a meeting with President Karzai, Downer reiterated Australia's resolve to support the struggling country in its fight to defeat the Taliban movement and to establish "a secure and prosperous future." The aid includes 2.5 million dollars to support health and education services and 2.5 million dollars toward the removal of land mines. An additional 1 million dollars will be allocated to the Asia Foundation to help the Afghan Independent Election Commission, and 1 million dollars to the Asian Development Bank to improve Afghanistan's fiscal policy and strategic planning. Australia pledged 150 million Australian dollars ($128 million) in aid to Afghanistan in January 2006 to help improve security, raise literacy, and promote alternatives to opium-poppy production. JC
 IRAN MAY CONSIDER 'TIME-OUT' PROPOSAL...Iran may consider a new "time-out" proposal for its controversial nuclear program -- a suspension of fuel-making and related activities by Iran in exchange for a halt to further UN sanctions on Iran -- news agencies quoted Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini as saying in Tehran on July 1. Hosseini said the proposal mentioned by "some European states and media" that included "a halt to nuclear advances" is nothing new, but Iran will consider such a plan if necessary, ISNA reported. "All ideas and proposals that safeguard Iran's rights can be discussed," Hosseini said. Iran insists it has a right to produce fuel for a civilian nuclear program, and its officials have said Iran will not terminate fuel-making activities that have potential military applications despite demands by the West and United Nations. A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is to arrive in Tehran on July 11 to see if Iran can answer some of the IAEA's unresolved questions about its program, Reuters quoted Hosseini as saying. VS
 ...AS LEGISLATOR CONSIDERS 'TIME OUT' UNSUITABLEAlaeddin Borujerdi, the head of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, told IRNA in Tehran on June 30 that he does not consider a "time-out" option to be a solution to the impasse over Iran's nuclear dossier, Reuters reported on July 1. He was responding to reports that the West may halt moves toward new sanctions if Iran stops its fuel-production activities, IRNA observed. Borujerdi told IRNA that Iran has already stated its opposition to a "time-out" option. He added that Britain "remains the crux of the mischief" with its initiative proposing new, harsher sanctions against Iran, though he added that unnamed members of the 5+1 powers -- the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (including Britain) and Germany -- are not interested in Britain's proposals, preferring a negotiated solution to increasing sanctions. He said that "after the stabilization" of Iran's "technical" advances in its program, the 5+1 powers have accepted talks as the "rational" approach with Iran, IRNA reported. VS
 IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER BACKS MOVE TO RESTRICT GASOLINE USE...Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a gathering of state officials in Tehran on June 30 that the government of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has been brave in its decision to ration gasoline use by Iranian drivers, and said "the implementation of this decision must continue," Radio Farda reported, citing Iranian news agencies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27 and 29, 2007). The unexpected June 26 decision, which hadbeen discussed for months and is intended to cut gasoline consumption and thereby reduce imports, provoked anger among Iranians. The government, he said, is always vulnerable to unfair criticism: "There are always people who say 'why did you do this?' when something is done, and 'why did you do not do that?' when something is not done. These statements and criticisms should be ignored." Meanwhle, horities have arrested 240 people in Tehran and Yasuj, in the southwestern Kohgiluyeh-Boyrahmad Province, during the unrest and vandalism that followed the imposition of fuel restrictions on June 26. Eighty of those were detained in Tehran, apparently for setting fir to gasoline stations, Radio Farda reported on July 1, citing the deputy chief prosecutor of Tehran, Mahmud Salarkia, who spoke to the Tehran press on June 30. The broadcaster also cited informal reports of six people having died in violence on June 26, three in Tehran and three in Yasuj. A deputy head of the Tehran Revolutionary Court told ISNA on June 26 that many of those arrested will be charged with disrupting public peace, Radio Farda reported. VS
 VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT VISITS TEHRANHugo Chavez arrived in Tehran on June 30 accompanied by a delegation of senior officials, including his foreign, energy, and finance ministers, who held talks with President Ahmadinejad on July 1, news agencies reported. He is to sign a number of agreements with Iran, a state with which Venezuela has cordial relations and a shared antipathy toward the United States. Ahmadinejad told Chavez the "anti-imperialist wave" is strong in Latin America, while both presidents stressed the need for "independent" states to expand their cooperation, IRNA reported. The Chavez visit was scheduled to include the opening on July 2 of a joint petrochemicals plant in Asaluyeh, southern Iran, set to produce 1 million tons of methanol a year, AFP reported. Methanol is used as fuel, a solvent, or as antifreeze. VS
 IRAQI PREMIER CONDEMNS U.S. RAID ON SHI'ITE BAGHDAD DISTRICTIraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki issued a statement on June 30 condemning a U.S. military raid on Al-Sadr City that killed 26 suspected militants, international media reported. More specifically, he warned the United States not to use Iraqi forces without prior consent from the Iraqi military. "The Iraqi government totally rejects U.S. military operations...conducted without prior approval from the Iraqi military command," al-Maliki said in a statement. The Iraqi government "categorically bans Iraqi special forces from pursuing any military operation without the permission or approval of the Iraqi military hierarchy, and these forces should abide by the orders they receive from higher authorities. Anyone who breaches the military command orders will face investigation," he added. The U.S. military said in a statement that in the June 29 raid it killed 26 militants "linked to Iranian terror networks." However, local residents said that eight civilians were killed in their homes when U.S. forces started firing wildly during the raid. It was unclear if the raid was conducted solely by U.S. forces or whether Iraqi soldiers were involved. SS
 IRAQI SUNNI BLOC BOYCOTTS GOVERNMENTThe Iraqi Accordance Front, the main Sunni political bloc in parliament, announced on June 29 that it will pull out all six of its members from the cabinet of Prime Minister al-Maliki to protest the arrest warrant issued against Culture Minister As'ad al-Hashimi, a Sunni lawmaker, international media reported the same day. "The ministers have decided to suspend their participation in government meetings because they consider the stance of the prime minister and the government unsuitable," said Iyad al- Samarra'i, a leading member of the front. Another member, Salim al-Juburi, told Al-Sharqiyah television on July 1 that the aim of the boycott is to push the government to get back on track. "We do not approve of the current political situation and the manner this situation is being approached," al-Juburi said. "This decision is meant to exert some sort of pressure to get the government back on track in order for it to meet the expectations," he added. An arrest warrant against al-Hashimi was issued on June 26 accusing him of ordering the killings of Sunni lawmaker Mithal al-Alusi's two sons in 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27, 2007). SS
 TURKISH MINISTER SAYS PLAN IN PLACE TO INVADE NORTHERN IRAQTurkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul warned on June 30 that a military plan is in place to invade northern Iraq if U.S. or Iraqi forces fail to move against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters based there, international media reported. "The military plans have been worked out in the finest detail. The government knows these plans and agrees with them," Gul told Turkey's "Radikal" newspaper. "If neither the Iraqi government nor the U.S. occupying forces can do this [crush the PKK], we will take our own decision and implement it." Details of the plan are unknown, but it is believed that the Turkish military may try to establish a buffer zone in northern Iraq to try to stop the rebels' movements. Turkey has repeatedly alleged that PKK fighters based in northern Iraq have been carrying out cross-border attacks in Turkey. On June 27, General Yasar Buyukanit, the head of Turkish armed forces, asked the Ankara government to lay out political guidelines for a military incursion into northern Iraq to deal with the PKK (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28, 2007). SS
 IRAQI SUNNI PARTY CONDEMNS DIYALA OPERATIONThe Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party issued a statement on its website on July 1 condemning Operation Arrowhead Ripper, a joint U.S.-Iraqi military operation aimed at eliminating Al-Qaeda in Iraq elements in and around the town of Ba'qubah, the capital of Diyala Governorate. The party described what is occurring in Ba'qubah as a " bloody massacre" and "collective punishment," and urged Iraqi and U.S. forces to differentiate between armed fighters and innocent civilians. "Western Ba'qubah neighborhoods [Al-Mafraq, Al-Mu'allimin, and Al-Qatun] have been exposed to a fierce attack for more than a week," the statement said. "Occupation forces have bombarded those neighborhoods with planes, which resulted in the destruction of more than 150 houses and the killing of more than 350 citizens, whose bodies remain under the rubble of the buildings. They also arrested dozens of citizens." SS
 U.S. FORCES KILL AL-QAEDA IN IRAQ LEADER IN AL-FALLUJAHThe U.S. military issued a statement on June 30 announcing that it killed a leading Al-Qaeda in Iraq figure during a June 29 operation in Al-Fallujah. The military identified the figure as Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Masri, an Egyptian national, who was believed to be the Shari'a emir of Al-Radwaniyah, who was responsible for participating in terrorist courts and issuing fatwas. Al-Masri was also believed to be a close associate of Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the military emir of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. "Yet another foreign Al-Qaeda terrorist has been removed from the Al-Qaeda network here in Iraq," U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver said. "This terrorist was a significant figure in the network and was only one step away from Abu Ayyub al-Masri. Iraqis are safer without his presence." SS
 TWO U.S. SOLDIERS CHARGED WITH MURDERThe U.S. military announced on June 30 that two of its soldiers have been charged with killing three Iraqis and then planting weapons near their bodies in order to portray them as insurgents, international media reported. Staff Sergeant Michael A. Hensley and Specialist Jorge G. Sandoval were accused of the "premeditated murders of three Iraqi nationals in three separate incidents" between April and June 2007 near the town of Al- Iskandariyah. The crimes were uncovered after complaints from fellow soldiers led to a formal investigation. Both men are currently being held by the U.S. military in Kuwait. SS
 RUSSIA'S NEIGHBORS KEEP WATCHFUL EYE ON U.S.-RUSSIAN RELATIONSHIPBy Brian Whitmore
When the presidents of the United States and Russia meet, the whole world tends to watch. Nowhere is this more true than in the former Soviet Union, where the relations between Washington and Moscow have an enormous impact. How are the countries of the ex-USSR looking at the ongoing summit between George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin?
U.S. President George W. Bush hosts his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Kennebunkport, Maine, on July 1 and 2. The informal summit -- which is being held at the prestigious, albeit casual venue of the Bush family's summer home -- is widely viewed as an effort to mend fences at a time when relations between Moscow and Washington have sunk to a post-Cold War low.
The two presidents are slated to discuss issues ranging from Kosovo's final status, to a proposed missile-defense system in Europe, to Iran's nuclear program. But regardless of what is on the agenda, the countries of the former Soviet Union -- from authoritarian Belarus, to oil-rich Azerbaijan, to Western-leaning Georgia -- will be paying close attention.
Washington and Moscow exert so much influence on the region, and the state of their relations have such an impact, that any U.S.-Russian presidential summit is impossible to ignore.
Georgia, for example, which is seeking to join the West and escape from Moscow's sphere of influence, tends to view any significant warming trend in U.S.-Russian relations with extreme trepidation.
Alexander Rondeli, president of the Tbilisi-based Georgian Foundation For International Studies, says that if there are tensions in U.S.-Russian relations it is not very good for Georgia. "For a small country it is not good to be on the front lines of a war. We don't have the military or political resources to resist," Rondeli said. "But it is also bad for us when they have good relations. We know from our own experience that when the United States and Russia have warm relations, our interests get neglected or ignored. The best thing for us is when their relations are neither too good nor too bad. This gives a small country like us the space to maneuver."
Georgia's pro-Western leaders are trying to steer the country into NATO and are counting on the United States to help get them into the Western alliance. Georgia also wants Washington to put its diplomatic muscle behind its efforts to bring the pro-Moscow separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia under Tbilisi's control. And analysts like Rondeli say Georgia's leaders worry that Tbilisi's interests are always in danger of becoming bargaining chips between Moscow and Washington.
Other former Soviet republics, however, particularly those trying to steer a middle course between Russia and the West, hope U.S.-Russian relations are as close as possible. Georgia's neighbors in the South Caucasus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, for example, do not share Tbilisi's apprehension about close U.S.-Russian ties.
Armenia, which prides itself on maintaining good relations with both Washington and Moscow -- and getting as much as possible from both parties, sees its interests best-served by a close and warm U.S.-Russian relationship.
Aram Abramian, a political commentator and editor in chief of the Yerevan-based daily newspaper "Aravot," says Armenia's leadership is governed by the principle of "complementarity." "A crude way to put this is that we take money from the West and take weapons from Russia and have good relations with both Russia and the West. It's a bit cynical, but in my opinion this is how it is," Abramian says.
Azerbaijan likewise favors good relations between Washington and Moscow -- as long as the United States is the dominant partner. Vafa Guluzade, a Baku-based political analyst who was an adviser to former Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev, says it is in the interests of Azerbaijan to have a close Russian-American relationship.
"In these relations, the leading role belongs to the United States, not to Russia. But if there will be difficulties in Russian-American relations it means that Russia is stronger and Russia wants to be more independent. And this independence of Russia will be very bad for former Soviet republics and newly independent states," Guluzade says.
Azerbaijan would also like to see the United States and Russia more intensely engaged on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The countries of Central Asia, likewise, are trying to gain as much as possible from both Moscow and Washington. Mathew Clements, the Eurasia editor in the Country Risk Department for Jane's Information Group, says the region would suffer if U.S.-Russian relations deteriorated further.
"Russia is likely to use this to put more pressure on the United States to withdraw its base from Kyrgyzstan and to reduce American influence in the region. And this is going to reduce the amount of aid, obviously, in security and also various other development projects that America can give to these countries," Clements says. "Now a lot of Central Asian states have followed a multivectoral policy to try to bring in as much support from as many countries as possible, and this is going to be reduced."
In authoritarian Belarus, analysts say the country's leaders have a more nuanced view. Officially, the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka supports whatever line the Kremlin takes toward the West and the United States.
But analysts say the Belarusian president and his inner circle believe their interests are best served when U.S.-Russian relations are hostile. This is because Lukashenka's once-cozy ties with Russia are rapidly deteriorating and the Belarusian leader understands that he would be a more valuable ally for Moscow in an atmosphere of bad East-West relations.
What isn't discussed at meetings of U.S. and Russian presidents is often as important as what is discussed. Opposition figures in Russia, Belarus, and elsewhere often lament that issues like human rights and democracy take a back seat to larger geopolitical considerations.
Russia's opposition leaders say that by treating Putin as an equal partner despite his backsliding on democracy at home, Bush is giving Putin international democratic legitimacy he does not deserve.
Garry Kasparov, leader of the opposition group Other Russia, says that Bush needs to speak the truth. "Democrats don't recognize double standards. If he speaks truthfully about the situation in Russia, Bush will not damage the situation. We are not asking for any help for ourselves. We are asking for an end to this de facto unspoken, informal support for Putin," Kasparov says.
"It is clear that receiving him at his personal ranch -- that is support," he adds. "In one way or another, these are the contacts that allow Putin to strengthen his domestic position in Russia and demonstrate that he is a full-fledged partner of the president of the United States of America."
(Brian Whitmore is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier, RFE/RL's Georgian Service Director David Kakabadze, and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)