|Sunday, 20 October 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 07-09-14
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 PUTIN NOMINATES LITTLE-KNOWN ZUBKOV AS PREMIER...Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov announced on September 12 that President Vladimir Putin has submitted to the Duma the candidacy of Federal Financial Monitoring Service Director Viktor Zubkov to succeed Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, who resigned earlier that day, Russian and international media reported. Analysts and politicians had almost unanimously expected that Putin's nominee would be his choice as presidential successor in March 2008, with most observers predicting the post would go to now acting First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov. Zubkov, 65, has headed the Federal Financial Monitoring Service since it was created in 2001. He is a long-time friend and trusted associate of Putin's, although he has avoided the public eye (see "Russia: Surprise Candidate Could Indicate Putin's Indecision," rferl.org, September 13, 2007). "Only insiders who really know what is going on can answer that question," Maria Matskevich of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Sociology told RFE/RL. "External commentators cannot explain this. And the insiders will either not give an answer or they will put out some disinformation like they did earlier." RC
 ...AND DUMA PLANS QUICK CONFIRMATION...Zubkov on September 13 met with Duma faction leaders in preparation for a confirmation vote on September 14, RFE/RL and other media reported. Deputy Duma Speaker Oleg Morozov (Unified Russia) predicted that approval will be forthcoming, although Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said his party will vote against the nomination. A Just Russia leader and Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov also gave Zubkov his unreserved support. RC
 ...AS ANALYSTS PONDER WHAT THE CHANGE MEANSYabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky told RFE/RL's Russian Service on September 13 that Zubkov's premiership will not signify any change for Russia. "Appointing Zubkov instead of Fradkov means maintaining the current position," he said. "In this sense, Zubkov does not differ at all from Fradkov." Yavlinsky said the only difference is that Zubkov has a weaker political base and is more loyal to Putin personally. Deputy Duma Speaker Morozov (Unified Russia) told RFE/RL that the appointment signals the approach of "necessary personnel decisions" in the government, adding that the new cabinet makeup and structure will present "the political team that the president envisions as the team for the next political stage in the development of the country." "Vedomosti" also wrote on September 13 that major changes in the structure and personnel of the government are in the offing. The daily, citing a "high-ranking government source," predicted that the Regional Development Ministry, headed by Vladimir Yakovlev, will be abolished and that some ministries that were combined in 2004 will be separated again. Analyst Aleksei Volin told the daily he thinks the Natural Resources Ministry and the Energy Ministry might be combined, creating a particularly powerful combination. "Tvoi den" speculated that many of Fradkov's ministers and even Fradkov himself will go on to occupy key spots in the new state corporations being created. Effective Politics Foundation head Gleb Pavlovsky told the daily the restructuring will proceed in two waves -- one now and another after the December 2 Duma elections. RC
 PAVLOVSKY MAINTAINS ZUBKOV IS PUTIN'S CHOICE FOR SUCCESSORAlthough most analysts backed away after the Zubkov appointment from earlier predictions that President Putin's nominee for prime minister would be the person he supports to succeed him next year, analyst Pavlovsky told Interfax he believes Putin envisions Zubkov as president. "Definitely, the new prime minister will be that candidate," Pavlovsky said. However, he qualified his statement by adding that Putin might change his mind depending on the outcome of the December State Duma elections. Duma Deputy Pavel Borodin (Unified Russia) told kreml.org that the shakeup is definitely part of the president's pre-election strategy and that Zubkov will be able to use his media access to become "one of the strongest candidates in the upcoming presidential election." "The president has demonstrated that he is a skilled chess master, an unpredictable person," Borodin said. "He makes decisions on the basis of reasoning that is known only to him." RC
 UNIFIED RUSSIA LAUNCHES MOSCOW AD CAMPAIGNThe powerful pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party is launching a major advertising campaign in Moscow ahead of the December 2 Duma elections, "Kommersant" reported on September 12. The campaign comes before strict restrictions on spending come into force. The daily reported that the party has ordered 3,000 billboards with posters declaring, "Putin's Plan Is Russia's Victory." "Putin's Plan" is the name of United Russia's campaign platform. After the party's congress on October 1-2, the slogans will be replaced with a more direct call to vote for "Putin's party." The billboards were reportedly paid for by the noncommercial Fund to Support Unified Russia, and Unified Russia campaign official Konstantin Kostin told "Kommersant" the party's campaign office had nothing to do with them. Vadim Solovyov, the Communist representative on the Central Election Commission, told the daily the commission will investigate and "react" to any campaign violations by Unified Russia. RC
 SMALL LEFT PARTIES ON VERGE OF ELECTION PACTPatriots of Russia party leader and Duma Deputy Gennady Semigin on September 13 confirmed to "Izvestiya" that his party is close to an agreement under which leading figures from the unregistered Great Russia party and Party of Russia's Rebirth will join the Patriots of Russia's party list for the December Duma elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2007). Semigin said Duma Deputy Dmitry Rogozin and former Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov will likely appear with him at the top of the list, forming a powerful left-oriented bloc to rival the pro-Kremlin leftist A Just Russia party. He said a formal announcement of the agreement will come within a week. Semigin predicted that if the elections pass "without serious violations," Unified Russia will poll between 41 and 45 percent; the Communist Party will poll 10-14 percent; A Just Russia will receive 8-10 percent; the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia will end up with 7-9 percent, and Patriots of Russia will enter the Duma with 7-15 percent of the vote. Semigin says his party has participated in more than 30 local elections in recent months and has never polled less than 5 percent. He described his party as "a politically independent force," adding "we regard the opinions of the authorities with respect but we won't dance on a string." RC
 DEMOCRATIC PARTY ANNOUNCES MAIN DUMA CANDIDATESThe Democratic Party of Russia will hold its pre-election congress in Moscow on September 18, RFE/RL reported on September 13. The party's list of candidates will be headed by party leaders Andrei Bogdanov, Vyacheslav Smirnov, and Oleg Gemazov, Bogdanov told RFE/RL. The party does not intend to form election alliances with any other parties or organizations, he said. RC
 GERMANY WANTS RUSSIA TO HOLD TO CFE TREATYForeign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a wide-ranging parliamentary debate in Berlin on September 12 that Germany wants to rescue the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, compliance with which President Vladimir Putin "suspended" in April, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 26 and 27, and June 12, 18, and 28, 2007). Russia argues that the treaty, which limits military deployments in specific regions, is out of date and harmful to Moscow's security interests, partly because not all NATO member states have ratified it. Putin's announcement was also widely seen as retaliation for the proposed U.S. missile-defense project. On September 12, Steinmeier said that "we cannot permit a treaty like this one aimed at limiting conventional arms, one which was developed over a long period of time, to be scrapped." Steinmeier, whose diplomatic style involves the frequent convening of international gatherings, said that Germany will host a conference in October to discuss the CFE with the aim of "protecting" it. In April, Steinmeier warned in the name of "us Europeans" against a "growing spiral of mistrust between Russia and the United States." He and his Social Democratic Party (SPD), which controls the Foreign Ministry in the coalition government, rarely criticize Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 29, 2007). The ministry's hopes for using the German EU Presidency from January-June 2007 to promote an "interweaving" of relations between the EU and Russia were dashed by Moscow's assertion of a clear preference for bilateral relations with individual EU member states and by its renewed aggressiveness in international relations. Germany and the EU in general set great store by a culture of rules and agreements. PM
 CHINA HAILS DEPARTING PREMIERForeign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told journalists in Beijing on September 13 that outgoing Russian Prime Minister Fradkov made "great contributions" to bilateral relations, Interfax reported. She added that "we hope that political, economic, scientific and technical relations between our countries will continue to develop on a healthy basis.... China is ready to continue to contribute to the development and consolidation of strategic partnership between the two countries" (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2007). Jiang added that the changes in the Russian government are nonetheless an "internal affair" of that country. PM
 NEW COMMANDER OF RUSSIA'S NAVY APPOINTEDAdmiral Vladimir Vysotsky, who commands the Northern Fleet, has been named the new commander of the Russian Navy, Interfax reported on September 13, citing an unnamed "security agencies source." Vysotsky replaces Admiral Vladimir Masorin, who recently turned 60, which is the maximum age limit for that post. Masorin recently attracted attention at home and abroad with his call for Russia to reestablish a "permanent presence" in the Mediterranean Sea, which was widely taken to be an appeal to reopen a Cold War-era base in Syria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 11 and August 3, 7, and 14, 2007). The paper "Novaya gazeta" wrote on September 13 that Vysotsky's appointment can be seen as a break with the era of Putin loyalist and former commander Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov, whom Masorin replaced two years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6, 2005). The newspaper suggested that Masorin was appointed on the understanding that he would not investigate wrongdoing on Kuroyedov's part and would serve until Mikhail Abramov, a Kuroyedov protégé, could take over the post. According to "Novaya gazeta," the choice of Vysotsky over Abramov is likely to lead to some housecleaning in the navy. Vysotsky is 54 and was born in the Lviv region of Ukraine, Interfax reported. PM
 ANOTHER TOP SECURITY OFFICIAL REPLACED IN DAGHESTANFour days after Daghestan's President Mukhu Aliyev sacked Security Council Secretary Akhmednabi Magdigadzhiyev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 29, 2007), President Putin issued a decree appointing a new head of the Daghestan administration of the Federal Security Service (FSB), riadagestan.ru reported quoting the presidential press service. He is Major-General Vyacheslav Shanshin, former head of the FSB's Astrakhan Administration, and replaces Nikolai Gryaznov, who has served in Daghestan for the past three years. Shanshin, who was born in 1955, has worked for the security services since 1981. Speaking on September 12 in Makhachkala at a session attended by two top Moscow-based FSB officials, President Aliyev said the security situation in Daghestan has improved and the number of terrorist attacks registered so far this year is "practically zero." Meanwhile, in a September 12 press release posted on the resistance website kavkazcenter.com, Daghestan's Shariat jamaat claimed responsibility for the execution-style killing in the village of Karamakhi on August 29 of local school teacher Magomed Magomedov, identified as "a betrayer of Islam" ("murtad") and informer, and for an attack on a military convoy close to the entrance to the strategic Gimri tunnel in which three Russian servicemen were injured. LF
 CHECHEN LEADER DECLINES COMMENT ON ALLEGED AL-QAEDA PRESENCE IN INGUSHETIASpeaking on a live broadcast aired on September 12 by St. Petersburg's Channel Five television, pro-Moscow Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov affirmed that "it is no secret that international terrorists are active in the North Caucasus," according to a press release posted the same day on the website chechnya.gov.ru. But he declined to comment on the veracity of claims attributed to unidentified Ingush security officials that the recent attacks in Ingushetia were masterminded by three Arabs affiliated with Al-Qaeda (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2007). LF
 LAND MINE EXPLODES IN KBR CAPITALA land mine exploded late on September 12 in Nalchik, capital of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR), as a police patrol car drove past, causing the car to overturn, but none of the passengers were injured, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on September 13 quoting Interfax. A similar device exploded in Nalchik on September 9 near an Interior Ministry special forces base, likewise without causing major damage or casualties; three other explosions have been reported since the beginning of September in Elbrus Raion, one of which damaged a gas pipeline. Speaking in Nalchik on September 7, KBR President Arsen Kanokov downplayed the likelihood of a major terrorist attack, although he estimated the number of Islamic militants still at large at between 500-700 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10, 2007). LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN PRIME MINISTER PLEDGES INCREASE IN TAX COLLECTION, BUDGET SPENDINGAddressing the National Assembly on September 12, Serzh Sarkisian said Armenia's state budget for 2008 will amount to the dram equivalent of $2.5 billion, up from 583 billion drams ($1.7 billion) in 2007, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Of that sum, $400 million will be allocated to the military. Sarkisian rejected as inaccurate repeated claims by the Azerbaijani leadership that Armenia's total budget is no more than $1 billion, the amount that Azerbaijan plans to spend on defense in 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 29, 2006 and August 24, 2007). He further pledged an increase in tax collection, but did not cite concrete figures. Tax collection during the first six months of 2007 stood at 201 billion drams, a 27 percent increase over the corresponding period in 2006, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on September 12. LF
 ARMENIAN-RUSSIAN GAS JOINT VENTURE MARKS 10TH ANNIVERSARYPresident Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Sarkisian attended a formal celebration on September 12 to mark the 10th anniversary of the founding of the joint venture Armrusgasard (ArmRusGazprom), Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 1, 1997). Speaking at that ceremony, Gazprom Deputy Chairman Valery Golubev confirmed that Armrusgasard has purchased the Armenia-Iran gas export pipeline, the first section of which was inaugurated in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 2007). He did not say how much Armrusgasard paid for the pipeline. Golubev also said the price Gazprom will charge Armenia for gas beginning in 2009 will be determined in bilateral talks, Noyan Tapan reported. The current price is $110 per 1,000 cubic meters, the lowest for any CIS state apart from Belarus, which Golubev said will pay $130 beginning in 2008. LF
 NEW KARABAKH PRESIDENT PROPOSES CANDIDATE FOR PRIME MINISTERBako Sahakian on September 12 proposed parliament deputy Araik Harutiunian, a former executive director of the Stepanakert Cognac Factory, to head the next government of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, according to Armenia's De Facto Agency as reposted by Groong. Vahram Atanesian, who heads the majority Democratic parliament faction, was quoted on September 12 by lragir.am as saying Harutiunian can already count on the support of 27 of the total 33 parliament deputies. Summarizing his accomplishments during his eight year tenure, outgoing Prime Minister Anushavan Danielian noted on September 10 that the republic's annual budget has grown from 20 billion drams in 1999 to 70 billion drams, and the average wage has increased five-fold, lragir.am reported on September 11. LF
 COURT REJECTS GEORGIAN OPPOSITIONIST'S APPEALGeorgia's Appeals Court rejected on September 12 a request by jailed oppositionist Irakli Batiashvili that a repeat expert evaluation be carried out of the evidence on which he was convicted, Caucasus Press reported. Batiashvili was arrested in July 2006 and sentenced in May 2007 to seven years' imprisonment on charges of providing "intellectual support" to calls by renegade warlord Emzar Kvitsiani for the overthrow of the Georgian leadership. The prosecution's case was based on a tape-recording, which Batiashvili claims was cut and edited, of a conversation between Batiashvili and Kvitsiani (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 27 and 31 and August 24, 2006 and May 23, 2007). LF
 KAZAKH, BELARUSIAN PREMIERS DISCUSS ENERGY COOPERATION...Speaking in Astana after a meeting with visiting Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov told reporters on September 12 that Kazakhstan is interested in using Belarus as a transit route for its energy resources, Interfax-Kazakhstan and Kazakhstan Today reported. Masimov added that the talks also covered the possible utilization of energy-processing facilities in Belarus and preliminary proposals regarding Belarusian investment in Kazakhstan's electricity industry. Masimov noted that bilateral trade between Kazakhstan and Belarus is "increasing considerably, but its potential has not yet been used to the full." The level of bilateral trade reached only $250 million for the first half of the year. Kazakhstan recently agreed to form a customs union with Belarus and Russia as part of a broader integration effort within the Eurasian Economic Community (Eurasec), a bloc comprising Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Eurasec succeeded the Central Asian Cooperation Organization in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 9, 2007). RG
 ...AS KAZAKH, BELARUSIAN DEFENSE MINISTERS CONSIDER JOINT DEFENSE INDUSTRY PROJECTSIn a separate meeting in Astana on September 12, the Belarusian and Kazakh defense ministers, Leonid Maltsev and Daniyal Akhmetov, reviewed a proposal to establish joint defense industry facilities, including "joint plants for producing Vostok radar stations and joint workshops for modernizing T-72 and T-90 tanks," ITAR-TASS reported. Akhmetov explained that bilateral military cooperation is related to Kazakhstan's interest in "developing the national military industry" and is part of an ambitious program to modernize and develop the Kazakh armed forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22, 2007). Kazakhstan is also reportedly seeking assistance from Belarus in modernizing much of its air force, including MiG, L-39, and Su-27 combat aircraft, and in obtaining greater numbers of the Igla mobile surface-to-air system. RG
 KAZAKH INVESTIGATION REVEALS ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE FROM RECENT ROCKET CRASHAn official study conducted by a special Kazakh state working group, released on September 12, revealed that the recent crash of a Russian Proton-M rocket resulted in a serious toxic fuel spill far "exceeding the maximum permissible level," ITAR-TASS reported. The study was conducted by a working group of specialists from the Kazakh ministries of health, environment, agriculture, and emergency situations, with support from the National Space Agency. It recommended "the application of temporary technological regulations for the detoxification of contaminated soil." The crash of the unmanned Proton-M rocket occurred on September 6 after its launch from the Baikonur Space Center (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2006). No one was injured in the incident, but debris from the rocket was spread over a small contained area in the more remote central Karaganda region, including some of the rocket's fuel payload of more than 200 tons of heptyl, a highly toxic rocket fuel. Kazakh Emergency Situations Minister Viktor Khrapunov also reported that "elements" of the Japanese satellite that was on board the rocket were found and turned over to Russian officials on September 11 "for storage." After the crash, an immediate ban on launches from the Baikonur Space Center was imposed, although it was later lifted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 11, 2007). Two similar Proton rockets crashed at Baikonur in July and October 1999, leading to a similar suspension (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7 and 8 and November 3, 1999). More recently, the crash of a Russian RS-20 "Dnepr" rocket in July 2006 caused environmental damage estimated at over $1 million. The Baikonur Space Center is one of the world's leading space facilities and is regularly used to launch commercial and military satellites, as well as missions to supply the International Space Station. RG
 TAJIK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH VISITING KAZAKH LEADERTajik President Emomali Rahmon met on September 12 with visiting Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who arrived in Dushanbe at the start of an official state visit, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The leaders on September 13 are due to formally sign a new bilateral agreement on the creation of a $100 million state investment fund aimed at promoting greater Kazakh investment in Tajikistan, according to Kazinform. The presidents also discussed Kazakhstan's plan to construct a $60 million hydroelectric power plant on the Khingob River in eastern Tajikistan. Nazarbaev arrived in Tajikistan after concluding a similar state visit to Turkmenistan, where he discussed energy issues with his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2007). RG
 BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION SEEKS NONPARTY CANDIDATES FOR PARLIAMENTARY POLLSThe Political Council of United Pro-democratic Forces on September 12 appealed to people with no party affiliation to include themselves on the opposition list in next year's parliamentary elections, Belapan reported. United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka, one of the four co-chairs of the council, said that those wanting to be included in the opposition's election candidate rolls have one month to declare their intention. Elections to the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives are expected in the fall of 2008. JM
 UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WANTS OPEN TRIAL IN GONGADZE CASEPresident Viktor Yushchenko said on September 12 that he wants the ongoing trial of the suspected murderers of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze to be open to the public, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Yushchenko promised to ask the Supreme Court to open the trial to the public. A day earlier, the Kyiv Appeals Court, which is hearing the Gongadze case, announced that some sessions will be held behind closed doors because some materials being considered are classified. Meanwhile, Myroslava Gongadze, the slain journalist's widow, told reporters in Kyiv on September 12 that the investigation into the 2000 slaying of her husband has been deadlocked for a year. Investigators "deeply delved into the case and were close to exposing the organizers of the murder. Unfortunately, at the moment they were about to solve the crime, they were removed from the investigation process," she said. Three former police officers are standing trial on charges of killing Gongadze. No charges have been made against anyone suspected of organizing the crime or commissioning the killers. JM
 RUSSIA REPORTEDLY PLEDGES TO HELP PROBE YUSHCHENKO POISONINGThe Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office announced on September 12 that Russian prosecutors have agreed to analyze Russian-made dioxin in order to compare it with the poison used against President Yushchenko when he was a presidential candidate in 2004, Ukrainian media reported. Earlier this week, Yushchenko accused Russia of hampering the investigation into his poisoning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2007). Speaking in Dnipropetrovsk on September 11, Yushchenko noted that Moscow has a moral obligation to cooperate. "A country cannot let an attempt on anyone's life go unpunished, let alone on a presidential candidate. For both the country's honor and rule of law, the investigation must be completed, and people have a right to know who committed the crime," Yushchenko said. JM
 SERBIA NOT PLANNING TO USE FORCE IN KOSOVA, EU TOLDSerbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic reassured the EU on September 11 that Serbia is not preparing to use force should Kosova declare independence, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said the same day after meeting with Djelic in Brussels. The EU's concerns were aroused by a statement by a junior government minister that Serbia would feel free to deploy troops to Kosova because a unilateral declaration by Kosova would annul an international agreement under which Serbia agreed to withdraw its troops from Kosova in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7 and 10, 2007). "I have received clarification and I have been reassured that there has been a misunderstanding and Serbia is by no means contemplating any use of force or military action," Rehn told reporters. Rehn said the threat of violence is "out of the question for any country which aspires to become a member" of the EU, and that "certain Serbian politicians seem to have difficulty turning the page on Serbia's nationalist past." On September 10, Rehn announced that the EU and Serbia have completed the technical aspects of the next step towards integration, a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), a development that means the agreement's conclusion is now a political matter. Rehn has repeatedly said that the key obstacle to Serbia's progress in talks with the EU is its unsatisfactory record of cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The ICTY's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, is due to visit Belgrade later this month, a visit that Djelic predicted will open up the way for the SAA to be signed in October. Djelic hopes Serbia will officially become a candidate for EU membership in 2008. Djelic continued his discussions with European leaders on September 12, traveling to Portugal, the current holder of the EU's rotating Presidency. The meetings in Portugal involved Serbian President Boris Tadic, who also attended a soccer match between Portugal and Serbia. AG
 SERBIAN PREMIER VISITS BRUSSELS...Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Djelic's statement that Serbia is not preparing to use force opened up the way for Serbia's prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, to visit Brussels on September 12 for talks with senior EU officials. The EU had ruled out a meeting until Serbia made clear its official view on the use of force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7 and 10, 2007). In a subsequent press conference, the EU's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, reiterated the EU's view that Kosova should not be divided, that talks on Kosova's future should end in December, and that Serbia's EU prospects depend on its cooperation with the ICTY and not on an agreement about the status of Kosova. Solana also called for Kosova's Serbs to take part in local and parliamentary elections on November 17. Serbia's minister for Kosovar affairs, Slobodan Samardzic, on September 11 said Belgrade is advocating they boycott the elections, though subsequent reports have made it clear this is not a final decision on the part of the Serbian government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2007). AG
 ...AND INSISTS UN SHOULD DECIDE KOSOVA'S STATUSAfter meeting with EU foreign-policy chief Solana, Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica emphasized that Serbia believes "the UN and the Security Council are the sole institutions within which the problem of the future status of Kosovo should be dealt with and solved," and he warned that "anything else is a violation of international law, the consequences of which are more than dangerous." Kostunica's statement underlines a long-standing position, but comes at a delicate point when the United States is again arguing that it would support a declaration of independence by Kosova should Belgrade and Prishtina fail to reach an agreement and when the EU is asserting that it should play the leading role in deciding the future of Kosova if no agreement is reached (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10, 11, and 12, 2007). Efforts to agree on Kosova's future within the UN Security Council collapsed in July, prompting the EU, the United States, and Russia to assume responsibility for diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue. Kostunica also used the trip to call once again for the EU not to recognize any unilateral move by Kosova, saying after meeting with the president of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, that "the international community and the EU should make clear warning that a unilateral declaration of independence is not only in violation of the UN Charter, but also a threat to the peace and stability of the region." Kostunica underscored the earlier statement by his deputy, Bozidar Djelic, saying that Serbia "does not pose a threat to any country in the region." He emphasized that this is despite the "many threatening words" aimed at Serbia. Kostunica was in all probability alluding to the threat by Kosovar Albanian leaders to declare independence in December -- albeit with the caveat that they will act only in concert with members of the international community -- and the subsequent statement by the United States that it would back a declaration of independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10, 11, and 12, 2007). AG
 ITALY WANTS SPECIAL DEAL FOR SERBIAThe EU's official position that there should be no connection between Serbia's bid for EU membership and efforts to retain sovereignty over Kosova, reiterated on September 12 by EU foreign-policy chief Solana, is coming under renewed questioning after Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi called on September 10 for the EU to offer inducements to Serbia in a bid to break the Kosova deadlock. Prodi, a former president of the European Commission, said he has already sent a proposal to the commission outlining economic and political proposals, including economic incentives. Prodi explicitly linked his initiative to Kosova, saying that "we can't think about resolving the problem [of Kosova] without Serbia having a role in Europe." According to Reuters, Italian diplomats confirmed that Prodi meant the EU should accelerate Serbia's integration with the EU. "We must show that Serbia is not alone," Prodi said. He was speaking after a meeting with Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who will in January assume the presidency of the EU's top body, the Council of Ministers. Jansa said that "Prodi's letter has our complete support." AG
 BOSNIAN BUSINESS URGED TO PUSH FOR REFORMThe second most senior international official in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Raffi Gregorian, has urged the country's business elite to lobby for faster reform. In a speech on September 11 to an audience of businesspeople, Gregorian, the deputy high representative, said that Bosnia's political elite must be put under pressure to abandon their populist and nationalistic rhetoric if the country's businesses are "to attract and retain the investment needed to create jobs and lift the country out of poverty." The key issue at present is police reform, which the EU says must be agreed upon before it is willing to allow Bosnia to take the next step to EU integration, the signing of a SAA. A proposal for police reform presented by High Representative Miroslav Lajcak was immediately rejected in late August and a subsequent speech by Lajcak exhorting the country's politicians to set aside their differences has brought no breakthrough (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31 and September 4 and 10, 2007). Lajcak spent September 11 in Brussels, where he gave a bleak assessment of the current situation in Bosnia. He said his continued aim is to broker an agreement on police reform this month, but he also talked about the need to "reverse the current negative trend that has prevailed since April 2006" and stressed the need for commitment on the part of the EU, because "we cannot afford to look on as a key country in the western Balkans goes backward." In Sarajevo, no progress was reported on September 12 after the latest talks on police reform. The next meeting is scheduled for September 18. AG
 ALBANIAN ARMS INDUSTRY AGAIN UNDER SCRUTINYTurkey says it has found a large quantity of Albanian arms among a cache of weapons seized from Kurdish rebels, the Albanian daily "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on September 10. Most were reportedly Albanian-made Kalashnikov rifles. It is unclear how the weapons came to be in the hands of the rebels. Albania's Defense Ministry and the state's arms-trading company, MEICO, have denied any irregularities in the country's arms trade, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on September 11. The discovery comes less than two months after Turkey turned back a shipment of Albanian weapons that it said were earmarked for the Armenian Army (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 30, 2007). Turkey is arguably Azerbaijan's most stalwart ally in its dispute with Armenia over the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh, and it is also an important partner for Albania. Arms exports reportedly earned Albania $4.6 million in 2006, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on August 20, citing a report by the country's national bank. The figure, though small, was nearly seven times higher than in 2005. "Gazeta Shqiptare" also wrote on August 20 that markets for Albanian arms include Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. AG
 TWO 'FULL' DEMOCRACIES IN THE BALKANSOnly two states in Southeastern Europe -- EU members Greece and Slovenia -- can be deemed a "full democracy," the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) has concluded. The global survey, which was publicized by the EIU on September 5, considers the quality of elections, how pluralistic a country's politics is, how well its government functions, the level of political participation, and a country's political culture. Seven other democracies in the region are deemed "flawed," including Bulgaria (49) and Romania (50). Croatia, a strong candidate for EU membership, ranks just below them, at 51. Serbia placed 55th out of 167 states. It was followed by Montenegro (58), Moldova (61), and Macedonia (68). In two states, deep flaws have been coupled with authoritarian elements to create "hybrid regimes": they are Albania (83) and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which, at 87th, is the least democratic European state outside the former Soviet Union. AG
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 SENIOR UN ENVOY CRITICIZES GERMAN TROOPS' RESTRICTED ROLE IN AFGHANISTAN...The senior United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, on September 12 criticized the limited role of the German military in Afghanistan, particularly in combating the country's soaring drug trade, AFP reported. Koenigs told the "Berliner Zeitung" that he believes German army troops stationed in Afghanistan should not only participate in the fight against the insurgency, but also support police in combating illegal opium production and the drug trade, rather than say "that has got nothing to do with us." While the majority of poppy growth is focused in the southern province of Helmand, a Taliban stronghold, some opium poppy crops are also grown in the north where Germany's 3,000 troops are stationed. The UN envoy noted that there is an "excellent police chief in Badakshan," a remote northern province known to produce opiates, but he "lacks the necessary support" to fight the drug trade. Afghanistan, the world's leading producer of opiates, has seen a record level of poppy cultivation this year. Koenigs also praised President Hamid Karzai's offer to the Taliban to open up peace talks in an effort to end the six-year insurgency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10, 2007). He added that officials in Afghanistan are "without a doubt at a point in which the government and their friends must consider how to make peace." JC
 ...AS CHANCELLOR PLEDGES FULL SUPPORT FOR PEACEKEEPING MISSIONGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel on September 12 pledged Germany's full support for its peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, despite opposition from more than half of German voters, AFP reported. In a speech to the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, Merkel warned against abandoning the counterinsurgency mission in Afghanistan. "As long as the danger persists, the ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] stabilization mission must continue to be supported by Operation Enduring Freedom," a U.S.-led campaign aimed at actively combating insurgents. The German parliament is expected to approve two mandates relating to the NATO-led ISAF mission: one extending the deployments of about 3,000 German troops, and another new mandate for six German Tornado reconnaissance jets. A third mandate dealing with Operation Enduring Freedom faces resistance from both the opposition party and the Social Democrats, partners in Merkel's coalition government. Although not currently conducting missions, approximately 200 members of Germany's elite KSK unit are authorized to operate with the U.S.-led operation. Merkel's remarks follow a September 10 announcement that Friedrich Eichele, the German head of the European Union's police training mission in Afghanistan, is leaving his post three months after being appointed because of "reorganization," although reports say Eichele was exasperated by disagreements between EU, NATO, and Afghan officials on training issues. JC
 U.S. OFFICIAL SAYS TALKS WITH TALIBAN MUST NOT UNDERCUT PROGRESS IN AFGHANISTANU.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte on September 11 said any talks with the Taliban should not affect the six years of progress in Afghanistan produced by assistance from the international community, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Addressing reporters in Kabul, Negroponte warned against allowing talks with the Taliban to derail any previous achievements made on the political, social, and economic fronts. President Karzai said on September 9 that he is ready to hold official talks with the Taliban, but denied that his government has already held "formal negotiations" with the Islamic extremist group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10, 2007). Commenting on the recent video message from Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Negroponte said the terrorist leader and his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, are alive and hiding out in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He rejected assertions that the Chinese government is supplying weapons to Taliban militants, although he added that Chinese officials informed him "some time back" that Beijing sold weapons to Iran similar to those recently discovered in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2007). Negroponte earlier visited U.S. troops in the eastern city of Jalalabad, accompanied by Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher. JC
 TWO NEW POLICE BUILDINGS OPEN IN NANGARHAR PROVINCEResidents of Afghanistan's northeastern Nangarhar Province on September 11 helped inaugurate two new local police buildings, Pajhwak News Reported. Provincial officials, tribal elders, and influential community members looked on as the new district and police headquarters of Ghanikhel and Bhatikot districts were opened and handed over to local officials. The two buildings were completed in one year with the help of the National Solidarity Program (NSP) of the Interior Ministry, according to NSP deputy head Ghulam Dastagir Sidiqyar. The World Bank provided the estimated 27 million afghanis ($544,846) needed for the projects. Nine more similar buildings are expected to be built in the province. The new government buildings are two of many NSP projects going up across Afghanistan in an effort to foster development, including 10 reconstruction projects completed in eastern Laghman Province on September 5 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2007). JC
 WESTERN POWERS SKEPTICAL OF IAEA DEAL ON IRAN INSPECTIONSIran and Western powers revealed opposing positions on Iran's recent cooperation plan with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at a meeting of the IAEA governing board in Vienna on September 12, news agencies reported. The United States in particular is concerned that the deal to clarify all aspects of Iran's activities is giving Tehran time to pursue sensitive uranium-enrichment activities, which could provide it with material for nuclear weapons. The U.S. envoy at the governing board, Gregory Schulte, told the meeting that the UN Security Council needs the board's support for another round of sanctions on Iran, as it has not halted enrichment activities, Reuters reported. Two sets of sanctions are in place to curb Iran's program and its capabilities. Iran's envoy, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said any "interference" in the IAEA's interactions with Iran would "impede" Iran's cooperation. Germany's ambassador at the IAEA, Klaus Peter Gottwald, speaking on behalf of the EU, told the board that Iran may use the time frame worked out with the IAEA to win time, not clarify its activities, Reuters reported. The EU statement read by Gottwald apparently prompted IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei to leave the session. Gottwald said Iran's continuing enrichment activities in Natanz are "unacceptable" and need to be "considered in" the UN Security Council, Reuters added. "We do not only need clarity about" past Iranian activities, he said, but "full trust that Iran refrains now and in the future from any military nuclear activities." Gottwald said Great Britain, France, and Germany want el-Baradei to inform the IAEA governing board by November "at the latest" on whether or not Iran has clarified why it engaged in research on developing advanced centrifuges, used for uranium enrichment. VS
 IRAN HANGS MORE CONVICTSIran hanged eight men convicted of drug trafficking or murder on September 12, AFP reported, citing Iranian media. Seven men were hanged in public in the southeastern town of Mahan, AFP reported, citing a report from Fars news agency. It added that last week the police chief in Mahan was shot dead there, though it was not clear if the hangings were related to the death. An unnamed man was also hanged in the southern coastal province of Hormozegan, after he was convicted of killing and decapitating his mother, sister and nephew, AFP reported, citing a report from ISNA. AFP noted that with these hangings, Iran has executed over 200 convicts in 2007. VS
 IRANIAN CLERIC ARRESTED AT HOMEHojatoleslam Hadi Qabel, the secretary of the central council of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front, was arrested at his home in Tehran on September 12, Fars news agency reported. His son, Ruhollah Qabel, told Fars that agents of Iran's special court for the clergy arrived at the house and searched for an hour, then seized his father, along with some books, personal effects, and a computer. Qabel said he did not know why his father was arrested, and said no court had summoned his father prior to the arrest. He said the family expects Qabel to be released, as the fasting month of Ramadan has begun in Iran. VS
 IRANIAN OFFICIALS REJECT REPORTS ON IRAQ...Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said in Tehran on September 12 that reports given by two U.S. officials on the situation in Iraq are for electoral purposes and designed to meet the needs of "neoconservatives" to justify Iraq's continued occupation, Radio Farda reported, citing news agency reports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10 and 11, 2007). The U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador in Baghdad Ryan Crocker gave their assessments on Iraq in congressional testimonies on September 10. Petraeus recommended some troop reductions by summer 2008, but accused Iranian elements of meddling in Iraqi affairs and trying to form a version of the Lebanese Hizballah in Iraq, Radio Farda reported on September 12. Hosseini said the recommendations will not address the "tragedy" of so many casualties in Iraq nor resolve the financial burden imposed on U.S. taxpayers. Hosseini said U.S. officials should not blame Iran for their mistakes in Iraq. He said the administration of President George W. Bush is trying to "persuade [U.S. public] representatives...over the continuation of the occupation and expansion of militarism in Iraq, to reduce the daily increasing pressures...on ruling warmongers." VS
 ...AND GIVE DIFFERING VIEW OF IRAQSupreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani told the press in Tehran on September 12 that any improved security in Iraq is not due to "militarism," but to "different resolves" and initiatives by Iraqi politicians, Iraq's neighbors, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and the good sense of political parties. He accused the occupying authorities of failing to provide any health care or electricity infrastructure. "You shut most of the hospitals and there is not a single hospital in Baghdad now, and people in Iraq have at most two hours of electricity a day," Fars quoted him as saying. He accused the U.S. authorities of fomenting violence -- "you kill Sunnis in the name of Shi'a and Shi'a in the name of Sunnis" -- and urged the departure of U.S. troops to end the terrorist violence. "I would ask you...were the terrorists in Iraq before the occupation or...after? If they just answer this question, they will know whether or not they must continue their occupation." Terrorists in Iraq, he added, come from states he said are friends of the United States, ISNA reported. Asked to comment on the United States' increasingly threatening tone with Iran, he said, "this is nothing new, it has had its ups and downs in past years." He said "conditions in Iraq" are forcing the United States to "say these things to maintain their dignity." Iran, he added, would give "a fitting response" to any U.S. action against it, which he said would harm the "entire region." He said the United States or Western powers might lose control of any initiative they begin against Iran, and cited the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein as creatures of Western machinations that had spun out of control, ISNA reported. "Events are not...controlled by you, especially as you are not familiar with the region. You make decisions that later harm you," Larijani said in reference to the West. VS
 IRAQI PREMIER TO ATTEND DONOR COUNTRIES CONFERENCEThe office of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki issued a statement on September 12 saying that he will attend a donors' conference at the UN headquarters in New York on September 21, "Al-Sabah" reported. Al-Maliki is scheduled to meet with U.S. lawmakers on the sidelines of the conference and brief them on the Iraqi government's achievements, particularly the steps being taken to improve the country's security situation. The Iraqi daily also indicated that al-Maliki will use his visit as an opportunity to inform the American public that "the situation in Iraq is different in some aspects to how it is portrayed" in the media. In addition, al-Maliki is expected to co-chair a high-level meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on September 22 focusing on Iraq's future. KUNA reported that al-Maliki will be accompanied to New York by several cabinet members and Iraqi lawmakers, including Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Finance Minister Baqir Jabr Al-Zubaydi, Planning Minister Ali Baban, and Oil Minister Husayn Al-Shahrastani. SS
 AL-MALIKI SAYS IRAQ CAN HELP THE WORLD FIGHT TERRORISMIn another statement on September 12, Prime Minister al-Maliki's office said that Iraq's experience in fighting terrorism can be extremely beneficial to the international community, the independent Voices of Iraq reported. "Iraq will become a country with big experience in fighting terrorism, because we have witnessed different kinds of terrorist attacks," al-Maliki said. "We can offer our valuable experience to other countries for the good of humanity, but we will not engage our troops and security forces in war and aggression as the former regime did," he added. SS
 IRAQI INSURGENT SPOKESMAN SAYS GROUP OPEN TO TALKS WITH U.S.In an interview with Al-Jazeera satellite television on September 12, Ibrahim al-Shammari, a spokesman for the militant Islamic Army in Iraq, said his group would be willing to hold peace talks with the United States only if Washington commits to a timetable for a troop withdrawal from Iraq. Al-Shammari also said that he does not believe that Sunni insurgents groups have made deals with U.S. forces, even though many such groups have turned their backs on Al-Qaeda in Iraq. "Al-Qaeda's agenda started to reveal itself clearly in October 2006 when they started to consider themselves a 'state,' and started to target other Iraqi resistance factions, including prominent Sunni personnel in our community. This affected our relations with them," al-Shammari said. "These killings started the media war between them and us, so we decided to break away quickly in order not to give our enemies the chance to benefit from it," he added. Al- Shammari stressed that even though their relationship with Al-Qaeda in Iraq has changed, his group and many other Sunni groups still consider themselves to be at war with the U.S. and Iraqi governments. SS
 IRAQIS PROTEST SEPARATION WALL IN BAGHDADHundreds of Iraqis marched through a neighborhood in northwest Baghdad on September 12, condemning a separation barrier being erected by U.S. forces, the BBC reported. The wall, once finished, will separate the mainly Shi'ite neighborhood of Al-Shu'lah from the adjoining Sunni neighborhood of Al-Ghazaliyah. U.S. forces insisted that the wall will protect residents from sectarian violence, but tribal leaders, clerics, and local residents said the wall would actually promote sectarianism. "This wall does not provide security and stability," Shi'ite cleric Abd al-Baqir al-Subayhawi said. "The government must maintain security in Baghdad rather than separate its neighborhoods," he added. Radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on artists to cover the wall with the "ugly face" of the U.S. military in Iraq. "I call on you to draw a magnificent tableau that depicts the ugliness and terrorist nature of the occupier, and the sedition, car bombings, blood and the like he has brought upon Iraqis," al-Sadr said. On April 23, hundreds of residents in Baghdad's Al-Adhamiyah district took to the streets to denounce the construction of a barrier around their neighborhood (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 24, 2007). SS
 UN ENVOY TO IRAQ CONCERNED ABOUT SHELLING OF KURDISH REGIONAshraf Qazi, the UN special envoy to Iraq, issued a statement on September 12 expressing deep concern over intermittent shelling of villages in the Kurdish-administered regions of northern Iraq, according to the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq. Qazi said the shelling, conducted from across the Turkish and Iranian borders, has caused considerable damage, created panic among residents, and prevented them from performing their daily activities. He called on all relevant parties to stop the shelling and cease any actions that could undermine Iraq's political and humanitarian stability. Qazi indicated that UN agencies are in contact with local authorities in areas affected by the shelling to assess the situation and humanitarian needs there. He said the international organizations have sent tents, blankets, cooking equipment, medical kits, and other emergency items to hundreds who have been displaced by the attacks. SS
 SAUDI ARABIA TO OPEN EMBASSY IN IRAQI CAPITALSaudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal announced on September 12 that his country will open an embassy in Baghdad for the first time since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, international media reported. Al-Faisal's announcement came after a Saudi delegation returned from Iraq after investigating the possibility of opening an embassy. "After we received the delegation's report, it is expected that an embassy will open soon," al-Faisal said. He did not give a date for the opening. Arab governments have been reluctant to open embassies in Baghdad since several Arab diplomats were abducted and killed in 2005. SS
 PUTIN'S NOMINATION FOR PREMIER STUNS POLITICAL ELITEBy Robert Coalson
Already caught off-guard by the sudden resignation of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov on September 12, Russia's political elite was sent reeling by the follow-up announcement that little-known Federal Financial Monitoring Service Director Viktor Zubkov is President Vladimir Putin's choice to head the next cabinet.
Virtually unanimously, Russian party leaders and political analysts interpreted the choreographed resignation of the colorless Fradkov as an indication the Kremlin was ready to tip its hand as to who is viewed as the best successor to Putin in March 2008. During his televised meeting with Fradkov, Putin himself indicated the change was being enacted with the upcoming election season in mind. "Perhaps we should all think together how to build a structure of power and governance that better corresponds to the preelection period and prepares the country for the period after the [December] parliamentary elections and the March 2008 presidential election," Putin said.
With Fradkov's departure, the spotlight fell on the two men who have been widely viewed as the leading candidates for the presidency, first deputy prime ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev. And the glare fell most prominently on Ivanov, who has shared the limelight repeatedly with Putin in recent weeks.
Union of Rightist Forces co-founder Boris Nemtsov told Interfax after Fradkov's resignation that "most likely, Sergei Ivanov will be named." Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov told gazeta.ru that Ivanov was the most likely choice, although other potential successors such as Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin or "several governors" might also be tapped. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky likewise named Ivanov first on his list of likely nominees. Considerable credence was given to recent rumors in the press -- rumors that seemed to be coming from the presidential administration -- that Ivanov would become prime minister.
Yabloko Deputy Chairman Sergei Ivanenko did not name names, but was adamant the new prime minister would be the Kremlin's presidential candidate. "The new prime minister of Russia will be the candidate for president that is supported by the current head of state," Ivanenko said. "This is clearly a preelection decision and, I think, the new prime minister will be a successor, just like Vladimir Putin was eight years ago." Duma Deputy Speaker Oleg Morozov (Unified Russia) was certain that Putin's nominee to head the government would not be "an exotic variant."
Leading analysts were likewise caught flatfooted. Effective Politics Foundation head Gleb Pavlovsky said, "indubitably the new prime minister will be the [Kremlin's] candidate." Political Research Center Director Igor Bunin similarly commented that "if the decision is made quickly, if a letter with a nomination for prime minister is sent to the Duma soon, that will mean that the post will go to Sergei Ivanov." Moscow Carnegie Center analyst Aleksei Malashenko too named Ivanov, saying he is at "the peak of events" in Russian political life at the moment.
As a result, the ensuing announcement by Duma Speaker Gryzlov that Putin had submitted the name of Zubkov as prime minister proved an even bigger bombshell than Fradkov's announcement did. Zubkov, a St. Petersburg colleague of Putin's, has headed the Federal Financial Monitoring Service since it was created in February 2001. Although the government's battle against money laundering has been accelerated under Zubkov, he personally has kept a low profile and his name is not widely known.
Zubkov clearly would be a surprising -- even exotic -- choice as Putin's successor and seems to be yet another caretaker prime minister. Some analysts have predicted that the real reason behind the Fradkov resignation was not to get rid of Fradkov himself, who was thanked and rewarded by Putin for his service, but the rest of the cabinet. Putin may use the opportunity to replace some ministers whose work has reflected poorly on the Kremlin -- even though the policies associated with their names are more likely to have originated with the presidential administration than with their ministries.
Among the ministers most often named in this context are Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, and Information Technologies and Communications Minister Leonid Reiman. Zurabov oversaw a highly unpopular plan to convert in-kind social benefits to cash payments that brought Russians out into the streets by the millions in the fall and winter of 2005. Gref was personally criticized by Putin during a trip to Kamchatka earlier this month, and the early exit of this liberal standout in the cabinet has been predicted for months. Reiman, although a close associate of Putin's, has been connected with high-profile corruption accusations in the telecommunications sector.
When Fradkov was named prime minister in 2004, a major restructuring of the government ensued. Numerous ministries were consolidated, and the number of deputy prime ministers was sharply cut back. Although the nomination of Zubkov to head the government came like a bolt out of the blue, the real surprises may come when he presents his cabinet proposals. And on a day when guessing has proven problematic, how those changes might affect the legislative and presidential elections remains a matter of conjecture. But Putin's admonition that "we should all think together how to build a structure of power and governance that better corresponds to the preelection period" is resonating loudly in Moscow now.