Weekly News #12
A ‘President’ is killed in Chechnya, Communists win elections in Moldova, anti-government protests are held in both Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan, and two Baltic Presidents thumb their noses at Russia. Plus all the latest about pornographic opera at the Bolshoi.
- Aslan Maskhadov, Chechnya’s rebel President, was killed by Russian forces on Tuesday after a raid in Tolstoy-Yurt, a small village in Northern Chechnya. Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev has already been announced as his successor. Little is known about Sadulayev just yet – some reports say he was the cleric who headed the Chechen Sharia Court while other reports, primarily Russian, claim he is a Saudi national. What little information there is about him does not seem to indicate that he will be a moderating influence on Shamil Basayev.
- Under new laws, President Putin has sacked Vladimir Loginov, Governor of the Koryak Autonomous Okrug. Putin said the sacking sent a "preemptive message" to governors.
- Friday 11th March is the 20th anniversary of Mikhail Gorbachev’s appointment as General Secretary. He is using his increased news profile this week to warn that Russia must not backslide on democracy.
- 42% of Russians want to see a "new Stalin" in the Kremlin. 52% don’t.
- 51% of Russian’s believe Russia should aim for membership of the EU. 23% don’t.
- Allofmp3.com, a massive Russian music download site, has escaped prosecution on a legal technicality – that it does not provide any physical goods.
- Over 700,000 thousand Russian children live on the streets, says Chief Prosecutor Vladimir Ustinov.
- The Expedition Trophy has been won by Moscow based team. The Moscow Sea Wolves won 10kg of gold for driving from Murmansk to Vladivostok in just 13 days.
- Sunday saw elections in Moldova. The Communist Party won with 46.1% of the vote, which gives them a parliamentary majority – they gained 56 of the 101 seats. The other 45 seats were divided between two opposition parties. The next step is for the newly formed parliament to elect their next President. Although 61 votes are needed for victory, I can’t see the opposition parties holding together for long enough to prevent the re-election of Communist Vladimir Voronin. Russia, of course, denounced the election as unfair.
- Protesters have occupied several government offices in Kyrgyzstan following the elections held there late last month. Other protests continue around the country calling for free and fair run-off elections on March 13, and for the resignation of President Akayev. For regular updates check out Registan.net and ThinkingEast.net.
- Protests, too, in Azerbaijan where the death of journalist Elmar Huseyinov has aroused public anger. Despite government warnings, his funeral turned into an anti-government rally in advance of opposition rallies already planned for this week.
- The Presidents of Lithuania and Estonia have declined a Russian invitation to attend celebrations marking the end of World War 2, on the grounds that the end of the war marked the beginning of their ‘membership’ of the Soviet Union. George Bush, along with many other world leaders, does plan to attend the celebrations.
- Former Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko apparently committed suicide last Friday, although questions remain as to why two bullet holes were found in his body. His death follows the arrest of men suspected of murdering journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, whose death former President Leonid Kuchma has repeatedly been accused of ordering. Kuchma himself was questioned by prosecutors today.
- Former Canadian Premier Jean Chretien visited Turkmenistan this week. During his audience with the mighty Turkmenbashi he lobbied for oil concessions. Azerbaijan, which claims to own the oil in question, is not best pleased with Canada.
- Tough talking from the Georgian Parliament, who have passed a resolution demanding that Russia withdraw from its military bases by 1 January 2006 unless an agreement on an alternative date is agreed by 15 May 2005. Russia reckons that it couldn’t possibly withdraw all its troops in such a short time frame. Perhaps in 3-4 years.
- Russia is to increase its presence at Kant airbase in Kyrgyzstan. Extra combat planes will be sent and the runway is to be lengthened.
- The US has announced that it supports Russia’s desire to continue basing its Black Sea Fleet out of Sevastopol, Ukraine.
- NATO and Russia are to conduct a Joint Theatre Missile Defence Exercise. They will be testing something technological which involves lots of acronyms.
- Russia has praised Syria for deciding to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.
- A Seoul newspaper has claimed that South Korea plans to lease a Russian military base near the North Korean border for training exercises involving large numbers of troops and artillery. Russia has denied the claim.
- China and Russia have postponed plans for talks on joint military exercises in 2005. Technical reasons were stated.
- The EU has allocated 870,000 euros (approx $1 million) to human rights projects in Russia.
- The Duma has voted 226 to 12 to launch an enquiry into Rosenthal’s Children, an allegedly pornographic opera to be staged at the Bolshoi Theatre. In response to a Duma representative who said that, although he hadn’t read or seen the opera, he knew it was pornography, the Bolshoi’s Director Anatoly Iksanov replied: "To what times are we returning? Even in the darkest Soviet years, those who were tasked with controlling the creative arts had at least read or seen what they were passing a verdict on."