Weekly News #15
Protests, protests, protests, is the story of the week in Russia and its near abroad, with Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip revolution overshadowing the demonstrations in Belarus, Ingushetia and Bashkortostan. Details of these, plus the latest about Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s trial, which is now drawing to a close.
- Kyrgyzstan became the latest CIS member to experience revolution after protesters stormed government buildings in Bishkek. President Askar Akaev fled to the safety of Moscow, to be replaced by opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiev who has promised a new Presidential election in June. Looting in the days immediately following the election was brought under control relatively quickly and the situation in Kyrgyzstan now seems relatively stable. The Registan.net team covered the revolution as it happened, and continue to publish regular updates on the situation.
- 1,000 demonstrators protesting in Minsk against the rule of Belarus President Lukashenko were violently dispersed by police. 34 of the protesters were arrested.
- President Putin visited Armenia, where he and Armenian President Robert Kocharian discussed Nagorno-Karabakh and transportation infrastructure development. The visit also prompted rumours that Russia plans to relocate some of the personnel from it’s military bases in Armenia if they are forced to evacuate.
- The Armenian government reports that Azerbaijan is moving its troops closer to Armenian positions, increasing the already tense relations between the two nations.
- The White House has announced that in May President Bush will visit Latvia (where Russia expects him to address the problems of native Russian speakers) and Georgia (where Russia expects him to tell President Saakashvili to talk about ‘peaceful conflict settlement). He also plans to visit the Netherlands (where Russia has no stated expectations of him).
- Gazprom is considering rising the price of gas sold to Moldova to the current market rate. Like most CIS countries, Moldova currently gets heavily discounted gas supplies and price rises of this kind are usually a sign that the country in question has displeased Moscow in some way. In this case, Moldova has been increasing ties with the EU at the expense of relations with Russia.
- More than 10,000 people protested in the Russian Republic of Bashkortostan, calling for the resignation of President Murtaza Rakhimov. This follows a February protest, where demonstrators called for an investigation into a brutal police operation in which hundreds of people were reported to have been detained and beaten.
- Hundreds of protesters also took to the streets of Nazan in the Russian republic of Ingushetia, demanding the resignation of President Murat Zyazikov. The protesters were angry that Zyazikov had failed to redraw the boundary between Ingushetia and North Ossetia to reclaim land ‘stolen’ by the North Ossetians. Boris Arsamakov, leader of the Akhki-Yurt group that organised the protests was reportedly arrested, although the Ingushetian Interior Ministry has denied this.
- Closing arguments have begun in the trial of former Yukos executives Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. The prosecution have demanded that each should serve 10 years for tax evasion and fraud. Meanwhile, the Federal Tax Service has demanded that the pair between them pay 17.8 billion roubles (that’s $640 million) in " back taxes and illegal use of bills of exchange."
- In a separate court case, former Yukos security chief Alexei Pichugin has been sentenced to 20 years for murder.
- Yukos has abandoned its legal action against in Texas against Gazprom, Rosneft, Gazpromneft, and Baikal Finance Group.
- President Putin has announced that the statute of limitations on privatisations will be reduced from 10 to 3 years, meaning that any ‘dodgy’ privatisations of the 1990s will no longer be open to legal challenge. Future prosecutions for tax evasion, however, are definitely not ruled out.
- Rizvan Chitigov, reportedly the number three man in Chechnya’s rebel hierarchy, has been killed by Russian troops after spending three days hidden in a tiny compartment behind a wall.
- The trial of Nurpasha Kulaev, the sole surviving Beslan hostage taker, has begun in North Ossetia. He has admitted that he was involved in the hostage taking, but claims he had thought their mission was to seize a checkpoint. He denies killing any of the hostages.
- A Russian special forces soldier has been sentenced to 11 years for beating a Chechen civilian.
- The director and curator of the Sakharov museum in Moscow have each been fined 100,000 roubles ($3,600) for "inciting religious enmity." Their exhibition Caution, Religion! contained a picture of Jesus in a Coca-Cola advert reading "This is my blood", which offended some members of the Orthodox church .
- A number of Liberal Democrats, including Vladimir Zhirinovsky were involved in a fistfight as they attempted to walk out of the Duma. As a result, Zhirinovsky has been banned from addressing the chamber for the next month, and his position of Deputy Speaker is under question. Who said Russian politics is dull under Putin?
- Alexander Babuchenko, a regional liberal politician, has been shot dead in Irkutsk.
- $12.1 million in back taxes have been demanded of Baltika, Russia’s best known beer company.
- North Korean leader Kim Il Sung has been officially invited to attend the Word War II Victory celebration in Moscow this May, according to a Russian Presidential envoy. US President George W Bush has already accepted his invitation, raising the prospect of an intriguing encounter.
- Russia is threatening to withhold its contribution to the 2005 OSCE budget unless the organisation shifts its focus from human rights to security.
- The Russian government is said to be close to agreeing to pay off it’s $43 billion Paris club debt in full, without the discount it had previously demanded for early repayment.
- The US Ambassador to Russia has said that adoption of Russian children by foreigners is "one of the optimal solutions for this problem."
- Russian marines managed to ‘accidentally’ invade Ukraine. Before the Ukrainian’s "halted the operation" the Russians managed to unload 142 marines and 28 pieces of military hardware near the town of Feodosiya in the Crimea.