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RUSSIA LOBBIES FOR UNIFIED ELECTRIC GRID WITH UKRAINE, BELARUS, LITHUANIA, AND ARMENIA. Viktor Glukhikh, the head of a business group uniting entrepreneurs from the post-Soviet states and the Baltic countries, said his organization is pushing for unifying the electric power grids of Russia with those of Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and Armenia, RBK reported on 13 October. Meanwhile, Russia's Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais is also pushing this idea, Glukhikh said. VY

KYIV ADMITS DOWNING RUSSIAN AIRLINER... Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk told journalists in Kyiv on 13 October that the 4 October crash of a Russian Tu-154 jetliner with 78 people aboard was caused by an errant missile fired by Ukrainian antiaircraft defense troops from the Crimean Peninsula. Kuzmuk's statement came after Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said earlier the same day that, according to an expert conclusion, the crash was caused by an S- 200 missile exploding some 15 meters from the plane. Kuzmuk did not explain how the missile came to miss the drone it was targeted on and instead zeroed in on the plane, saying only that further investigation is needed. JM

...OFFERS APOLOGIES TO VICTIMS' FAMILIES. "I offer my apologies to the families and relatives of the tragically deceased, as well as to the president, the government, the Supreme Council, and the Ukrainian people for harming the prestige of the state," Interfax quoted Kuzmuk as saying. Kuzmuk was speaking at a news conference during which Ukrainian Air-Defense Forces commander Volodymyr Tkachov announced that he and his deputy have tendered their resignations over the crash. As for Kyiv's previous denials of its responsibility for the crash (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 9 October 2001), Tkachov said that "we were sure that it was not our guilt. At that time [in the first days after the crash], we had the full right to say so -- a lot of evidence, including data from an objective inspection as well as technical parameters of the firing, added to our confidence." JM

MONUMENT TO UKRAINIAN NATIONALIST LEADER ERECTED IN DROHOBYCH. A five-meter granite monument to Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) leader Stepan Bandera was unveiled in Drohobych, western Ukraine, on 14 October, Interfax reported. The unveiling ceremony was attended by Bandera's relatives as well as representatives of local authorities and parliamentary deputies. The OUN cooperated with Nazi Germany's authorities, hoping to build Ukrainian statehood with their support after the German attack on the USSR in 1941. On 30 June 1941 in Lviv, the OUN faction led by Bandera proclaimed "the renewal of the Ukrainian state." The Germans reacted by arresting Bandera and other OUN activists and placing them in a concentration camp. Bandera was murdered by a KGB agent in Munich in 1959. JM

VLADIMIR PUTIN'S TELEPHONE DIPLOMACY. That Russian President Vladimir Putin differs from previous Russian leaders is well known, but perhaps the most striking contrast -- particularly with his immediate predecessor Boris Yeltsin -- is how he conducts his foreign policy. For one thing, Putin is a frequent flyer. During Putin's first 18 months in office he took 40 foreign trips compared with Boris Yeltsin's 21, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 14 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2001). Of course, Yeltsin had a host of health problems as well as a more combative political opposition to handle. But Putin has also traveled more than the physically fit president of the world's remaining superpower, U.S. President George W. Bush, who had gone on nine foreign trips during his first six months compared with Putin's 12. But Putin has not only logged more miles to foreign locales, he spends considerably more time on the phone with foreign leaders.

An informal survey of Putin's telephone calls as reported in the media and by the Russian Foreign Ministry since Putin assumed office shows that Putin has a regular habit of phoning world leaders. Most frequently contacted over last year have been French President Jacques Chirac, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and U.S. President Bush. On the territory of the former Soviet Union, Ukraine's Leonid Kuchma and Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazerbaev are preferred over their neighbors. Georgia's President Eduard Shevardnadze appears to be Putin's least favorite colleague -- at least judging by Putin's phone records. Since the 11 September terrorist attacks on the U.S., the frequency of Putin's phone calls to foreign leaders has picked up considerably. According to the table below, Putin has made 32 separate phone calls to world capitals in the 34 days that have elapsed since the incidents. Putin has kept in close contact not only with Bush, but also with Chirac, Blair, and the leaders of the Central Asian states.

One consequence of all this chat over secure phone lines is that it further downgrades the importance of the Foreign Ministry. Already, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has taken a back seat to other members of the cabinet, such as former Security Council Secretary and now Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 1 October 2001). But in recent weeks, Putin himself would appear to be relegating Ivanov and Russia's network of ambassadors around the world to an increasingly secondary role. Some supporters of rethinking of Russian foreign policy may welcome this trend: The Foreign Ministry is widely seen as a bastion of conservatives, so the more the presidential administration takes the initiative away from this institution, the better.

However, there are at least two potential drawbacks to Putin's telephone diplomacy. One is that the process of downgrading institutions can create less continuity. George W. Bush looked into Putin's soul and liked what he saw. While both might look set for a second term at the moment, what will happen to U.S.-Russian relations when they both eventually leave office? A second consequence is the weeks-long process of decision-making, negotiating, conferring, and consulting between countries is speeded up. Processes that once could have taken weeks to transpire now occur in an accelerated fashion. And, faster is not always better. Decisions made in the "heat of the moment" on the basis of insufficient information may be regretted later. In the meantime, though, Putin does not appear to regret giving the U.S. the green light to stations some troops in Central Asia -- as one observer noted recently, Russia would rather have Americans in Uzbekistan than the Taliban. (Julie A. Corwin)