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RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN PREMIERS DISCUSS TUZLA... Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych met on 24 October to discuss the ongoing dispute over the Tuzla islet, Russian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2003). Russia agreed to suspend construction of a dam from the Russian mainland to the islet, which is located in the Kerch Strait connecting the Black and Azov seas, while the Ukrainian side agreed to withdraw its border guards from the island. The two sides will try to resolve the disputed status of the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait within the next two-three months. Tensions, however, quickly reemerged, with Russian media accusing the Ukrainian side of reneging on the 24 October agreement. "Ukrainian border guards, who were supposed to leave the Tuzla spit immediately, have not gone anywhere and, it would appear, have no intention of leaving," ORT reported on 25 October. The next day, ITAR-TASS reported that the Ukrainian government has appropriated $1 million to improve "amenities" at its border post on Tuzla. JB
...WHILE POLITICIANS ON BOTH SIDES BANG THE NATIONALIST DRUM. Duma Deputy Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy), chairman of the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, visited the disputed territory on 25 October, ORT reported. Rogozin declared that no one had the right to "usurp" the Kerch Strait or to "take" the Azov Sea, which, he said, "are the internal waters of both Russia and Ukraine." Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, meanwhile, told izvestia.ru that some people in Russia have a "craving for imperial self-assertion." There are, he said, "neocolonial sentiments in Russian society, in the Russian ruling class, among Russian generals," the website reported on 27 October. Duma Deputy Aleksei Arbatov (Yabloko), deputy chairman of the Duma's Defense Committee, highlighted the potential for the dispute to spiral out of control. Arbatov said that he could not rule out the possibility of "armed contacts of a limited character" between the two sides in the disputed area, RosBalt reported on 24 October. JB
At a 9 October press conference in Yekaterinburg that included Russian President Vladimir Putin and visiting German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov declared that Russia reserves the right to intervene militarily within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in order to settle disputes that cannot be solved through negotiation. At the same press conference, Putin declared that the pipelines carrying oil and natural gas to the West were built by the Soviet Union and it is Russia's prerogative to maintain them in order to protect its national interests, "even those parts of the system that are beyond Russia's borders."
These seemingly new additions to the "National Security Concept" adopted in January 2000 (shortly after Boris Yeltsin handed over his presidential powers to Putin) and subsequently known as the "Putin Doctrine" codified what some observers might consider Russian claims to hegemony in the CIS and an unveiled threat to Georgia. The international media did not comment on Chancellor Schroeder's seemingly silent acquiescence to the declarations by Ivanov and Putin.
It seems clear that Putin and Ivanov both know full well that Russia -- with an economy the size of that of the Netherlands -- is not strong enough at the moment to dictate its will beyond the newly drawn borders of its former empire. But time is on their side. In a decade or two, with petro-dollars flowing into the Russian economy, this will change; but presumably the Putin Doctrine will remain in force and Russian aspirations will continue to grow.
Ivanov also announced that U.S. bases in Central Asia, presently being used in the war on terrorism in Afghanistan, will have to be dismantled once that war is over. Ivanov's statement provided few clues as to who might determine when that war is over: Russia or the United States. Furthermore, it was unclear whether Ivanov and Putin had the consent of the presidents of the sovereign states in which those bases are situated to make such a statement, or whether they even bothered to ask. Nevertheless, they placed Washington on notice.
Thirty-five years earlier, in November 1968, a similar "doctrine" was proclaimed by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Czechoslovak reformers under the leadership of Alexander Dubcek had been attempting to implement "socialism with a human face" via reforms that came to be known as the "Prague Spring." Brezhnev declared that the USSR has the right to intervene in the internal affairs of members of the Warsaw Pact if their social system is threatened. This of course meant preserving the totalitarian nature of "advanced socialism" and was cited as justification for the armed invasion of Czechoslovakia that took place in August of that year.
Some observers see the revised Putin Doctrine as pandering -- in the run-up to December's State Duma elections and the presidential elections due in March 2004 -- to the imperial nostalgia of a segment of the Russian population that continues to mourn the loss of empire. But all indications are that Putin's re-election is already virtually assured and there is therefore no need to promulgate such a dangerous "doctrine" merely to win votes. This amended doctrine seems to be the logical extension of a series of recent moves by some in the Kremlin to reassert control over what they consider to be Russia's sphere of influence over a vitally important region.
An agreement signed in September on the creation of the Single Economic Space (EEP) in which Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan relinquish some of their sovereign rights to a supranational body in which Russia has the largest bloc of votes was one such move. Putin's declaration to the European Union that Russia will not give up state control over its oil and gas pipelines was another. This was a further indication that Russia intends to challenge the United States (and China) in the oil-rich Caspian region and in Central Asia, with its enormous natural gas reserves.
Ivanov adopted an even more ominous tone on 2 October, when he reiterated and expanded upon the original Putin Doctrine. Ivanov said the role of nuclear weapons remains a key tenet in Russia's defense strategy, and that Moscow does not exclude the possibility of preemptive strikes -- if need be -- to defend Russia's interests or those of its allies. In the National Security Concept adopted in January 2000, there was no such emphasis on "allies."
Russian officials argue that the newly revised Putin Doctrine will bring greater stability to the region; and stability is the name of the game concerning energy supplies to Western Europe, which currently depends on Russia for 28 percent of its gas supplies, and potentially to the United States. This consideration no doubt figured in the timing of the announcement -- during Chancellor Schroeder's visit to Russia. Germany, which is dependent on Russia for 12 percent of its natural gas and 18 percent of its oil, is vitally interested that the pipelines and stability be maintained.
The stability argument implies that Russia is positioning itself to be the guarantor of regional stability throughout the CIS. But the policies outlined by Putin and his defense minister -- which might or might not represent a general consensus among policymakers in the Kremlin -- are likely to increase suspicion of every Russian move by its neighbors. Suspicion often leads to misunderstandings -- or worse. The ongoing standoff concerning the construction of a Russian dam near the Ukrainian border in the Sea of Azov is a case in point.
If the Putin Doctrine intends to reverse history, not for the sake of ideological purity but as an assertion of its newly discovered energy might, the West and China might find themselves reexamining their relationship with Russia -- sooner or later.
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS RUSSIAN DAM PROJECT PUSHING HIS COUNTRY WESTWARD. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said in the 27 October issue of the Moscow-based "Izvestiya" that the construction of a Russian dam in the Kerch Strait is pushing Ukraine closer to the West, Interfax reported. "The closer the dam is to our shores, the closer we are in our moods to Europe and the West in general," Kuchma said. He suggested that the dam project is nourishing the imperial ambitions of some political forces in Russia. "One cannot help sympathizing with the Russian leadership that sometimes is forced to take into account neocolonial sentiments in Russian society, in the Russian ruling class, and among the Russian generals," Kuchma said (see also "RFE/RL Newsline Part I"). JM
UKRAINIAN BORDER GUARDS REMAIN ON TUZLA. Ukrainian border guards deployed to Tuzla Island in the Kerch Strait earlier this month remain on that island, Interfax reported on 27 October, quoting State Border Service spokesman Anatoliy Samarchenko. According to Samarchenko, the Russians have halted construction of the dike some 100 meters from the Ukrainian frontier and are now reinforcing it. Last week, the Ukrainian and Russian prime ministers, Viktor Yanukovych and Mikhail Kasyanov, reportedly agreed that the dam will not be extended any further toward Tuzla in exchange for the removal of Ukrainian border guards from the island. JM
OUR UKRAINE LEADER SAYS OPPONENTS TRYING TO KILL HIM. Viktor Yushchenko, leader of the opposition Our Ukraine bloc, said on 24 October that his political opponents are taking measures to kill him, Interfax reported, quoting the Our Ukraine press service. "There are projects under which killers have already arrived and taken appropriate measures that cannot be described as jokes," Yushchenko claimed. He revealed that some 40 criminal cases have been opened against Our Ukraine lawmakers. "I am proud that, the pressure notwithstanding, there are 103 people's deputies in the Verkhovna Rada's [Our Ukraine caucus] who are keeping Ukraine away from a tragic scenario," he added. Moreover, Yushchenko told a forum of democratic forces in Kharkiv on 26 October that a single platform and a single candidate of the democratic opposition for the next presidential election will be discussed at a democratic forum in Kyiv in six weeks' time. JM
MEDIATORS DRAFT 'BASIC POLITICAL ACCORD' FOR TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT. Representatives of the three mediators of the Transdniester conflict (Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE) have drafted a "basic political document" outlining their proposals for resolving the conflict, OSCE mission spokesman Claus Neukirch told RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service on 24 October. The document is to be submitted to the authorities in Chisinau and Tiraspol. It refers to the structure of the envisaged federalized state, the division of powers among the federation's subjects, and security guarantees that would be extended to the federal state. Neukirch said he hopes the draft will rekindle the negotiation process and bring about the conflict's settlement. MS