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...AS ONE ANALYST CALLS IT ACT OF POLITICAL THEATER. National Strategy Institute Vice President Viktor Militarev told APN on 17 March that he believes Chubais staged the assassination attempt himself. "These tragic events are not very believable," he said, comparing them to the "widely reported poisoning" of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. He suggested that the government's new bill on natural resources "was the last straw, which broke Chubais's loyalty to the president and motivated him to join such gentlemen as Berezovskii, [former oligarch Vladimir] Gusinskii, Nevzlin, and [Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman] Abramovich." RC

BELARUSIAN SCIENTIST BACKS PRESIDENT OVER RELOCATION FROM CHORNOBYL AREAS. Opposition activist Ivan Nikitchanka, a member of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences, agreed with President Lukashenka that the relocation of residents from Chornobyl-affected areas "makes no sense" any longer, Belapan reported. Nikitchanka was commenting on Lukashenka's call earlier the same day for a revision of the relocation program adopted in the wake of the 1986 blast at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. Lukashenka argued that many people demanded relocation for the sole purpose of improving their material position. Nikitchanka stressed a different aspect of the issue. "Now the relocation of people makes no sense, because there is practically no external radiation in Chornobyl-hit areas," Nikitchanka said. "People are exposed to radiation when they consume contaminated food. But people eat contaminated food elsewhere in the country, not only in the affected areas.... The main thing is to ensure the production of radiation-free food in contaminated areas." JM

UKRAINE CONFIRMS SALES OF MISSILES TO CHINA, IRAQ. Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun told the 18 March issue of the "Financial Times" that Ukraine has secretly exported 12 cruise missiles to Iran and six to China. The missiles, known as X-55 or Kh-55s or AS-15s, were sent in 2001 and, according to Piskun, did not include the nuclear warheads they were designed to carry. Japan and the United States reportedly said they are worried by what appears to have been a significant leak of technology from the former Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal. The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv noted that it is "closely monitoring" the investigation and wants the findings of a secret trial made public. The EU and the United States imposed an arms embargo on China following the June 1989 crackdown on democracy protestors on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The United States prohibits weapons sales to Iran under the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT CUTS ARMY, REDUCES COMPULSORY SERVICE. The Verkhovna Rada on 17 March voted overwhelmingly to support a presidential bill reducing Ukraine's Armed Forces by 40,000 people to 245,000 people (180,000 servicemen and 65,000 civilians) by the end of 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2005), UNIAN reported. The bill also cuts the term of compulsory military service to 18 months in the Navy and 12 months in the land forces. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT OUTLINES REPRIVATIZATION POLICY... Viktor Yushchenko told the 18 March issue of "Kommersant-Daily" that the government will offer to allow the current owners of dishonestly privatized companies to pay an additional sum to the government to close the gap between purchase prices and "real market prices." If the owners reject, the government will propose their companies for new tenders to find new buyers. Yushchenko stressed that metallurgical giant Kryvorizhstal, which was bought in 2004 by oligarch Rynat Akhmetow and Viktor Pinchuk at a price widely regarded as dubious, will unconditionally be put up for a new tender. Referring to the prospect of Russian investments in Ukraine, Yushchenko said, "I've told [Russian businessmen] straightforwardly, 'I will do my best to make your life in Ukraine better than in Russia.'" JM

...AND HOPES FOR TWO-FORCE COALITION AFTER 2006 PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS. President Yushchenko told Interfax on 17 March that he expects the 2006 parliamentary elections to produce an alliance of "two political forces that will obtain control over parliament and a majority of local power bodies." Yushchenko did not name these forces. Speaking at the constituent congress of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine People's Union (NSNU) party earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 11 March 2005), Yushchenko called for a parliamentary election coalition of the NSNU, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the People's Party. JM

AUTHORITIES SAID TO HAVE 'ORDERED' RUSSIAN SISTERS' RELEASE IN MOLDOVA. The release of two Russian campaign workers from custody in Moldova, where they were being held for alleged money laundering and smuggling, was probably ordered by high government officials, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 March, quoting unidentified sources in law enforcement. "Most likely, they have been released by order of authorities," "Kommersant-Daily" quoted a source as saying. The two sisters, Yelena and Olga Romashchenko, were detained in mid-February with a group of political consultants from Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine who were working on campaigns in the 6 March parliamentary elections without proper documentation. The sisters, who were reportedly carrying $500,000, were detained on suspicion of money laundering, while the others were deported. An unidentified investigator told "Kommersant-Daily" that the two were in charge of distributing funds to political experts who came to Moldova to work for a political candidate. The women were released following a decision by Moldova's Chamber of Appeals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2005). BW

Many observers in Russia and abroad believe that recent events in Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova have rung the death knell for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the fragile association that rose up in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Council for Foreign and Defense Policy Chairman Sergei Karaganov told RTR on 13 March that the CIS has essentially fulfilled its function and should be radically reformed. On 10 March, reported that National Strategy Institute Director Stanislav Belkovskii had called for "burying the CIS" and creating a new alliance of countries loyal to Moscow. Belkovskii dubbed this alliance the USSR, an acronym from the Russian words for "Commonwealth of Countries Allied to Russia."

The latest reflection of this new mindset in Russia was a proposed bill in the Duma that would have regulated the procedures for expanding the Russian Federation. On 10 March, Motherland Duma Deputy Andrei Savelev presented the bill on the creation of new constituents of the Russian Federation that would have amended a 2001 law on the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2001) to facilitate the incorporation into Russia of the self-proclaimed republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are part of Georgia; the Moldovan region of Transdniester; and the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.

Under the 2001 law, regions wishing to join the federation do not have to share borders with Russia, but the consent of their present central governments is required for incorporation. The law also stipulates that acceptance of new constituents of the federation must be approved by a referendum of the entire country. In short, the expansion of the Russian Federation requires an international treaty and a complete, national domestic political process.

According to media reports, the amendments submitted by Savelev were drafted by Motherland faction leader Dmitrii Rogozin. They called for abolishing the requirement that expansion be accompanied by the consent of the foreign government involved, "Izvestiya" reported on 10 March. Instead, the proposed amendments stated that admission to the federation would be based only on "the will of the people of a region as expressed through a referendum" or by the mass acceptance of Russian citizenship. The only new condition that the amendments included was a provision that said the population of a candidate region must have voted "positively on the 17 March 1991 referendum on the preservation of the USSR." All of the regions listed above pass this standard, a fact that Rogozin mentioned in a memorandum he attached to the bill. In that message, he wrote that Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan "have lately been intensifying efforts to project their sovereignty into the territories of these unrecognized republics" while simultaneously accusing Russia of "supporting 'separatism.'"

When presenting the bill in the Duma, Savelev stressed that the proposals correspond with the Kremlin's political line and its "ideology of national revanche." "President [Vladimir] Putin said last year that we gave up too much and [now] we must get it all back," Savelev said, according to on 11 March. "We do not need a new Russia of 'Yeltsinites' within the present borders, but a genuine Russia with its imperial borders."

The Motherland bill, however, attracted just 91 votes -- mainly from Motherland and its allies -- of the 226 required for passage. Thirty-four deputies voted against the bill and one abstained, with most deputies not participating in the vote. The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, which controls more than 300 votes in the lower chamber, declined to support the bill, arguing that it could destroy "the fragile balance of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation."

Unified Russia's position seems to follow the old dictum that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Deputy Yurii Konev (Unified Russia) said: "The time for this law has passed. Now is not the time to think about how to break up other states but to take care about the unity and sovereignty of our own country," reported on 11 March.

Konev's concerns were echoed by Communist Deputy Leonid Ivanchenko, whose faction largely supported the measure. Ivanchenko, however, argued that the definition of "a popular referendum" in the bill "works against Russia's interests." He noted that the Myasnikovskii Raion of Rostov Oblast, which is in the district he represents, has a compact Armenian community, RTR reported on 12 March, and that it could theoretically vote to secede from Russia. First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Slizka (Unified Russia) concluded the debate by saying that "adoption of the bill will mean the de facto declaration of war against neighboring states, whose territorial integrity will be violated." She added that it would be another matter if one or another of these regions gained international recognition and then expressed the desire to join the Russian Federation.

In an interview with "Argumenty i fakty," No. 10, TV-Tsentr commentator Aleksei Pushkov, whose statist views often reflect those of the Kremlin, said that Moscow is afraid to encourage separatist claims in Georgia and Moldova because it faces the same problem in Chechnya. Moreover, if Moscow legitimizes the disintegration of Georgia and Moldova, it could set off a chain reaction in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, both of which have large ethnic Russian minorities concentrated in regions bordering Russia. "It seems that the Kremlin is seriously afraid of complications in our relations with our neighbors, although as far as I can tell there is nothing to be afraid of," Pushkov said.

The introduction of the bill in the Duma indicates that those in Russia who harbor imperialist ambitions are not yet ready to surrender, despite the recent setbacks throughout the CIS. After Moscow's defeat in the Ukrainian presidential vote, political consultant Marat Gelman, who advised pro-Moscow presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych in the election there, said that "Russia should now give up its imperial project," RosBalt reported on 29 December. "But although there is no chance of realizing any scenario of the restoration of the empire, our wounded imperial consciousness remains and is posing a serious problem."

        19 March: President Vladimir Putin to visit Kyiv
        20 March: Legislative elections in Voronezh and Vladimir
        20 March: Mayoral election in Chelyabinsk
        27 March: Mayoral elections in Surgut and Omsk
        27 March: City of Saratov to hold a referendum on whether the
city's mayor should continue to be directly elected
        27 March: Legislative elections in Amur Oblast and
Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug
        April: Term of Tula Oblast Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev to
        April: Russian Soyuz spacecraft to bring new crew to the
International Space Station
        13 April: Duma to review implementation of law on

monetization of in-kind social benefits and to hear report by Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin

15 April: Duma expected to vote on second reading of amendments to the law on forming the State Duma that would introduce the proportional-representation system and eliminate the single-mandate districts

17 April: Krasnoyarsk Krai to hold a referendum on the question of merging the krai with the Taimyr and Evenk autonomous okrugs

9 May: Commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II

        23 June: Yukos shareholders meeting
        4 July: 750th anniversary of the founding of Kaliningrad
        6-8 July: G-8 summit in Scotland
        September: First-ever Chinese-Russian military exercises to
be held on the Shandong Peninsula
        2006: Russia to host a G-8 summit in St. Petersburg
        1 January 2006: Date by which all political parties must

conform to law on political parties, which requires at least 50,000 members and branches in one-half of all federation subjects, or either reregister as public organizations or be dissolved