Twenty-two Russian ultranationalists are about to go on trial in Ust-Kamenogorsk, the main city of the East Kazakhstan Region, situated in the Russian-settled northeast of that country. The group includes twelve citizens of Russia, one of right-bank Moldova and nine of Kazakhstan. They are accused of conspiring to seize administrative buildings in Ust-Kamenogorsk by force, proclaim a Russian republic in that part of Kazakhstan and attach the territory to the neighboring Russian Federation. Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee (KNS) had monitored the group’s activities and detained its members on November 19, 1999. The pretrial investigation has since run its course in the Ust-Kamenogorsk detention center.
Kazakh Television has amply reported on the affair, including videotaped scenes of the arrest and interrogation. The official reporting makes clear that the accused, with their “extremist” position, did not gain any significant support among the local Russian population.
The KNS had been tipped off by self-laudatory and somewhat self-promotional reports on the group’s activities in a newspaper in the Siberian city of Omsk. Further reports appeared in a Russian-language newspaper in the East Kazakhstan Region; following the group’s arrest, the same newspaper printed the group leader’s draft appeal to the region’s Russian population. The newspaper was then suspended and its editor was indicted for incitement to separatism.
Several of the accused are being tried in absentia; at least one fled to Russia and is seeking political asylum there. The group’s leader, Moscow resident Viktor Kazimirchuk–who acted in Kazakhstan under the Cossack-inspired pseudonym Pugachev–apparently intended to appeal to Russian Cossack groups in that part of Kazakhstan. Kazimirchuk has undergone some psychiatric testing in Astana during the pretrial investigation.
The Russian embassy in Kazakhstan–which has monitored the course of the investigation very closely–has offered to hire Moscow lawyers as legal counsel for the accused, requested the release of at least some of the accused on recognizance (pending the trial), and urged Kazakhstan’s authorities to consider the youth and immaturity of some in the group. The embassy is trying to walk a fine line between public intercession and open interference. Apparently with an eye to nationalist opinion circles in the runup to the presidential election, the Foreign Affairs and the CIS Affairs Ministries in Moscow have swung into action, announcing yesterday that they have initiated legal steps with a view to repatriating the twelve Russians to Russia before the start of the trial (Habar, Itar-Tass, Russian Television, January 26-27, February 14, 29; see the Fortnight in Review, December 17, 1999).
[Correction: Yesterday’s Monitor story on Vladimir Putin’s proposal for an eight-year term for the Russian presidency should have said seven-year term.]
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