Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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#1 - JRL 7002
December 31, 2002
Russia: a year in review

As 2003 begins, we take a look back at the stories that made the headlines here at Gazeta.Ru over the last 12 months. 2002 will be remembered by most Russians as the year the Chechen conflict once again came to Moscow. It also saw several major law changes on land sales, the Labour Code, and major reforms of the railways. On the whole, Vladimir Putins authoritative style was strengthened despite political scandals in Krasnoyarsk, Ingushetia and the Far East.

Economically, Russias fine showing in 2001 continued this year, but less dramatically. The EU and the US both recognized Russia as a market economy though accession talks to the WTO will resume in 2003. Sweeping reforms of the energy sector will also have to wait until next year.

Yet again, Russia fell victim to natural disasters and catastrophes on a huge scale. Floods, landslides, fires, and air crashes all claimed hundreds of lives, as did the continuing conflict in the North Caucasus. The sporting year ended on a high note, however, as the Davis Cup was brought to Moscow for the first time. It followed a disappointing World Cup and a controversial Winter Olympics for Russias sportsmen.

Here is a selection of some of the important news stories that were reported each month by Gazeta.Ru in 2002:

January: Russia closes its last base in Cuba. The Lourdes electronic listening posts closure ended a nearly 40-year lease that cost $200 million a year. Prosecutors detain two top executives from Gazprom subsidiary Sibur in an attempt by the Kremlin to rein in wayward oligarchs. TV-6 is forced to shut down after a LUKoil subsidiary and minor shareholder of the channel complains about losses. The Kremlin denies any part in the closure despite its public battle with the channels owner, Boris Berezovsky.

February: Russia gets new capitalist labour code, replacing old Soviet laws last updated in 1971. Unions call the law a ''slavery code''. Controversy surrounds the Salt Lake Winter Olympics as the Russian team threatens a boycott after two skiers are stripped of their medals and the Russian figure skaters are forced to share gold after a Canadian complaint.

March: Central Bank chief Viktor Gerashenko, in power since Soviet times, resigns under pressure from the Kremlin. He had opposed efforts by the government to reduce the banks autonomy. Russia bans the import of US poultry meat for 6 months, citing health fears. The ban comes shortly after Washington imposed a 30% tariff on steel imports from Russia. Former KGB general Oleg Kalugin is summoned to Moscow from his home in America for questioning. He is later tried in his absence for giving away state secrets and charged with treason.

April: A Chechen rebel website confirms the death of the feared rebel warlord Khattab, killed by a poisoned letter sent by Russias secret services. General Alexander Lebed dies of injuries sustained in a helicopter crash in southern Siberia. The popular soldier, who is often credited with ending the first Chechen war and even ran for president, was buried with full military honours in early May. State Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov is expelled from the Communist Party for refusing to stand down from his post in protest at purges of other left wing parliamentary leaders.

May: A powerful explosion rips through a Victory Day military parade in the Dagestani town of Kaspiisk killing 45. The FSB later detained several suspects as well as the Russian servicemen who sold the mine used in the attack. Russia and NATO sign the Rome Declaration bringing the former Cold War foes closer than ever, despite reservations from both sides. It is followed by a Russia-US agreement to slash nuclear arsenals over the next 10 years.

June: Russias poor display at the World Cup in Japan is further soured by bloody riots that erupt in Moscows Manezh Square. A teenager is stabbed to death as drunken fans watching Russias 1-0 defeat to Japan on giant screens attack police and loot shops in the capitals worst violence for years. The Duma passes an anti-extremism bill after several cases of foreigners being attacked by neo-nazi skinheads.

July: A national heat wave and arson cause devastating forest fires right across the country from the Far East to the Moscow Region. Peat-bog fires outside the capital cover the city in a blanket of smoke for days on end. A mid-air collision between a Bashkirian Airlines' Tupolev 154 airliner and a Boeing 757 over southern Germany kills 71, most of them Russian school children. Swiss air traffic controllers were later blamed for the crash. In another air disaster an Ilyushin-86 carrying 16 crew crashes seconds after take off from Moscow. Amazingly, 2 stewardesses survive the crash.

August: 119 servicemen are killed after a giant Mi-26 helicopter is shot down by rebels in Chechnya. It is later discovered that the aircraft was seriously overloaded. Torrential rains cause the worst flooding in 10 years in southern Russia. Tens of thousands are forced to flee their homes with the death toll reaching 93 by the end of the month. Stavropol, Krasnodar, Karachayevo-Cherkessia and North Ossetia suffer the most.

September: A powerful avalanche sweeps through the Karmadon Gorge in North Ossetia leaving a trail of destruction. 19 bodies were recovered but 109 are still unaccounted for. Among those killed was young film idol Sergei Bodrov, who was part of a group filming in the area. Vladimir Putin warns the UN that Russia will strike rebel Chechen bases in Georgias Pankisi Gorge unless Tbilisi steps up security measures in the lawless region. LUKoils vice-president Sergei Kukura is kidnapped but released several days later in unusual circumstances. It is just one of a number of oil-related kidnappings in 2002.

October: Chechen terrorists take over 800 theatre-goers hostage at the Nord-Ost musical. The ensuing 3-day drama is played out on the worlds television screens and ends with Russian special services storming the building using an unidentified gas to subdue those inside. All but 2 of the 129 hostage victims die as a result of gas poisoning. 46 terrorists are killed in the operation. Russia holds its first census for 13 years. Preliminary results show the population has decreased by nearly 2 million to 145.1 million. The governor of gold-rich Magadan, Valentin Svetkov, is gunned down in central Moscow.

November: Moscow asks Denmark to extradite rebel Chechen envoy Akhmed Zakayev detained at a Chechen congress in Copenhagen. The Danish Justice Ministry is not convinced by Russias evidence and orders his release. Zakayev later seeks shelter in London where he faces yet more extradition charges. Russia and the EU agree on special travel documents for Kaliningrad residents who will find their region surrounded by EU states when Lithuania and Poland join in 2004. Many claim the agreement is tantamount to a visa regime. Russia had earlier demanded unrestricted travel to the enclave.

December: The year ends on a tragic note as over 80 are killed and hundreds injured by a suicide attack on the Chechen administrations complex in Grozny. President Putin declares the political process will continue in the war-torn province. Popular military commander in Chechnya General Gennady Troshev refuses to accept his appointment as chief of the Siberian Military District and is dismissed by presidential decree. Salman Raduyev, the most notorious Chechen rebel to be prosecuted by a Russian court, dies of internal bleeding at a penal colony in the Urals.

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