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Washington Post
Anti-Western Sentiment Grows in Russia
Putin Gives Security Service More Leeway as Disputes Rise Over Outside Influence
By Sharon LaFraniere
Washington Post Foreign Service

MOSCOW -- When Russia decided last month to expel 27 Peace Corps volunteers, U.S. officials said they could understand the government's official explanation that it no longer needs their help. To some Kremlin officials, hosting a program that aids many Third World countries sent a signal of weakness at a time when President Vladimir Putin is bent on rebuilding national pride.

It was the unofficial explanation offered by Russia's security services for the end of the 10-year-old program that set off alarm bells.

Nikolai Patrushev, who heads the domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service, told the Russian media last month that two volunteers had been detected spying for the U.S. government. Moreover, he suggested, other volunteers had shown an improper interest in Russian life while teaching English and business courses.

"Some of them were involved in gathering information about the political and socio-economic situation in Russian regions, about governing bodies and the course of elections," he told reporters from state-controlled media outlets at a Dec. 15 briefing.

Patrushev's vague allegations -- angrily denied by U.S. officials -- reflect continuing anti-Western sentiment in Russian officialdom. Even as Putin continues to steer the country's foreign policy toward the West, people in his government over the past month have taken aim at the Peace Corps and two other Western-funded organizations that have worked quietly in Russia for many years.

Russia ended a seven-year-old mission by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that monitored human rights in the war-torn Russian republic of Chechnya. Russia also revoked the visa of an American labor activist who since 1992 has headed a U.S-funded program to advise Russian workers and trade unions on their rights.

The expulsions have exposed tension within Putin's government between officials who want to further Westernize the nation and those who fear that the West already has too much influence here. They have also deepened worries among U.S. officials about the amount of leeway Putin gives Russia's security services, especially in the two months since Chechen terrorists seized more than 800 hostages at a Moscow theater.

At issue, U.S. officials say, is the depth of Putin's commitment to a democracy based on Western values of individual and human rights.

"Clearly there is a trend emerging," said Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador, in an interview. "Forces here that may not be fully convinced of the wisdom of Russia's democratization and its integration with the West . . . are flexing their muscles."

"We are trying to convince the Russians that these kind of actions not only spoil the atmosphere but have real and tangible consequences for the achievement of their own goals of attracting more foreign investment and being accepted as a reliable partner for dealing with international challenges," he said.

Off and on since the fall of communism, the Russian government has indulged what many foreigners see as an obsession with internal security, most noticeably through a string of espionage accusations and trials that Western officials describe as trumped-up.

But Kremlin watchers say the security forces were never as comfortable under former President Boris Yeltsin as they are under Putin, who spent most of his career as a KGB officer and has relied on its domestic successor, the Federal Security Service (FSB), to help restore the federal government's authority.

Some Kremlin watchers say October's hostage crisis further strengthened the FSB's voice within the government and made it more difficult for officials who argue that democracy must be rooted in an open society.

"The problem is that Russian authorities don't want any intervention or participation of international institutions inside Russia," said Tatyana Parkhalina, director of the Center for Problems of European Security. "They are afraid of this. Of course it is against Putin's foreign policy line. There are very serious gaps between the new foreign policy line and the domestic policy line."

Irene Stevenson apparently fell through those gaps. Since 1992, the 41-year-old labor activist has run the American Center for Labor Solidarity, advising workers and unions on their legal rights. The center was founded by the AFL-CIO and is financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Just six weeks after she obtained a new Russian visa, Stevenson left to visit her mother in the United States for Christmas. She flew into Moscow's Shermetyevo airport on Dec. 30, but was denied entry at passport control, a member of her program said. Officials ordered her back onto the plane without allowing her even to make a phone call.

Eduard Vokhmin, a program director, said he is convinced that the FSB was behind the revocation of Stevenson's visa. "The visa registration department said, 'We are just following orders from above,' " he said. "We have many different sources that say it was the FSB."

Why Stevenson was denied reentry is a tougher question. Some Russian trade union officials believe that it was an act of retaliation for her center's support of Russia's air traffic controllers. The controllers won a 30 percent federal wage increase last month after staging a hunger protest that briefly shut down four Russian airports. Stevenson's group provided the controllers' union with a lawyer.

"The heads of the airports told the transport ministry that the reason why the action was so successful was the union was prepared or trained by Western specialists," said Sergei Kovalyov, president of the union, which represents 8,000 controllers. "I think there was a search for somebody to blame, and they found the Solidarity center."

Sergei Markov, who chairs the Civic Council of International Affairs, a political research organization, said Stevenson's expulsion suggests the FSB has gained too much power under Putin. "In Soviet times, the special services were too influential. Under Yeltsin, they were virtually non-existent. And now, again, there are elements of excess," he said.

"Irene Stevenson's work was in Russia's interest," Markov said. "Russia is interested in developing a civil society, and part of a civil society is trade unions. To push people like her away is silly."

The OSCE's work in Chechnya was more controversial, although it generated little public criticism until now. The organization has acted as a human rights watchdog in Chechnya since 1995, although it shut down its six-person office in Chechnya from 1999 until mid-2001 due to safety concerns.

OSCE officials helped organize peace talks in August 1996 that ended the first Chechen war, and the mission helped set up the subsequent presidential elections in the republic. The Kremlin, which has refused to negotiate with rebel commanders in the current conflict, now accuses the OSCE of overstepping its role in the first war.

When Kremlin officials demanded the mission limit itself to helping refugees and distributing humanitarian aid, the OSCE decided to pull out. OSCE officials say they hope Russia will reconsider and allow the organization to monitor human rights and elections.

Vladimir Lukin, deputy speaker of the Duma, the lower chamber of Russia's parliament, said the Kremlin is right that Chechnya is an internal matter. But he said to ban the OSCE entirely "is a very serious mistake" that will isolate Russia and hurt Putin's reputation in the West.

Vyacheslav Nikonov, a political analyst, said that even though the OSCE is ineffective, Russia should allow it to work in Chechnya. "Dealing with the OSCE is like obeying the rules of the game," he said.

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