stoned as U.N. envoys visit Kosovo town
April 28, 2000
Web posted at: 1:56 PM EDT (1756 GMT)
Kosobo (Reuters) -- Ethnic Albanians stoned two U.N. buses carrying
Serbs from one side of ethnically divided Mitrovica to church on the
other side as a U.N. Security Council delegation visited the town Friday.
team came to see Kosovo's worst ethnic hotspot for itself -- a city
where hostile ethnic Albanians south of the Ibar River and Serbs to
the north are kept apart by peacekeepers and barbed wire.
The NATO-led KFOR
peacekeeping force escorted the Serbs back north of the river in armored
personnel carriers. The area where the incident took place was sealed
A local Serb community
leader, Oliver Ivanovic, said four Serbs had been
injured. Later, about 300 Serbs gathered by the river on the north side
Ivanovic said the
incident showed the town could not be reunited in the face of such hostility
from ethnic Albanians.
Earlier, the envoys,
on a three-day fact-finding mission to the Serbian
province, crossed a footbridge to the north of the town to see an enclave
of some 350 Albanians guarded by French KFOR soldiers.
The enclave was
established after an upsurge of violence in February.
The U.N. team was
greeted by Albanian children who cheered and held out
flowers. But Serb hardliners made clear they did not want them there
and that they felt ignored and forgotten by the international community.
Serb men known locally
as the "bridge watchers" yelled at the U.N. delegates as they
walked by. "You again?," one shouted. "You useless people
-- how secure are our lives?"
A U.N. official
in Kosovo, Wuria Karadaghy of the United Nations Development Program,
said the Serbs "feel like they are defeated and that the other
side are the winners."
Russia's U.N. ambassador
Sergei Lavrov later said the U.N. Security Council resolution that created
the international protectorate in Kosovo was not being fully implemented.
that is not being implemented is the sovereignty of Yugoslavia in
Kosovo," he told reporters.
He said points that
were not being carried out included the return of Serbian
security personnel to key religious sites in Kosovo, the creation of
environment for Serbs and other minorities and the return of Serb refugees.
that contacts between UNMIK (the U.N. administration in Kosovo) and
the Yugoslav government are not sufficient and must be increased,"
is still a problem. There needs to be confidence building between the
In Belgrade Wednesday,
Lavrov and China's U.N. envoy met Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic,
shunned internationally since being indicted by the U.N. war crimes
tribunal for atrocities in Kosovo.
Russia and China
fiercely opposed NATO's 1999 air war against Yugoslavia that halted
ethnic Albanian-Serb bloodshed in Kosovo and ushered in international
control of the province.
The U.N team's observations
will go into a key report recommending ways to
improve UNMIK, Kosovo's interim post-war authority which has suffered
from underfunding and a lack of police needed to curb endemic armed
refugees resort to holiday homes in Montenegro
Saturday April 29, 2000
Milena Radevic sits
on the terrace of her room in the holiday resort,
dressed as always in black. The buildings are dilapidated, and this
no holiday. She and 30 other families of Serb refugees from Kosovo have
been squatting in the forlorn seaside camp for the past three weeks,
since they were evicted from a nearby hotel when its owners,
Elektro-Serbia, obtained a court order.
Montenegro has one of the most stunning coastlines on the Adriatic.
Until 10 years ago it thronged with holidaymakers from all over
Yugoslavia and western Europe.
But the four Yugoslav wars and the collapse of the Balkan economies
have sapped its life. Luxury hotels stand closed and shuttered.
Even the Belgrade middle class do not come in sufficient numbers to
warrant reopening these concrete and glass palaces of despair, except
for a few weeks at the height of summer.
The lower end of the market is not doing much better, and Rooms to
Let signs hang on the balconies of villas which in the 1980s would have
been booked solid.
A few companies still keep holiday homes and hostels for their
staff, in the communist tradition of Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
it made sense that when Serbs were forced to flee Kosovo last summer
the returning Kosovan Albanians, several thousand went to the
To Serbs and Gypsies from the cities of Pec, Decani, and Djakovica
in western Kosovo, Montenegro was nearer than Serbia itself. Some knew
the coast from better days. They occupied state-owned holiday homes,
hoping to be welcomed by their government.
"We went to the hotel in Becici because Elektro-Serbia is a company
in Kraljevo, a town in central Serbia," Mrs Radevic says.
"They took us to court, but eviction was delayed five or six times
while we argued against it. When we were thrown out, we slept for five
days in the street and in our cars before coming here. This camp is
owned by a Serbian company from Kosovo."
Her black clothes are a reminder of a double bereavement. "I will
tell you my story. It is just one that a thousand other Serb mothers
could tell you," she says as she launches into her narrative.
Her 25-year-old son was one of six people killed when unknown
terrorists, assumed to be Albanian, threw a grenade into a crowded cafe
in Pec in December 1988. In June last year, when Italian soldiers from
Nato arrived, her husband was abducted by Albanians in front of her
eyes, and has not been seen since.
The illegal occupation of holiday homes is an embarrassment to the
Montenegrin government, which does not want to evict squatters.
"We have to observe the law," says Djordjije Scepanovic, the
refugee commissioner. "The people moved in without our agreement,
the owners have to go to court and follow the correct procedure. In
cases we offered to pay the displaced people's costs as well as rent,
but the owners did not always accept."
In Sutomore, the Serbian company which owns the Hotel Zlati bar
signed a deal with the refugee commissioner last week. About 250 Serbs
and Gypsies have lived in the building for months. They get food from
the International Committee for the Red Cross and an Italian charity.
"We will pay the Serbian company four deutschmarks per person per
day," Mr Scepanovic says.
"For a family of four that works out at DM480 (£160) a month,
is a lot when you realise that the average monthly salary in Montenegro
is only about DM170.
The seaside refugees are the most expensive the Montenegrin
government has to cope with. Fortunately, about three-quarters of the
31,000 refugees from Kosovo are living with relatives or in private
rented flats, where the UN High Commissioner for Refugees helps. The
UNHCR's office refuses to become involved while legal disputes are
Besides the Kosovans, Montenegro has 28,000 refugees from the wars
in Croatia and Bosnia, making 10% of the population of 600,000 asylum
seekers: a proportion which puts richer countries in northern Europe
April 30, 2000
- Where the police have no reign
Without a functioning
legal system or a police force,
Kosovo is experiencing a crime wave of epidemic
proportions. Paul Harris reports from Pristina on new
moves to combat the state of lawlessness
Publication Date: Apr 30 2000
A German charter
aircraft came in to land last
week at Kosovo's Pristina Airport. It was known
to the RAF flight controllers in the tower as a
Conair flight: a passenger aircraft full of
Kosovars summarily deported from Germany's
jails and accompanied by a detachment of
armed German police. On the ground, the aircraft
was surrounded by troops and international
police. The deportees were photographed,
fingerprinted and promptly escorted from the
airport terminal to make their own way in the
already fraught environment of Kosovo.
Almost one year
on from Nato's triumphal move
into the former Yugoslav republic, Kosovo is truly
the land of the free. Indeed, it is arguably the
most free place in the world. There are no taxes,
there is virtually no functioning legal system, no
registration of citizens exists and all records of
ordinary events such as births, marriages and
deaths appear to have disappeared. When the
Serbs left Kosovo last year they didn't just leave
with their own personal effects, they took with
them all the baggage of the state: from
snowploughs, refuse carts, fire engines and
police vehicles to records and documents. Like it
or not, they also took with them every vestige of
Today, Kosovo is
effectively a benign military
dictatorship overseen jointly by the military
Kosovo Protection Force (KFOR) and the civilian
UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Military men
were never destined to be leaders of civil society
and UNMIK is barely grappling with the problems
of law and order as it faces the impossible
workload of running every single day to day
aspect of life in its protectorate.
As the honeymoon
period of euphoria subsides
and the goodwill evaporates, the international
mission faces some unique tests. Years of
repression under the Serbs have rendered the
Kosovars remarkably proficient in running
underground, parallel systems of government. In
truth, they don't really care if and when the
international community gets round to creating an
ordered society. The present anarchic chaos
suits very well, thank you very much.
This anarchy is
evident in almost every aspect of
day-to-day life. John Foreman, an aid worker
from Sunderland turned bar proprietor, has one
of the busiest of Pristina's many hundreds of
bar-cafs. It is situated opposite UNMIK
headquarters. Foreman packs a loaded
automatic pistol in the holster on his hip. "I've
been shot at seven times," he explains, "my staff
have been attacked and my electricity is regularly
He says he has refused
to pay the protection
money demanded by local gangsters. Asked to
identify them he is direct. "The crime around here
is run by former chiefs of the UCK."
The UCK is otherwise
known as the Kosovo
Liberation Army (KLA), now disbanded by KFOR
but reborn - officially - as the TMK, or Kosovo
Peace Corps with the blessing of KFOR and
UNMIK. "The same people are running the TMK
as ran the UCK," says Foreman, "and they're
running the rackets É"
The measures he
has taken to protect himself
are not as drastic as those employed by the
owner of the Centrum Bar, half a mile away. Last
week, two thugs entered his bar and demanded
money. He simply pulled out a gun and shot them
both dead. No arrests have been made, Indeed,
there is no record of any ongoing investigation.
One of the institutions missing from Kosovo after
Nato's takeover was a police force.
According to a military
intelligence officer at
Camp Bondsteel - the main US force
headquarters in Kosovo - "the rate of crime in
Kosovo is about the same as in Los Angeles".
That is hardly acceptable with a population of
fewer than two million spread over a country
barely half the size of Scotland. The crimes
include murders, robberies and shootings. A
rocket- propelled grenade was fired into a block
of flats opposite the Grand Hotel in the city centre
a few days ago. The next day a former KLA
military leader was shot dead in what UNMIK
police described as "a squabble over property
Meantime, more modest
crime is rife. Crudely
faked German mark notes, without watermarks,
are now in circulation (Kosovo does not, of
course, boast its own currency so German marks
have become the preferred option here). The
electricity authority reports that only 13% of its
customers have paid their bills over the last year.
Most people drive without number plates. The
vehicle registration system recently introduced by
UNMIK has appealed to barely 10% of the
population. Most drivers have either tossed away
their number plates or had them confiscated by
the Serb police as they fled to Albania or
Macedonia last year. A road accident highlights
the consequences of the legal hiatus with two
unregistered, uninsured drivers left to fight it out
over the apportioning of blame.
There is, however,
an expanding police
presence. As of a few days ago, there were
3135 foreign police officers from 46 countries
working the streets and roads of Kosovo. From
countries as diverse as the UK, US, Russia,
Niger, Pakistan and Ghana, they exercise an
essentially tolerant control over the province.
Royal Canadian Mounted
Policeman Bruce Lloy
is the UNMIK Police press spokesman. "We
have some very basic problems here. There are
no criminal records or data. Many of the accused
are simply released because we do not have the
facilities to detain them. As it is presently
structured, the judicial system is simply unable to
cope." In fact, detained persons are tried under
the old laws of Federal Yugoslavia and there are
neither the means or the inclination to deal with
all the alleged criminals brought in.
Very often, those
accused of the most serious of
crimes walk free after the detention period of 72
hours allowed under the law. Sometimes, the
special representative of the Secretary General,
SRSG Bernard Kouchner, is obliged to resort to
extraordinary means which are vested in him:
recently, he deported top former KLA leader
Hassani to neighbouring Macedonia. The KLA
promptly took a number of Macedonian border
guards hostage and Hassani was returned.
police are gradually being
supplemented by officers of the newly created
Kosovo Police Service. Almost one thousand
have now emerged from a newly-created police
training school at Vucitrn, where recruits undergo
nine weeks of basic and 19 weeks of field
training. Last Saturday, 250 men and women
graduated, overseen by their trainers from the
UK, US, Germany, Scandinavia and Canada. It
was a colourful event with British bobbies and
red-jacketed Mounties cajoling the excited
Kosovars into neat lines.
One of the imported
police forces appears to
operate with complete independence. The Italian
carbinieri paramilitary police cruise all over
Kosovo, apparently gathering intelligence and as
forerunners of planned multi-national Specialised
KFOR Provost Marshall
Lt Col Alberto Carlucci
has seen 26 years service in the carabinieri,
including 10 years on "international missions".
He is Italy's leading police analyst in the areas of
organised crime and drugs. He discerns a
developing pattern in the crime statistics.
between June and August last year,
there was virtually no petty crime. There were
serious revenge and arson attacks - mainly
against the Serb community - but these became
less and other crimes increased dramatically.
This is a false economy and with the arrival of
KFOR and the UN a lot of money has arrived in
Kosovo É criminality is a direct result of the huge
amount of money which has arrived."
He says there are
"many diverse groups of
criminals - in my view organised crime is
characterised by the corruption of institutions.
Here in Kosovo there are no institutions. Criminal
activites are not integrated like the mafia". He
sighs as he observes that "now crime is like a
small baby. It will grow."
And so you can build
an extension to your house,
open a bar or brothel, drive a taxi or bus; all
without any sort of official approval, sanction or
licence. The UN police have at least introduced
WAC cards: Weapons Authorisation Certificates
and are now busily engaged in confiscating guns
from those who do not hold them, but there are
probably many tens of thousands of unauthorised
weapons in circulation.
Alas, some of KFOR's
attempts at getting into
the justice business have come seriously
unstuck. Fifteen year-old Faton Hajrizi is a locally
renowned escapologist. Arrested for shooting a
Russian soldier, he's escaped from KFOR
custody five times. He escaped again last week
from the French army's detention centre - despite
the fact he now has a broken ankle and is -
embarrassingly for KFOR - mentally defective
into the bargain.
Carlucci takes a
surprisingly liberal view of all
this mayhem. "We must be patient and not put
our finger in peoples' affairs. In Kosovo we must
respect the different nationality and culture."
April 30, 2000
new torture visits Kosovo: imported sex slaves
By Peter Finn
Washington Post, 4/30/2000
- The trafficking of East European women into
sexual slavery, one of the major criminal scourges of post-Communist
Europe, is becoming a serious problem in Kosovo, according to UN,
NATO, and international aid officials.
the lack of a working criminal justice system, and the
presence of international troops and aid workers have promoted the trade,
according to the officials.
In the past six
months, UN police and NATO troops in Yugoslavia have
rescued 50 women - Moldovan, Bulgarian, and Romanian - from brothels
that have begun to appear in cities and towns in Kosovo, the rebellious
ethnic Albanian province of Serbia whose conflict led to the international
Police and aid workers
fear that hundreds more, lured from their
impoverished homelands with the promise of riches, may be living in
''These women have
been reduced to slavery,'' said Colonel Vincenzo
Coppola, regiment commander of the Italian Carabineri, a police force
military powers in Kosovo that has rescued 23 women in raids of brothels
Pristina and Prizren.
According to police
sources and aid workers, the women, some as young as
15, were transported along a well-established organized crime network
Eastern Europe to Macedonia, which borders on Kosovo to the south.
There, they were held in motels and sold to ethnic Albanian pimps in
auctions for $1,000 to $2,500.
The pimps work under
the protection of major crime figures in Kosovo,
officials said, including some with links to the former rebel fighting
force, the Kosovo Liberation Army.
The women were stripped
of their passports as soon as they left their
homelands. They were then frequently held in unheated rooms with primitive
sanitary conditions in Kosovo and forced to have unprotected sex,
sometimes up to 16 times a night, for no payment, according to UN police
officers who said they had spoken to the women. The officers requested
anonymity because of UN regulations limiting their ability to talk to
Police, truce forces,
and aid workers have been slow to respond to the
problem. The undermanned UN police force is confronting a variety of
criminal activities, and there are limited humanitarian resources to
women once they seek sanctuary.
said, the trade has flourished because of a lack of
applicable law on trafficking or prostitution and because some countries
military forces here have tended to dismiss the activity as simple prostitution.
German forces in southern Kosovo, for instance, have taken a benign
of the phenomenon in part because prostitution is tolerated in Germany;
international aid workers are trying to convince them that these women
''It's not classic
prostitution,'' said an international aid worker who has
interviewed the rescued women, and who is working on a draft UN
regulation to punish people involved in the slave trade. ''They are
They are never paid. Of the 50 women we have seen, not one has received
a single deutsche mark. And they are often held in horrendous conditions.''
According to authorities,
the women were told that before they could keep
any of their earnings, they had to pay off the pimps for their purchase
Often, however, they found themselves fined for infractions such as
smiling at customers, so there was no way they would ever have enough
money to complete the payoff. The women said that if they protested,
A number of the
women appear to have contracted sexually transmitted
diseases, officials said, and international groups are trying to get
treatment either in Kosovo or when they return home.
''This is a major
problem and it is going further underground because of
police raids,'' said an international aid worker who was tracking the
problem. ''At first it was very out in the open, and so-called nightclubs
popping up. But now it's moving into private dwellings. And I expect
get a reliable phone network, we'll soon see call-girl services.''
here recently established a safe house to protect
women who escape from the brothels until they can be returned to their
home countries. But it is now full, with 21 women, and police have
suspended raids until they can repatriate some of them.
declined to allow a reporter to speak to any of the
rescued women. But visits to bars in Pristina, Gnjilane, and Urosevac
young Moldovan and Ukrainian women who described themselves as
''waitresses'' seeking economic opportunity in Kosovo.
''I can earn 400
deutsche marks a month,'' said a Moldovan women at the
Tirana bar and cafe in Gnjilane, where beds are set up behind a dank
bar. Asked how much cash she had, the woman said only, ''I'm OK,'' as
ethnic Albanian bar manager looked on.
The client base
varies from brothel to brothel, according to the women,
officials said. Some serve mostly ethnic Albanians; others cater to
of ethnic Albanians and international workers. Truce forces, including
Americans, also were customers, the women reported. US officials have
denied that American troops visit the brothels, pointing out that soldiers
confined to base when they are off duty.
Kosovo, which had
some local prostitution but no trafficking problem before
the international forces arrived, is just another new market, officials
Most of the women interviewed responded to newspaper ads seeking
''attractive women'' to work in the West and, in fact, knew they would
in the sex industry. A small minority told police they had been kidnapped
completely deceived when they applied for jobs in the West, including
Moldovan teenager who was impregnated in Kosovo, police said.
''The women we've
spoken to left their countries of their own volition and
basically knew they would work as prostitutes,'' said a UN police officer
Gnjilane. ''But they thought they could earn thousands of dollars in
exotic location like Italy or Spain and then go home rich. Instead,
up imprisoned here without a dime.''
Serbs Describe Life under Siege to UN Envoys
GNJILANE, Apr 30,
2000 -- (Reuters) Kosovo minority Serbs described
lives under virtual siege from hostile ethnic Albanians to senior UN
envoys on Saturday, a day after a small town church was blown up.
A UN Security Council delegation has been getting a first-hand look
the mixed record of post-war international rule in Kosovo. Normal life
has been broadly restored for majority Albanians but most Serbs fear
leaving their homes.
grateful for NATO air strikes in 1999 that halted a
brutal anti-separatist campaign by Serbian security forces, have
welcomed the UN envoys with open arms.
Serbs still in the
Yugoslav province - most have fled ethnic Albanian
reprisals - have received the delegation with courtesy at best and
hostility at worst.
including Russian and Chinese envoys who have been most
critical of the NATO-backed UN authority's performance in Kosovo,
visited the town of Gnjilane on Saturday to check on its vanishing Serb
Gnjilane had 12,000
Serbs before the NATO-led KFOR peace force entered
Kosovo last June. Now it has 800, most of them clustered around the
century Orthodox St Nikola Church whose compound is under 24-hour KFOR
UN ENVOYS' TOUR
The envoys' visit coincided with several anti-Serb incidents.
On Orthodox Good Friday, the Serb church in the small town of Vitina,
some 20 km (12 miles) from Gnjilane, was dynamited by suspected ethnic
Albanian extremists. No one was in the church at the time and there
In the flashpoint
city of Mitrovica, Kosovo Albanians stoned a UN bus
escorting Serbs to an Orthodox Easter service. The UN Security Council
delegation was visiting the divided city at the time.
On Thursday, a 70-year-old Serb woman was shot dead in her home in
Ljubisa Simic, local
Serb representative of the International Rescue
Committee relief group, told the UN delegation about his people's plight
in a briefing inside the St Nikola compound, a leafy, tidy oasis of
in this teeming market town.
"If Serbs here
had security and freedom of movement, there would be no
need for humanitarian aid," said Simic.
can't go into their fields to work because they're just
afraid to go out. So the crops are not sown. In towns like Gnjilane,
they can't leave their homes without KFOR or U.N. police escorts.
"The destruction of the Vitina church contributes to the general
of insecurity - can we stay or must we go?"
Peter Deck, a UN
relief official, said local Serb fears were aggravated
by an new influx of ethnic Albanians from nearby southern Serbia. "This
just adds pressure on the Serbs, everyone of whom we know has their
house up for sale."
UN officials have
erected two tents inside the church compound where
kindergarten and primary school classes are held for Serb children.
"They have to walk here with a parent and a UN police escort,"
Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, heading the Security
Council group, said violence would never bring peace and progress
to make their own effort. We appeal for peaceful
co-existence here. We are giving the same message wherever we go,"
The delegation returns
to New York on Sunday to report on ways of
improving the Kosovo mission. Kosovo's UN administration chief Bernard
Kouchner has complained of underfunding as it seeks to curb ethnic crime
and rebuild a war-shattered infrastructure.
Christians Celebrate Easter
By Harmonie Toros
Associated Press Writer
Sunday, April 30, 2000; 1:31 p.m. EDT
-- Orthodox Christians across the world observed
their Easter Sunday with signs of reconciliation between Greece and
Turkey, calls for peace in Kosovo, and a service in the remains of a
church destroyed by war in Chechnya's capital, Grozny.
in an unusually joyful mood in a 16th-century monastery
outside the Kosovar capital, Pristina, where U.N. chief administrator
Bernard Kouchner joined worshippers.
"It's a day
when we should think about reconciliation," Kouchner said,
referring to the need to end hostilities, now mostly directed against
Serbs, that have plagued the region even after the arrival of international
peacekeepers and the U.N. mission.
eggs according to an old custom with a crowd of
Serbs after the service.
Elsewhere in Kosovo,
Easter 2000 was a stark reminder of what warfare
and its consequences have done to the Serbian province. At the 13th
century monastery in Pec, a town 45 miles west of Pristina, just 50
people, including 10 Serbs from surrounding villages and Italian
peacekeepers, attended the service.
"It was terribly
sad," said Jovan Culibrk, a monk from the adjoining
republic of Montenegro, "like having an empty cathedral in Canterbury."
would have attended, but the area's Serbian
population has almost entirely fled, fearing revenge attacks from ethnic
In Montenegro, political
divisions split the Orthodox faithful, who attended
two separate Easter services, held in Podgorica by the rival Serbian
Orthodox and Montenegrin Orthodox churches.
The Serbian Orthodox
Church traditionally covers both Serbia and
Montenegro, the two republics that make up what is left of the Yugoslav
federation. Orthodox faithful who support breaking the political tie
Serbia have rallied to the Montenegrin church.
A clear sign of
reconciliation was seen in Istanbul, where a larger than
usual crowd of Greeks - attracted by the recent warming in relations
between traditional allies Greece and Turkey - came to hear Ecumenical
Patriarch Bartholomew I proclaim the resurrection of Christ.
Bus-loads of Greeks
filled the patriarchate on the shore of Istanbul's
Golden Horn, and joined in a candlelit procession led by Bartholomew,
the spiritual leader of the world's 200 million Orthodox Christians.
us brothers. They are very friendly," said Katerina
Despotidou from the Greek town of Naoussa, who was making her first
visit to Istanbul.
the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is observed by the
world's 200 million Orthodox on Sunday. Roman Catholics and
Protestants celebrated Easter last week.
In Greece, families
gathered on sidewalks and in parks to eat the
traditional Easter meal of roast lamb. The leader of Greece's Orthodox
Church, Archbishop Christodoulos, said Easter gave Greeks an
opportunity to renew their faith.
is not a subject of scientific investigation," he declared.
"It is lived through faith built on the individual's relationship
In Cyprus - where
divisions between Greeks and Muslim Turks remain
raw - political and religious leaders called for the reunification of
In the heart of
Chechnya's devastated capital, Grozny, about 100 people
gathered in the remains of a church destroyed in fighting with Russia
began in 1994, the ITAR-Tass news agency said.
the service came from outside Grozny. The church's
leaders had been either kidnapped or killed during the conflict and
years of lawlessness in the breakaway Russian republic, ITAR-Tass said.
Vladimir Putin attended services in St. Petersburg in the
morning, then flew to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to celebrate Monday's
May Day holiday, his spokesman said.
has seen a major revival in Russia since the 1991
Soviet collapse. Attending church services on major holidays like Easter
and Christmas has also become a ritual for many Russian leaders.