|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Putin To Visit Germany, United Nations, Bush
Russian President Vladimir Putin will be in Washington on Sept. 16 for talks with President George Bush, the Kremlin announced Sept. 2. The Russian President will also attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Before his trip to the Western Hemisphere, Putin will visit Germany for talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Sept. 8. On Aug. 29, he met at his summer residence in Sochi with another European leader, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy.
After talks with Berlusconi, Putin noted that Russian-Italian trade had increased by 55% in the first half of 2005. At the same press conference, he said that Russia supported the bid by Germany to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, though "Italy itself wants this place."
Putin's diplomatic schedule for this autumn also includes a visit to London in early October for an EU-Russia summit, a trip to South Korea for the Asian Pacific Economic Forum meeting in November, a state visit to Japan and, possibly, one to Ukraine.
Putin Speaks on Russia as Eurasian Power
Leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States countries, as well as most of Russia's regions, joined President Putin and Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev Aug. 27 for celebrations of the 1,000th anniversary of the middle Volga city of Kazan. (Putin also took the occasion for a meeting of his State Council, which is composed of a rotating roster of Russian regional governors, and whose authority the Kremlin has been trying to boost.) Tatarstan is part of the Russian Federation. Shaimiyev showed off a newly built subway line, recently restored mosques and Kazan's Orthodox cathedral, as well as the Millennium Bridge across the Volga River.
Putin addressed the millennium anniversary ceremony with a speech on the identity of Russia as a Eurasian nation, as embodied in the history of Kazan, which was the seat of the Tatar khans during the Tatar-Mongol occupation of Russia over 700 years ago. He also spoke about Russia as a "melting pot" nation. Putin said of Kazan, "This is the anniversary of one of the most ancient centers of Eurasian civilization. This city contains unique historical monuments, and is famous for its university's tradition, its contemporary science, and its advanced products. Many generations of great educators, poets, academics, experts, heroes, and military leaders have grown up here.... Kazan played a unique historical role in the creation of a united Russian nation, and in binding the Russian people together. It is symbolic that one meaning of the city's name the Turkic word kazan is 'pot.' I will not go into the details of the semantic dispute, but suffice it to say that in Kazan's melting-pot, a unique fusion of languages, traditions, customs, and cultures of the peoples of Russia has taken place."
Talking about the position of Kazan on "the great trade route" of the Volga River, Putin invoked the work of historian Lev Gumilyov (the poet Anna Akhmatova's son, honored by a monument in Kazan), who developed the idea that "the great culture of the steppe" was an element of Russia's uniqueness.
"Russian rulers realized that in order to build strong and lasting relations with the Khanate of Kazan," Putin said, "Russia had to become a Eurasian power. Let me emphasize that Russia's role as a bridge between two civilizations is more visible here in the Volga region than anywhere else. It is here that all the complexities, and all the results of a centuries-old dialogue and the synthesis of two very rich cultures are particularly visible.... The peoples of the middle and lower Volga regions became part of Muscovy in the middle of the 16th Century, and this allowed it to become one of the largest and most influential states in the world.... Regiments left Kazan for the Livonian war and, later on, for the fronts of 1812 and of the Great Patriotic War [World War II]. ...
"Historically, Kazan has played a huge role in the development of Russia's business life, and in the expansion of its economic and political influence. Suffice it to say that Kazan's merchants, above all ethnic Tatars, were involved in original and progressive ways of promoting the Russian empire's domestic capital and political influence, first in Siberia and then to Central Asia and the Transcaucasus.... If measured according to today's industrial production, Tatarstan is among the five most developed constituent territories of the [Russian] Federation. It has one of Russia's highest levels of investment and rates of housing construction."
Intense Diplomacy Around CIS Summit
The Community of Independent States has not collapsed, contrary to a large number of pessimistic forecasts and so-called analytical assessments in the mass media on the eve of the late-August CIS summit in the central Russian city of Kazan. A projected split of the alliance of the post-Soviet countries into "pro-Moscow dictatorships" vs. "anti-Moscow democracies," hyped by the media especially after a summer summit of Ukrainian and Georgian Presidents Victor Yushchenko and Michael Saakashvili with the leaders of Lithuania and Poland (at a moment of high tension between Moscow and Warsaw, as well as Minsk [Belarus] and Warsaw, over various diplomatic harassment incidents), did not transpire.
The emphasis by various Moscow media on the Turkmenistan delegation's statement of that country's desire to be only an associate member of the CIS, also appeared to be irrelevant. Utro.ru reported, citing official sources in Ashgabat (Turkmenistan) that Turkmenistan is not going to change its relations with Russia namely, its having effectively been an associate member since 1992, not joining the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly, or its economic, customs and military alliances.
Practically all the other CIS leaders demonstrated their commitment to continue close cooperation with Russia. Kazakstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev, in a public speech, declared that recent agreements with Moscow on cargo and passenger transport were a great achievement.
There were several important bilateral diplomatic meetings in Kazan between post-Soviet countries that have experienced serious contradictions, such as Armenia and Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan, Ukraine and Belarus, and Russia and Georgia.
Russian Government Passes 2006 'Development Budget'
On Aug. 25, the Russian Cabinet adopted the government's Federal budget proposal for 2006, including large spending increases for social services, infrastructure, and the military, opposed by die-hard neo-liberal monetarists inside and outside the government. Overall, spending for the year is to increase by nearly 30%, though GDP is not expected to rise by more than 5.8%. Russia is awash in revenue from the taxation of oil exports, but officials like Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin have insisted that the surplus, which is accumulated in a so-called "stabilization fund," be spent only on foreign debt-reduction, i.e., payments to the desperate international banks.
The government also discussed the need to regulate domestic fuel prices, despite pressure not to do so, from the WTO and other international authorities.
Liberal media expressed great distress over the spending plans. Commentators in the business daily Kommersant interpreted the new budget policy as a "shift from liberalism to paternalism," and objected to the Cabinet's dubbing the draft "a development budget," because that term "is regularly used by Sergei Glazyev," the opposition Rodina (Homeland) political leader and Academy of Sciences economist.
Russian state television on Aug. 25 featured members of the pro-government party United Russia, who were happy at having succeeding at getting funds for Far East development, roads, and rail into the budget, along with a 30% increase on spending on education and 600 billion rubles ($20 billion) for investment projects. But opposition leader Gennadi Zyuganov (Communist Party) was shown saying it was insufficient for the government to be investing in not one single industrial plant, while Glazyev said in an RTR Vesti program interview that social services spending would meet only 50% of the need.