|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Eurasian Diplomacy in Moscow
Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh began a four-day visit to Moscow on Oct. 25. He attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) heads-of-government meeting and the bilateral Indo-Russian inter-Governmental Commission (IRIGC) on economic, technological and other cooperation. Singh led a large delegation from the Commerce, Economic Affairs, Science & Technology, and Energy Ministries.
President Vladimir Putin hosted the SCO meeting on Oct. 26. India, with Iran and Pakistan, is now an official observer member of the SCO.
In connection with the SCO meeting, there was heightened discussion about the possible formation of a military alliance centered on the SCO. Russian analyst Andranik Migrania told Interfax, "This is quite feasible. In the current situation in the region, its states are experiencing a certain amount of discomfort at the presence of the United States. ... The U.S. demands unconditional loyalty and the observance of its interests, in exchange for assistance in maintaining stability in the region, and if anything happens, starts talking about regime change, like in Iraq." Migranian added that the SCO, on its own, "has sufficient potential to assume the role of regional stabilizer." A military alliance, said Migranian, "will be assigned the task of supplanting the U.S. and NATO, i.e., limiting the zone under their control." He thought the process of forming such an entity "could be completed in five to ten years," but "if the U.S. behaves the way it is currently behaving, this process may proceed much faster."
In one of his regular bulletins, Heritage Foundation analyst Ariel Cohen on Oct. 22 cited a source close to the White House, who said that Vice President Dick Cheney personally ordered a number of steps to signal extreme displeasure to Putin over recent military exercises between China and Russia. According to Cohen, "Cheney's team also pushed for an immediate policy review to formulate a response that could enable to United States to regain the strategic initiative in the region."
Putin: Invite Iran into Caspian Security Force
At an Oct. 24 Russian government meeting, President Vladimir Putin instructed Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to negotiate with all the Caspian Sea littoral nations, on the formation of a Caspian regional security and peacekeeping force, RIA Novosti reported. An Iran.ru dispatch, monitored by RFE/RL Newsline, said that Lavrov met that same day with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. Lavrov said afterwards that, "issues concerning the Iranian nuclear program" should continue to be handled through the IAEA, while Russia would pursue a resolution to disputes about that program, that "provides the legal right of Iran to access the peaceful use of nuclear energy and, on the other hand, eliminates any doubts as to [its] peaceful nature." U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley was in town for talks with Lavrov and Putin, also on Oct. 24.
Khristenko, Gazprom Push U.S. Sales and Investment
Russian Minister of Industry and Energy Victor Kristenko met with President George W. Bush in Washington Oct. 24, during a trip on which he was accompanied by Alexander Medvedev, deputy chairman of Gazprom, the Russian natural gas giant. Khristenko was pushing Russian gas sales to the United states, as well as the private pipeline and export terminal at Murmansk, designed to get Russian crude oil to the U.S. market.
At the same time, Khristenko and Medvedev pushed for Russia to get into the U.S. energy market in other ways. Medvedev told the Houston Chronicle that Gazprom would like to own liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipelines and terminals inside the United States, in exchange for which Gazprom would "let Western energy companies participate in the development of the Shtokman field under the Barents Sea." Khristenko said at an Oct. 26 press conference that he had told Bush that Russia companies like Severstal, Norilsk Nickel and LUKoil have invested over $1 billion in the United States so far this year, and would like to push that trend farther.
Mittal Steel Buys Giant Ukrainian Company
Global steel companies continue to gobble up formerly state-owned steel mills, seeking cheap labor costs. In the latest such takeover, Mittal Steel Company paid $4.8 billion for Ukraine's Kryvorizhstal in a televised auction, adding 10 million tons of capacity and bringing its steel-making capacity to 80 million metric tons. With the new plant comes one billion tons of iron-ore reserves, making Mittal the world's fourth-largest iron-ore mining company, behind BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and CVRD. A year ago, Mittal bought the International Steel Group (ISG), the collection of bankrupt U.S. steel companies (Bethlehem, Weirton, LTV, Acme), for $4.3 billion. The Kryvorizhstal sale was the second privatization of the Ukrainian plant, initially sold to Ukrainian owners for only one-sixth of the price Mittal has paid. That transaction was cancelled, as having involved corruption, when Victor Yushchenko came to power last year.