|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Russian Representatives Oppose Sanctions Against Iran
Russian government spokesmen have emphasized that putting the Iran issue on the UN Security Council agenda, if that happens, does not imply automatic sanctions. Indeed, sanctions can be decided only with the support of the Russians, and Russia views any discussion about sanctions as ill-placed, as long as there are still options for diplomacy. Related current Russian diplomacy: a fact-finding team led by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Kislyak visited Tehran the week of Jan. 30; and Russian-Iranian talks about the Russian enrichment proposal are to be held in Moscow on Feb. 16.
Whereas Russian government representatives talk mainly about the diplomatic process, senior politicians of other Russian institutions, like Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Relations Committee, have used a harsher tone. Kosachev pointed out that many countries have economic interests in Iran, involving substantial investments, that have to be taken into account. Among such nations are Russia and Germany, which has three times the economic exchange with Iran that does Russia.
Murky 'Euro-Atlantic Energy Strategy' Tries To Exclude Russia
Against the background of recent frictions emerging in Russia's role as a crucial energy supplier to Europe, remarks made by Gela Bezhuazhvili, Foreign Minister of Georgia, at a mid-January event of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Berlin, deserve special attention. Bezhuazhvili said that the question of energy security was "more pressing than ever before," adding the announcement that a "Euro-Atlantic Strategy for the Security of Energy Supplies" was already under discussion, with Georgia and other Caucasus countries, Poland, and Turkmenistan taking partbut no mention of Russia. Many in the audience were puzzled, not only at the exclusion of Russia, but also because none of the named countries lies on the Atlantic.
Bezhuazhvili said that "in February, the foreign and energy ministers of these countries will meet in Tbilisi, and they will invite their colleagues from the European Union, from the countries of Central Asia, and from Turkey." Again, no mention of Russia. The agenda of the conference is to discuss guarantees for the safe transport of crude oil and natural gas from the Caspian Sea during the coming decade.
Already at the end of January, Georgian President Michael Saakashvili had announced that Tbilisi will try to replace Russian natural-gas supplies, which were disrupted Jan. 22 by explosions on a pipeline in North Osseta, with gas imported from Iran.
Bezhuazhvili also said in his Berlin speech that Georgia wants full NATO membership as soon as possible, a plan of action for which would be presented before the end of 2006. Membership in NATO had priority even over a membership in the European Union, he added, "although we consider ourselves a genuine liberal and democratic European state."