|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Russian Warnings, Diplomacy Intensify on Iran
Speaking Feb. 16 in Moscow, Russian Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky warned that a military attack on Iran's nuclear plants could incite a global Muslim uprising. The senior military official underscored that while Iran's military potential cannot compare to that of the United States, "it is hard to predict how the world will respond to the use of force against Iran.... This may stir the whole world, and it is crucial to prevent anything like that."
Russia and France issued a joint statement Feb. 15, calling on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. It said that the two countries "welcome positive interaction among Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and the EU high representative in the search for a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear problem. Russia and France call on Iran to abide by the February resolution and requirements set by the IAEA Board of Governors, including the suspension of the entire uranium-enrichment process. They recognize the legal rights of Iranian people to develop a safe and sustainable atomic energy program on condition of its guaranteed peaceful nature, and use the related benefits. By efficiently resolving international concerns, Iran would open the way to international cooperation, which is necessary for the development of this program. The Russian suggestion of setting up a uranium-enrichment joint venture on the territory of Russia has gained broad international support and given a chance for progress...."
Russian-Iranian talks on the matter, postponed from Feb. 16 on Iran's initiative, are set to resume on Monday, Feb. 20.
Academician Velikhov: 'The Future Is Nuclear'
Y. P. Velikhov, an internationally respected scientist for the past 30 years, wrote, in a Feb. 13 column for RIA Novosti that, although he is an optimist, and does not believe natural energy resources "will be depleted any time soon," only "nuclear-power engineering is capable of reassuring all those who are not certain about having sufficient energy today and tomorrow. There is no doubt," Velikhov said, "it is the only source of energy that can ensure the world's steady development in the foreseeable future. Today, this fact is understood not only by physicists, but also by politicians.... Thank God, today's world compels politicians to think about the future."
Velikhov led the push in the Soviet/Russian scientific community to develop technologies based upon "new physical principles" in its beam defense program; led the international effort to set up the ITER fusion project; led the fight to preserve Soviet science when the Soviet Union broke up; and has pushed for introducing revolutionary technologies, such as lasers, into industry.
City of London Demand for G-8: Russia Must Deregulate More
The first major event during Russia's chairmanship of the Group of Eight industrial nations took place the weekend of Feb. 11-12, when the G-8 finance ministers met in Moscow. President Putin addressed the session, stressing his three announced agenda items for the year: energy security, epidemics, and education.
The Financial Times, City of London mouthpiece that it is, headlined on Feb. 9: "Russia Challenged To Stabilize Gas Supply." It said that France, on behalf of EU members of the G-8, would press Moscow to give "independent gas producers" (of which there are very few in Russia) access to the state-owned pipelines used by Gazprom, the Russian natural-gas monopoly, supposedly to lower gas prices in Europe. At the meeting, Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said that Gazprom's export monopoly would be lifted, but gave no time frame. He was promptly shot down by Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kuprianov, who told the Moscow Times Feb. 13 that giving other companies access to the pipelines "is not part of our plans."
The Financial Times made clear that London circles see such a shift on the Russian export pipelines as a stepping stone to the breakup of Gazprom, which has just opened up trade in its stock shares to foreign participation. On Feb. 10, the London paper ran an interview on its front page with Anatoli Chubais, head of the Russian national electricity utility, UES, who said that the time has come to push through his agenda of splitting up UES and selling its power generating units to foreign investors. Chubais claims this is the only way to acquire capital for the grid modernization for which this bitterly cold winter has demonstrated the urgent need.
Winter Crops Savaged in Russia
Reporting to a Feb. 9 Russian government meeting, Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev announced that some 30% of the country's winter crops have been lost to the prolonged deep freeze in January-February. He said that fruit trees, including apples, pears, peaches, and apricots, as well as grape vines, were hit the hardest, but that the fall-planted winter wheat crop was also devastated, so that a low harvest and high grain prices are to be expected next year.
Russia-Georgia Tension Rises
On Feb. 15, the Georgian Parliament unanimously voted up a resolution demanding the departure of Russian peacekeeping forces from South Ossetia, an autonomous region in Georgia. The Russian forces have been there under Community of Independent States (CIS) auspices since 1992. South Ossetia, which borders Russia at North Ossetia in the Caucasus Mountains, is governed by Eduard Kokoity, under whom a large percentage of the population has obtained Russian citizenship. The vote followed weeks of rising tensions, including over the cut-off of Russian gas to Georgia (since restored) after explosions on the pipelines in North Ossetia.
Georgian President Saakashvili, addressing the Parliament session, accused Russia of imperial expansionism. The same Saakashvili, at the Feb. 4-5 Munich Conference on Security Policy (Wehrkunde) meeting, proclaimed that the Georgia-Russia border will become a NATO-Russia border. (He also, at a subsequent appearance in Berlin, advertised Georgia's free-market, anti-regulation credentials, shouting: "Everything in Georgia is for sale!")
On Feb. 3 there was an incident in Georgia near South Ossetia, when a Russian-made Igla shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile was discovered by a road. Georgian Defense Minister Okruashvili claimed it had been cached for use in an assassination attempt on Saakashvili, by downing his helicopter. Then, on Feb. 8, three Russian officers were detained in a South Ossetian village for not having visas; they were not formally members of the peacekeeping force.
Russian state TV on Feb. 16 featured members of the State Duma majority party, United Russia, promising a tough counter-resolution against Georgia. Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, the Russian Chief of Staff, was shown standing in a snowy field surrounded by military equipment, telling grimly of how he witnessed the incipient civil war in Georgia in 1991-92, before the peacekeeping arrangement was set up, and fears the re-ignition of such a conflict.
Incidents Around North Caucasus
Russian TV on Feb. 16 showed spetsnaz forces battling guerrillas in Dagestan. The fighters were evidently linked to those involved in a larger battle last week, in which more than 200 Russian forces engaged, in Stavropol Territory bordering the North Caucasus.
At his Jan. 31 press conference, President Vladimir Putin said he was more concerned about the situation in the North Caucasus as a whole, than in Chechnya, as such. There are indications of a resurgence of the all-Caucasus "Caliphate" operation, associated with various London-linked operatives over the past decade. On Feb. 5, according to an RFE/RL report titled "Does Chechen Resistance Leader Aspire To Become Imam of the Caucasus?", Chechen resistance leader Abdul-Khalim Sadlayev fired "Deputy Prime Minister" (of the underground separatist movement) Akhmed Zakayev, who has been criticizing Chechen "Press and Information Minister" Movladi Udugov for the latter's advocacy of an all-Caucasus Islamic state. The Jamestown Foundation (linked with Zbigniew Brzezinski's American Friends of Chechnya), in its latest Chechnya Weekly, suggests that Sadulayev et al. are moving "from Independent Chechnya to Independent North Caucasus" in their goals.