|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Avian Flu Sweeps Across Southern Russia
The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry announced March 1 that 495,000 domestic fowl have died of avian flu in southern Russia around the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, since Feb. 3. Another 220,000 birds were culled to curb its spread. For comparison, last summer's numbers were 17,000 dead of flu and 600,000 culled. The current hot spot is Dagestan, on the western shore of the Caspian Sea and the eastern end of the North Caucasus mountains, but outbreaks are reported in the North Caucasus territory of Kabardino-Balkaria, and in Krasnodar and Stavropol Territories north of the mountains, and Kalmykia farther eastward along the Caspian coast. Quarantines have been imposed, along with the culls. The Emergency Situations Ministry noted that 24,000 chickens died at a poultry farm in Krasnodar between Feb. 20 and 23, though avian flu was not immediately confirmed there.
While attention in Russia has been focussed on the threat from the return migration of wild birds this spring (Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky has been grandstanding with his proposal to send every able-bodied Russian male with a gun to the southern borders, to shoot the birds), the Dagestan outbreak began among wild swans. Evidently in Russia, as also in Western Europe, swans moving South to escape the unusually cold winter have spread the avian flu ahead of the change of season.
Putin Honors Victims of 1956 in Hungary
During his Feb. 28-March 1 state visit to Hungary, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an unusual gesture, paid a visit to the cemetery in Budapest, where he laid flowers at the monument of the victims of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, which was bloodily crushed by Russian tanks.
While in Hungary, Putin met with Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurczany, with whom he discussed closer energy and economic cooperation. At a state dinner, President Laszlo Solyom was given the Pushkin medal by Putin. Solyom stressed that Hungary regards Russia as a strategic partner and that the two countries will deepen their respective cultural cooperation.
Following his trip to Hungary, Putin made for the first time a state visit to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, to discuss closer energy and economic relations between Russia and Czechia.
Cheney's Office at Center of Anti-Russian Policy Review
The Washington Post of Feb. 26 featured Vice President Dick Cheney's role in pushing confrontation with Russia. "Cheney has grown increasingly skeptical of [Putin] and is interested in toughening the Administration's approach," said the front-page article. In January, Cheney had a number of think-tankersthe one named is Anders Aslund of the International for International Economicsinto his office to toughen the policy, and has asked National Director of Intelligence John Negroponte for a report on "Putin's trajectory." An unnamed official says Cheney is "in the more critical camp" in a fight between "the Putin lovers and the democracy lovers in the Administration." President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are "balancing" the two, said the Post.
Among the flashpoints, the article mentions, are the Russian dealings with Iran. The U.S. needs Russia's cooperation against Iran at the UN Security Council, but the article was written before news came of progress in the Iran-Russia nuclear talks.
One focus of the anti-Russia critics is the upcoming summit of the Group of Eight in St. Petersburg, and Russia's chairing of the group. In addition to Aslund, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) is one of the major critics. Aslund suggests that the seven full members of G-8 meet without Russia before the St. Petersburg summit; other critics want a full boycott. Capitol Hill sources told EIR that anti-Russia moves are afoot in the Congress, too. A resolution is being pushed by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla), and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif), the chairman and ranking member of the House International Relations Committee, to denounce any Russia-Iran deal on nuclear fuel.