|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Cheney Opens Fire on Russia from Vilnius Meeting
At a May 4 summit of leaders from select countries of Eastern and Western Europe, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney attacked Russia as undemocratic, while praising the recent revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, and describing the Baltic region as "the very front lines of the modern world." Ignoring the policies of his own administration, Cheney said "elections must be fair ... men and women must be free to speak their minds.... Power must be accountable, the rule of law must be secure."
On economic policy, Cheney denounced "price controls, protectionism, or state ownership." "Closed and overregulated systems only hinder progress and pull a nation down. Long-term growth depends on the free market, because the engine of prosperity is the private sector."
Cheney singled out the government of Belarus as "the last dictatorship in Europe," where there "is no place ... for a regime of this kind." Zeroing in on Russia, he said, "In Russia today, opponents of reform are seeking to reverse the gains of the last decade. In many areas of civil societyfrom religion and the news media, to advocacy groups and political partiesthe government has unfairly and improperly restricted the rights of her people.... No legitimate interest is served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail, either by supply manipulation or attempts to monopolize transportation.... Russia has a choice to make. And there is no question that a return to democratic reform spawn in Russian will generate further success for its people and greater respect among fellow nations.... None of us believes that Russia is fated to become an enemy."
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov responded, "The speech of Mr. Cheney in our opinion is full of a subjective evaluation of us and of the processes that are going on in Russia. The remarks ... are completely incomprehensible for us. In essence, it seems that when we're talking about U.S. or British energy companies, it's considered business, but when he talks about us, it's 'intimidation.' The Vice President isn't taking into account that Russian energy resources are the wealth of Russia itself. They should be used above all to advance the interests of the Russian people, not the interests of other countries." Foreign Minister Lavrov and other spokesmen followed up with rebuttals on May 5 and 6.
Russian Analysts: 'Democracy' Push Veils Resource Grab
Russian energy officials (from Gazprom, and oil pipeline chief S. Veinshtok of Transneft) were joined by President Vladimir Putin personally in standing up for Russia's vigorous pursuit of its energy export business, during the past few weeks of escalating polemics between the EU bureaucracy and Gazprom over Russia's place in European markets, and of increasingly strident Bush-Cheney Administration attacks on Russia as a danger to energy security. Speaking in Tomsk, Siberia April 26, Putin denounced "unfair competitive practices on global markets" and urged that Russia "look for sellers' markets and integrate into global development processes, considering that Asia-Pacific region countries are developing extremely rapidly, and they need cooperation with us." After his Tomsk talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel (and obviously not referring to Germany), Putin went on, speaking April 27: "We constantly hear about some threat of dependence on Russia and that Russian companies should have limited access to the energy market.... What are we to do when we hear the same thing every day? We start to look for other markets. When companies come to us it's called investment and globalization, but when we go there it's called expansion by Russian companies."
Nezavisimaya Gazeta (no longer owned by anti-Kremlin tycoon Boris Berezovsky) of April 28 published a big article called "Russia's Right Direction," which was framed as a rebuttal to the Council on Foreign Relations report, "Russia's Wrong Direction." Authors Vitali Ivanov of the Center for Political Projects at the Institute for Public Projects and Konstantin Simonov from Russia's Center for Political Conjuncture were introduced as "belonging to Kremlin-connected think tanks, so the text we offer ... may be seen as an unofficial reaction of Kremlin circles."
Ivanov and Simonov quoted the CFR report, first on the need to push Russia to "democratize" and, secondly, on the importance of Russian energy sources becoming "state owned ... [and] Kremlin controlled." The latter was the real point of the CFR authors, they wrote: "The CFR report wasn't written by messianic 'democratizaters' alone. Some parts of the report were written by hard-headed realists who know what America really wants these days. Discussion of de-sovereignizing Russia as punishment for 'authoritarianism' is just a smoke-screen. What is it concealing?... The CFR report evaluates Russia as part of America's energy security problem. That ... exposes Washington's true motives. It couldn't care less about 'authoritarianism' in Russia. What's really upsetting the United States is Russia's unique role in the global energy market.... So let's call a spade a spade. Washington is aspiring to at least partial control over production, transportation, and exports of Russian oil and gas. This is the minimum plan. The maximum plan would be to deprive Russia of sovereign control over its oil and gas reserves. That's what makes 'democratization' so useful."
Cheney Hunts Resources in Central Asia
Dick Cheney arrived in Kazakstan May 5 for talks with President Nursultan Nazarbayev on energy, security, and trade issues. In a Washington Times op-ed the previous week, Kazakhstan's Ambassador promoted a "strategic partnership" with the USA, calling his country's oil and gas reserves too big to ignore. Within the decade, he wrote, Kazakstan will be one of the top ten oil exporters, and it also has rich reserves of uranium. Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation, a participant in the Cheney-instigated revision of U.S. policy toward Russia, circulated his opinion that, "The Caspian basin is one the final frontiers of today's energy development. It is important to get this oil to the global markets, preferably bypassing Russian chokeholds."
Cheney is reportedly still pursuing the scheme to pipe Kazakhstan's oil across the Caspian Sea floor, to hook up with the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline (operating costs currently 30% over budget), which would "break Russia's stranglehold" on the export of Kazakhstan's oil. The Moscow Times of May 5 ran a piece entitled "Caspian Great Game Back On," saying: "The U.S. government appears to be stepping up its drive to secure energy supplies from Central Asia in a bid to counter Gazprom's growing clout and thwart a mounting challenge from China.... Cheney is expected to push in Kazakstan on Friday for a major new gas pipeline from the country to bypass Russia.... Kazakstan on Thursday gave an early signal it was interested in the project following talks between Kazakh officials and EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs."
Russia Opposes NATO Black Sea Exercises
Russian Navy Commander-in-Chief Adm. Vladimir Masorin said May 1 about the planned NATO naval exercise in the Black Sea, "Russia's stance is that we are ready to participate in 'Active Endeavor' in the Mediterranean, but in the Black Sea only countries of the region should be involved, and the maritime operation 'Black Sea Harmony' initiated by Turkey is aimed at that." He cited the 1936 Montreaux Convention that restricts the passage of the Turkish Straits by outside naval vessels. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in Bulgaria April 29 for a Russia-NATO meeting in Bulgaria, warned NATO against deploying its forces in Eastern Europe near the Russian borders. He also said Moscow was against Ukraine and Georgia joining the NATO.
Solzhenitsyn Sees U.S. Plot Against Russia
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian writer who attained mythic status as a Soviet dissident, gave a written interview to Moscow News weekly, reported in the Washington Times April 29, in which he accused the United States of engaging in a military campaign to encircle Russia. "Though it is clear that present-day Russia poses no threat to it whatsoever, NATO is methodically and persistently expanding its military apparatus in the east of Europe and is implementing an encirclement of Russia from the south," he wrote. This, plus the Western backing of the so-called revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, "leaves no doubt that they are preparing a complete encirclement of Russia, which will be followed by the deprivation of her sovereignty," he said. He also praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for his efforts "to salvage the state from failure."
Putin Coordinates with India, China on Iran Policy
On May 3, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Indian and Chinese envoys in Moscow and asked them to develop a common position on Iran to prevent an U.S./EU-led military strike. Seventy-four percent of India's oil imports pass through the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Aden. The reading in New Delhi is that both these waterways would be blockaded and mined in a new Iran war. China, besides its fuel dependence on West Asia, has invested $4 billion in Iran, and has close political and military ties with the present Iranian regime. It was indicated that Putin, during his talks with the Indian envoy, warned that any strike on Iran could lead to long Western engagement in West Asia that would further destabilize the region and Asia generally. Putin also urged both envoys to talk to Iran to reopen negotiations with the IAEA. China has already objected to the U.S.-EU draft plan up for UN Security Council discussion, and India has expressed opposition to hostilities.
Primakov Tours Southwest Asia
Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeni Primakov toured Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian National Authority at the beginning of May. He told the Jerusalem Post April 30, "An air strike on Iran would most certainly bring about very serious consequences in the whole region. It might cause a huge wave of extremism in the Arab world, and the Arab regimes might find it very difficult to survive in this situation. Therefore, Russia is determined to make all diplomatic efforts possible to prevent these developments, but also to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons." Primakov stressed that Russia's proposal for itself and other "well-established members of the nuclear club" to serve as suppliers of enriched uranium to other countries for nuclear power, would "allow Iran to comply with the offer without losing face."
Currently head of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Primakov often serves as an envoy of President Putin to the region.
Protest Demonstrations Flare in Kyrgyzstan
Thousands of people demonstrated in the capital of the Kyrgyzstan May 1 against the government of President Bakiyev, RFE reported May 2. It was the first such demonstration since the overthrow of President Askar Akayev last year. to be organized after last year's crisis. Protest leaders said the population's hopes were not being met. Among the demonstrators, reportedly, was former Industry Minister Almarbek Atambov.