|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Russia Revokes Sakhalin Licenses
The Russian Federal Service for Natural Resources Oversight made good Sept. 18 on its threat to revoke environmental approvals for the $20-billion Sakhalin-2 liquefied natural gas project. The announced reason was damage to salmon spawning grounds, and "excessive logging" by the foreign operators, Royal Dutch Shell, Mitsui, and Mitsubishi. Russian natural resources officials have raised similar questions about ExxonMobil's licenses for the Sakhalin-1 project. The Financial Times of London was among those accusing Moscow of attempting to "renegotiate oil contracts by the back door." Many of the so-called production-sharing agreements (PSA) for oil and gas development were negotiated during the 1990s, when the Yeltsin Administration was far more amenable to increasing foreign control over Russian resources, that the Kremlin is under Vladimir Putin. Already in 2004, Russia nullified the Sakhalin-3 offshore oil concession, which ExxonMobil had won in a 1993 tender.
Incoming Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sept. 19, "I am concerned that major delays [in Sakhalin-2] might have a negative influence on overall Japanese-Russian relations." (The latter are tense, already, over the chronic Kurile Islands territorial dispute, as well as recent marine poaching incidents.)
Yanukovych in Brussels: No EU Dictates for Ukraine
Victor Yanukovych, who emerged as Prime Minister of Ukraine after this year's political crisis, used blunt language during a Sept. 21 visit to Brussels, to state his refusal to impose economic reform measures that might spark protests like those shaking Hungary. "You should understand that this goverment will protect the national interests of Ukraine," he told the International Herald Tribune in an interview given before his meeting with EC commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso. He said that his government's decisions would be "long-term, ... realistic and pragmatic. Not populist. But Ukrainian. We will not respond to orders."
Regarding specific EU conditionalities for a trade agreement, Yanukovych said that, in any event, Ukraine would want to complete talks with the World Trade Organization, first. Moreover, he noted that the Socialist Party, a key member of the Ukrainian coalition government, opposes the reduction of agricultural tariffs, demanded by the WTO. "There is a need to protect the domestic producers. They have to be able to withstand competitive pressures," said the Prime Minister, indicating that he was in no rush to join the WTO.
From Brussels, Yanukovych headed for Moscow, where his first visit as Prime Minister would center on economic talks with Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov.
Transdniestria Votes for Integration with Russia
The vote in a referendum, held Sept. 17 in the Transdniestr section of Moldova, was overwhelmingly in favor of full independence, and moving towards integration with the Russian Federation. With a 78.6% turnout, the vote was 97% for the shift. The half-million population of Transdniestria, a strip along the east bank of the Dniestr River, bordering southern Ukraine, is heavily Russian ethnic. The area's leadership has rejected control by the Moldovan government, while Russian forces have remained there as peacekeepers, since shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Poverty, disease levels, and other hardships for the population are very great there.
The European Union and the United States did not recognize the referendum as valid. The Foreign Ministry of Russia, which hitherto has officially supported the preservation of Moldova's territorial integrity, issued a commentary, which said that public sentiment on both sides of the Dniestr should be taken into account, and called on the EU, the USA, the OSCE, and Ukraine, to join in restarting a negotiation process between Chisinau (Moldova) and Tiraspol (Transdniestria) on what their relationship should be. President Vladimir Putin has remarked on more than one occasion, that if the right of self-determination is applied to Kosovo in Serbia, then it may become a factor in Transdniestria and other so-called frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union. The other main ones are South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both of them in Georgia.