|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Putin: Conflict Potential Growing
In a speech at the Nov. 8 dedication of a new headquarters building for Russian military intelligence (the Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, of the Armed Forces General Staff), Russian President Vladimir Putin presented a sharply worded characterization of the world situation: "We need to be fully aware that the potential for conflict in the world is on the increase. The use of force in international relations, as a factor blown out of all proportion, is being imposed upon the international community. Stability is being seriously undermined by unilateral actionsactions that are not legitimate from the standpoint of international lawundertaken by a number of countries, and by attempts on the part of some countries to unceremoniously impose their positions, without taking into account at all the legitimate interests of other partners. And you know the means employed by states that behave in this way: the economy, political and diplomatic means, and a monopoly on the world media."
In the area of armaments, Putin said, "Leading powers not only refuse to rid themselves of their arsenals, which are obviously bigger than the level necessary for self-defense, but on the contrary, keep perfecting them, including offensive arms." Putin talked about particular systems: "In my address [to the Federal Assembly], I spoke of the stagnation in disarmament.... Furthermore, the threat of the emergence of destabilizing weapons, such as low-charge nuclear weapons and strategic missiles equipped with non-nuclear warheads, is on the rise. A number of countries seek to have their hands free in order to place weapons, including nuclear weapons, in space."
Most of Russia's top defense and security officials, as well as Kremlin Chief of Staff Sergei Sobyanin, First Deputy Premier Dmitri Medvedev, and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, accompanied Putin to the ceremony.
Moscow Wary of Some U.S. Democrats
Russian commentators and politicians of various political persuasions have expressed nervousness about the incoming Democratic leadership of the U.S. Congress. Speaker of the State Duma Boris Gryzlov was typical, in stating that he thought the Dems were "more prone to apply double standards on human rights." It emerged that some of the Russian reactions to the Nov. 7 election results are due to the continuing influence of the Truman/Henry Jackson virus within the Democratic Party, expressed in its Democratic Leadership Council/Gore/Lieberman wing. Kommersant and Novyye Izvestia, among others, ran articles Nov. 9 on the prospect that Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif) will chair the House International Affairs Committee. Kommersant called Lantos "one of the American establishment's harshest and most irreconcilable critics of the Kremlin." Both papers note that Lantos, together with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn), and Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif), wrote an open letter to President Bush in June 2006, calling for a boycott of the St. Petersburg G-8 summit, due to President Putin's "authoritarianism."
Sergei Rogov, director of the U.S.-Canada Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told RIA Novosti that he thought bilateral relations would continue to deteriorate. "Both [Republicans and Democrats] extremely negatively evaluate Russia's domestic and foreign policies," Rogov said, while noting that the election results came partly because "American society realizes that there will be no victory in Iraq." Mikhail Margelov, head of the International Affairs Committee in the Federation Council, said he does not expect the new composition of the U.S. Congress to have a negative impact on relations with Russian MPs: "It has to be said that all of these players, who are now taking up leading roles in the House of Representatives from among the Democrats, are well-known to us in Russia. We have a working dialogue with them.... It's another matter that traditionally the Democrats are considerably more critical of our country on issues such as observing human rights, freedom of speech, the development of democracy."
Putin, Ivanov Attend Aircraft Industry Conference
Attending a military-related event for the second day in a row, Russian President Putin held a conference Nov. 9 on implementation of his February 2006 decree on formation of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC). Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who has just been named the CEO of UAC, was with him.
FSB Warns of Attacks on Hydroelectric Dams
Testifying Nov. 7 before Russia's new National Anti-Terrorism Committee, Federal Security Service (FSB) director Nikolai Patrushev said that there is "a very real" threat of terrorist attacks on large hydroelectric power facilities in southern Russia. He said that intelligence indicates targetting of the Volgograd and Saratov dams, as well as others, in Rostov Region and in Dagestan. Such attacks, said Patrushev, would bring "catastrophic consequences, paralyze the region, and cause mass casualties and economic losses."
Russia Moves Against Foreign Energy Operators
The Russian Prosecutor General's Office announced Nov. 7 that it is calling on the Natural Resources Ministry to revoke the license of Rospan, a natural gas facility owned by TNK-BP (which bought it from the moribund Yukos Oil), based on "systematic violations of the subsoil law, licensing, and environmental safety standards." Rospan has been in a conflict with the country's main gas producer, state-owned Gazprom, over access to pipelines. Prosecutors have also threatened to revoke TNK-BP's license to develop the large Kovykta gas field in eastern Siberia, over similar violations, and have opened a criminal investigation into the handing of classified documents to TNK-BP, with its 50% foreign ownership. Environmental violations have also been used to freeze operations of Shell Oil's subsidiary in the Sakhalin Island oil and gas projects.
The Financial Times of London ran an article Nov. 7 that didn't refer to the moves against BP, but coincided with these developments, under the headline, "Russia faces chilling prospect of winter short of gas." Highlighting the complaints from Russia's power company, UES, that Gazprom won't sell them the gas they need, the FT reviewed Gazprom's declining production in many of its fields. Gazprom has been filling its gas shortfalls with imports from Turkmenistan, with which there are mounting pricing and supply problems.
Gazprom has just doubled gas prices for sales to Georgia, and is threatening to quadruple them for Belarus, renewing pressure on the latter to turn over its pipeline network to the Russian firm.
Fradkov to China for Energy and Investment Talks
Energy deals were high on the agenda during the visit Nov. 9-10 of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov in Beijing, where he attended the third China-Russia Conference on Investment Promotion. China Daily reported that close to $1 billion in deals were signed.
Bakiyev's Concessions Stabilize Kyrgyzstan
A week-long standoff in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, ended Nov. 9 with President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signing into effect a new constitution, drafted partially on the basis of opposition demands. The new law eliminates the President's right to dissolve Parliament, while giving the latter the authority to appoint the government. Prime Minister Felix Kulov expressed a continuing sense of uncertainty in the country, commenting that "fear, confrontation, and pressure from demonstrations are bad advisors" for effective law-making. On Nov. 7, as violent clashes flared between police and the Bishkek demonstrators, Bakiyev consulted with Russian President Putin by phone.
Former Indian diplomat M.K. Mhadrakuma, writing in the Asia Times of Nov. 6, noted that this was the third attempt this year, by a U.S.-backed coalition of political activists and NGOs, to bring down Bakiyev and Kulov. He called it a regrouping of the forces of the 2005 "Tulip Revolution" that ousted long-time President Askar Akayev and brought them to power; on one side, are those who still enjoy U.S. backing, and, on the other, the Bakiyev-Kulov team, who want to make Kyrgyz policies harmonize with Russian and Chinese strategic goals in the region. "The regional stakes are high, since Bakiyev's policies have helped integrate Kyrgyzstan with not only the CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization], but also the Eurasian Economic Community and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization," said Mhadrakuma. The author noted that, although the Tulip Revolution was supposed to bring Kyrgyzstan into the U.S. orbit, Washington belatedly realized that the reverse had happened. This was brought home by Bakayev's demand that the U.S. should pay a fair rent for the use of Manas Air Base.