|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Lavrov Campaigns for Concert of Nations
In his year-end press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for a "concert of leading nations" to address the world's gravest problems (EIR Online, Dec. 26, 2006). He cited the recent Political Atlas of our Time project of the Moscow State Institute for Foreign Relations (MGIMO) on the need for such collaboration, as against a one-empire world order. In his also traditional year-end interview in Izvestia, Lavrov further developed this idea, while also echoing his own early-2006 articles on overcoming the premises of the Cold War.
The Russian Foreign Minister detailed several constellations of leading nations. Because it was the first question, Lavrov started with the "Russia-USA-EU triangle," which he defined not in any narrow, "Atlantic" way, but on a Eurasian scale: "For us, it is of fundamental importance to establish practical cooperation in the area from Vancouver to Vladivostok [mapping it west to easted.], the development of constructive, open and forward-looking relations in this region on the basis of a mutual understanding of the interests and principles of indivisibility of security and prosperity, which already have nothing in common with the former ideological schism of Europe and the whole world. Such cooperation would also provide a material guarantee for those who fear that Russia may want to 'drive a wedge' into relations between the USA and Western Europe. As for Russia, for us this would ensure a new reading of trans-Atlantic relationsas not excluding Russia and not being built at its expense. We believe that, in the future, the geopolitical 'triangle,' whose corners are Russia, the European Union and the USA, may become one of the mainstays in the collective leadership of leading world countries that is being formed, and make a great contribution to restoring manageability to world development in accord with other centers of power."
Lavrov went on to discuss the importance Russia gives to working in various configurations, including its strategic partnership with China, activity in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and various regional forums, as well as the United Nations. Cooperation with Europe and the USA, he added, is not aimed against China, "just as the cooperation of Russia-China-India or the dialogue in the format of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) are not aimed against the USA, the EU, or anyone else. Russia is not working with anyone against anyone else. Rather, it is working in the interests of resolving common problems. This brings us back to the idea of 'network diplomacy,' within the scope of which there will always be room for any diplomatic combination based on positive coinciding interests of the parties."
Noting the role of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Eurasia, Lavrov concluded with an emphasis on the SCO: "We also attribute great importance to the activity of other international organizations that aid in maintaining peace and stability in the region of Eurasia. First and foremost, I am talking about the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. I think that specifically such a comprehensive and multi-level approach to the tasks of transforming the international architecture in the sphere of ensuring security and stability corresponds to the national interests of Russia."
Russia Seeks Japanese Cooperation in Reactor Development
Yomiuri Shimbun reported Jan. 1 that Atomprom, the new Russian nuclear power company scheduled to be launched officially in 2007, has asked Toshiba Corp. and Ishkawajima-Harima Heavy Industries Co. (IHI) of Japan to enter negotiation for a tie-up in developing manufacturing and supplying of steam turbines and generators. The Japanese companies have agreed on principle. It is also being said that the two Japanese companies have also been urged to invest in Atomprom. Toshiba and IHI jointly purchased the U.S. firm Westinghouse Electric Co. last year.
Atomprom will be created by integrating TVEL, which produces and supplies nuclear fuel; Atomstroyexport, which is in charge of overseas businesses; and Rosenergoatom, which operates nuclear power stations in Russia, among other related companies. The Putin Administration is committed to increasing the electric power generation capacity of Russia's 31 nuclear power stations and raising nuclear-based electricity generation from the present level of 16% to 25% by 2030. This plan requires installing two 100 MW nuclear plants every year.
Angry Belarusians Protest Gazprom Deal
In the aftermath of the agreement for Russian Gazprom to sell natural gas to Belarus at $100 per thousand cubic meters in 2007, signed at two minutes to midnight on Dec. 31, Belarusian First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Syamashka announced Jan. 2 that the more than doubling of the price will be passed along to industrial gas-users in the country, while electricity rates will rise by 54% and heating rates by 55%.
A second energy dispute between the two countries is developing. Russia announced the end of duty-free oil supplies to Belarus's two refineries, imposing a $180.70/ton fee. Today the Belarusian Foreign Ministry announced the retaliatory imposition of a $45/ton customs duty on Russian oil that is piped across the territory of Belarus into the Druzhba pipeline, through which 90 million tons (1.8 million barrels per day) passed in 2006 en route to Poland, Germany, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. The Russian Economics Ministry accused Minsk of acting against ordinary procedure, unilaterally and without negotiations.
President Alexander Lukashenka appeared on Belarusian and Russian TV Jan. 4, angrily denouncing the gas sale terms and oil duties as a betrayal of the Russia-Belarus union and as showing ingratitude for Belarus's allowing Russian military facilities on its territory. Wire services that get their line from the circles that hate Lukashenka for his refusal to play by IMF and globalization rules were quick to crow, that the removal of Gazprom's subsidy "could deal a body blow" to the Belarusian regime. Prices are expected to jump for residential utilities; many Belarusians already spent an anxious New Year's eve, expecting the power to be cut off.
The situation of the Belarusian economy illustrates how phony the supposed level playing field of deregulated globalization is. How can reduced gas or oil prices for Belarus be out of order, given the historically specific structure of the country's economy, inherited from the Soviet Union? Within the USSR, Belarus was assigned a large petroleum refining and petrochemicals industry, along with auto (as in Belarus tractors, etc.), though it does not have on-site fossil fuel deposits. A system of subsidies to allow this industry to keep functioning would be reasonable to arrange among friendly neighbors, but it has fallen victim to the pressureoperating through Gazprom, in this instanceto garner top, hyperinflated petrodollars for every barrel of oil and cubic meter of gas.