|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Russian Press Covers U.S. Naval Build-Up
Scores of Russian wire services and newspapers, as well as both of the two main national TV news broadcasts on Jan. 17, covered the dispatch of the USS Stennis aircraft carrier group toward the Persian Gulf. First Channel TV noted that the build-up is the greatest since early 2003, on the eve of the Iraq invasion. RIA Novosti's political observer Pyotr Goncharov put out a column titled, "The New Bush Strategy and the Middle East: Going for Broke on the Brink of a Big War?" Another set of Russian articles cited a Kuwait Arab Times article, asking, "Will the USA Attack Iran by April?" The government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta was one of those covering the escalation.
On Jan. 16, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov confirmed that Russia has completed delivery of Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran. "We have supplied modern anti-aircraft short-range missile systems under a contract," he said, adding that, "Iran is not under any sanctions." He said that Moscow will continue to develop military and technical cooperation with Tehran. The Tor-M1, developed by Russian company Almaz Antey, is a high-precision weapon for hitting aircraft, manned or unmanned, including cruise missiles, flying at an altitude of up to 10 kilometers (6 miles). The $700 million missile contract was a target of U.S. sanctions, in July 2006, when they were slapped on Russian arms producer Rosoboronexport and aircraft manufacturer Sukhoy. The sanctions were lifted, in the course of talks on getting Russia into the World Trade Organization.
Primakov: Saddam Was Executed To Silence Him
On the Jan. 14 edition of a major Sunday-night TV program, Vesti Nedeli (News of the Week), former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeni Primakov said that Saddam Hussein was executed in a hurry and in an "unexpected" way, so that "he could not have the last word" and reveal compromising information on the relationship between the United States and his former regime. If Saddam Hussein "had told all, the current U.S. President would have been greatly embarrassed," said Primakov, referring to the military cooperation between Washington and Baghdad during the 1980s. Primakov, who was one of the last foreign visitors to meet with Saddam before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, went into considerable detail, identifying the role of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in courting and supporting Saddam (including a few months after the al-Dujail killings for which Saddam was convicted), the Iraqi leader's receipt of detailed U.S. satellite photos during his conflict with Iran, support from U.S. AWACS, etc.
If everything Saddam knew about what the USA had done, including providing nuclear-related technologies, a Russian nuclear expert said on the same program, the USA "would have appeared as a provocateur in front of the whole world."
The Russian primetime program also included footage of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), criticizing the "hasty execution," with the reporter commenting, "The Democrats hold a majority in Congress and they favor a phased withdrawal of American troops from Iraq," as against Bush's "increasing the garrison."
Primakov concluded the program, saying, "It would be a good thing if the United States became more aware that many issues simply cannot be solved without Russia. We have links with Syria, no one else has. We have links with Iran, but the United States does not. We have contacts with Hamas, while the United States does not. We have contacts with Hezbollah, but the United States does not. In this context, Russia can do a great deal, and hopefully, it will."
Gazprom in Deals with Chevron, and British PR Man
Chevron, one of the oil multis that recently lost out when Russia decided to develop the Shtokmanskyoe offshore natural gas fields without foreign partners, has nonetheless concluded a new joint venture deal with the Russian gas monopoly, Gazprom. The new company will develop oil fields in Russia's far North, under the name Northern Taiga Neftegaz, according to a Jan. 11 announcement. Initially a new subsidiary called Chevron Neftegaz will own 70%, while Gazprom owns 30%, but the latter's share is planned to rise to half.
In the wake of accusations about its threatening Europe's energy supplies by putting the squeeze on its customers in Belarus and other former Soviet republics to move toward world market prices, in their purchases of Russian gas, Gazprom has also hired a London PR expert, Philip Dewhurst (formerly of British Nuclear Fuels), to coordinate its overseas marketing.
Gazprom will be heavily represented in Russia's delegation to the Jan. 24-28 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. First Deputy Premier Dmitri Medvedev, Gazprom's chairman of the board, leads the group, which also includes Gazprom vice president Alexander Medvedev, and other Russian energy sector figures: Vagit Alekperov, the owner of Lukoil, and electricity boss Anatoli Chubais.
Russian Alert Over Threats to Infrastructure
For the second time in recent months, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other agencies, including the Defense Ministry, deployed extra forces in Moscow and went on alert around facilities nationwide, after unspecified threats to Russian infrastructure were received from foreign sources. The warning was announced by FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev on Jan. 16.
Putin, Tatarstan Official Warn of Extremist Violence
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a Jan. 11 address to the Council for Facilitating the Development of Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights, attended by various Russian NGOs, addressed "the rise of extremism," as a dangerous pattern inside Russia. Noting a related increase in crime, Putin said, "We have repeatedly ascertained that displays of nationalism, xenophobia, and religious and racial intolerance not only seriously infringe upon the rights of Russian and foreign citizens living in Russia, but they also create a serious threat to stability and security in the country as a whole." Putin greeted the Council's decisions to set up a national program, called "Civil Education for the People of the Russian Federation," to counter the trend.
On Jan. 16, President Mintimer Shaimiyev of Tatarstan, an ethnic republic within Russia, also spoke out. He said that growing Russian nationalism had become intertwined with the emergence of skinheads and other violent groups, which have gotten involved in inter-ethnic violence. Shaimiyev pledged leadership from Tatarstan, in "preventing [Russian self-awareness] from taking extremist forms." "This is a very serious problem," he added.
Besides direct manipulation by criminal groups, causes of recent street clashes, as well as murders of foreigners in Russia, include the poor economic conditions in much of the country, as well as the demographic crisis. Russia has some 10 to 14 million undocumented foreign workers, taking jobs in depressed areas, as well as in Moscow. So far, the government is trying to deal with the tensions by such administrative measures as setting a 40% ceiling on the number of foreigners who can work at a retail establishment, like the ubiquitous outdoor markets. This went into effect Jan. 15, and will become stiffer on April 1. Itar-Tass, in a Jan. 16 wire, forecast food price rises, as market owners are forced to pay more to Russian personnel, to replace the ousted immigrant workers.
Government Party Figure Killed in Ukraine
Evhen Kushnaryov, a prominent member of the Ukrainian Supreme Rada (Parliament) from Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych's Party of the Regions (POR), was shot to death while hunting wild boar on Jan. 17. The local police report they are investigating three scenarios: that Kushnaryov was shot due to careless gun handling or ricocheting bullets, as his hunting party chased a wolf that suddenly appeared, or that he was murdered.
Kushnaryov was one of the architects of the POR comeback in last year's Rada elections, which resulted in Yanukovych's return to the premiership (having been pushed out of a Presidency he appeared to have won, by Victor Yushchenko and the Orange Revolution in 2004). His death touched off a new political storm in Ukraine. Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine leader Natalia Vitrenko called it "an extremely serious loss" for the country, while POR leader and parliamentarian Taras Chornovil said, "Evhen Kushnaryov's death is something of almost mythic proportions. He lived life on the edge, he had suffered several attempts on his life, and he was always saying that he was under threat. He was an integral figure, irreplaceable in the POR, and his like will not be seen again." Chornovil voiced suspicions about the shooting, saying, "People either loved Kushnaryov, or they hated him, and he clashed with many people. But I shall await the results of the investigation."
Yanukovych cut short a visit to Turkey, returning to Kiev after the shooting. He and Yushchenko have been in a heated conflict over Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyukand foreign policy issues, such as seeking NATO membership. The Supreme Rada dismissed Tarasyuk in early December, but Yushchenko has retained him. On Jan. 15, Yanukovych appealed to the Prosecutor General to force Tarasyuk to step aside, and demanded action against him for illegally representing Ukraine on trips to foreign countries. Earlier, the Foreign Ministry had attempted to delegitimize Yanukovych's own official visit to the USA.