|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Putin at Wehrkunde: Russia Calls for End to Unilateralism
Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the annual Wehrkunde security conference in Munich Feb. 10, presenting "what I really think about international security," without diplomatic niceties. Putin framed his discussion of military affairs proper, by asserting that "the stability of the world economy, overcoming poverty, economic security, and the development of dialogue among civilizations" are paramount world security issues. He quoted Franklin Roosevelt, who said, "When peace has been broken anywhere, peace of all countries everywhere is in danger." Those words come from FDR's Fireside Chat of Sept. 3, 1939, two days after the Nazi invasion of Poland formally launched the Second World War.
Putin denounced today's "virtually unrestrained, overblown use of force in international affairsof military force, force that is plunging the world into the abyss of conflicts, following one after another." He added that the United States had "overstepped its national borders in all areas: the economy, politics, and humanitarian affairs, and its system of law is being imposed on other countries."
Enumerating an array of actions that Russia perceives as aimed against it, including the extension of NATO eastward and the emplacement of anti-missile systems in Central Europe, Putin concluded by saying that the world is multi-polar. "Russia," he said, "is a country with a history of over a thousand years, which has almost always enjoyed the privilege of having an independent foreign policy. We are not about to change that tradition today." Having noted, earlier in his speech, that centers of economic growth, like India and China, also will be assuming more political clout in the period ahead, Putin concluded that Russia seeks "a just and democratic world order, ensuring security and prosperity not just for the chosen, but for all."
Prominent Russians Mark FDR's 125th Birth Anniversary
Viewers of Russia's First Channel TV news on Feb. 8 saw President Franklin Roosevelt looking at them from the screen, as the biggest Russian national TV network joined in plentiful media coverage of a Moscow conference titled "The Lessons of the New Deal for Today's Russia and the Whole World." Held at the Foreign Ministry-linked Moscow State Institute for Foreign Relations (MGIMO), the event commemorated the 125th anniversary of FDR's birth. In attendance were top representatives of Russian political and academic institutions, including Kremlin Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachov, Academician Sergei Rogov of the USA-Canada Institute, Academician Andrei Kokoshin (also a Duma committee chairman), Grigori Tomchin from Yevgeni Primakov's Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Boris Titov of the Business Russia association, and numerous other political scientists and commentators. U.S. Ambassador William Burns was also present.
The most sensational presentation was that of Surkov, who strove to link his own "sovereign democracy" concept for Russia, with Roosevelt's ideas. He tried to draw a parallel between FDR and President Vladimir Putin (nobody could miss the hint about Presidents who serve third, and fourth terms). Said Surkov, "Like Roosevelt in his time, Putin today is forced to, is obliged to strengthen administrative management, and make the greatest possible use of the power of the Presidency, in order to overcome a crisis." Putin's aide recalled that FDR took office at a time when people felt hopeless, and "the press and the financial sector were almost totally controlled by oligarchical groups."
"History does not repeat itself," Surkov went on, "but Russia seeks freedom from want and from fear, and there are leaders and societies that inspire us, and Franklin Roosevelt and America and among them.... While, in the 20th Century, he was our military adviser, in the 21st, he is becoming our ideological ally. For the majority of Russians, Roosevelt remains the greatest of the great Americans."
Boris Titov, chairman of Business Russia, said that Russia needs FDR's economic policies. "We cannot ignore the experience of Roosevelt," Titov told RIA Novosti, "because the New Deal was one of the most successful economic programs in the history of mankind.... Before Roosevelt, it was believed that the market would settle any problems that came up," but FDR brought the government in, to play the crucial role of "eliminating failures in the economy, providing incentives for business, and regulating the market. That is very important for our country, since the Russian market is heavily monopolized. [In the 1990s], we believed the market would take care of everything. As a result, we got not a market, but wild capitalism, which led to the crisis of 1998."
Preparations Continue for SCO Joint Exercises
Generals from the six member nations of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will meet in the Russian Volga-Urals Military District in late February-early March, to discuss preparations for the SCO joint military exercise Peaceful Mission-2007, to take place July 18-25. Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Hu Jintao (personally invited by Putin when they met in Vietnam), Kazakstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmonov, and Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, will all arrive in the Ural city of Chebarkul to observe the maneuvers on July 25, when the live fire joint exercise is to take place. Due to this meeting of the SCO leaders, an SCO summit scheduled for June in Bishkek may be cancelled.
At the upcoming preparatory meeting, the third planning meeting for the July exercises, Russian Deputy Commander of Ground Forces Gen. Col. Vladimir Moltenskoy will head the Russian delegation, as usual. China will send Deputy Chief of the General Staff Lt.-Gen. Zhang Qinsheng, and Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan will send defense ministry and military leaders. Military leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will attend the SCO summer maneuvers, although not formally taking part as an organization. The CSTO includes SCO members Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan; Armenia and Belarus will be observers. India, Pakistan, and Iran, will also attend in some capacity, since they have observer status in the SCO.
At the last preparatory meeting, held in Shanghai Jan. 10-13, the Russian Armed Forces had proposed joint SCO-CSTO maneuvers, but China did not agree to this.
Rosatom Announces New Capacity Construction
Construction of the first of Russia's 20,000 megawatts of new nuclear power plants is to begin in one year, world-nuclear-news.com reported Feb. 8. Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) last year announced an aggressive program to put two new nuclear power plants on line each year, to add up to 40 new plants over the next two decades. Rosatom has now released some details of the plan. Two Russian-built AES-2006 pressurized light water reactors will be located at Novovoronezh, and $95 million has been allocated this year to begin work there, with the aim of pouring the first concrete in March 2008. The power plants would come on line in late 2012 for the first reactor, and 2013 for the second. Two units will also be added at Leningrad II in the near term, with an eventual total of four more. These first units are expected to cost between $3-3.7 billion per pair. Rated at 1,200 MW, the AES-2006 is an improved design, with a 50-year design life and 90% capacity factor (only down 10% of the time).
Russia Maps High-Speed Rail Development
Russia is planning to build high-speed rail links among some of its major cities and to Finland by 2012-14, Vladimir Yakunin, head of the state-owned firm Russian Railways, announced in Rome Feb. 9. The planned links are Moscow-St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg-Helsinki, Moscow-Kazan, Moscow-Samara, and Moscow-Adler, a port on the Black Sea. Kazan is the capital of Tatarstan in central European Russia, and lies at the confluence of the Volga and Kazanka rivers. Samara also lies on the Volga, in the Volga Federal District. "The first high-speed trains will run between Moscow and St. Petersburg, with a maximum speed of over 300 km/hour" Yakunin announced.
Yakunin was in Rome to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Italian defense company Finmeccanica and state-owned railway operator Ferrovie dello Stato, whose CEO, Mauro Moretti, said they hope to sign a binding agreement in March. Finmeccanica had announced last October, that it had signed an agreement with JSC Russian Railways for cooperation on production, technical assistance, and marketing of rolling-stock and rail infrastructure in Russia. They will also work on developing high-tech railway products to export to international markets, especially in Eastern Europe. Russian Railways is also participating in a tender to build a $2 billion (euro 1.54 billion) railway in Saudi Arabia, and the Italian firms are also interested.
Rail Construction for the Transcaucasus Region
Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia are planning to sign an agreement in mid-February on building the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku (KTB) Railroad. The rail line will link the rail systems of the three Caucasus nations, as well as being another important link connecting the rail systems of Europe and Asia. Railway Market wrote that the project will provide "continuous, safe, and fast cargo and passenger transportation between Asia and Europe through connecting the railways of the Peoples Republic of China and Kazakstan in the east, through Turkey's [rail system] to the European rail system in the west."
The project does have some geopolitical elements. Armenia opposes it as "politically motivated." Also, Prof. Suha Bolukbasi of Middle East Technical University said that, "The project aims to unhook post-Soviet countries from the Russian Federation's impact. It also helps the European Union and the U.S. to establish effective relations with post-Soviet countries." Construction is expected to begin in June and be completed in two years.