|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Putin Visits Italy, Vatican
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Italy March 13-14, to meet with President Giorgio Napolitano, Prime Minister Romano Prodi, and Pope Benedict XVI. After two meetings with Prodi, documents were signed on state-to-state, as well as business cooperation. Among them was a letter of intent between Italy's ENEL (power and gas generation) and the Russian nuclear agency Rosatom, on collaboration in modernizing nuclear plants in Russia and other former Soviet countries. New plants are also planned. An agreement between ENI (Italy's oil and natural gas exploration) and Gazprom was formalized, for the Russian natural gas giant to continue its current level of supplies until 2035; in exchange, the Russians can directly sell gas on the Italian market starting April 1.
On the eve of the summit, which took place in Bari, Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema told La Stampa that "dialogue without reservations and prejudice," with Russia, is "a strategic choice" for Italy.
A communique issued after Putin's meeting with the Pope underlined that the meeting "demonstrated the cordial relations that exist between the Holy See and Russia, as well as the mutual will to continue on this path." The communique said that some bilateral topics were examined "pertaining to the relations between Catholics and the Orthodox Churches." Current issues were analyzed, particularly the situation in the Mideast. Putin and the Pope also addressed "problems of extremism and intolerance which continue to be a serious menace to civil coexistence among nations." Putin transmitted a greeting to Pope Benedict from Patriarch Alexi II.
Earlier, in an interview with the Vatican-linked daily Avvenire, Ambassador to Russia Archbishop Antonio Mennini talked about the significance of the event, especially the "dialogue between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic churches." Nuncio Mennini confirmed that the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate are working towards a meeting in a third country. Bishop Illarion of Vienna and Austria, Russian Orthodox Church/Moscow Patriarchate representative in Europe, told Interfax that the meeting was of high importance for inter-church relations. He also developed the idea that the world is "traumatized" by secularization and liberalization of morals, and that this has resulted in Russia's demographic crisis. Thus Russia and the Vatican "have many things to do jointly to defend traditional moral values." He said he thought "some positive changes in relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church are about to happen during the current pontificate."
Ivanov Addresses Transport Conference
Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov led a meeting on development of Russia's transport system, held in Moscow on March 13. Ivanov said that over 1.5 trillion rubles ($57 billion) will have to be invested in development and maintenance of Russia's road system by 2015, and up to 8.5 trillion rubles by 2025. Ivanov called this an "overwhelming burden for the budget," and said he is proposing attracting private financing for road and airport infrastructure development.
"Integrated development of major transport corridors is of primary importance," said Ivanov, "It involves the implementation of a single coordinated technology for the operations of ports, maritime, rail, and road transport." Much of Russia is suffering from "transport inequality," hampering economic growth in some regions. Almost 10% of the population does not even have year-round overland connections to the major population centers. Ivanov also stressed the importance of President Putin's call for a state-controlled shipbuilding company, a project Ivanov will head.
Russian Weekly Cites EIR on Ledeen Influence
Zavtra, the influential Russian weekly newspaper with ties to the intelligence community, in the March 7 issue, carried an article by Vladimir Ovchinsky headlined "Manipulators: Who is pushing the USA into aggression against Iran, and how?" The highlight of the article was a precis of the Nov. 4, 2005 Executive Intelligence Review package titled "The Very Ugly Truth About Michael Ledeen: The 'Universal Fascism' Behind the Cheney Cabal."
Ovchinsky listed a range of international press reports on U.S. military preparations for a strike against Iran. Like several other Russian sources, including Foreign Minister Lavrov on three occasions in recent weeks, the author especially highlighted Dick Cheney's "all options are on the table" remark. Then the Zavtra article narrowed in on a November 2006 Los Angeles Times article by Joshua Muravchik of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), calling for the bombing of Iran. And, added Ovchinsky, it was the AEI that designed the Bush Administration's "surge" policy, as against the Baker-Hamilton recommendations. What is the AEI? asked Ovchinsky. After identifying out AEI's links to the neo-cons, Zavtra said that if you really want to understand the AEI, you have to look at Michael Ledeen.
And for that, there is "Lyndon LaRouche, the well-known American scholar, economist, and public figure, who has been hunting Ledeen since the 1970s." Then followed a lengthy summary of the expose of Ledeen from the Nov. 4, 2005 EIR, including Ledeen's apprenticeship with Count Vittorio Cini, former intimate of Count Volpi di Misurata in the Mussolini government. Quotations from Ledeen's Universal Fascism were provided. Ovchinsky cited EIR on Ledeen's role in the Bush Administration campaign to wreak revenge on Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson, noting that that case still has the potential to become a "new Watergate."