|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Direct Dalian-Moscow Land-Bridge Link
April 17 (EIRNS)A new direct Eurasian land-bridge train between Dalian, China, and Moscow and St. Petersburg, is going into service, the Russian Railways website reported April 14. Dalian is the Chinese port on the Yellow Sea which gained strategic importance after the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad and Chinese Eastern and South Manchurian Railways at the beginning of the 20th Century, and was grabbed by the British-allied Japanese during their 1904 war against Russia.
Dalian lies on the Liaodong peninsula, between the Bohai and Yellow Seas. Formerly the biggest port in what was China's industrial northeast, it is now rapidly expanding capacity as Chinese trade with South Korea, Japan, and Russia grows. China has made redevelopment of the northeast one of its strategic economic goals.
The new container service is designed to cut transport time from Northeast Asia to Europe. The Hong Kong Shipping Gazette reported the new service as marking that "a new Asia-Europe land bridge starting from Dalian is taking shape."
The trains go to the Russian Zabaikalsk station next to the Chinese border town of Manzhouli, where cargo is transferred to the wide-gauge Russian system, for direct delivery to Moscow or St. Petersburg. These new arrangements will cut time on the route to 18 days overall, 20 days less than by ship and 10 days less than the Siberian land-bridge route. Hitherto most shipments from China, Japan, and South Korea to Russia and Europe were handled by shipping services or by the Siberian land-bridge via the port of Vostochny, Russia. Dalian Port Group is now expanding container capacity in Harbin, the biggest city along the route in China, and Manzhouli.
Putin Builds Energy Relationships With Libya, Italy
April 18 (EIRNS)Russian President Putin arrived yesterday in Sardinia, Italy, for talks with Prime Minister-elect Silvio Berlusconi, after having paid a historic visit to Libya, the first visit of a Russian leader since 1985. Putin's trip is part of an effort to integrate the North African, European, and Russia economies in the field of energy and other infrastructure and industry projects. The British Empire, which wants to block this land-bridge development, signalled that its pawns at the European supranational centers in Brussels are "nervous" about such a partnership. Singling out the already launched Southstream gas pipeline partnership, to be built by Russia's Gazprom and Italy's ENI, the Financial Times of London wrote April 18 that "to many in Brussels, the pipeline is seen as a dangerous move to increase the dependence of the European Union on Russian energy supplies."
The British will be more nervous, after the new deals concluded by Putin. Putin discussed with Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi an increased role of Gazprom in building gas pipelines from North Africa to Europe, via Italy. Gazprom is already holding talks with Nigeria about a $13 billion project to build a pipeline 4,000 km across the Sahara, linking the Niger Delta to an export terminal on Algeria's Mediterranean coast. In Libya, Gazprom is interested in participating in the construction of the second stretch of the Sicily-Libya gas pipeline, built by the Italian ENI consortium. ENI, the largest foreign operator in Libya, discussed earlier this month in Moscow a swap of a quota with Gazprom in the Libyan "Elephant" oilfield.
Apparently, Putin discussed that with Qaddafi. Russia agreed to write off $4.5 billion of debt for Libya in exchange for a multi-billion-dollar contract with Russian companies, which includes a contract for Russian Railways, the national rail company, to build a 554-km line between the cities of Sirte and Benghazi.
Russia Warns of 'Large-Scale Conflict' Around Kosovo
April 16 (EIRNS)Russia has warned officially of an escalating Balkans crisis, in the setting of reported EU Commission readiness to ask NATO for military assistance in northern Kosovo, where the ethnic Serb majority is vigorously resisting the EU's attempts to take over the civilian administration on behalf of the Pristina government. The latter declared Kosovo's independence Serbia in February, but the Serb minority in the Albanian-majority province rejects the secession and Pristina's authority. Several attempts by the EU to take over administrative functions in Mitrovica, a heavily Serb-populated city in northern Kosovo, have failed.
On April 10, a Russian foreign ministry statement, "Regarding Media Reports Concerning Strong-Arm Measures the International Presences in Kosovo Are Preparing Against Kosovo Serbs," warned that provocations could cause "an accelerated division of the province [Kosovo] and a large-scale conflict in the region." The term "international presences" denotes NATO's Kosovo Force (KFOR) and the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Neither UNMIK nor the new EU structures are currently able to function in Mitrovica. The Russian statement cited alleged actions being prepared "against the Kosovo Serbs, in order to provoke them to retaliatory measures." The foreign ministry called on the EU and NATO to show restraint.
On April 15, Russian ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov warned that the EU should not attempt to deploy its police and justice mission in Kosovo, known as EULEX, to Serb-populated areas, without permission from the Serbian government in Belgrade. He also warned them not to "reestablish those elements of the international presence that have had difficulty in northern Kosovo by [their use of] force." Chizhov announced that Russia would take actions through the UN, should the EU seek to deploy EULEX into Serb-populated areas of Kosovo.
On April 11, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed the Kosovo situation with visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Afterwards Lavrov said that the world has seen too many problems due to "unilateral actions without the United Nations and in contravention of the UN Charter," and that he hoped "everyone would learn a lesson from that experience, and focus on the UN's central role in conflict and crisis resolution."
Russian Officials Push 'Global' Missile Defense
April 12 (EIRNS)In the aftermath of his talks with President Bush at Sochi on April 6, where the issue of Russia's opposition to U.S. anti-missile facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic was not resolved, President Vladimir Putin emphasized once again that Russia has not abandoned Putin's proposals for what he calls "a global missile defense system," involving both the U.S.A. and Russia. He initially put forward the idea at last year's talks with Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine. "The most important thing," Putin said at the April 6 joint press conference, is "if, at the expert level, and then at the political level, we are able to start cooperation on a global missile defense system, as we are now talking aboutmissile defense in Europeif we manage to achieve this kind of level of cooperation on a global missile defense system, this will be the best kind of result."
Interviewed April 8 on radio Ekho Moskvy, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, in even sharper terms than previously, that a true "global system" would have to involve "the permanent presence of our officers" on-site, something to which the United States has not agreed.
Chief of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff Yuri Baluyevsky took related diplomacy into Asia, with an April 12 visit to Japan. Following talks with Adm. Takashi Saito, chief of Japan's Self-Defense Forces, Baluyevsky told the press that "Japan is not planning to integrate its national missile shield into the U.S. global missile network"i.e., one not including Russiathough Japan would continue its close cooperation with the United States for its own missile defense system. Japan has a cooperation arrangement with the United States, concluded in December 2004, to build a national missile-defense network of sea- and land-based components by 2011. Tokyo has authorized using U.S. SM-3 interceptor missiles as part of Japan's two-layered missile shield, and Japan became the only nation to join a SM-3 test with the United States in December 2007.
Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is due in Moscow April 25 for a three days of meetings with Putin, President-elect Dmitri Medvedev, and other officials.
Ukraine-Russia Sparring Rises in Wake Of NATO Summit
April 19 (EIRNS)The Ukrainian foreign ministry officially protested on April 10 against statements made by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials, in the wake of the Bucharest NATO summit at the beginning of this month. On that occasion, the U.K. and U.S.A. had pushed for adoption of NATO Membership Action Plans (MAP) for Ukraine and Georgia, in line with the British drive to confront Russia with an ever eastward-expanding NATO. The MAPs were postponed, but President Bush immediately said he wanted to put them back on the agenda within this year.
In an April 9 interview on radio Ekho Moskvy, Lavrov stressed that Moscow sees such expansion as a security threat, saying, "We shall do everything to prevent Ukraine and Georgia from being accepted into NATO." Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, two days later, spoke out even more bluntly. He said that if Georgia or Ukraine joins NATO, "Russia will take unambiguous action toward ensuring its interests along its borders. These will not only be military measures, but also steps of a different character."
While those were public comments, Kommersant newspaper poured oil on the fire by publishing an unsubstantiated report that President Putin, behind closed doors at the Bucharest summit, had lost his temper, told Bush that Ukraine was "not even a country," and warned that if Ukraine joined NATO, Russia would reclaim Crimea (which was attached to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, within the USSR, under Nikita Khrushchov in 1953). The Ukrainian foreign ministry protest cited the Kommersant rumor.
The NATO issue is front and center in Ukraine, which is teetering on the brink of another government collapse, if the one-seat "orange" parliamentary alliance of Premier Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc and President Victor Yushchenko's forces fails to hold. Opposition Party of Regions (POR) leader Victor Yanukovych today forecast the imminent breakup of the ruling coalition. POR spokesman Taras Chornovil has announced that the party will toughen up its anti-NATO stance for the next election. Staunch NATO opponent Natalia Vitrenko, head of the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, is campaigning in various cities against NATO, joining the Communist Party in an effort to block this Summer's Sea Breeze NATO maneuvers in the Black Sea. Vitrenko says there need be no referendum on NATO in Ukraine, since the country's independence referendum in the early 1990s established it as a non-nuclear, non-bloc power.