|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Dies; Medvedev Returns to Russia
Dec. 5 (EIRNS)President Dmitri Medvedev postponed his visit to Italy, scheduled for Dec. 6, returning instead directly to Moscow from India, after the death of Russian Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexi II. The Patriarch died today at his residence in Peredelkino outside Moscow, just shy of his 80th birthday. Born Alexei Mikhailovich Ridiger in Tallinn, Estonia, Alexi II was Patriarch through the period of the break-up of the Soviet Union. He presided over reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Visitation is being held in the giant Church of Christ the Savior near the Kremlin, rebuilt during Alexi's reign, and his funeral has been scheduled for Dec. 8. From India, where he was on a state visit, President Medvedev addressed all Russians with a nationally televised message of mourning.
Russia, India Pledge Search for Mumbai Perpetrators
Dec. 5 (EIRNS)Alongside a statement on overall cooperation against terrorism, the joint declaration signed by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during Medvedev's current state visit to New Delhi, cited the Nov. 26-29 attacks in Mumbai. Russia and India called for "all nations to actively cooperate with the Indian authorities and assist them in locating and bringing to justice the participants, organizers, sponsors, and protectors, and anyone in any way connected with these barbarous acts." That broad formulation, if followed through, would inevitably lead any investigation to London.
Medvedev In India: Nuclear Power Agreement High on Agenda
Dec. 5 (EIRNS)Russian President Dmitri Medvedev made a packed two-day state visit to India Dec. 4-5, bringing together two of the great powers whose initiative will be key to any solution of the current global crisis facing civilization. His talks with Indian officials and politicians featured key areas of bilateral cooperation, especially nuclear power, while the potential for effective Russian-Indian cooperation in addressing the global financial crisis remained only implicit, at least in the public statements.
Medvedev met individually with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Foreign Minister Anand Sharma, President Pratibha Patil, and Vice President Hamid Ansari, as well as political party leaders including opposition leader Lal Krishna Advani of the BJP, and Sonia Gandhi of the Indian National Congress. His delegation included Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov, Minister of Defense Anatoli Serdyukov, Minister of Culture Alexander Avdeyev, Federal Military-Technical Cooperation Service chief Mikhail Dmitriyev, and head of the Russian Federal Space Agency Anatoli Perminov. Also with Medvedev are Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the nuclear power corporation Rosatom, VTB Bank CEO Alexei Kostin, and Oleg Deripaska, the metals entrepreneur who owns the Basic Element holding company.
The documents signed between Russian and India include an agreement to cooperate in building four new units at the Kudankulam nuclear power station, and proceed with other nuclear plants in India using Russian designs. A Rosatom spokesman told Novosti that an agreement for Russia to supply nuclear fuel to Indian nuclear power plants was also in the works. Atomstroyexport, the Russian nuclear power equipment and services export company, has been building two reactors for the Kundakulam plant in Tamil Nadu (southern India) since 2002.
Other cooperation agreements cover space exploration, tourism, trade and finance, and fighting money-laundering. A 22-point joint statement by Medvedev and Singh cited progress in achieving $10 billion in annual bilateral trade and investment by 2010, as well as stating the intention to promote joint Russia-India ventures in third markets. The statement highlighted energy cooperation, with a separate point on the nuclear projects. It also promised a ten-year extension of the bilateral military technical cooperation agreement.
Concerning the global financial crisis, the Russian-Indian statement said that the two countries "emphasize the importance of comprehensive reform of the international financial and economic architecture, to adapt it to the new realities of the world economy, and will cooperate in various formats to help establish a more just world economic order, based on principles of multipolarity, the rule of law, mutual respect and shared responsibility." Listed as formats through which Russia and India will work together were the Russia-India-China triangular cooperation, and an expanded role for the BRIC, which is those three nations plus Brazil. At a press conference, Medvedev (who was in Brazil last week) also cited the BRIC grouping, but added a comment about the importance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in which India is an observer. In economic affairs, he said, "Today we cannot even imagine that some most important global problems are considered, for example, without Russia or India.
Medvedev officially closed the Year of Russia in India event. He visited the national memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, leader of India's struggle for independence from the British Empire. The Russian President inscribed the guest book, "Visiting this place makes one remember the great mission, which Mahatma Gandhi fulfilled in the life of the Indian people, and the contribution he made to the development of the civilization we all share."
Putin: 'Positive Signals' Have Come from U.S.A.
Dec. 5 (EIRNS)During his three-hour telethon with the Russian population yesterday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he was seeing "positive signals" from the United States during its leadership transition. Answering a question about what will happen with Russian-U.S. relations after the inauguration of Barack Obama as President, Putin said: "Usually, when there is a change of power in any country, especially such a superpower as the United States, such changes do take place. We very much hope that the changes will be positive. We see these positive signals. What are they? Look at the meeting of NATO foreign ministers: Both Ukraine and Georgia have been denied a Membership Action Plan. We already hear at the level of experts, the people who are close to the President-elect and the people around him, his aides, that there should be no hurry, that relations with Russia should not be jeopardized. We already hear that the practicability of deploying the third position of missile defense in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic should be considered once again. We hear that relations with Russia should be built with respect for our interests. If these are not just words, and if they are translated into practical policies, then of course we will react in kind and our American partners will immediately feel it."
Putin, in Telethon, Grapples With Economic Turmoil
Dec. 5 (EIRNS)Yesterday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin held a three-hour televised discussion with the Russian population, during which the severity of the impact of the world financial and economic crisis on Russia was evident. Over 2 million people called or sent SMS and e-mail messages during the session.
Answering a question about relations with Ukraine, Putin noted that Russia's steel industry has contracted by 50% in the very recent period, while Ukraine's has collapsed by 70%, with major facilities being closed. That process, and similar threats to other industries, have had Putin's constant attention recently. He visited an aircraft factor and a diesel motor plant in the Yaroslavl region on Dec. 2, holding sessions there, as well as separately with various cross-sections of his Cabinet, focussed on getting assistance to the manufacturing sector.
Putin compared the current crisis to "bigger troubles," which Russia "has survived in over a thousand years of its history." He was asked repeatedly about the prospect of mass layoffs, and related issues such as quotas on the number of guest workers Russian employers are allowed to hire. There are over 10 million guest workers in Russia, most of them from other former Soviet republics; countries such as Tajikistan, and others in Central Asia, are being hard hit by the abrupt shrinkage of remittances from their citizens working in Russia. Putin said his government was working "to preserve jobs wherever possible," and to find new ones, including through public works and infrastructure-building projects. He was favorable toward efforts to channel credit and assistance directly to end users, and said the government was considering buying stakes in manufacturing companies that "are the core of the Russian economy."
Putin expressed understanding for the squeeze on Russians who are being charged 25% rates for various loans, but he said the Central Bank is forced to raise rates to prevent further capital flight. He announced a government plan to issue state guarantees through the Residential Mortgage Lending Agency, so that people who are thrown out of work will be less likely to lose their homes (if they have mortgages). He took numerous questions on the need for support for Russian agricultural producers.
While addressing such questions with clear indications of actions his government will take, Putin did not express such initiatives with regard to the global crisis, as such. He cited differing "expert opinions" on when a "global recovery" may occur, but restricted his policy descriptions to what he called "coping with the present crisis."