|Russia and the CIS News Digest
The Results of Putin and Bush Meet in Bratislava
The Russian President's web site on Feb. 24 featured the three sets of official agreements, signed that day during Vladimir Putin's Bratislava summit with President George Bush:
* a set of agreements on the non-proliferation of various types of weapons, including nuclear materials, and shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles;
* agreement to cooperate more in the area of energy (though Russia has just barred foreign companies from participation in oil-field tenders during 2005, though they may resume bidding in 2006);
* Russia's accession to the WTO, about which Putin said at the joint press conference, "Russia is prepared to make reasonable compromises, but these compromises should not go beyond the ordinary obligations, assumed by countries upon joining the WTO."
This was not the only moment at which the Russian President evidenced his preoccupation with questions of economic and other destabilization of Russia and its closest neighbors. Replying to a long-winded question from Boris Berezovsky's Kommersant paper, about both Russia and the USA being repressive states, Putin said: "I am quite convinced that democracy does not mean anarchy, nor does it mean that all is permitted. And it is not the opportunity for anybody to loot the population of one country or another."
Defense Minister Boosts North-South Rail Corridor
Responding to a question from EIR on "non-military aspects to security stabilization," at the Munich Wehrkunde Conference in mid-February, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov expanded on the importance of the North-South Eurasian Transport Corridor, which runs from Helsinki to Mumbai, India. Noting that the project is coordinated with each participating country's national economic development strategies, Ivanov reviewed the construction and modernization of railway lines, construction of a modern container port at Olya, near Astrakhan on the Russian coast of the Caspian Sea, which feeds into Russia's inland waterways network as well as the rail grid. Although the project does not in any way seem directly related to security questions, it is nevertheless an important contribution to the economic stabilization and development of the entire region from Helsinki and St. Petersburg to western India, and in that way, it does contribute to security, Ivanov said.
Yukos Suit Thrown Out of U.S. Court
Attempting to circumvent the Russian government, the Khodorkovsky-era executives of Yukos, had brought a bankruptcy petition to a U.S. court, in order to protect its assets from the Russian tax collectors, among others. Yukos' chief executive, Steven Theede, is living in the U.S., and the ex-president of the company, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is on trial for looting the company and not paying taxes. In the U.S., Theede has run a campaign to get Bush Administration and Congressional protection of his company, by branding Russia a country that is moving towards totalitarianism under Putin.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Letitia Clark dismissed the case in a ruling on Feb. 24, just hours after the summit meeting between Putin and Bush, where Bush had followed the Shultz-Cheney script, and raised the "democracy issue" with Putin. Judge Clark's ruling said that Yukos business and financial activity "require the continued participation of the Russian government." The immediate motion that led to the case being thrown out came from one of the Yukos creditors, Deutsche Bank, which argued that the Yukos executives had only come to the U.S. with the suit in order to seek "a friendly court."
Lieberman and McCain Take Hillary Clinton to Ukraine
A U.S. Congressional delegation led by Sen. John McCain, and including Senators Hillary Clinton and Joseph Lieberman, arrived in Ukraine Feb. 11. Clinton and McCain also wrote a joint letter on Jan. 26, nominating Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko for the Nobel Peace Prize. The question "What are they doing?" is being asked among political elites in Moscow, where Ukraine's Orange Revolution is seen a destabilization of the region, massively supported from the outside.
Political observers also emphasize that Ukraine itself is being set up by these operations. Ukraine has little to offer the European Union by way of oil or gas. It does, however, have very productive agriculture, on which the EU would only impose many restrictions. So closer EU-Ukraine ties would only threaten its economic situation, leading to further instability.
Democratic Neo-Con Holbrooke Declares Cold War on Russia
Richard Holbrooke's article "The End of the Romance" (between Bush and Putin), carried in the Washington Post Feb. 16, offered glowing praise for Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus' statement that the 1945 liberation from the Nazis, was nothing to celebrate, since it just "traded Hitler for Stalin." Holbrooke claimed that "I am neither predicting nor advocating a return to the bad old Cold War days," but then showed that he intends exactly that. He demands that the four years of a "blank check" from Bush and Europe toward Russia have seen Putin adopt "soft authoritarianism"; "state-sponsored theft" from Yukos; "inept meddling" in the Georgia and Ukraine elections; and a refusal to pull Russian troops out of Georgia and Moldova. Russia has worked against U.S. interests, ranted Holbrooke, in league with Germany, France, and China, in regard to Iraq and Central Asia, and is undermining U.S. interests in Turkey. Holbrooke's neo-con orders: "The Administration must re-evaluate its Russian relationship. Ignoring Putin's behavior would make a mockery of Bush's Inaugural rhetoric about freedom and democracy." The U.S. must reject Putin's request for a meeting with NATO in May, and demand withdrawal of troops from Georgia and Moldova now, he concluded.
U.S. Supports Regime Change in Kyrgyzstan
The Wall Street Journal of Feb. 25 detailed how the same organizations and individuals used to subvert the electoral and political process in Georgia and Ukraine, moved into Kyrgyzstan in advance of the Feb. 27 parliamentary elections. Those elections were won by candidates supporting President Askar Akayev, results contested by the opposition as unfair. The Journal headlined: "In Putin's backyard, Democracy stirsWith U.S. HelpWestern-backed groups offer aid to opposition." Named were the State Department and USAID, directly and by financing NGOs. One Mike Stone, with Freedom House, became the printer for the revolution, on a printing press loaned by the State Department; the National Endowment for Democracy financed the translation of the Gene Sharp book From Dictatorship to Democracy, heavily used in the previous coups. Said U.S. Ambassador Stephen Young: "Kyrgyzstan could offer a signal of hope to the societies in Central Asia." The Journal gloats that "the speed of the democratic transition has unnerved Russian leader Vladimir Putin."
Protests Continue in Russia, Become Politicized
Political tension continued to run high in February around the devastating entitlements reforms, imposed in Russia since the start of the year. Mid-February saw demonstrations by several hundred thousand people, with particularly large turnouts in the central and Volga River basin regions.
At the Feb. 14 Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov chastised Minister of Health and Social Development Mikhail Zurabov for poor implementation of the reform. In a session with State Duma leaders the next day, President Putin continued to stress that the problem was with "glitches" in implementing the measures, rather than with the conception of the policywhich is based on the classic Mont Pelerin Society dictum that people should have cash with the "freedom to choose" how to spend it, rather than have any guarantee of social security in the form of in-kind benefits.
Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov announced Feb. 16 that he would ask the Constitutional Court to review the cash-for-entitlements policy, saying that the law "grossly infringes the rights of the constituent territories of the Russian Federation" (i.e., the regions, which are forced to pay some of the cash compensation to people). Luzhkov is a member of the United Russia bloc, whose leader, Speaker of the Duma Boris Gryzlov, lamely rejoined that the Mayor has a right to his opinion and would not be subjected to "party discipline." Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak told Itar-TASS he would support Luzhkov's initiative. He said that Novgorod Region was implementing the reforms gradually, only as funds become available to make the cash payments, and he criticized the launch of this policy, which hits senior citizens hard, in the year of the 60th anniversary of victory in World War II.
Vladimir Averchenko, head of the Federal Agency for Construction and Public Utilities, said Feb. 11 that rents and utilities bills had risen by an average 25% nationwide since Jan. 1. With the partial elimination of subsidies, the hike was supposed to be no more than 10%. Regional Development Minister Vladimir Yakovlev, the former St. Petersburg governor, told a Feb. 11 meeting of regional leaders that the country is facing an untenable income gap between rich and poor, which "could lead to a revolutionary situation in any country," if not redressed.
Russia Plans To Build Three New Nuclear Plants
Oleg Sarayev, head of Rosenergoatom, which runs the country's civilian nuclear power plants, announced Feb. 24 that Russia would be building three new plants over the next five years. He also stated that Russia would not be shutting down any of its older nuclear plants during that period, but instead would upgrade and modernize the older ones, reaching the end of their design life. In December, Russia started up its 31st nuclear power reactor. Russia's nuclear industrial infrastructure has largely been kept alive for the past ten years by the Chinese, Iranian, and other export contracts.