|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Russia Toughens Stance on Iran
The Russian Foreign and Defense Ministers have spoken out more harshly on Iran's current posture since Iran announced resumption of uranium-enrichment research. A Foreign Ministry statement, issued Jan. 11, about Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's phone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice the previous day, said that Russia and the USA "shared deep disappointment" over Iran's termination of its enrichment-research moratorium. RIA-Novosti on Jan. 10 reported that Lavrov also said Moscow was "concerned" about the resumption.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, speaking Jan. 11, said that the Iranian decision "personally disappoints me and gives some cause for alarm." He added, "As a permanent UN Security Council member, Russia reserves the right to act according to the situation. But, in any event, the situation is not developing in the most favorable way."
According to a Russian diplomatic source in Washington, at least 20 countries on the 35-nation International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board will recommend that the Iran case be sent to the UN Security Council, whereupon Russia and China will not veto this action, as they did twice in the past, but will abstain. The source reported that Russia was shocked by the Iranian President's denials of the Holocaust, adding that, while Russia has given unqualified support to Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy, Iran violated IAEA regulations by keeping R&D facilities clandestine.
Russian-Iranian talks on nuclear matters were held Jan. 9 and are to resume on Feb. 16 in Moscow, with Russia still awaiting a clear Iranian response on its proposal for Iranian uranium enrichment to be carried out on Russian territory.
Putin Holds Top-Level Session on Avian Flu
As reported elsewhere (see ECONOMICS Digest), Russian President Vladimir Putin held a televised Cabinet session on Jan. 10 to hear a report from Russia's chief epidemiologist, Gennadi Onishchenko, on measures being taken in preparation for the mass return of migratory fowl across the territory of the Russian Federation, which threatens renewed outbreaks of bird flu this spring.
Meanwhile, Onishchenko called for a ban on travel to Turkey, a position that was disputed by Russia's own tourism officials (for about 2 million Russians a year, Turkey is a popular tourist destination). Russia has checkpoints at various of its southern border crossings, to prevent poultry imports from Turkey.
Gas Deal Aftershock Hits Ukrainian Government
After hearing a report on the economy from Prime Minister Yuri Yekhanurov Jan. 10, Ukraine's Supreme Rada (parliament) voted 250 to 50 (with 103 not voting) in favor of a motion requiring his government to step down. Opposition blocs, ranging from former Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych's Party of the Regions, to the bloc of [former Prime Minister and former Orange Revolution ally of the current President] Yulia Tymoshenko, joined in the vote, as their leaders cited the recent natural gas deal with Russia's Gazprom as a betrayal of Ukrainian national interests.
Yekhanurov said after the session, "It doesn't matter; we'll keep on working"since the Ukrainian Constitution mandates that an ousted government continue in office for a period of 60 days. When that time is up, the March 26 parliamentary elections will be just two weeks away. The new Supreme Rada would then form a new government. Nonetheless, Yekhanurov said the government would challenge the vote on procedural grounds.
President Victor Yushchenko got the news in Astana, Kazakstan, where he was attending the inauguration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, and also had bilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Yushchenko called the Supreme Rada vote "unconstitutional." Upon his return to Kiev on Jan. 12, Yushchenko went to the Supreme Rada and ostentatiously tore up the memorandum on cooperation, which he had signed with Yanukovych in September 2005, at the time of Yushchenko's break with Tymoshenko.
Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc also launched an unsuccessful motion to ban Speaker of the Rada Volodymyr Lytvyn from presiding over the parliament, for having allowed the vote against the government. Lytvyn gave an angry press conference after the session, reminding Yushchenko that he would not even be in office, without Lytvyn's help in orchestrating the re-running of last year's Presidential elections during the Orange upsurge. Yanukovych ally Taras Chornovil, meanwhile, told the press that Yushchenko's actions amount to the threat of a coup, exploiting the office of the Presidency.
Also on Jan. 10, Ukrainian industry magnates, from Yanukovych's base in the eastern part of the country, sent a demand to Yushchenko to take immediate measures for resolving the country's economic woes. They said that Naftohaz, the Ukrainian energy firm, had sold out to Gazprom, putting Ukraine's steel and machine production in jeopardy. Piling on the nationalist rhetoric, the industrialists alleged that "never before has the sovereignty of independent Ukraine been so vulnerable."
Tension Rises Around Black Sea Fleet
A serious incident between Russia and Ukraine occurred Jan. 13, when Ukrainian transportation officials barred Russian officers from a lighthouse which is owned by Ukraine, but rented by Russia as a command point for the Black Sea Fleet. The pretext was taking inventory, but Russia state TV covered the action as a national security threat. Corollary to the natural-gas price controversy between the two countries, Moscow and Kiev have been trading threatsranging from rent hikes, to revisions of the state bordersaround Russia's Black Sea Fleet, which is based at Sevastopol in Crimea, which is part of Ukraine.
Russia, Ukraine, Kazakstan Increase Nuclear Energy Cooperation
While in Astana Jan. 12 for the inauguration of President Nazarbayev, Russian President Putin met with his Kazak and Ukrainian counterparts to increase nuclear energy cooperation. Russian state companies have a 45% stake in a new Kazak uranium mine, expected to start producing later this year, the Moscow Times reported Jan. 13. Russia must import half of the 6,000 tons of uranium it needs for its ten nuclear power plants. Kazakstan is expected to use the cash to finance new Russian nuclear power plants in Kazakstan.
About 80% of what was the Soviet nuclear industry is now in Russia, and Ukraine produces the nuclear power plant turbines. Joint programs are now under consideration, including joint uranium ventures. Specifics will be discussed at the CIS summit in St. Petersburg on Jan. 25, and during a visit by new Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency head Sergei Kiriyenko to Kiev.