|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Kazak Official: SCO Key to New Global Order
Kazakstan hosted an international conference titled "The SCO: Results and Perspectives," in Almaty on Nov. 30, as part of the ongoing fifth-anniversary events of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In welcoming remarks, Kazakstan's Foreign Minister Kassymzhomart Tokayev said the organization had every reason to become a keystone of a new global order, with a positive effect on "stability and security, not only in Central Asia, but on the whole Eurasian territory."
Interviewed by Kazakstan Today in connection with the conference, Alexander Lukin of the Russia Foreign Ministry's State Institute of Foreign Relations said that the Russian Ministry was developing its plan for an SCO Energy Club. The same day as this conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin fired Vitali Vorobyov from the position of Russian coordinator for the SCO, appointing Leonid Moiseyev in his place, evidently being dissatisfied with Russia's engagement in the SCO to date.
Indonesia and Russia Sign Nuclear Agreement
During a Russia-Indonesian summit in Moscow at the end of November, Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda signed an agreement with Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency head Sergei Kiriyenko for cooperation in civilian nuclear energy, according to news wires Dec. 1. Indonesia is expected to announce in 2008 a tender for construction of its first nuclear power plant, and Kiriyenko said Russia has a wide range of technologies, including a floating nuclear plant design, that Indonesia has expressed interest in.
Calls for Nuclear Power from Russia, Belarus
Addressing the Russian State Duma Dec. 7, Federal Atomic Energy Agency head Sergei Kiriyenko said it was urgent to move at the pace of bringing on line two new nuclear reactors annually within the Russian Federation, as his agency had recommended in a national nuclear power program earlier this year. If this is not done, as Itar-TASS reported Kiriyenko's warning, the necessary retirement of older nuclear plants will collapse nuclear power's share in Russia's energy balance sheet to only 1.5%. As of now, he added, the nuclear sector is "subsidizing the national electricity system," since its rates are only half the average rates for power nationally. He reported that the fifth unit at the Kursk nuclear power station is close to completion.
On Dec. 1, President Alexander Lukashenka of Belarus told an energy conference that the country needs to build a nuclear power plant, as the only guarantee of energy security. Belarus is currently in bitter negotiations with Russia's Gazprom, which is demanding a 50% stake in the country's pipeline company, in exchange for only doubling natural gas prices, instead of quadrupling them. Belapan news agency reported that Academician Mikhail Myasnikovich of the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences told the conference that the first unit of such a power station could be in operation by 2013.
Sparks Fly at OSCE Meeting
Foreign Ministers of countries participating in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) met Dec. 4-5 in Brussels. The agenda was to review the mission of the OSCE, which dates back to the 1975 Helsinki Accords, the culmination of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's detente-era campaign for a package of East-West security understandings. U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns presented an agenda of "helping young democracies in the Balkans, in Central Europe, in the Caucasus, and in Central Asia become fully fledged democracies." But Russia blocked a declaration on "strengthening the effectiveness" of the OSCE, based on this orientation.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov noted that the OSCE had two other major areas of concern, namely, military-political cooperation, and economics: "Given its integrated approach to security, the OSCE cannot, and should not, focus solely on the human [rights] dimension." Burns called for "full support" to Georgia and Moldova, which have disputes with Moscow over breakaway districts within their territories, while Lavrov charged that some countries were using the OSCE as a tool in "biased, politicized approaches" to these so-called frozen conflicts. Lavrov said that if the OSCE were going to be turned into a human rights and election-monitoring outfit, then that would be a new organization, and Russia and others would have to decide whether or not to join.
Kazakstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev visited Brussels during the meeting, in connection with his attempt to take the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009. Russia and other CIS members supported the Kazakstan bid, which was opposed by the U.S.A. and Britain.
Russian Minister Warns Britain Over Litvinenko Case
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned Britain that the continued allegations of Russian government involvement in the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko could damage relations between the two nations. Lavrov said Dec. 4 that he had spoken to Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett "about the necessity to avoid any kind of politicization of this matter, this tragedy," according to Russian news reports. "If the British have questions, then they should be sent via the law enforcement agencies between which there are contacts," Lavrov insisted. He also denied the reports that Russian diplomats had been instructed to lodge a protest with British authorities over the publication of a letter allegedly written by Litvinenko on his deathbed, in which he blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the poisoning. Some Russian media have accused British PR firm Chime Communications, which staged the widely circulated deathbed photo of Litvinenko, of scripting the letter. Chime CEO Lord Tim Bell was Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's image-maker in the 1980s, and remains tight with Russian business exile and Chechen insurgency support networks in London, which Thatcher also patronized.
Gaidar: Enemies of Russia Poisoned Me
"I was poisoned, and Russia's political enemies were surely behind it." That was the dramatic title of a report published Dec. 7 in the Financial Times of London and the New York Times by Yegor Gaidar, former Russian Prime Minister and director of the Institute for the Economy in Transition. Gaidar writes a detailed account of what he experienced before and after he collapsed during the presentation of his book, Death of the Empire: Lessons for Modern Russia, at a university in Ireland Dec. 8. Gaidar is associated with the most ruinous policies, imposed on Russia under President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. He is anything but an ally of the current Russian regime. Yet, after reporting his Moscow doctors' opinion that his acute illness was induced by some foreign toxic substance, Gaidar said, "When the thought that this could be a result of somebody's willful actions crossed my mind for the first time on the afternoon of Nov. 25, I ... rejected the idea of complicity of the Russian leadership almost immediately. After the death of Alexander Litvinenko on Nov. 23 in London, another violent death of a famous Russian on the following day is the last thing that the Russian authorities would want." Gaidar concluded, "Most likely that means that some obvious or hidden adversaries of the Russian authorities stand behind the scenes of this event, those who are interested in further radical deterioration of relations between Russia and the west."
Yanukovych Assures Washington: Privatization Will Continue
Ukrainian Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych began his trip to Washington, after charging that his Foreign Ministry had tried to block it, with a presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on Dec. 4. Sounding confident, he said he would "speak the language of national Ukrainian interests." He reasserted Ukraine's primary interest in "European integration," commenting that it would be "difficult to imagine Ukraine not being a part of Europe." All the major political groupings were in agreement on where Ukraine should be in 25 years, but there were differences as regards the path to get there, he said. "The market economy will remain functioning and de-privatization will be eliminated from our vocabulary," said Yanukovych. There will be continued privatization in the economy, but the energy transport sector will remain under government control. He added that Ukraine would continue to upgrade its role as energy corridor to Europe, both from Russia and from Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan.
While Ukraine was also eligible for NATO membership, it would not happen any time soon. He explained how only one out of five Ukrainians would support immediate membership today. Similarly with EU membership, he said there should be no headlong rush, but that he hoped the process would be initiated under his premiership, perhaps with the establishment of a free-trade zone. With regard to Russia, he said that he knew of no opposition in his country to better relations with Russia. He explained that he himself viewed Russia as much more than a mere supplier of energy. "We have to develop our relations in all areas with Russia," he said.
Yanukovych was scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, and members of Congress.