|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Lavrov Welcomes Baker-Hamilton Report, Calls for 'Concert of Leading Nations'
At his year-end press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reviewed what Russia had tried to accomplish during 2006 through bilateral contacts and an array of international organizations. He rejected "information wars," "megaphone rhetoric," and other artefacts of the Cold War. A highlight of the Q&A, was that Lavrov said the just-published Baker-Hamilton report is consistent with what Russia has urged, regarding dialogue with Iran and Syria.
The Russian foreign minister placed great emphasis on initiatives for a cooperative foreign policy, such as the "collective leadership" and "concert of leading nations," recommended in the Contemporary Political Atlas project, recently completed by scholars at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO). The MGIMO project was published in Expert weekly (with a stress on the potential for a new, positive era in U.S.-Russian relations; see EIR, Dec. 8, 2006). The Foreign Ministry's own, first-ever Survey of Russian Foreign Policy drew on the MGIMO study, Lavrov said.
"About 15 years have passed since the end of the Cold War," Lavrov said. "Naturally, one may choose different reference points, but anyway, time has come to decide as to where the international community should move on, while doing away with the legacy of the Cold War. That legacy has not been totally removed from our life, including political and psychological beliefs, prejudice and stereotypes.... We would like our partners to see a strong Russia that has regained confidence not as a challenge, but as a chance to develop large-scale and mutually beneficial international cooperation....
"We realize that there are those who are surprised, perhaps even unpleasantly surprised, to see this rapid revival of Russia, restoration of its abilities as one of the leading countries." Criticism, if well-founded, will be accepted by Russia, Lavrov added, "but if such criticism, especially if timed to coincide with Russian President Putin's visits, floods newspaper pages, TV screens, that is, when attempts are being made to convey that criticism to us using loudspeakers and microphones, first, anyway, we listen to what is said and we try to understand if there is something concrete in that criticism. But we also get the impression, which it is impossible to avoid, that the main goal is not helping Russia to mend certain things the West is concerned about, but the main goal is swaying the domestic audiences in this or that Western country or trying to drive Russia out of balance."
Concerning the situation in Southwest Asia, Lavrov endorsed direct talks between the leaders of Israel and Palestine, saying that Russia thinks it "very important that such a meeting should take place.... All the nations that have an influence on the current situation one way or another should be involved in this process. It is symptomatic in this context that the report of the Baker-Hamilton commission mentions the need to involve Iran and Syria in dialogue. We have talked about that for a long time. Generally, the problems of the region should be resolved through involving everyone in negotiations rather than through isolation. I think that any attempt to isolate anyone in the region, be it a country or a political force within a country, is one of the main obstacles to the resumption of the peace process."
The latest Russian diplomatic initiatives for Southwest Asia are reported in the Southwest Asia Digest of this issue of EIR Online.
Putin Visit to Kiev Marks Rapprochement
Though frictions between Moscow and Kiev have not vanished, and Ukraine, especially, remains in the grips of a power struggle between President Victor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych, the Dec. 22 visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin was marked by a visible rapprochement of the two countries. Yushchenko spoke about losing the illusion that the West would treat Ukraine as an equal partner, and affirmed that there was no alternative to Ukrainian-Russian cooperation and strategic relationship.
Yushchenko welcomed Russia's offer to sell more natural gas to Ukraine, for domestic consumption and transshipment to other parts of Europe. Yushchenko also reaffirmed that the existing agreement on Russian use of the naval base at Sevastopol will stay in place until 2017. Putin spoke about resumed industrial cooperation with Ukraine, especially in the engineering, aviation, energy, and transportation sectors, which he called "vital for the people of our two countries." The decision to resume joint production of the Antonov-124 large transport aircraft, after 15 years, is perhaps the most spectacular example of improvement in this area. Putin said he was optimistic that remaining problems can be overcome in a constructive way, calling recent improvements in economic relations "largely the merit of the Ukrainian government," which Yanukovych heads.
Russian Development Bank Takes Shape
The Dec. 14 meeting of the Russian government focussed on the transformation of the state-owned Vneshekonombank and two other state-dominated financial institutions into a single Development Bank, with initial capital of 70 billion rubles (about $2.69 billion). The project for a Development Bank was put on the agenda by the Yevgeni Primakov government in 1998-99, but it languished after Primakov's ouster (under international crisis conditions around the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia).
On Dec. 14, current Premier Mikhail Fradkov announced his intention to elevate both the financial and political roles of the new bank, whose supervisory board he will chair. The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade projects a doubling of the capitalization within a year, including by the incorporation of budget funds that had been earmarked for servicing Russia's Paris Club debt, which was paid off last year. The Development Bank will have significant tax exemptions.
Putin: Far East Development Is National Security Priority
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the creation of a commission for a "comprehensive strategy of development of the Far East" of Russia. The region is rapidly becoming depopulated as the disastrous economic conditionsno work, no power, often, even in Vladivostok, no waterget worse. Now, fewer than 6.7 million people live in this vast region, making it one of the least-populated regions of the entire world. Population has fallen 15% over 15 years. Putin told a session of his Security Council, meeting Dec. 20, that the decline in population, failure to integrate the Far East into national economic, information, and transportation networks, and neglect of the region's "natural competitive advantages, such as its transit corridors," all combined to "pose a grave threat to our political and economic positions in Asia and the Pacific, and, without any exaggeration, to the national security of Russia."
Putin said that a "higher coordination of efforts at all levels of authority, local self-rule, federal and regional bodies of authority," would be a decisive factor for the region. Federal and regional authorities have to elaborate "a clear and realistic line of behavior; this is about a comprehensive strategy of development of the Far East." The "ultimate goal of our efforts is not the resolution of specific, even though very important economic tasks, but the creation of decent conditions of the life and work of citizens," Putin said. "All our plans should be oriented towards the Far East becoming a comfortable, attractive place for the life of people, and for this reason everything is importantthe resolution of the housing problem and gasification and a developed sphere of medical, cultural and sport services."
"The task of attracting and settling in the Far East of the work age population should be solved first of all on the basis of implementing major economic projects and of creating new jobs in the region," Putin said. The project would require effective "use of appropriated funds and large-scale commitment of extra budgetary sources for development of the Far East."
Turkmenistan's President Dies; Successor Named
The death of President Saparmurat Niyazov, at age 66, was announced Dec. 21 in Turkmenistan. His rule dates back to 1985, when he headed the Central Asian Republic's Communist Party, within the Soviet Union. While coverage will focus on Niyazov's (indeed lavish) personality cult, the future of Turkmenistan and its 5 million people is important for all Eurasia. The country has the world's fifth-largest natural gas reserves, which are transported to foreign customers via Russia; Turkmenistan's natural gas has figured in major deals, like this year's settlement of the Russia-Ukraine gas crisis. While remaining a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Turkmenistan, so far, has not participated in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) with other Central Asian countries and Russia, nor in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Turkmenistan has cooperative relations with Iran, including on infrastructure projects like the Eurasian land-bridge rail hook-up a decade ago.
Turkmenistan's Security Council named Deputy Prime Minister Kurbanguli Berdymukhamedov as acting president, raising questions in the Parliament, whose speaker, Overzgeldy Atayev, was slated to become acting head of state under the Constitution.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov voiced hope that the power transfer would take place in a lawful way and that the two nations would maintain their relations. Also speaking out on the change was former Defense Ministry official Gen. Leonid Ivashov, who emphasized the Eurasian orientation as key for Russia. In the absence of any strong successor to Niyazov, Ivashov told Interfax, Turkmenistan will seek alliances with its neighbors; thus Russia has "an opportunity to become a major strategic partner of Turkmenistan," including through arms sales. "If Russia chooses a passive role," Ivashov warned, "it may further weaken its position.... It is known that Turkey and the United States are making vigorous attempts to pursue their interests in Turkmenistan, primarily its oil and gas sector."
Kyrgyzstan Seeks Review of Relations with USA
The government of Kyrgyzstan, in Central Asia, resigned Dec. 21. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Felix Kulov, but said the present cabinet should govern until a new government is formed. There has been a months-long fight between Bakiyev and members of the opposition, who in November, through street demonstrations resembling a replay of the "Tulip Revolution" through which Bakiyev and Kulov came to power a year and a half ago, forced constitutional changes to reduce the President's powers, in favor of Parliament.
At the same time, both Bakiyev and the Parliament have been pushing for thorough review of relations with the U.S.A., which rents the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan. (Russia leases another base, at Kant.) Anger at the U.S.A. surged in September, after a U.S. fuel transport plane crashed into a civilian airliner at Manas, and again recently, due to the shooting of a Russian-ethnic Kyrgyzstan citizen, a fuel-truck driver who was shot by a U.S. serviceman while detained at the base for security checks. Kyrgyz media accuse the U.S. forces of drug-running, while the Parliament on Dec. 15 adopted a resolution, calling on the government to review the 2001 agreement on the status of U.S. forces in Kyrgyzstan, as well as whether the U.S. should have the Manas Air Base at all. On Dec. 18, Bakiyev said on national TV, that he had instructed the Foreign Ministry to amend the diplomatic immunity, extended to U.S. troops.