|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Russian Government Warns About Iran Attack Threat
Andrei Denisov, First Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, confirmed April 3 that the Russian leadership is taking deadly seriously the live threat of a U.S.-led attack on Iran. Underscoring that Moscow considers that threat as directly affecting its own strategic interests, Denisov warned that "any military action near our borders is absolutely impermissible."
There continues to be tremendous publicity in Russia around warnings of an imminent attack on Iran. In one version, the attack is code-named "Operation Bite" and would have been slated for Good Friday, April 6. Former Russian Defense Ministry official Gen. Leonid Ivashov, in several late-March statements, voiced concern that nuclear weapons will be used.
RIA Novosti reported April 3 that Denisov said Russia would "do everything necessary, to prevent military action against Iran." Asked if there are concerns that the U.S.A. will attack Iran, Denisov replied, "Of course there are." He said that Russia's stand on this question is "decisive and tough," but that Moscow wants "common sense" to prevail. Denisov said that he had no information on a scenario with a specific date: "Our partners state that the deployment of various military forces in the Persian Gulf area is part of a planned rotation.... Our premise is that it will be possible to preserve the peace."
Following Denisov's remarks, Russian media headlines ranged from "White House Categorically Denies USA Will Attack Iran This Friday," to "USA May Attack Iran." Also on April 3, Chief of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky said that the USA should think twice before launching a military campaign against Iran, which would have global implications. "Inflicting damage on Iran's military and industrial potential might be realistic, but winning [the war] is unachievableits reverberations would be heard across the world," he warned.
Lavrov Calls for Missile Defense Cooperation
Speaking at the Yerevan University in Armenia on April 4, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for a joint assessment of potential missile threats by the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Russia, and NATO. "Any unilateral moves in the sphere of missile defense should be seen as attempts to split Europe," said Lavrov. Once again expressing grave concern over U.S plans to deploy elements of the missile shield in Central Europe (the Czech Republic and Poland), Lavrov said, "we agree that we need a thorough and joint assessment of technological, strategic, and political issues related to European missile defense." The U.S. and Russian Presidents had discussed the issue by phone on March 28.
A senior Russian military source elaborated to EIR, "We were the first ones to propose a joint program many years ago [a reference to the "Trust" proposal in 1993, for joint U.S.-Russian development of anti-missile systems using new physical principles]. Radars can be very sophisticated instruments. If you place them right on our border, we will naturally wonder what purpose they might have. We have clear coverage of Iranian airspace with our own radar systems. Why not use these systems, if that is what you are worried about? It would cost you billions, instead of tens of billions that the U.S. will spend in building new systems."
Russia Aims for 20% of World Nuclear Plant Market
"In the next 30 years, the world is to build 300-600 gigawatts of new nuclear generating capacity, and Russia plans to have 20% of this market," said Rosatom director Sergei Kiriyenko, speaking to a Russian energy forum on April 5. Russia is building a vertically integrated company, Atomprom, to operate in the civilian nuclear industry and "compete with the world's leading nuclear power plant builders," he said. Russia's Atomstroyexport is already involved in the construction of a total of seven nuclear units in China, India, Bulgaria, and Iran. It has a new agreement this year to build four more reactors at Kudankulam in India, and is in discussions with Kazakstan on nuclear fuel production and the possibility of building a plant at Balkhash. Russian President Vladimir Putin will go to Kazakstan in May, and this will be on the agenda.
France's Alstom and Russia's Atomenergomash signed a joint venture April 2 on cooperation in manufacturing equipment for nuclear power plants. The base of the joint venture is the machine-building firm ZIO Podolsk near Moscow. The agreement is of particular importance for the modernization of existing Soviet-era power plants in all of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, as well as future power plant construction in other countries, such as China, India, African countries, maybe also Saudi Arabia, and Iran. It cannot be ruled out that the joint venture will become relevant also for numerous Ibero-American countries where Russian economic diplomacy has been active recently.
Kremlin Focus on Space Exploration
On March 30, President Putin took his State Council to Kaluga, birthplace of Russian space pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, to discuss the future of the Russian space program. This year marks the 150th anniversary of Tsiolkovsky's birth and the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sergei Korolyov, father of the Soviet space program. They discussed Russia's currently orbiting satellites, as well as the manufacture of space hardware, future research, and financing. This occurred just days after the visit to Russia by Chinese President Hu Jintao, at which a landmark joint Mars program was discussed. The Krunichev State Research and Production Center announced April 3 that China will be Russia's partner in space exploration, with robotic expeditions planned to Mars and one of its moons. Krunichev is the predominant design and manufacturing facility for the Russian space program.
A Russian diplomatic source reported that Russian interest in the Chinese program has increased, with the diminishing returns on the International Space Station, in which the U.S. seems to have lost interest. Russia has tried to integrate its space program with that of the United States, the source said, but with U.S. space efforts being increasingly defense-oriented, Russia has turned more to the Chinese. "We have the capability to put a man on the Moon," the official said, "and the Chinese have the money to pay for it."
Russian Pipeline Projects Change Caspian/Black Sea Geopolitics
Anxiety is one reaction to the new possibilities for energy trade, opened up by Russia's latest round of pipeline diplomacy around the Black Sea and Caspian Sea areas. Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation gave voice to it in a March 22 commentary, published on the Russia Profile website, in which he noted Hungary's recent interest in the extension of Russia's Blue Stream gas pipeline, which goes under the Black Sea to Turkey, back northwards to join the long-planned Nabucco gas pipeline network from Turkey into Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Austria.
Secondly, Cohen drew out the implications of the recent agreement among Russia, Bulgaria, and Greece, to build an oil pipeline from Burgas, on Bulgaria's Black Sea coast, to Greece's Alexandroupolis on the Aegean (280 km). The Burgas-Alexandroplouis line will not only bypass the Bosphorus, but represents an alternate route for the export of oil from the Tenghiz fields in western Kazakstan. Instead of the long-nourished scheme of piping Kazakstan's oil under the Caspian to Baku, thence into the Baku-Ceyhan (Turkey) pipeline, avoiding Russia, the Tenghiz oil may now go into Russia to the latter's main oil-export terminal at Novorossiysk, then be shipped by tanker across the Black Sea to Burgas, and exported through the new pipeline. Wrote Cohen, "The Russian state is pursuing a comprehensive strategy that masterfully integrates geopolitics and geo-economics."
In the March 23 Asia Times, M.K. Bhadrakumar commented on Burgas-Alexandropoulis, "The readiness of the two allies of the U.S. [Bulgaria and Greece] not to pay heed to Washington's demarche, and instead to proceed to cooperate with Russia, reveals that the U.S. agenda of evolving a Euro-Atlantic approach to the energy dialogue with Russia is not a fait accompli.... Russia is positioning itself through the Burgas-Alexandroupolis project as a major supplier of energy for the countries of southeastern Europe." What's more, "The Russian project frustrates the U.S. attempt to dictate the primacy of the [Baku-Ceyhan pipeline] as the key transportation route for Caspian oil to the Western market.... [Also] Russia intends to make the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline a virtual extension of the main 1,510 km Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) [pipeline] that already connects the oilfields in western Kazakhstan with the oil terminal at Novorossiysk."
Another dimension of current pipeline projects emerged April 3, when representatives of Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, and Romania met in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, to sign an agreement on a new 1850 km oil pipeline from the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta, to those countries. At Trieste on the Adriatic Sea, the oil will be shipped via an existing pipeline to Germany. Spurs will service Austria, Slovakia, Czechia, and Hungary. The oil for the new pipeline will come from Caspian Sea sources, mostly Kazakstan, and from Russia, delivered through the new Burgas-Alexandropoulis pipeline.