|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Hydropower Disaster Shows State of Russian Infrastructure
Aug. 24 (EIRNS)The disaster at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydropower plant in southern Siberia Aug. 17, which killed at least 69 people, is provoking Russia's leadership to demand an overhaul of the national infrastructure. Today, at a conference in Ulan-Ude planned to discuss large industrial projects in Siberia, President Dmitri Medvedev acknowledged that Russia is "seriously backward technologically," Novosti reported. Medvedev rejected what he called the "apocalyptic" statements of some coverage of the disaster, which has shut down the biggest hydroelectric plant in Siberia, source of 15% of all Russian hydropower. Medvedev had to admit, however, that "our country is technologically very far behind. If we fail to overcome this challenge, those threats can become real ... but we've got all it takes to bridge this gap."
The accident, the result of an explosion and flooding of the turbine room, is sharply cutting the electricity supply in the whole region by some 6,000 megawatts. Rusal, the world's biggest aluminum producer, is by far the biggest consumer of electricity.
On Aug. 21, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had told his Cabinet that the "tragic event has how much we need to do to ensure safety of hydropower facilities." He said that "a serious review of all strategic and vitally important infrastructure is required" and the goverment must "work out a plan for their regular upgrade." Reconstruction of the dam will cost at least 40 billion rubles ($1.25 billion), Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said, according to the Moscow Times.
Last year, Russia's huge national power utility, Unified Energy Systems, was disbanded, after its subsidiary companies had been privatized for investment by Western hedge funds and Russian oligarchs. Some of the funds invested were supposed to be spent to repair the Sayano-Shushenskaya Dam.
This disaster was only the most dramatic recent indication of the implosion of the Russian economy. On Aug. 20, the national statistics service, Rosstat, released figures on the first half of 2009. GDP for the entire period was more than 10% less than the same period in 2008, with both agriculture and industry affected. Construction volume was down 20% in June from the year before, and rose only slightly in July, a key month for housing construction. Retail sales fell, reflecting the 0.9% decrease in real wages, with food sales down by 4.5% and non-food buying down more than 11%. Capital investments fell 18.8% in January-July, Rosstat reported, although they had risen 9% in 2008.
Russia's foreign trade turnover fell 44.1%, to the equivalent of $208 billion, and foreign direct investment was down 45% to $6.1 billion, a record collapse since 1999. The Netherlands was the biggest foreign investor, followed by Cyprus and Luxembourg.
LaRouche Alternative Is 'Talk of the Town' on Ru-net
Aug. 26 (EIRNS)Since Lyndon LaRouche's Aug. 1 webcast, during which he replied to a question from a high-ranking Russian diplomat, among others related to Russian, Chinese, and U.S. policies in the global crisis, LaRouche's short-term forecasts, and his Four-Power proposal for joint action by the United States, Russia, China, and India for a new world economic system, have taken a high profile in the Russian-language Internet media.
The Aug. 1 webcast itself immediately became the subject of debate on the prominent economic crisis-watching Internet forum Globalnaya Avantura, under the headline, "LaRouche names some dates," after a participant posted his own summary of LaRouche's discussion of an October blowout of the system and accelerated collapse of the United States. Yesterday, when the LaRouche Political Action Committee's own Russian voiceover of the first 20 minutes of that speech became available on RuTube, it was the third-highest viewer-rated and ninth-most-watched news and politics video of the day.
Also circulating in Russian are two recent articles on the attention being paid in other countries to the LaRouche alternative: the Italian Senate's approval of Sen. Oscar Peterlini's latest resolution for a New Bretton Woods, and William Jones's EIR article on the appreciation of LaRouche published in China Youth Daily, based on their correspondent's interview with LaRouche. These two items have appeared on the Strategium website (Ukraine), the Sarov Top Secret site (Russia), and Natalia Vitrenko's Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine site, among others. News about the Peterlini resolution was also posted by Globalnaya Avantura, the Russian Anti-Globalist Resistance, the Inoforum press-monitoring project, and the popular Alexsword Live Journal blog. Today, Jones' write-up of the China Youth Daily was republished by Netpress.ru, a major web-monitoring portal.
Tony Papert's article on the behaviorist economists, "Degenerates Surround a Nero-like President," from EIR of April 24, generated five pages of discussion, when Inoforum reprinted EIR's own translation of the piece. It has subsequently been republished in two dozen other locations.
NASA Invites Russia for Joint Flight to Mars
Aug. 26 (EIRNS)At an international aviation and space conference in Moscow on Aug. 23, the head of NASA's Moscow office, Marc Bowman, invited Russia to carry out a joint manned flight to Mars. Bowman said the flight should be under the control of NASA and the Russian space agency, but with the participation of international space agencies. However, he said that before a joint flight to Mars could be made, it was necessary to complete the International Space Station (ISS) mission and fly to the Moon to collect essential scientific and technical information. Currently, Russia plans to send a manned mission to the Red Planet on its own.
Once a competitor in space, Russia became a partner of the United States after the Cold War ended. President Bill Clinton sought ways to cement a "strategic alliance for reform" with Russia and President Boris Yeltsin, and in 1993, he invited Russia to join the space station partnership. Today, the ISS represents not only a major step forward in space development, but also the most ambitious experiment in peacetime international scientific and technological cooperation ever attempted.
The Space Station is soon to be completed.