Sunday, September 30, 2007

Profile: Dmitrii Anatolevich Medvedev

Dmitrii Anatolevich Medvedev, born September 14, 1965 in Leningrad), is a Russian politician and businessman. He was appointed first deputy prime minister of the Russian government on November 14, 2005. Formerly Vladimir Putin's chief of staff, he is also the chairman of Gazprom's board of directors, a post he has held for the second time since 2000.

Medvedev graduated from the Law Department of Leningrad State University in 1987 (together with Ilya Yeliseyev, Anton Ivanov, Nikolay Vinnichenko and Konstantin Chuychenko) and in 1990 got his PhD in private law from the same university. In 1990 he worked in Leningrad Municipal Soviet of People's Deputies. Between 1991 and 1999 he worked as a docent in Saint Petersburg State University. In 1991 - 1996 Medvedev also worked as a legal expert for the Committee for External Relations of the Saint Petersburg Mayor's Office under Vladimir Putin.

In November 1993, Medvedev became the legal affairs director of Ilim Pulp Enterprise, a St. Petersburg-based timber company. In 1998, he was elected a member of the board of directors of the Bratskiy LPK paper mill. He worked for Ilim Pulp until 1999.

In November of 1999 he became one of several St. Petersburgers brought by Vladimir Putin to top government positions in Moscow. In December of the same year he was appointed deputy head of presidential staff.

Dmitrii Medvedev became one of the politicians closest to President Putin and during the 2000 elections when he was head of the presidential election campaign headquarters. From 2000 to 2001, Medvedev was chair of Gazprom's board of directors. He was then deputy chair from 2001 to 2002. In June of 2002, Medvedev became chair of Gazprom board of directors for a second time. In October 2003, he replaced Alexander Voloshin as a presidential chief of staff. In November 2005, he was appointed by President Vladimir Putin as First Deputy Prime Minister, First Deputy Chairman of the Council for Implementation of the Priority National Projects attached to the President of the Russian Federation, and Chairman of the Council's Presidium.

Dmitrii Medvedev is considered as a moderate liberal pragmatic, able administrator and loyalist of Putin. Following his appointment as First Deputy Prime Minister, some political observers still expect him to be nominated as Putin's successor for the 2008 presidential elections, despite Putin’s appointment of Viktor Zubkov as prime minister in September of 2007.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Kazakhstan: Elections in 2012

Nursultan Abishuly (Abishevich) Nazarbayev was born on July 6, 1940 in Chemolgan, Kazakh SSR, Soviet Union has served as the President of Kazakhstan since the Fall of the Soviet Union and the nation's independence in 1991.

In 1984 Nazarbayev became the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, working under Dinmukhamed Kunayev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan He served as First Secretary of the Kazakh Communist Party from 1989 to 1991. While previously having atheistic views in the Soviet era, Nazarbayev has exerted effort to highlight his Muslim heritage by going on hajj, supporting mosque renovations, and at the same time attempting to combat Islamic terrorism in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan's president is elected by the people and serves for at most two five-year terms. Term limits were removed for the incumbent Nursultan Nazarbayev on May 18, 2007, when parliament also voted to reduce the term length from seven to five years. This, however, does not come into effect until the next Kazakh election in 2012.

Nazarbayev has been called one of "ultimate oligarchs" of the post-Soviet Central Asian states. He is believed to have transferred at least $1 billion worth of oil revenues to his private bank accounts in other countries and his family controls many other key enterprises in Kazakhstan. He is also said to have benefitted financially from his "special relations" with Kazakh-Israeli billionaire Alexander Mashkevich, who, as of 2004, was believed to control as much as one-fourth of Kazakhstan's economy.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What If Gazprom Becomes A Russian National Asset?

Gazprom is the largest Russian company and the biggest extractor of natural gas in the world.

With sales of US$ 31 billion in 2004, it accounts for about 93% of Russian natural gas production and with reserves of 28,800 km3, it controls 16% of the world's gas reserves.
After acquisition of the oil company Sibneft, Gazprom, with 119 billion barrels of reserves, ranks behind only Saudi Arabia, with 263 billion barrels, and Iran, with 133 billion barrels, as the world's biggest owner of oil and oil equivalent in natural gas.

By the end of 2004 Gazprom was the sole gas supplier to at least Bosnia-Herzegovina, Estonia, Finland, Macedonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Slovakia, and provided 97 percent of Bulgaria's gas, 89 percent of Hungary's, 86 percent of Poland's, nearly three-quarters of the Czech Republic's, 67 percent of Turkey's, 65 percent of Austria's, about 40 percent of Romania's, 36 percent of Germany's, 27 percent of Italy's, and 25 percent of France's. The European Union gets about 25% of its gas supplies from this company.

On July 4, 2007 the Russian State Duma passed a bill giving Gazprom and Transneft the authority to create their own security forces with greater powers than other private security firms. Gennady Gudkov, a deputy in the State Duma who opposed the bill, raised concerns by calling it a “Pandora’s box... This law envisages the creation of corporate armies. If we pass this law, we will all become servants of Gazprom and Transneft.” If Communist Party proposals for renationallization of certain assets are realized, Gudkov’s concern may be part of a larger issue as the newly formed security forces would have to be re-integrated with existing Russian security forces.

In June 2007, TNK-BP, a subsidiary of BP Plc agreed to sell its stake in Kovykta field in Siberia to Gazprom after the Russian authorities questioned BP's right to export the gas to markets outside Russia. On June 23, 2007, the governments of Russia and Italy signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on a joint venture between Gazprom and Eni SpA to construct a 558-mile (900 km) long gas pipeline to carry 1.05 Tcf (30 billion cubic meters) of gas per year from Russia to Europe.

The South Stream pipeline would extend under the Black Sea to Bulgaria with a south fork extending to Italy and a north fork to Hungary.
Following the alleged violation of previous agreements and the failure of negotiations, on August 1, 2007 Gazprom announced that it would cut gas supplies to Belarus by 45% from August 3 over a $456 million debt. Talks are continuing and Belarus has asked for more time to pay. Although the revived dispute is not expected to hit supplies to Europe, the European Commission is said to view the situation “very seriously.”

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Meanwhile, In Uzbekistan…

Uzbek election commissioner Mirzo-Ulugbek Abdulsalomov announced that the country will hold a presidential election December 23, 2007.

The announcement ended months of speculation over whether an election would actually take place by the end of the year, as required by Uzbek law.

The question hanging over the former Soviet state - whether President Islam Karimov would seek another seven-year term - was left unanswered.
Karimov was born in Samarkand, Uzbek SSR, Soviet Union.

He is half-Uzbek, on his father's side, and half-Tajik on his mother's side. He grew up in a Soviet state orphanage. Later he studied engineering and economics in Tashkent.

Karimov’s daughter, Gulnara, not only serves as Uzbekistan’s ambassador to Russia, but also manages the majority of the family’s business interests. The Karimov family holdings include the largest wireless telephone operator in the country, night clubs, and a large cement factory.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Russian Cabinet Changes

Russian President Vladimir Putin made few changes to his cabinet on September 24, 2007.

Possibly the largest change was giving Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin the additional post of deputy prime minister.

The biggest casualty was Economy Minister German Gref (photo), who was one of three ministers who lost their posts. The others were Health and Social Affairs Minister Mikhail Zurabov and Regional Development Minister Vladimir Yakovlev.

Gref was replaced by his own deputy, 44-year-old Elvira Nabiulina. Tatyana Golikova, previously deputy finance minister, was given the health and social affairs portfolio.

First Deputy Prime Ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medevedev -- named by analysts as possible successors to Putin when he steps down in 2008 -- retained their posts, as did deputy prime ministers Sergei Naryshkin and Alexander Zhukov.

Despite earlier speculation to the contrary, Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeev retained his position.

The cabinet changes were made after Putin sacked Mikhail Fradkov and named Zubkov, who headed Russia's fight against money laundering, as prime minister in his place.

As part of the changes, Putin brought Dmitry Kozak, a close ally who had been working in the presidential administration, into the government as the new regional development minister.

Putin kept Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov in his post, turning down the resignation he had submitted previously. Serdyukov had asked to leave the government on the grounds that the fact he is Zubkov's son-in-law was a potential conflict of interest.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Communists Speak Out

On September 22, 2007, Russia's Communist party vowed to re-nationalise "strategic" industries as opponents of President Vladimir Putin on the left and right set out their pre-election stalls.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov kicked off the party's annual congress at a farming village outside Moscow with an indictment of Putin's rule and a promise to restore some methods from the Soviet past.

Since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, "wild, bandit capitalism has been established," Zyuganov declared from a podium featuring a statue of the Soviet Union's founder, Vladimir Lenin.

Outlining plans to re-nationalise key industries and reunite Russia with ex-Soviet neighbours Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, Zyuganov said that stability had been achieved for just five percent of the population under a government of "bureaucrats, oligarchs and bandits."

The event was one of two taking place over the weekend ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections and followed the surprise appointment of new Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov earlier this month.

The Communist party, which was due to approve candidates for December's election Saturday, has remained a significant grouping, regularly getting its views across in the pro-government media.

A host of theories have emerged about next year's handover, with some suspecting that Putin could remain as the power behind the throne, perhaps becoming leader of the pro-Kremlin United Russian party, or that he will install a weak figurehead so as to return as president later.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Alexei Gordeev: In Or Out?

Alexei Gordeev and Vladimir Putin have two things in common: a love of all things German and an interest in martial arts.

Gordeev, as Minister of Agriculture, oversees FKP SOYUZPLODOIMPORT, which manages trademarks of various Russian food and beverage products. FKP SOYUZPLODOIMPORT is managed by Gordeev's friend and former Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Vladimir Loginov.

One of these products is Stolichnaya vodka. FKP SOYUZPLODOIMPORT is involved in litigation with SPI INTERNATIONAL over the distribution rights. This ligitation has been costly and not always successful.

Even though Gordeev's position seems secure for now, his long term viability may depend on Loginov's ability to maintain the profitability of FKP SOYUZPLODOIMPORT's vodka sales.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Change is Inevitable!

On September 12, 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin named Viktor Zubkov (see photograph) as the new prime minister. Zubkov has headed Russia's fight against money laundering, and, like Putin, has a background with the KGB and FSB.