Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Day of Remembrance

On October 30, 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin paid his respects to millions of people killed under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and called for the country to unite to prevent a repeat of its tragic past.

Putin marked Russia's annual day of remembrance for the victims of Stalin's purges with a visit to Butovo, a military training ground near Moscow where tens of thousands of people were executed by firing squads.

The victims included priests and royalists but also huge numbers of people who were simply caught up in an indiscriminate spiral of killing.

This year Russia marks the 70th anniversary of the bloodiest period of the purges.
Putin attended a memorial service with Patriarch Alexiy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, after passing a field of mass graves.

It is estimated that between 20 million and 40 million died during Stalin's rule, tearing families apart and creating a climate of fear that haunted the Soviet Union.

Dozens of mainly older Russians laid flowers at a stone memorial outside the headquarters of the former KGB (now known as the Federal Security Service) to remember Stalin's victims.
Stalin, who succeeded Vladimir Lenin, started a series of purges in the 1930s that became known as the Great Terror.

The NKVD security service, the predecessor to the KGB, killed hundreds of thousands of people on trumped up charges.
Butovo was just one of hundreds of killing grounds. More than 20,000 people are known to have been executed there between August 1937 and October 1938 alone, though local priests say the figure could be as high as 60,000.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dancing With Missiles

In a joint declaration dated October 28, 2007, Russia and the United States urged all nations to destroy medium range missiles with nuclear capability.

The statement was released to coincide with the 62nd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on October 25.

Russia has been pressing the U.S to rewrite what is commonly referred to as the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), by including countries other than ex-Soviet nations and the United States.

The treaty, signed by Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in December 1987, was a milestone in arms control which lead to the destruction of a total of 2,692 missiles.

The joint statement called for the destruction of ground launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km.

Earlier in the month, Russian President Vladimir Putin told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Russia would find it difficult to stay in the INF unless it was expanded to include other countries' armaments.

His comments were backed up by a warning from Russia's rocket forces commander on Friday that the Kremlin could resume production of missiles if others do not observe the treaty.

Countries such as India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan have commenced the construction of intermediate range missiles. Even though some, if not all, of these nations have nuclear capability, one of them is subject to the constraints of the INF treaty.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Petroleum World

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Is America Using Iran In A Dangerous Game With Russia?

On October 25, 2007, the Bush administration announced sweeping new sanctions against Iran. These are the harshest since the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in 1979 as part of the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini. America claims that Tehran supports terrorism in the Middle East, exports missiles and is engaging in a nuclear build up.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, joined at a State Department news conference by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, said the moves against Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, an element of its defense ministry and three of its largest banks are designed to punish Tehran for weapons proliferation and alleged support of terrorist organizations in Iraq and the Middle East.

The sanctions will cut off more than 20 Iranian entities, including individuals and companies owned or controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), from the American financial system and will likely have ripple effects throughout the international banking community.

State-owned banks Bank Melli, Bank Mellat and Bank Saderat were named supporters of global terrorist groups for their activities in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East.

Iran's Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics were designated proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile technology.

The IRGC is the largest component of Iran's military and has influence in business and other spheres. The defense ministry entity is the parent organization for Iran's aerospace and ballistic missile operations.

The Revolutionary Guards organization, formed to safeguard Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, has pushed well beyond its military roots, and now owns car factories and construction firms and operates newspaper groups and oil fields.

Current and former members now hold a growing role across the country's government and economy, sometimes openly and other times in shadows.

The guards have gained a particularly big role in the country's oil and gas industry in recent years, as the national oil company has signed several contracts with a guards-operated construction company. Some have been announced publicly, including a $2 billion deal in 2006 to develop part of the important Pars gas field.

Now numbering about 125,000 members, they report directly to the supreme leader and officially handle internal security. The small Quds Force wing is thought to operate overseas, having helped to create the militant Hezbollah group in 1982 in Lebanon and to arm Bosnian Muslims during the Balkan wars.

The administration accuses the Quds Force of sending fighters and deadly roadside bombs, mortars and rockets to kill American troops in Iraq in recent years — allegations that Iran denies.

These sanctions come in the wake of a strong show of support of Iran by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia and the US are at odds over a system to defend against Iranian missile attacks. The US wants the system based in Poland and the Czech Republic, Russia wants it in Azerbaijan, and does not appear to be as convinced as the US as to why it is needed. Putin has also encouraged oil producing nations such as Iran to bolster their militaries against possible US aggression.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Putin Denies Iranian Missile Threat

On October 23, 2007, President Bush announced a missile defense system in based in Europe, but supervised by the United States, is urgently needed to counter an emerging threat of attack by Iran.

Bush's latest warning about Iran's nuclear ambitions came as part of a broad defense of his security policies at the National Defense University and not long after Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a news conference in the Czech Republic that the administration might delay activating the proposed missile defense sites until it is able to quantify the risk posed by Iranian missiles.

Bush's warning about Iran was contradicted by Russian Foreign Minster Sergey Lavrov during a visit to Tokyo. Lavrov supposedly told Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura that North Korea poses a threat, but that Iran does not.

Bush spoke somewhat positively of President Vladimir Putin's offer of facilities for this purpose in Azerbaijan and southern Russia. The idea would be to replace the U.S. plans for missiles based in Poland and a radar facility in the Czech Republic.

The proposal has already been presented to the Russians, who strongly oppose having U.S. missile defense bases in Europe but have expressed interest in the proposal Gates mentioned Tuesday, which Gates said has yet to be worked out in detail. At a news conference after meeting Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, Gates said in Prague that the United States would proceed with current plans to build the sites in Europe but possibly wait before putting them in working order. The United States wants to build a missile interceptor base in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic, but details have yet to be negotiated.

It is not known what role, if any, Alexandria, VA-based Rannoch would play in the deployment of this system. Some question Rannoch’s overall competence in this area, as the majority of their senior management team have backgrounds in commercial software systems purchased from other companies. Rannoch’s management team has been very active in the Czech Republic, and this activity may be connected to the deployment of this system.

A good deal of the disagreement between Washington and Moscow over missile defense in Europe has centered on the question of when Iran's missile program would reach the stage where it could threaten all of Europe and the United States. The Russians say that is a far-distant prospect; the Americans say it is coming soon.

Gates described a related proposal to the Russians that might mean permitting a Russian presence at U.S. missile defense bases, including at the Polish and Czech sites. He said this was presented to the Russians in the interest of making as transparent as possible to Moscow how the missile defense sites operate.

The Pentagon wants to install 10 interceptor rockets in Poland which, when linked to a proposed tracking radar in the Czech Republic and to other elements of the existing U.S. missile defense system based in the United States, could defend all of Europe against a long-range missile fired from the Middle East.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Kyrgyzstan Update

Kyrgyzstan’s President Kurmanbek Bakiyev dissolved parliament on October 22, 2007, moving to strengthen his control after voters overwhelmingly approved constitutional changes that his critics called a grab for power.

Bakiyev’s move was part of his latest battle with lawmakers, a dispute that has persisted in the Central Asian country of 5 million since a popular uprising ousted its longtime leader in 2005.

The confrontation has hindered efforts to reduce poverty and social problems in the strategically important country, which hosts a U.S. air base as well as a growing Russian military base.

Parliament passed two sets of constitutional changes last year curtailing the president's powers. But lawmakers reversed them a month later after Bakiyev threatened to dissolve the legislature, returning to the president the authority to form the Cabinet. There were no immediate signs, however, that Bakiyev's moves would bring opposition protesters into the streets, as during previous disputes.

The last major anti-government protest in the capital, Bishkek, took place in April, and it was forcibly dispersed.
The president's office called on law enforcement agencies Monday to ensure public calm. But in his address, Bakiyev said that no emergency measures would be put in place. Kyrgyzstan has been troubled by political tension since Askar Akayev was ousted from the presidency by opposition protesters in 2005 and fled to Russia.

It was claims of fraud in the election of the current parliament that sparked the protests that brought Bakiyev to power.
Since then, the former opposition forces that were instrumental in Akayev's removal have battled each other for influence. Former parliament Speaker Marat Sultanov said that, under the newly approved constitution, elections should be held around mid-December.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Kyrgyzstan's "Tulip Revolution"

The Tulip Revolution refers to the overthrow of President Askar Akayev and his government in the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan after the parliamentary elections of February 27 and of March 13, 2005.

The revolution sought the end of rule by Akayev and by his family and associates, who in popular opinion had become increasingly corrupt and authoritarian. Following the revolution, Akayev fled the country.

In the early stages of the revolution, the media variously referred to the unrest as the "Pink," "Lemon", "Silk", "Daffodil", or "Sandpaper" Revolution. But it was "Tulip Revolution," a term that Akayev himself used in a speech warning that no such Color Revolution should happen in Kyrgyzstan, which stuck in the end.

Such terms evoked similarities with the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, whose names are a tribute to the Czech/Slovak Velvet Revolution.

Kyrgyzstan held a presidential election on 10 July 2005. It saw a landslide victory for acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who had been serving as the head of an interim government after the collapse of the Akayev regime.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Russia Will Defend Its Oil

Russian President Vladimir Putin, responding to questions on a TV broadcast on October 18, 2007, continued his recent criticism of the United States.

Putin suggested that the U.S. military campaign in Iraq may have been attempt to seize its oil reserves. He said that resource rich countries such as Russia needed to have strong militaries to defend themselves against those who might try to steal their resources.

He also called for the U.S. to announce an exact date for the departure of troops from Iraq.

With respect to his own future, he said that Russia will have a different president next year. This would appear to lay to rest any notions that he would seek both a third term and constitutional crisis, but it was not clear what role he would play in Russia’s new government.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Warnings from the Caspian Summit

On October 16, 2007, Russian president Vladimir Putin met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and implicitly warned the U.S. not to use a former Soviet republic to stage an attack on Iran.

At a summit of the five nations that border the inland Caspian Sea (Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan), Putin said none of the nations' territory should be used by any outside countries for use of military force against any nation in the region. It was am obvious reference to long-standing rumors that the U.S. has planned to use Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic, as a staging ground for any possible military action against Iran.

Putin, whose trip to Tehran is the first by a Kremlin leader since World War II, also warned that energy pipeline projects crossing the Caspian could only be implemented if all five nations that border the Caspian support them. The legal status of the Caspian — believed to contain the world's third-largest energy reserves — has been uncertain since the 1991 Soviet collapse, leading to tension and conflicting claims to seabed oil deposits. Iran, which shared the Caspian's resources with the Soviet Union, insists that each coastal nation receive an equal portion of the seabed. Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan want the division based on the length of each nation's shoreline, giving Iran a smaller share.

Putin's visit took place despite warnings of a possible assassination plot and amid hopes that personal diplomacy could help offer a solution to an international standoff on Iran's nuclear program. Putin's trip was thrown into doubt when the Kremlin said Sunday that he had been informed by Russian intelligence services that suicide attackers might try to kill him in Tehran, but he ignored the warning.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini dismissed reports about the purported assassination plot as disinformation spread by adversaries hoping to damage the good relations between Russia and Iran.

Putin has warned the U.S. and other nations against trying to coerce Iran into reining in its nuclear program and insists peaceful dialogue is the only way to deal with Iranian defiance of a U.N. Security Council demand that it suspend uranium enrichment.

Iran's rejection of the council's demand and its previous clandestine atomic work has fed suspicions in the U.S. and other countries that Tehran is working to enrich uranium to a purity usable in nuclear weapons. Iran insists it is only wants less enriched uranium to fuel nuclear reactors that would generate electricity. Putin's visit to Tehran is being closely watched for any possible shifts in Russia's carefully hedged stance in the nuclear standoff.

Even though Russia has shielded Tehran from a U.S. push for a third round of U.N. sanctions, Iran has voiced annoyance about Moscow's delays in building a nuclear power plant in the southern port of Bushehr under a $1 billion contract.

Moscow also has ignored Iranian demands to ship fuel for the plant, saying it would be delivered only six months before the Bushehr plant goes on line. The launch date has been delayed indefinitely amid the payment dispute. Any sign by Putin that Russia could quickly complete the power plant would embolden Iran and further cloud Russia's relations with the West.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What Happened In Tajikistan?

Tajikistan held presidential elections on November 6, 2006. Emomali Sharifovich Rahmonov, the incumbent, and a member of the dominant People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan, was re-elected. Not without controversy, the constitutional provisions that would prevent him from seeking further terms in office have been removed.

In early 2007 various Russian news sources reported that Rahmonov announced that he had changed his last name to Rahmon, dropping the Russian ending -ov, and that he urges other Tajiks to follow his example and return to their cultural and national roots.

Starting on March 20, 2007, official web sites of Tajikistan started using the surname Rahmon.

Rahmon is a Sunni Muslim and has performed the hajj when he went to Mecca on March 1997. He has called for closer ties with other Muslim nations in the region, notably the Persian speaking nations of Iran and Afghanistan.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Missiles on the Moon?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned U.S. officials to reconsider their plan to install missile defenses in eastern Europe. Failure to do so will cause further damage to deteriorating US-Russian relations.

After keeping Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates waiting for nearly thirty minutes, Putin delivered a lengthy monologue in which he also said that Russia may feel compelled to abandon its obligations under a 1987 missile treaty with the United States.

He also seemed to mock the plan, stating that it should be built on the moon.

The Russian government sees the American missile defense plan, which is supposedly a designed to protect against missile attack from Iran, as the first step in an overall plan to weake Russian security.

Rice and Gates appeared taken aback at the firm tone and forcefulness of Putin's remarks, which were made from notes in the presence of American and Russian news media before they began a closed-door meeting around an oval table in an ornate conference room at his country house outside the capital.

On missile defense, Putin was particularly pointed in his remarks, in which he sought to lay out his view of what Rice and Gates should be discussing later Friday with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoli Serdyukov.

"We hope that in the process of such complex and multi-faceted talks you will not be forcing forward your relations with the eastern European countries," the president said. He then made his remark about the possibility of one day putting a missile defense system on the moon.

Shortly before the talks with Putin began, Lavrov strolled into the house's billiards room, where American reporters had gathered, for a cigarette break. He was asked whether he expected any breakthroughs in the talks.

"Breaks, definitely. Through or down, I don't know," he said.

The American plan calls for the construction of 10 missile interceptors in Poland, linked to a missile tracking radar in the Czech Republic. The system will provide some protection in Europe and beyond for long-range missiles launched from Iran, but Russia believes the system is a step toward undermining the deterrent value of its nuclear arsenal. The Russian counterproposal calls for building a system in Azerbaijan, which is much closer to Iran.

Rice told reporters on Thursday on her flight to Moscow that the U.S. would go ahead with the program as planned.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Russia and President Hillary Clinton

Many Russians are predicting a win by Senator Hillary Clinton in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, and they’re worried.

A concern is that her victory will result in stepped-up criticism of Russia's failures in human rights and democratization, thereby increasing friction. The result will be an increased deterioration in US-Russian relations.

They are bad under Bush, but could be much worse under Hillary Clinton.
She may revive the doctrine of her husband, and assume that Russia is to be punished for having lost the Cold War. Another source of trouble will be the increasingly favored status of China. This is due almost entirely to the fact that China serves as a source of cheap labor for low grade consumer goods, with the expectation that the same labor force can eventually be upgraded for the production of more expensive items such as consumer electronics.

Russia could argue that China has human rights issues of its own, and democratization is an utterly foreign concept there. Russia could assert that US policy is being driven by corporate interests, strengthening the position of pro‑Communist factions within Russia.

Another consideration is oil. Russia controls a significant portion of the world's petroleum resources, and the disastrous situation in the Middle East may necessitate a certain level of dependency on Russian oil and gas.

If elected, Senator Hillary Clinton will have two problems with respect to Russia. The first is the foreign policy disaster created by her predecessor, and the second could be biases inherited from her husband. Russia will be undergoing changes, and Clinton must work with things as they are to prevent the development of a significant and dangerous rift between America and Russia.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Is Turkmenistan Neutral?

Turkmenistan’s late President Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov (1940-2006) created a personality cult that will survive him and probably several successors, including Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow. The motto he established: Halk, Watan, Turkmenbashy (One Nation, One People, One Leader) can still be seen everywhere throughout Turkmenistan, from the most remote villages to monuments in the capital of Ashgabat.

Even though Berdimuhammedow has promised various reforms, it seems change is slow to come. The Internet is somewhat more available, but access is by no means widespread. One of the best indicators may be the Tolkuchka (“shoving”) market outside Ashgabat, where people come from all over the country to buy and sell, and the selection of carpets remains nothing if not spectacular. The problem, however, is that all but the smallest carpets require an export certificate, and these are still difficult to come by.

Turkmen Customs officials are friendly and have even been known to offer a traveller a drink of vodka, but they still search luggage looking for one thing in particular: carpets!

Turkmenistan’s future lies in its vast natural resources. Turkmenistan ranks fourth in the world to Russia, the United States, and Canada in natural gas and oil extraction. The Turkmenistan Natural Gas Company (Turkmengaz), under the auspices of the Ministry of Oil and Gas, controls gas extraction in the republic. Gas production is the youngest and most dynamic and promising sector of the national economy. Turkmenistan's gas reserves are estimated at 8.1-8.7 trillion cubic meters and its prospecting potential at 10.5. trillion cubic meters. The Ministry of Oil and Gas oversees exploration of new deposits. Sites under exploration are located in Mary Province, in western and northern Turkmenistan, on the right bank of the Amu Darya, and offshore in the Caspian Sea.
Turkmenistan has always described itself as neutral, but this neutrality may not extend to oil and gas. In April 2003, Niyazov signed a 25-year gas deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin under which Russia gained the right to buy most Turkmen gas starting in January 2007.

In 2006, under the contract, Russia was to buy 7 billion-10 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas.
Then on 29 December, Aleksei Miller of Gazprom signed a new contract in Ashgabat to buy 30 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan in 2006 at $65 per 1,000 cubic meters. The result is a decidedly pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian arrangement. Given Ukraine’s pro-European inclinations, the situation could become quite complex if things do not change.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Happy Birthday Sputnik!

October 4, 1957…

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Kasparov Gambit

Garry Kasparov was born Garri Weinshtain in Baku, Azerbaijan SSR to an Armenian mother and a Jewish father. He first began the serious study of chess after he came across a chess problem set up by his parents and proposed a solution.

His father died when he was seven years old. At the age of twelve, he adopted his mother's Armenian surname, Kasparyan, modifying it to a more Russified version, Kasparov.

Kasparov began to study chess seriously, and developed quickly.

He became world chess champion in 1985, but then broke with the world chess organization, FIDE.

In 2005, Kasparov announced that he would be retiring from serious competitive chess. He cited as the reason a lack of personal goals in the chess world (he commented when winning the Russian championship in 2004 that it had been the last major title he had never won outright) and expressed frustration at the failure to reunify the world championship. Kasparov said he may play in some rapid chess events for fun, but intends to spend more time on his books, including both the My Great Predecessors series and a work on the links between decision-making in chess and in other areas of life, and will continue to involve himself in Russian politics, which he views as "headed down the wrong path."

Kasparov's political involvement started in the 1980s. He joined the CPSU in 1984, and in 1987 was elected to the Central Committee of Komsomol. In 1990, however, he left the party, and in May of that year took part in the creation of the Democratic Party of Russia. In June 1993, Kasparov was involved in the creation of the "Choice of Russia" bloc of parties, and in 1996 he took part in the election campaign of Boris Yeltsin.

In 2001 he voiced his support for the Russian television TV channel NTV.
After his retirement from chess in 2005, Kasparov turned to politics and created the United Civil Front, a social movement whose main goal is to "work to preserve electoral democracy in Russia. Kasparov was instrumental in setting up The Other Russia, a coalition including Kasparov's United Civil Front, Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party, Vladimir Ryzhkov's Russian Republican Party and other organizations which oppose the government of Vladimir Putin.

The Other Russia has been boycotted by the leaders of Russia's democratic opposition parties, Yabloko and Union of Right Forces as they are concerned about the inclusion of radical nationalist and left-wing groups in its ranks, such as the National Bolshevik Party and former members of the Rodina party. However, regional branches of Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces have opted to take part in the coalition.

Kasparov says that leaders of these parties are controlled by Kremlin.
Kasparov helped organize the Saint Petersburg Dissenters' March on March 3, 2007 and The March of the Dissenters on March 24, 2007, both involving several thousand people rallying against Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saint Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko's policies. On April 14, he was briefly arrested by the Moscow police while heading for a demonstration. He was held for some 10 hours, and then fined and released.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Putin's Plan To Retain Power?

On October 1, 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday he would lead the dominant party's ticket in December parliamentary elections and suggested he could become prime minister, the strongest indication yet that he will seek to retain power after he steps down as president early next year.

The Russian constitution prevents Putin ifrom seeking a third consecutive term in the March presidential election, but has strongly indicated he would seek to keep a hand on Russia's reins.

He agreed to head the United Russia party's candidate list in December, which could open the door for him to become a powerful prime minister, leading in tandem with a weak president.

He said that, first, United Russia would have to win the Dec. 2 elections and a "decent, competent, modern person" must be elected president.

Putin's agreement to top the candidate list of United Russia sent an ecstatic cheer though the crowd at a congress of the party, which contains many top officials and dominates the parliament and politics nationwide. The move will likely ensure that United Russia retains a two-thirds majority in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, enough to change the constitution.

The White House took note of Putin's move and said it was ultimately a matter for the Russian people.

Leading the party's ticket does not mean Putin will take a seat in parliament; prominent politicians and other figures often are given the top spots to attract votes, but stay out of the legislature after elections. The 450 seats in the Duma will be distributed proportionally among parties that receive at least 7 percent of the votes.

The popular Putin has repeatedly promised to step down at the end of his second term in May, as the constitution requires, but has suggested he would maintain significant influence. He offered some initial hints at his strategy last month when he named Viktor Zubkov — a previously obscure figure known mainly for his loyalty — as prime minister.

With no power base of his own, Zubkov would likely play his preordained part in any Putin plan. If he became presiodent and Putin prime minister, Zubkov could be expected to cede specific powers to Putin or step down to allow him to return to the presidency. If he becomes prime minister, Putin would be first in line to replace the president if he is incapacitated.

Putin has amassed authority as president, but as he prepares to step down he has been setting up a system of check and balances that would weaken his successor by putting him at the mercy of rival centers of power. By leading the United Russia party list, Putin instantaneously creates the strongest such center, with himself as its head.