Weekly News #11
Wouldn’t you know it? I spend hours slaving over a hot computer to bring you the very latest news from Russia and its near abroad, and what happens? Instead of publishing it to the site, I save it in draft form instead. Fool!
So here, for your reading pleasure, is yesterday’s news in all its glory.
- Presidents Bush and Putin met in Bratislava on Thursday where, although details of their conversation were kept private, they did hold a joint press conference at which both talked of democracy. Bush refrained from making any direct criticisms of Putin or Russia, but Putin seemed defensive nonetheless. Bush also promised support for Russia’s bid for entry into the WTO. Here’s the transcript of their press conference, which sadly doesn’t convey just how annoyed Putin looked.
- Russia signed a deal to provide Iran with nuclear fuel. Spent nuclear fuel will be returned to Russia, although the two countries have not yet agreed who will pay for this.
- The US State Department released its annual Human Rights Report. Russia came in for some stick for its decision to appoint, rather than elect, regional governors, human rights abuses in Chechnya, and increasing restrictions on the press.
- Russia has joined international calls for Syria to withdraw it’s troops from Lebanon. Russia’s views presumably still carry some weight there these days, given its decision to write off billions of dollars of debt, and sell it military hardware.
- Russian military personnel at the Kant airbase in Kyrgyzstan have written a letter to the Kremlin complaining of poor conditions.
- Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov talked up Russia’s new nuclear missiles yesterday. "There is no defense from these missiles", he boasted, while also promising that Russia would never actually use them to attack anybody.
- Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called for closer ties between the Shanghai Co-operation Organization (SCO) and NATO.
- Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan both held parliamentary elections on Sunday. Unsurprisingly, the incumbents won by large majorities. In Kyrgyzstan all but three of the seats declared so far have gone to parties supporting President Akayev. Around 50% of seats remain undeclared, however – they will require a run-off vote on March 13th. In Tajikistan, President Rakhmonov’s party pulled in 80% of the vote. Although some opposition protests are taking place, chances of revolutionary fervour gripping these Central Asian nations seems remote at present. For regular updates on the situation, check out The Argus.
- Moldova’s parliamentary election is scheduled for this coming Sunday. Following the election, the Parliament will elect a President. Polls seem to show that the incumbent Communist Party which, to the annoyance of Russia, has recently been promoting increasingly close links with the EU, is likely to get around 60% of the vote. Opposition parties are divided and, although the Popular Christian Democratic Party promise a Ukraine-style revolution, their support is limited.
- President Niyazov of Turkmenistan has given the world yet more proof – were it still needed – of his madness. He has announced the closure of each and every hospital outside of Ashgabat, the capital. "Why do we need such hospitals?" he said. "If people are ill, they can come to Ashgabat." Sadly for the people of Turkmenistan, their country is larger than Luxembourg.
- Ukrainian police have arrested men suspected of murdering journalist Heorhiy Gongadze four years ago. Former President Leonid Kuchma is believed by many to have ordered the killing. Current President Viktor Yushchenko has not go so far as to point the finger at Kuchma directly, but he has in the past accused the previous government of "sheltering Gongadze’s killers".
- Abkhaz Prime Minister Aleksandr Ankvab was the subject of a failed assassination attempt. No-one is quite sure who was behind the attack, but most speculation centres on criminal groups in the region.
- Ukraine and Georgia have signed a deal to reverse the flow of a major oil pipeline. Instead of carrying Russian oil, the pipeline will carry oil from Central Asia to Europe.
- Mikhail Kasyanov has hinted that he may run for President in 2008. Kasyanov was the longest serving Prime Minister in post-Soviet Russian history, serving for almost all of Putin’s first Presidential term. He has been critical of Putin since his dismissal last year.
- Defender of the Fatherland Day (Feb 23rd) saw further anti-Putin protests on the streets of Moscow.
- The court case against ex-Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky has begun in earnest and, giving testimony for the first time, he unsurprisingly denied any guilt. He faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted.
- Russia is to build 3 more nuclear reactors by 2010, bringing the total in service to 34.
- Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s Russian backed
warlordFirst Deputy Prime Minister has reportedly upset Russian generals by first sending armed men into neighbouring Dagestan to rescue his sister who had been caught traveling without identity papers, and then threatening to kill Shamil Basayev, which would remove the rationale for Russia’s presence in Chechnya, and leave the generals who profit financially from the war very much poorer.
- The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russia committed serious abuses, including torture, in Chechnya.
- Vladimir Kolesnikov, the Deputy Prosecutor General, has called for the re-introduction of the death penalty for those convicted of terror attacks.
- Russia has the highest number of road accidents per 10,000 cars in the world.
- A Texan bankruptcy judge has ruled that the Yukos bankruptcy case cannot be heard in the US. Yukos plan to appeal the decision.
- Russian energy giants Gazprom and Rosneft are to merge. The deal, however, will not include Yuganskneftegaz, the Yukos subsidiary acquired by Rosneft at auction recently.
- Formula 1 boss Bernie Eccelstone has promised that Russia will host a Grand Prix in the near future. This assumes, of course, that Formula 1 itself survives into the near future.
- Imagine you are a Soviet spy newly arrived in 1930s London. It’s your first trip out of Moscow and, frankly, the prospect of trying to live undetected in a city swarming with evil capitalist pigs – not to mention the utterly ruthless MI5 operatives – makes you go slightly weak at the knees. However, you are inspired to overcome your fear by your belief in Stalin’s greatness, your love of the motherland, and the Soviet Spy’s Guide to Living in London tucked under your arm.