All quiet on the work front today, so sit back and enjoy a bumper roundup of this week’s Russia news.
- The Kyoto Protocol comes into effect today amid concerns in Russia that its inefficient energy sector may soon mean that it has to buy extra carbon emission quotas, rather than sell them for foreign currency, as had been hoped.
- Russia has called for the six-party talks to resume, bluntly saying that North Korea’s decision to pull out was the "wrong choice".
- Venezuela has confirmed that it will go ahead with plans to buy 40 helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles from Russia, despite US concerns that some of the weapons might end up in the hands of left-wing Colombian rebels.
- Ex-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met with President Putin in Moscow this week. Although officially a personal visit, he is no doubt working at least partially as an ambassador for President Bush, paving the way for the summit between Putin and Bush scheduled to take place in Bratislava on 24 February.
- Russia is to create a professional peacekeeping force that can work in tandem with NATO peacekeepers.
- Despite high-level public disagreements over the future of the Kruile Islands, Russia and Japan are developing a close ties on a practical level, particularly between their navies and coastguards.
- Russia is close to signing a deal with the EU to ease visa restrictions.
- Lukoil has announced that it will buy two of Finland’s main energy companies for around £140 million. Between them Teboil Oy AB and Suomen Petrooli Oy control almost a quarter of the Finland’s retail oil market.
- Russia has offered to sell "military vehicles" to the Palestinian Authority, but claims that it would only do so with Israel’s consent.
- Russia is beginning to express its irritation that the Council of Europe continues to monitor Russia’s compliance with its obligations to undertake legal and judicial reforms.
- Russia is demanding $200-300 million from Georgia, and a ‘special role’ in negotiating settlements to the Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts as the price for abandoning it’s bases there.
- The entire leadership of the Georgian military’s general staff has resigned under the orders of its Defense Minister. Nobody seems to know why yet.
- Kyrgyzstan has turned down an American request to host AWACs at the Manas Airbase.
- In a sign of the increasingly close ties between Russia and Belarus, the two are this week holding a joint military exercise.
- A Duma committee is considering sanctions against Moldova if it refuses to lift its blockade of breakaway republic Transdniestria.
- Talks in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat failed to resolve the dispute of supplies over natural gas. Turkmenistan has suspended supplies to Russia, and is holding out for an increased price.
- More than 250,000 took to the streets across Russia this weekend. Many were protesting against Putin and his reforms, but many also (in separate marches, thankfully) demonstrating their support of Putin. There are rumours that many of the pro-Putin marchers were students offered extra-credit for their participation and soldiers who were simply ordered to attend.
- Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has announced that she will visit Chechnya. She also announced the the UNHCR will open a representative office in Russia.
- Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov criticised his government’s largely ineffective anti-corruption campaign. Although 7,000 bribes were reportedly taken by Interior Ministry officials alone, he believes that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
- Forum 18, a Norwegian organisation promoting religious freedom, has just released a survey of Russia. "Fluctuation in religious freedom policy remains its distinguishing feature in Russia", it argues. The report also notes the "symbiotic" relationship between the state and the Orthodox Church.
- Swimming great Alexander Popov has retired at the age of 33.
Business & Economics
- Sistema, Russia’s largest mobile phone group, was floated on the London Stock Exchange on Monday. It was the largest initial public offering of a Russian company anywhere in the world.
- Yukos has announced that, on top of its earlier decision to sue the Russian government, it has sued Gazprom, Gazpromneft, Baikal Finance Group and Rosneft for £20 billion damages in a Houston court.
- A list of Russia’s richest people, published by Finams magazine, shows that the influence of steel magnates may be about to outstrip that of Russia’s oil barons. The 10 fastest growing fortunes are all held by men in the metals industry, mainly as a result of last year’s 50% price rise in metals.
- Rosoboronexport, a state-owned arms company, is considering accepting mineral rights instead of cash payments for its weapons.
- Foreign companies are to be barred from bidding in mineral auctions through 2005.
- Not only does Russia now have its first professional blogger, but the Orthodox Church is also getting into blogging in a big way.