Wednesday is upon us once again – time to check out what’s been happening in and around Russia over the past seven days.
- The major headline from today is the ongoing hostage situation in Athens. Two armed gunmen have hijacked a city bus, and demanded to be flown to Russia. Conflicting reports say they are either Albanian, or Russian, although Reuters is speculating that they may be claiming to be Russian in order to prevent a backlash against Albanians living in Greece.
- Today is also the day that Joel Gaines’ monthly summary of Russian news is posted at WindsofChange.net. It’s makes excellent reading, so go check it out as soon as you get the chance. Only a couple of items in Joel’s summary are duplicated here, so hopefully the two summaries compliment each other nicely.
- Apparent meddling and opposition to free elections in Ukraine, Abkhazia, and generally throughout the Former Soviet Union appears to be leading to a re-assessment of Putin by the Bush administration. Indications are that, War on Terror or no, the US is likely to begin taking a harder line in its relations with Russia.
- Russia and China have announced a joint military exercise will take place in China during 2005. Russia is China’s main arms supplier and, now that the EU has re-confirmed its ban on arms-sales to China, both countries are keen to strengthen their relationship.
- Russia has just agreed to loan Belarus $175 million, so that Belarus can pay for the natural gas it imports from Russia.
- An NHL All-Stars team beat Russia in a two game series in St Petersburg this week. It took a shootout to separate the two teams, who each won a game apiece. The second game was marred when members of the crowd threw bananas at forward Anson Carter.
- Doctors in Austria confirmed that Ukrainian Presidential candidate Victor Yushchenko was poisoned by dioxin in the run-up to last month’s election. Fingers were immediately pointed at Russia – the FSB has been used poisons several times in assassination attempts during the last decade or so – although Russia strenuously denied any involvement.
- The OSCE meeting in Sofia was an "abject failure." The Argus reports that the OSCE observer mission in South Ossetia and the border monitoring mission in Georgia may be about to end. Russia also continued to insist that it alone would decide when to withdraw its troops from Moldova and Georgia.
- Saturday marked the tenth anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Chechnya. It is estimated that up to 200,000 civilians have died since then – approximately one-fifth of Chechnya’s population.
- Gunmen killed four people and stole a cache of weapons in a raid on drug control agency offices in Nalchik, Southern Russia. The Russian government claims they were Islamic extremists.
- A gas pipeline to Azerbaijan was put out of action in an explosion which Russian police attribute to sabotage by… Islamic extremists.
- Lest you think Islamic extremists are getting the upper hand in Russia, the FSB reports that it has exposed a ten-strong al-Qaeda network in Southern Russia. Over the last year it has "neutralised" over 200 gunmen.
- Slightly more peacefully, but still worryingly, Putin has signed a bill allowing him to directly appoint regional governors.
Business & Economy
- Yukos has filed for bankruptcy in a US Court, in the hope that the worldwide jurisdiction that the US claims over Chapter 11 bankruptcy will protect it.
- Meanwhile, Gazprom is reportedly worried about the consequences of buying Yukos subsidiary Yuganskneftegaz.
- The Russian Stock Market (RTS) dropped 10% over two days in the wake of the $158 million tax claim against mobile phone giant VimpelCom. That equates to a staggering $10 billion wiped off Russian share prices.
- Iran has opened a business centre in Vladivostok of all places.
- A three kilometer plastic pipeline used to smuggle vodka has been uncovered on the Belarus-Lithuania border.