Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Shorts

Kazakh President Approves the Construction of a New Gas Pipeline to Russia

On May 15, in a snub to the Nabucco pipeline project, the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev signed into law the trilateral Russian-Kazakh-Turkmen agreement on the construction of the 1,600 km-long pipeline along the eastern coastline of the Caspian Sea. As the online Russian news channel explains, the agreement was signed by the governments of Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in December 2007. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed it into law in December 2008. As envisioned, on an annual basis the planned pipeline will carry up to 40 billion cubic meters (10 from Kazakhstan and 30 from Turkmenistan) of natural gas to Russia. However, as points out, the Turkmen side has not committed to this pipeline project yet.

Russia Rejects Greek Proposal to Save OSCE Mission in Georgia

Greece, as a current chairman of the 56-nation OSCE, submitted a carefully worded proposal for keeping the OSCE monitors in Georgia. The proposal purposefully omits any mention of Georgia or South Ossetia and grants OSCE monitors the right of free movement across the de facto border between the breakaway region and Georgia proper. In accordance with the details of the proposal, 22 OSCE monitors are to be stationed in the village of Karaleti on the Georgian side and 8 in Tskhinvali, the capital of the secessionist province. However, the Russian delegation at the OSCE led by Ambassador Anvar Azimov vetoed the Greek proposal on the grounds that it did not make the movement of OSCE monitors subject to the authorization by the South Ossetian authorities. It should be recalled here that in December Russia voted against the extension of the mandate of the OSCE Mission in Georgia on the basis of the demand to establish a separate mission in South Ossetia. Meanwhile, as Reuters reports, the June 30 deadline is rapidly approaching for the remaining 20 unarmed OSCE monitors located along the de facto border between South Ossetia and Georgia.

Russian Security Council Releases National Security Strategy Document

On May 12, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the decree approving the Strategy of the National Security of the Russian Federation until 2020. Produced by the Security Council of the Russian Federation, which is chaired by President Medvedev and includes all key government members, this programmatic document contains a gloomy set of forecasts, including the risk of expansion of nuclear-weapon states. Another interesting caveat states, "Under the conditions of competitive struggle for resources the resolution of emerging problems with the use of the military force cannot be ruled out - thus, the existing balance of power along the borders of the Russian Federation and its allies maybe disturbed." The same section of the document points out that "the opportunities for maintaining global and regional stability will become significantly narrower in case of the deployment of the elements of the global missile defense system of the United States of America in Europe." Finally, the document warns that "the consequences of global financial-economic crises by their cumulative impact may become comparable with the large-scale use of military force."

IOC Officials Visit Sochi and Warn Against Delays

On Wednesday, May 13, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) panel overseeing the preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics visited the venues around the city of Sochi for the second evaluation of progress. The Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for whom the 2014 Winter Olympics is a personal pet project was in Sochi to greet the IOC inspectors. Putin assured them that the construction works were on schedule. However, Jean-Claude Killy, who heads the IOC panel, told the Russian organizers, "Time is not a luxury that we have to play with on this project. The Sochi team must therefore ensure that it makes its decisions in a timely manner, so as to maintain its ambitious schedule." In a surprising acknowledgment of obvious event planning failures Putin admitted that there was no need to keep five ice arenas in the seaside resort city after the conclusion of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak has been handpicked by Putin to manage the estimated $13 billion budget of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. As this Moscow Times vignette suggests the IOC inspectors have plenty of reasons to be worried.

Putin to Visit Abkhazia this Summer?

A day after the IOC visit, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hosted the de facto leader of Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia, Sergei Bagapsh. The two sides agreed that Russia will offer the secessionist province the loan of 1-1.5 billion rubles ($31-$47 million) for the development of banking system, railroad network and small and medium businesses. Bagapsh underscored that this money was also needed for transporting construction materials to the olympic venues in Sochi. More importantly, Bagapsh stated that in one or two weeks Russia and Abkhazia would sign an agreement on the deployment of a Russian military base in the breakaway region for 49 years. According to Bagapsh, by June slightly more than 800 Russian border guards will begin joint patrols of the de facto border with Georgia proper with their Abkhaz counterparts. Finally, Bagapsh announced that Putin accepted his invitation to visit Abkhazia this summer.

Important Event at the American Enterprise Institute

On Wednesday, May 13, the American Enterprise Institute held a very interesting briefing "Beyond the 'Grand Bargain': U.S.-Russian Cooperation on Iran." The panel of experts included the former U.S. negotiator at the UN, John R. Bolton, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Eric Edelman, the Jamestown Foundation senior analyst, Pavel Felgenhauer, Military Legislative Assistant at the Office of U.S. Senator Jon Kyl, Timothy Morrison, and former Assistant Secretary of State, Stephen Rademaker. The lively and richly detailed discussion was moderated by AEI's Leon Aron. The briefing can be streamed in its entirety on the AEI website.