Communists Lobby to Return Stalin’s Name to Volgograd
The Communist Party on Tuesday began collecting signatures in favor of restoring Volgograd’s previous name, Stalingrad. However, this idea might not be as popular as they would hope.
The Communists intend to try out the Civil Initiative system proposed by President Vladimir Putin, timing their initiative to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad. They seem to believe that returning Josef Stalin’s name to the city is a cause that can rally people together, and they expect to collect the required 100,000 signatures in two to four weeks, according to party lawyer Vadim Solovyov.
He is also confident that other political parties such as the Liberal-Democratic Party and A Just Russia will support the initiative. The Communists plan to canvass Russia’s regions visiting companies, agencies and public places, especially during protest rallies, and even to go door-to-door.
Their rationale for renaming Volgograd is the historical significance of the 1942-43 battle which turned the tide in World War II, rather than anything Stalin did personally.
At the same time, sociologists believe most Russians are skeptical about Stalin or about renaming Volgograd again. “Stalin is seen as a political criminal and dictator,” said Lev Gudkov, Head of Levada Center. “People don’t like the idea of erecting monuments to him or using his name – even those who agree that he did play a major role in the war, mostly pensioners and rural residents.”
The Communists hope their bill will go through parliament by spring. However, even if they do collect 100,000 signatures, the Civilian Initiative website they intend to use will not officially be online until April 2013. The government concept of a web resource where 100,000 people would be able to sign an initiative for the government to at least consider should have been approved by September 1, but it was not.
“This initiative gives the Communists a chance to use people’s nostalgia for the past,” said Nikolai Petrov from Carnegie Moscow Center. “In any case, there is not much they can do, not with Putin having taken all the left populist initiatives for himself.”
Renaming Volgograd is something the government might support but is not in a position to propose. Therefore, the Communists should score a few populist points with the proposal regardless of the result, the analyst said.
Petrov believes some younger people could also support the proposal in addition to the pensioners. “We all ‘know’ about Ivan the Terrible from books, not from personal impressions or from someone we know. The new generation knows little more about Stalin than they do about Ivan the Terrible,” he said.
This Communist initiative might actually do some good. The Communists will probably realize that very few Russians share their views and that renaming a city is not anyone’s highest priority. Also, people might start asking themselves why the Communists are not channeling their energy into addressing more pressing issues.
Russia Could Lose Gas Market Dominance within 15 Years
The Russian government has admitted the existence of serious competition in the world of gas exports. The United States thinks it can become the world’s number one gas producer and exporter by 2030. And Europe too plans to start churning out natural gas.
The recently concluded Gas of Russia international forum in Krasnodar looked at Gazprom’s problems. One problem: the European Commission suspected Russia of violating antimonopoly legislation thus forcing Gazprom to cut prices. Another problem, the United States and several European countries plan to change gas market rules and are working to take market share from Russia’s exporters.
Gazprom’s biggest headache today is cheap shale gas, which the United States is producing and which Poland, China and Cyprus plan to produce. Russian analysts say the United States is lagging far behind Russia in production so far, and that other countries won’t catch up with Russia or the United States anytime soon.
Poland needs five to seven years just to assess its shale gas reserves. Japan is just discussing the construction of an LNG plant in Alaska with the Untied States. Meanwhile, France and Italy have amended legislation to limit shale gas production due to environmental risks: shale gas is typically found deep in the ground and extraction involves “explosive stimulation,” which could theoretically provoke an earthquake. Russia also has shale gas reserves, but it has no current plans to pursue this approach. “We need maybe seven years for test drilling, which is very expensive. It’s unclear if we’ll get the funding,” Valery Yazev, President of the Russian Gas Society, said at the forum.
Shale gas production is much more expensive than natural gas production. The United States claims it can cut production costs many-fold but is not using this method so far. Until cheap shale gas is widely available, experts and investors will view it apprehensively.
However, Energy Minister Alexander Novak has admitted that “major changes are underway in the world gas market. New gas production methods continue to gain credibility.” The minister was clearly referring to shale gas. He added, though, that Russian natural gas would, nevertheless, maintain its leading position.
Although Russian gas exports to Europe have fallen 4.3 percent in 2012 so far, Russia still provides 38.6 percent of Europe’s gas. Its current rivals are Norway, Algeria, the Netherlands, Qatar and Nigeria. Future competitors include Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Mozambique, Cyprus and Israel.
Gazprom will likely have to cut gas prices to keep its clients. Minister Novak said gas export prices are high because the mineral extraction tax is high and will continue to increase in step with major investment in gas production.
The recent trend of falling energy export revenues might not simply increase household gas prices, but it could also impact the quality of life.
‘Energy Bridge’ Could Link Siberia and Central Russia
As requested by Vladimir Putin, a new power line route could deliver cheap Siberian energy to central Russia. The project, worth one trillion rubles, is important but not feasible, experts say.
Putin proposed the new energy corridor at the APEC Leaders’ Meeting.
“As the energy industry develops in Russia’s Far East, we will connect its infrastructure with that of the European part of Russia to transmit electricity between the two regions and to allow us to enter both the European and Asia-Pacific markets,” the president said.
This “energy bridge” project was presented yesterday at the Third Siberian Energy Forum. It is assumed that the 1.18 trillion ruble project would be partly funded by the federal budget (271.3 mln) but largely sponsored by private investment (909.8 mln), including E.ON Russia, OGK-2, Yeniseiskaya TGK-13, SUEK-Krasnoyarsk and the Federal Grid Company of Unified Energy Systems. The cost of the power transmission line itself is estimated at over 154 bln rubles at 2010 prices, but would swell to roughly 200 bln by 2017 when actual construction begins.
Project promoters stress that the country’s economic development “requires improved power distribution” because the existing capacity which is 60-70 percent worn out “does not comply with current safety standards.” Hydroelectric power can be generated inexpensively in Siberia. When the Boguchany HPP starts operating at full capacity, the region will generate surplus electricity. Delivering power via the energy bridge to central Russia would save about one trillion rubles. Also, the distribution of Siberian energy would create an opportunity to export more gas and coal, even though they are currently in low demand.
The project’s promoters also claim it would generate substantial investment in the Siberian energy industry thus providing for the growing demand in central Russia and the Urals region, 25 percent lower distribution costs and, most importantly, more cost efficient production for Russian industries looking for increased sales in foreign markets.
This energy bridge, literally, high voltage power transmission lines, is similar to a 1987 project for Siberian energy industry development and power transmission to western Russia.
Sergei Pikin, Director of the Energy Development Foundation, has doubts about the feasibility of the project. Before an energy bridge can work, a different market model will have to be created and a new funding mechanism worked out.
“We have excellent resources for research but no modern equipment that could be commercially produced and distributed. We may have some elements necessary for the project but not the entire technology. Nor does the rest of the world,” Pikin says.
Ruslan Muchipov, an analyst at TKB BNP Paribas Investment Partners believes there is no pressing need for a Siberia–Urals–central Russia energy corridor.
“Five to ten years from now, central Russia and the Urals will have excess gas supplies. The 21st century may become the golden era of gas. Technology will make it widely available.”
Hence the question: why allocate more gas and coal for export while demand is low?
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