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What the Russian papers say


MOSCOW, March 13 (RIA Novosti) Kosovo 'roadmap' proposed by Russia unfeasible / Russia's Abkhazian initiatives splitting CIS / Russia wants NATO to remain in Afghanistan / Russian cyber dissident threatened with jail for Internet comments / Russian company to claim damages from Mongolian government / Airbus plans to earn $40 bln in Russia


Kosovo 'roadmap' proposed by Russia unfeasible

Russia is continuing to lose the diplomatic battle over the Kosovo issue at the UN Security Council, said Georgy Kunadze, senior fellow at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and a former deputy foreign minister.
The situation certainly cannot be reversed now, and the Kosovo Albanians can no longer be brought back to the negotiating table over the status of the province, after its independence has been recognized by tens of leading powers. Even the Security Council can do nothing about it, and countries cannot retract their decisions to recognize Kosovo.
In this new context, the analyst explained, Russia's proposal to draft a "roadmap" for Kosovo will simply be dismissed as impracticable. Although it would have been extremely well-timed some ten years ago, the proposal is, unfortunately, useless today. Incidentally, the very term, "roadmap," sounds like an unpleasant Middle-East allusion, as if chosen deliberately to emphasize the futility of the effort.
Could it be Russia's way to save face? But if it is, it certainly isn't the best way to do so - one is more likely to lose face by making unfeasible proposals over and over again. Other nations that did not recognize Kosovo, like China, are looking much more solid - they have stated their positions without triggering scandals. But Russia is getting somewhat carried away by its emotions. Serbia is certainly feeling bitter over the loss of Kosovo, but Russia is acting even worse. What with all the talk about the strong Serbian army, which will make all those dainty NATO soldiers look weak by comparison? What are the Russian hawks rattling Serbian sabers for? There are no answers.
And, even with its dramatic stance, according to Kunadze, Russia's position on Kosovo could have been impeccable, had it not been for a number of unfortunate minor points. While admonishing pro-independence Kosovo nationalists and their despicable sidekicks, Russia has been surprisingly indulgent to similar separatists in Abkhazia. While insisting on a consensus for decisions on all issues surrounding Kosovo, it nevertheless unilaterally dropped from all the CIS sanctions slapped on Abkhazia. One of the key issues hampering a settlement, the return of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Georgian refugees to Abkhazia, has run down a hopelessly blind alley.
In this context, isn't Russia's withdrawal from CIS sanctions regime a method to encourage Abkhazian separatists, as well as a way to pressure Georgia? It is a valid question because, for some strange reason, Russia's sympathies toward Transdnestr separatists became much more tempered hours after relations with Moldova began to improve.
The analyst concluded that it is unclear whether principles are more important than interests.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta

Russia's Abkhazian initiatives splitting CIS

Parliamentary sessions on unrecognized republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), expected to take place in the State Duma today, could be the catalyst for the final split of the Commonwealth. By stating that it is unilaterally halting sanctions against Abkhazia, Russia has violated an interstate agreement and set a precedent for the Commonwealth.
Now, following the Russian example, Moldova could withdraw from the bilateral treaty on a peacekeeping mission to Transdnestr. Georgia, which last fall raised the issue at the UN Security Council of the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict area and failed to gain support, now has a right to raise the question again.
Russia has created a series of problems for itself by establishing relations with Abkhazia at virtual state level. The image of Russian peacekeepers, which no global institutions has so far challenged, could find itself exposed to attack following Moscow's Abkhazian initiatives.
However, peacekeeping is not the only aspect of Russia's foreign policy, which could suffer if the State Duma and the Foreign Ministry cobble something together using Kosovo as a precedent.
That was bluntly stated yesterday by Georgia's Foreign Minister David Bakradze. He warned that "not only would a decision on independence be made for the separatists, but the mere beginning of the process would pose a threat for Russia on its southern flank."
That a split is looming is also clear from a statement made by Ukraine's Foreign Ministry, which has condemned Moscow's steps on Abkhazia and expressed support for Georgia in its desire to protect its territorial integrity. There is no doubt that given such a set-up, Kiev, as well as Tbilisi, will actively move towards Euro-Atlantic unity.
If the principle of border inviolability, towards which the Russian leadership was leaning ahead of Kosovo's independence, is really a cornerstone in international relations, then it cannot be ignored. Principles cannot be dumped simply because someone refuses to follow them.
It is in Moscow's interests to open real negotiations with Tbilisi on the status of Abkhazia within Georgia. There are many options open for an enlarged autonomy, which could satisfy Sukhumi, Tbilisi and Moscow. And they can be used as a basis to normalize economic relations between Russia and Georgia, including in the run-up to the Olympic Games in Sochi. In this case Abkhazia would receive large orders, and the movement of goods across the Russian-Georgian border would not violate internationally recognized custom and border laws.

Vremya Novostei

Russia wants NATO to remain in Afghanistan

The latest statement by Russia's NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin has been a real hit with the Western media lately. He said Russia would "back non-military NATO programs in Afghanistan concerning humanitarian goods, direct assistance to Afghanistan and the restoration of its infrastructure."
There have been reports that diplomats in Moscow and Brussels were working on a plan that would allow civilian goods - such as clothing, food and petrol - to cross Russia by land, or to be transported via Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Western media even cited the date and place where they hoped the final agreement would be reached - at NATO's next summit in Bucharest.
For NATO, the prospect of a northern transit route to transport goods to Afghanistan, via Russia and Central Asia, is becoming ever more important, as the situation in Pakistan is deteriorating due to the growing terrorist threat from the Taliban, explained the director of the Russian Center for the Study of Modern Afghanistan Omar Nessar. Up to now, the main flow of goods is channeled through Pakistan.
Other Russian analysts, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they had doubts that any agreement between Russia and NATO on land transits would be reached quickly.
"An interdepartmental commission of the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry is working on it, as there are still many questions for NATO," one of the experts said. Their skepticism is rooted in the assumption that NATO's stated commitments to complete the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan might not be entirely true.
"This operation has been going on for six years now, the Taliban are growing stronger, while Afghanistan is being more and more destabilized, even though almost all the leading powers are involved there," Russian experts say. "Therefore, they are either incapable of completing the operation, or they are not really interested in finishing it."
If the latter is true, one of the sources concluded, it means NATO's real goals in Afghanistan are different - it is trying to consolidate its own position in the region.
When asked by Vremya Novostei to comment on the situation, Russia's Ambassador to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov was pretty straightforward on the phone from Kabul: "The longer NATO's presence in Afghanistan, the worse it is for NATO. On the other hand, it would be a big mistake to believe that Russia wants to drive NATO out at any cost. On the contrary, we won't let them go until they have solved all the problems they generated (international terrorism, and the unheard-of growth in drugs production) and built a strong state there and restored the economy."

Vedomosti/Novye Izvestia

Russian cyber dissident threatened with jail for Internet comments

The Internet so far remains a free territory in Russia. But within the last two months several legislative initiatives have emerged to try and regulate the domestic segment of the worldwide web.
"The Internet today is in effect the only venue free from censorship," said Ilya Yashin, leader of Yabloko's youth wing. "In that way, it is of unique value to people who cherish the ideals of freedom. Clearly, there are many people in the establishment who are not at all happy with the situation."
Internet control is a matter of political will. If the authorities seek to punish real cyber offenders for inciting violence and spreading child pornography or instructions on how to make poisons and explosives, then they draw a clear line between freedom of opinion and insults or racial and religious extremism.
But bureaucrats, under the pretext of fighting extremism and pornography, are capable of erasing distinctions between opinion and fact, between a personal blog and an Internet newspaper, introducing censorship, and control the minds of the more advanced section of society.
In Russia, the two trends are competing with mixed success. So far the State Duma has examined no proposals for bills, whose sponsors would like to create equality between websites and the media. This would require the necessity to register with the Russian Federal Surveillance Service for Mass Communications, Communications and Cultural Heritage Protection (Rossvyazokhrankultura) and the likelihood of the website being closed down following three warnings.
The head of the surveillance watchdog, Rossvyazokhrankultura, Boris Boyarskov said existing laws were sufficient to deal with Internet violations. "It is a personal matter for the site's author whether to register or not," he said on Wednesday.
But regional bureaucrats consider any Internet insult to be a public offense.
Dmitry Tashlykov, who called the Vladimir governor, Nikolai Vinogradov, names on an Internet forum, received a fine of 10,000 rubles ($400) on December 2007 for insulting an official.
On Wednesday, on Internet Freedom Day, the Syktyvkar prosecutor's office submitted a file to court against musician Savva Terentyev after he made negative comments about the local police on Live Journal. He was accused of inciting interethnic and social hatred in an online conversation with another user and, if found guilty, could become Russia's first cyber dissident sent to jail for up two years.


Russian company to claim damages from Mongolian government

Zolotoy Vostok-Mongolia, a gold-mining company with Russian capital, has filed a claim with the Stockholm Arbitration Court to contest the legitimacy of amendments to Mongolian legislation with regard to foreign mining companies.
The company assesses its direct losses following the introduction of the super-profit tax at $1 billion. If the Russian company wins the action, Mongolia will have to pay it a sum comparable with its annual budget.
"The 68% tax [if gold market prices exceed $500 per troy ounce] is actually the second profit tax and, therefore, is contrary to the principle of avoiding double taxation," says Sergei Paushok, director general of Zolotoy Vostok-Mongolia.
The company is incorporated into the Zolotoy Vostok group, which has been engaged in gold exploration and production in Mongolia since 1997. It produces 4 metric tons of gold a year. The group's total turnover exceeds $100 million.
However, not all foreign companies developing Mongolian mineral deposits pay super-profit taxes. And Boroo Gold with Canadian capital is exempt from this tax. The Mongolian law on foreign investment, which provides tax benefits for foreign companies, includes Boroo Gold, too.
Moreover, the Mongolian government signed a stability agreement with this company - an individual government act providing for tax exemptions for a particular company. The Russian companies do not have any such agreements with the Mongolian government.
At present, the main Mongolian taxpayers include three gold-producing companies - the Erdenet joint venture between Russia and Mongolia (49% and 51%, respectively), Zolotoy Vostok, and Boroo Gold. Since Boroo Gold does not pay the super-profit tax, its main payers are Russians.
According to Sergei Paushok, after the introduction of the new tax, Erdenet lost $700 million in profits, which means that Russia lost the income.
In the opinion of a source close to Erdenet, Zolotoy Vostok has a chance of winning the case. "The law says that the super-profit tax is imposed at the cut-off price of copper and gold traded on the London Metal Exchange, but gold is not traded there."
However, Yury Kruchkin, an orientalist and chairman of the coordinating council of Russians in Mongolia, cited an example of a court case against Mongolia bringing no results. Several years ago, Japan's Marubeni supplied cashmere manufacturing equipment to Mongolia but the Mongolian side failed to pay for the order. The deal was guaranteed by the Mongolian government, so three years ago the Japanese company filed an action against the Mongolians with a court of London. The court proceedings are still going on.


Airbus plans to earn $40 bln in Russia

Airbus, Europe's leading aircraft manufacturer, says Russia will require 900 aircraft worth $80 billion by 2026. The company hopes to get half of the orders.
The Airbus forecast is based on increasing rises in air transportation by Russian airlines to 6.2% a year. According to Airbus, currently Russia's air fleet consists of 528 aircraft and by 2026 it will increase by 939. To revamp obsolete equipment and to expand the number of aircraft the fleet will need 921 aircraft. Over 800 narrow-bodied and 120 wide-bodied planes, said Airbus.
Airbus is expecting to earn half of the $80 billion Russia will need to spend on renewing its fleet. Airbus plans to keep its market share, which is now more than 50%, said Airbus' Russian representative.
Airbus competitor Boeing, the U.S. plane maker, is also counting on the Russian market. According to Boeing data, published in early February, Russia and CIS countries will need 1,000 new aircraft for the period of 2007-2026, worth just under $70 billion. Boeing representative has not stated the market share the company is seeking in Russia.
And the United Aircraft Building Corporation (UABC) wants to take the place of both competitors. It plans to dominate the market in 2025 producing 260-290 aircraft a year, according to UABC strategy. The corporation wants to produce 2,600 aircraft during the period 2008-2025. About 600 of these planes will compete with Airbus and Boeing. It plans to produce modernized Il-96, Tu-204/214 and narrow-bodied aircraft MS-21 seating 150-210 passengers. However, the UABC has not given a forecast for the market yet.
Airbus' forecasts are based on a pessimistic outlook, says Boris Rybak, general director of InfoMost. The passenger transport market has increased 10-15% for the last five years and it will grow by 2014. If there are no macroeconomic upheavals by 2025, the Russian aircraft market will be shared by two major players Airbus and Boeing, says Rybak. The UABC has a chance to get into the market if the MS-21 project is successful.

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