MOSCOW, July 8 (RIA Novosti)
Terrorist attacks in Abkhazia complicate Russia's relations with Georgia/ Need for new agreement with Europe not clear/ Dudley stays as chief of TNK-BP/ Russian government set to control grain exports / Israel concerned by falling immigration from former Soviet republics/ Ethnic ghettos could be created in Moscow
Terrorist attacks in Abkhazia complicate Russia's relations with Georgia
After the explosion in Gali, a region in Abkhazia bordering on Georgia, in which four people were killed and six wounded, the Abkhazian leadership said yesterday it would sever all contacts with the Georgian authorities.
Meanwhile, Russia has intensified the search for likely Georgian politicians with whom it can negotiate. Nino Burdzhanadze, former speaker of the Georgian parliament, looks like the best candidate.
Abkhazian Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said: "We think the chances of reaching an agreement with Georgia are close to zero in the current situation."
A high-ranking official in the Georgian Foreign Ministry supports the view, saying that the talks "are hanging by a thread."
A high-ranking Russian diplomat said: "The talks with Tbilisi continue, although the terrorist attacks in Abkhazia have seriously complicated them. The Georgian authorities should do their best to stop such provocations."
According to presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko, President Dmitry Medvedev said during the G8 summit in Japan that Georgia lacked the will to normalize relations.
In view of complications in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia has stepped up the search for opposition politicians it can rely on in Georgia. One of them is Nino Burdzhanadze, who yesterday announced the establishment of her fund For the Development of Democracy.
In April this year, she quarreled with President Mikheil Saakashvili and refused to head the list of the pro-presidential United National Movement party at the May 21 parliamentary elections.
Most analysts agree that her fund, which will eventually become a party, will be the ex-speaker's springboard for returning to big politics.
Last Friday, Burdzhanadze met in Tbilisi with Grigory Karasin, Russia's deputy foreign minister responsible for post-Soviet republics, to discuss "the outlook for Russian-Georgian relations and the political situation in Georgia."
Political analyst Niki Imnaishvili said Russia was urging ties with Burdzhanadze in the hope of turning her into "a major alternative to Saakashvili, splitting the ruling elite and weakening the president."
"Burdzhanadze is trying to pose as a compromise figure in Moscow-Washington relations regarding Georgia," he said.
A Russian diplomat said about the Kremlin's interest in Burdzhanadze: "We are trying to be friendly with everyone in this situation."
Need for new agreement with Europe not clear
All long-term strategies which only the lazy fail to write about these days share one big but, writes Konstantin Simonov, general director of Russia's National Energy Security Foundation. They do not always take into account the general situation that will emerge in the world in 20 years' time. For example, if a struggle for resources leads to a global military conflict, this will have a serious impact on local strategies. It may be alarmist or panic-mongering, but it is a worrying sign that our foreign policy planning is beset with such problems.
Now discussions are continuing on the need to sign a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Europe. But the need is not clear. Gas and oil will go on pouring into the EU without any PCA. As for a visa-free regime, we will not be given it for love or money.
So who is there is Europe to negotiate with? Should we seek cooperation with a united Europe or set our sights on individual countries? This is not a new question, nor is it a trivial one. So far, both official bodies and our companies have preferred to work with individual states and national corporations, rather than with Brussels, because its prospects and powers are not entirely clear.
Europe feverishly wants to look strong. After the failure of a series of national referendums on the European Constitution, an uncertain method was adopted, that of asking parliaments not populations to ratify the Lisbon Agreement. But the only exception - Ireland - at once created more problems. Some democratic politicians urged its expulsion from the EU, and others freezing ratification of the agreements in their countries, as happened in Poland. France, before assuming the rotating EU presidency, suggested the idea of a Mediterranean Union, whose founding summit is scheduled for July 13.
The participation of northern Africa in such structures raises another cliched but unanswered question about Europe's borders. Should we, for example, consider Ukraine part of Europe, when it is ready to resume the "unauthorized siphoning" of gas supplied to Europe? Or Turkey and Russia might have played in the final of the European football championship, creating a very piquant situation. It is also curious that migrants from Eastern Europe speaking broken Russian warmly greeted Russia's fans in Austria - for them Russia's football successes marked a symbolic victory over the employers from Old Europe. One can imagine the response of the Turks living in Germany to a victory of their team in the semi-finals.
Europe is finding it increasingly hard to keep down xenophobic and nationalist sentiments. British blocks access to its labor market even to new EU members. In Italy, camps of Romanian resettlers are torched. In Budapest, gay parades are dispersed. Overall, our values will soon look the same.
Dudley stays as chief of TNK-BP
The Russian shareholders of TNK-BP have failed to fire Robert Dudley. Three British directors of the Russian-British oil venture voted against the move proposed by two Russian directors at an extraordinary meeting.
Analysts say the Russian shareholders made the attempt to win the favor of the Kremlin.
Mikhail Fridman and Viktor Vekselberg, who own 25% and 15% in the company respectively, convened the board meeting even though they knew their attempt would fail. Analysts say this is part of a political game waged to win major dividends in the future.
Dmitry Abzalov, an analyst at the Center for Current Politics think tank, said: "The Russian shareholders needed a newsbreak during the G8 summit, a PR action to attract the attention of global leaders and show that the Russian government is maintaining neutrality in this conflict."
Last week several major foreign publications said openly that President Dmitry Medvedev should interfere in the conflict between the Russian and British shareholders of TNK-BP. However, Medvedev is maintaining neutrality, saying this is an internal corporate conflict.
Abzalov said the shareholders planned their action to demonstrate the Russian president's neutrality to the G8 leaders, and above all to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
"The AAR consortium (Alfa Group, Access Industries and Renova Group) has actually demonstrated that the government is acting on its promise not to interfere in the conflict," he said. "The legitimate demand made by the Russian shareholders at a legitimate meeting of the company's board of directors has been legitimately rejected."
Abzalov said the Kremlin would definitely take notice of the AAR move and grant the Russian shareholders serious support in the future.
Stock market analysts view the problem differently.
Alexander Razuvayev, head of Sobinbank's market analysis department, said: "The conflict will not be settled until the structure of capital is changed, i.e., until some of the current owners sell their shares in TNK-BP. It will be most likely the Russian shareholders, who may sell their stakes to state gas monopoly Gazprom. In this case, a new top manager will be appointed to TNK-BP, effectively ending the conflict."
Razuvayev said the deal to sell TNK-BP shares could be concluded by the end of the year.
Russian government set to control grain exports
Russian Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev proposed establishing a state grain trader in the near future. In three years time, the new agency will export 50% of Russian grain and get $4 billion in annual proceeds, ousting private companies from the market.
Before its recent stock issue, the Food Market Regulation Agency was a state unitary enterprise responsible for balancing the market. Every fall, the agency bought grain to keep prices from plunging. And spring-time grain sales helped to prevent major price hikes.
The new grain trader, which is 100%-owned by the state, has a lot in common with numerous state-controlled corporations that were established starting in late 2007.
The Federal Agency for State Property Management (Rosimushchestvo) will sell the shares of 28 companies, including a 51% stake in the Novorossiisk Bread Products Combine with Russia's largest port grain elevator, to the new trader.
Russia annually exports 12 million metric tons of grain. All traders which account for exports of 2 million metric tons want to use the elevator that can receive large-tonnage grain carriers.
Under the Agriculture Ministry plan, the government will own a 25% stake plus one share in the new agency. And the rest will be sold to private companies in exchange for assets, funds or other property.
The new owners will get this strategic asset and sizeable administrative resources, without bidding for tenders. But nothing can prevent the government from setting grain quotas and giving privileges to the new trader.
State-owned corporations are supposed to facilitate a breakthrough in sectors unpopular with private investors. But someone is bound to take over the new state-controlled private company because grain exports are a good investment.
Igor Chesnokov, head of the analytical and monitoring department at Integrum information agency, said the creation of a new state-controlled grain and bread supplier implied that the government no longer cared about market economy and was implementing the state capitalism policy instead.
"Any major state-controlled company creates substantial corruption risks in conditions of massive government subsidies," Chesnokov told the paper.
Israel concerned by falling immigration from former Soviet republics
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said a lot less Russian-speaking Jews had been arriving in the country in the last few years, and that 38,000 Israeli nationals had returned to former Soviet republics, with another 600,000 eligible immigrants preferring to emigrate to the West during the same period.
The Jewish Agency for Israel, also known as Sohnut, said 900,000 to 1.5 million CIS citizens were eligible for repatriation. However, most of them are going nowhere, the Israeli media said.
Young members of Moscow's Jewish community said they were leading a full and active life, and that they did not want to leave Russia because they could always go to Israel on a holiday.
In 2001, Israel received 34,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union; and their number dwindled to just 6,700 last year.
Member of Knesset, the Israeli parliament, and Deputy Minister of Immigrants Absorption Marina Solodkina said CIS countries, primarily Russia, were developing at a breathtaking pace. She said life was more interesting there, and that the CIS offered far greater opportunities and higher incomes.
According to Solodkina, also a member of the ruling Knesset party Kadima, Israeli authorities now pay reduced benefits to new immigrants and partial families. "This has made integration virtually impossible," she told the paper.
Many Israelis are convinced that parliamentary elections will be held before Olmert's tenure expires in 2010 because three criminal investigations have been initiated against the prime minister to date.
Russian-speaking Israelis accounting for one-seventh of the country's population believe that the government merely wants to win their votes.
In order to win the support of Russian-speaking voters, Israeli politicians should address their needs and offer incentives to attract migrants from Russia and the CIS.
Ethnic ghettos could be created in Moscow
Increasingly frequent scuffles between young groups of Caucasians and Russians in Moscow could divide the city along ethnic districts. Yesterday, representatives of the Russian Congress of the Caucasian Peoples launched an organized peaceful campaign against skinheads and for their rights. Inter-ethnic conflicts among youths which the police are inclined to put down to social reasons are emerging as a political issue.
The Congress was set up in the fall of 2006 - in the wake of bloody inter-ethnic clashes in Kondopoga in northwestern Russia.
A week ago, after Congress representatives met with top Moscow police officials, some of the media hastened to announce that from now on ethnic Caucasians would defend themselves using squads of armed men. Yesterday the Congress denied the reports. Denga Khalidova, co-chairperson of the Congress, said that although they had set up a crisis headquarters its functions were entirely peaceful. Congress members will provide mainly legal assistance to ethnic Caucasians when they get in trouble with the law.
Meanwhile, the Moscow police are continuing to record fights between Caucasians and local Russians. In June alone, there were three mass brawls in which several people received knife injuries. The Moscow police, however, insist that all these fights occurred for social reasons. But the unchanging ethnic make-up of these groups gives rise for doubts. According to eyewitnesses, during the last fight in Maryino (a suburban community in southeast Moscow), Caucasian youths shouted: "Get out, this is our district."
Analysts agree that the latest inter-ethnic conflicts could have been caused by an emerging trend to segregate districts according to ethnicity. "Such methods are employed everywhere, and not only in Moscow, but also in regional centers," said Vladimir Mukomel, director of the Center for Ethnopolitical and Regional Studies. "Migrants usually settle down close to their places of work, and these are, as a rule, markets and large shopping centers, or where housing is cheap enough."
A serious factor, according to the analyst, may be that the differentiation will run not only along ethnic, but also social, lines: Russia's migrants are today the least protected section of the population, Mukomel said.
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