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What the Russian papers say


MOSCOW, December 26 (RIA Novosti) Global crisis positively influences international politics / President Medvedev reassures Russians / EU airlines to pay royalties for Siberian overflights next year / Russia's upgraded SAMs in good demand


Global crisis positively influences international politics

The global financial crisis was the main political event of the year and virtually prevented another Russian-U.S. Cold War after the August 2008 conflict between Moscow and Tbilisi over the self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia.
In 2008, Russian foreign political activity produced some rather unexpected results, as the Kremlin worked hard to strengthen Russia's political prestige. President Dmitry Medvedev's new foreign policy concept said a unipolar world was now history, and that Russia had completely risen from its knees.
Kremlin officials said Russia had a greater say in global affairs after the conflict with Georgia. Moscow also put forward an ambitious plan for concluding a new European security treaty.
However, the global financial crisis downplayed the Russian government's achievements and unexpectedly changed its foreign policy priorities. In his exclusive December 24 interview to state-owned Russian TV channels, President Medvedev virtually admitted this and said it was necessary "to ensure Russia's deserved place in international relations," but that "efforts to overcome the consequences of the global financial crisis are the most important current task."
Moscow has apparently realized that it lacks the funding to implement the same ambitious foreign policy as before. The new draft foreign policy strategy notes the need to save on high-profile international projects. The document's authors say Moscow should implement an extremely pragmatic foreign policy that excludes costly confrontation and a new arms race.
The difficult fall of 2008 played a rather positive role in Russian-U.S. relations. After the war in Georgia, virtually all U.S. analysts agreed that Russia had to be isolated, and that a new Cold War was inevitable. Owing to the crisis, major powers decided not to settle accounts, while the United States no longer focuses on the Georgian problem.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta

President Medvedev reassures Russians

President Dmitry Medvedev made generous social and economic promises to the nation during a major televised address on Wednesday. However, there is visible discrepancy between his statements and reports of the state statistics service.
Among his most economically questionable declarations are pledges to preserve, during the crisis, the government's "social achievements" such as high salaries, real incomes and pension fund levels.
Political analysts are convinced the president was counting on a planned psychological effect. Olga Kryshtanovskaya, head of the elite studies centre at the Institute of Sociology said his address was an attempt to "reassure the people, give them some reason for optimism, show that the government is in control and will take care of its people." It was a way to quell panic, she added.
On the other hand, presidential aides must certainly know that people's real incomes are plummeting and it will be impossible to maintain them at the same level during the economic crisis. Many Russians must also know this from personal experience. Therefore, they may either think the president was making unrealistic statements from lack of awareness, or that he was consciously trying to present them with a piece of wishful thinking.
With barely a week to the presidential address, the statistics service said real disposable incomes had dropped by 6.2% in November from the year before. The unemployment rate is surging, too.
"Several hundred rubles added to monthly retirement benefits amid plummeting national currency will be of little importance soon," said Mikhail Delyagin, research head of the Institute for Globalization Studies, a Moscow think tank.
Alexei Malashenko from the Moscow Carnegie Center, said the president was trying to reassure the nation without giving any specific information of what to expect from the crisis. However, he never mentioned blunders the government had made or how it planned to mend them.


EU airlines to pay royalties for Siberian overflights next year

The Economic Development Ministry said the current system of royalties for foreign airlines' Siberian overflights would not be revised next year, and that the relevant talks could only resume after Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Officials previously said off the record that possible changes in overflight royalties were linked with WTO-accession talks.
The Economic Development Ministry said the European Commission had signed a protocol on the completion of bilateral WTO-accession talks in 2004 and had linked Russia's subsequent WTO membership with modified Siberian overflight royalties being paid by EU airlines.
Moscow promised to modify such royalties. Russian aviation authorities subsequently negotiated with the European Commission and coordinated general parameters of modified payments.
However, the Russian government did not sign such documents and once again notified the EU in 2007 that it was ready to modify the royalties only after Moscow joined the WTO.
The Economic Development Ministry explained that the system of Siberian overflight royalties would remain unchanged, and that Aeroflot, the largest national air carrier, would, at best, collect such payments throughout 2009.
The paper's sources estimated the royalties at $500 million and said Aeroflot retained about $300 million of the total. The rest is transferred to the federal budget in the form of tax proceeds and to the Federal Air Navigation Authority (Rosaeronavigatsia) and the Federal Air Traffic Agency (Rosaviatsia).
A source in Aeroflot said overflight royalties were closely linked with a number of important international political processes.
Boris Rybak, head of aviation consultancy Infomost, said the unsettled royalty issue provided Aeroflot with unjustified competitive advantages on the Russian market and seriously hindered Moscow's policies.
"Due to the lack of a clear solution regarding overflight royalties, the European Commission has virtually blocked all highly important talks with Russian aviation authorities," Rybak told the paper.
He said this covered EU assistance in certifying the Sukhoi SuperJet SSJ-100 medium-haul airliner and liberalizing the international airline market.


Russia's upgraded SAMs in good demand

A $250 million contract for the delivery of upgraded S-125 Pechora-2M surface-to-air missile systems to Egypt, Syria, Libya, Mianmar, Vietnam, Venezuela and Turkmenistan came into effect last week and began to be fulfilled by industry, a source in the state-run Russian Technology Corporation told Vedomosti.
Over a three-year period, a total of 200 launchers will be supplied, with 70 going to Egypt, said the manager of one of the plants producing parts for the system. Although all contracts were concluded by Rosoboronexport separately with each customer over the years, they are pooled into one umbrella contract between the state intermediary and industry, the source said.
Following its upgrading, the source said, the S-125, developed in the 1960s, has been made mobile and can be used to repulse an enemy's first airstrike: "This is a simple and effective system, like a Kalashnikov rifle: fire and discard."
Now, with the economic crisis in full swing, the northwestern regional center of the Almaz-Antei Air Defense Holding Company, being built around the Obukhovo Plant (the deal's prime contractor) will have its hands full, says Konstantin Makiyenko, an analyst at the Center of Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. According to him, the Pechora-2M has been under development and marketed since the late 1990s, and the contract can be considered a great success - a few years ago demand for this system was a problem. Poland and Belarus offered to upgrade the widespread S-125, which the Soviet Union supplied to dozens of countries, but the Russian proposal was more successful.
Despite the crisis, demand for Russia's air defense systems, starting with 1960s models and ending with the latest S-400 system, will remain high in the near future, believes Igor Korotchenko, a member of the Defense Ministry's public council. Even old Soviet SAMs, when properly used, can inflict damage on state-of-the-art aircraft - as an S-125 missile did by shooting down an F-117 stealth bomber in Yugoslavia in 1999.

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