MOSCOW, January 23 (RIA Novosti) Russian, U.S. presidents unlikely to meet soon / Scaring Obama with Russian weapons / Kiev reluctant to observe part of gas agreements with Moscow / Russia gains access to Mongolian uranium reserves
Russian, U.S. presidents unlikely to meet soon
The first steps taken by the 44th U.S. president show that he is a man of his word who tries to fulfill his promises, but only when there is consensus in the ruling elite.
There is agreement on closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, but not on the deadlines for troop withdrawal from Iraq.
Barack Obama was expected to deal with global problems calmly, but the war in Gaza has forced him to intervene immediately. At the same time, the new U.S. president thinks other foreign policy moves, including in relations with Russia, can wait.
It is true that there are no dramatic events in Russia that demand attention. But the main problem is that there is no consensus on Russia in Washington. Opinions on Russia vary even in the presidential team.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said continuing arms control talks with Russia was among the new administration's foreign policy priorities.
But Vice President Joseph Biden openly supported Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and sharply criticized the Kremlin during the war in South Ossetia last August.
A considerable number of congressmen from both parties believe Russia needs a good talking-to.
This explains why Obama did not mention Russia in his inauguration address. He only said, "With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat and roll back the specter of a warming planet."
This makes Obama's expected visit to Moscow in April highly unlikely. According to a high-ranking Russian diplomat, to be able to organize the visit, Russia and the United States should first set an agenda for bilateral relations, which calls for holding at least one meeting between their foreign ministers.
This is why the current priority is to organize a meeting between Sergei Lavrov and Hillary Clinton during the next international gathering.
Scaring Obama with Russian weapons
The most expensive and only mass-produced American fighter, the F-22 Raptor, may fall victim to cuts in the U.S. military budget. Lobbyists in the U.S. aerospace industry are trying to sway the new president by citing the achievements of the Russian defense industry.
John Cornyn, deputy chairman of the Senate's Airland Subcommittee, sent a letter to Barack Obama, urging him to continue the production of F-22s (each costs $180 million), making the decision before the new financial year (which begins on March 1). The U.S. Air Force has ordered only 183 of them, while a preliminary decision to order more was postponed by the Pentagon pending approval by the new president.
According to the media, Obama has already been sent two group letters on the same subject - from 188 congressmen and 44 senators.
Cornyn writes that the order for F-22s is crucial not only for 25,000 highly skilled jobs, but also for the supremacy of the U.S. Air Force, which is particularly important when the latest Russian surface-to-air missile systems S-300, PMU-2 Favorit and S-400 Triumf, which can be effectively dealt with only by F-22s, are widespread in the world.
The high-priced Favorit and Triumf anti-aircraft systems are not widespread or expected to be: the U.S. has enough capability besides the F-22 to press its advantage over any opponent, says Konstantin Makienko, an analyst at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.
The case being made by U.S. lobbyists for the F-22 is natural - the plane is an outright candidate for the axe at the time of crisis and the fate of this program must serve as an indicator of the new president's defense policy, said Mikhail Barabanov, the science editor of the magazine Eksport Vooruzhenii. Aside from the super-fighter, cuts could affect other costly Pentagon programs as well - the missile defense shield, or some other sea and air weapons, the analyst said.
Russia's Air Force has an annual budget of $1.5 billion to buy, upgrade or develop aircraft.
Kiev reluctant to observe part of gas agreements with Moscow
Details of the gas agreements reached between Russia and Ukraine became known on Thursday. The terms of reference for the most part agree with the parties' earlier statements.
However, Ukraine is already disputing certain clauses. The country's prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, expects discounts from the European-level gas prices in 2010-2011 and does not want to give Gazprom access to Ukraine's domestic gas market.
Yury Boiko, Ukraine's former fuel and energy minister, on Thursday presented at a news conference the exact terms of the agreements on natural gas supplies and transit signed by Russia's Gazprom and Naftogaz of Ukraine on January 19. The documents were later posted on the Internet.
Neither Gazprom, nor Naftogaz made official comments on the electronic version's authenticity, but sources in both companies confirmed it.
Gazprom's lawyers were shocked by how soon the supply and transit contracts became available online, a company source said. Although leaking contract information cannot be a legal reason for cancelation, confidentiality is still one of the terms.
Both contracts were executed in accordance with Swedish contract law, and both sides agreed to turn to the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce to solve any problems.
"We are not considering the termination of the contracts due to the disclosure. We are now busy thinking how to live with these contracts," said Bohdan Sokolovsky, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's aide for energy issues.
However, Ukraine is trying to change several clauses. Yulia Tymoshenko, who had announced the week before that Russia and Ukraine would no longer have annual gas rows with a long-term contract signed, said Thursday she would try to press Russia for another discount in 2010 and 2011. She also said Naftogaz would market the gas on the domestic market.
"Naftogaz of Ukraine will market the gas directly to consumers as it did in 2008. Last year's contracts contained a similar clause, but it never really worked," she said.
The supply contract in fact says Naftogaz has to sign a long-term contract with Gazprom Sbyt Ukraine, a Kiev-based subsidiary of the Russian monopoly, to sell 25% of the imported gas to Ukrainian industrial consumers.
Russia gains access to Mongolian uranium reserves
The Rosatom state nuclear corporation plans to sign a cooperation agreement with Mongolia's Agency for Nuclear Energy and Uranium Mining in the first quarter of 2009 to set up a joint venture to develop uranium deposits in Mongolia and Russia.
According to unofficial information, the parties will develop the Dornod uranium mine in Mongolia, with Japan's Marubeni possibly joining the project.
Private Russian investors interested in Mongolia's uranium reserves cannot take up the project because of extremely high production costs. But Rosatom needs it to make up for the shortage of uranium.
The sides have so far not agreed on the parameters of the joint venture, and Rosatom does not even mention the Dornod deposit. Besides, additional exploration has to be conducted at the uranium deposits because Mongolia is still using Soviet-era data to assess its reserves. By that measure, the country has 62,000 metric tons of uranium.
In November 2008, Mongolian national news agency Montsame reported that Japanese corporation Marubeni was prepared to develop the Gurvanbulag uranium site in the Dornod border province.
Sources of the business daily Kommersant say Dornod was also mentioned at the talks between Rosatom and the Mongolian agency.
Businessmen who have considered investing in Dornod say production costs there will be very high, $80 per kilogram of uranium, because they will have to drill through granite to get to the reserves.
However, Troika Dialog analyst Mikhail Stiskin said the development of the Mongolian uranium deposit could be profitable, because the current uranium prices are $154 per kilogram ($70 per pound) under long-term contracts, or $112.3 per kilogram ($51 per pound) under spot contracts.
Ivan Andriyevsky, a managing partner at the 2K Audit Business Consultancy, said Russia needed some 15,000 metric tons of uranium annually but produced only 3,400 metric tons, covering the shortage with supplies from the state reserve. But that cannot last forever.
According to the Russian research institute of minerals, the country's annual uranium demand will nearly double to 28,000 metric tons by 2020.
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