MOSCOW, March 26 (RIA Novosti)
West to review its policy of confrontation with Russia / Russia, Turkmenistan put off gas pipeline deal / Gazprom to expand cooperation with European partners / Chechen president claims Moscow ready to finish counterterrorist operation /
West to review its policy of confrontation with Russia
The deployment of a U.S. ballistic missile defense system in the Czech Republic has become an unlikely possibility now that Mirek Topolanek's centre-right government was defeated in a no-confidence vote Tuesday, a political analyst writes.
Alexander Rahr, director for Russia and Eurasia at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), says the financial crisis has dealt a crushing blow to ABM supporters in the Topolanek government. Besides, the Barack Obama administration has clearly indicated that the project, launched by George Bush, is no longer a priority now that they are trying to find common language with Russia.
NATO is still trying to save Bush's project, to create a new cordon around Russia, and to restrain its movements, Rahr said. But the upcoming meeting between President Barack Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev during the G20 summit in London in early April should change the situation.
Europe will gradually abandon its policy of confrontation with Russia, the analyst forecasts.
The current developments are playing into Russia's hands. Europeans mostly understand that they should work jointly with Russia at the height of the financial crisis, because Russia has the resources they will need to restore their economic might when the crisis ends.
"The ABM project is a thing of the past," Rahr said. "We are now more likely to discuss close cooperation."
A jarring element in this situation is the recent EU decision to modernize Ukraine's gas transportation system without Russia's assistance, which has provoked a sharp reaction from Moscow. However, the decision is not yet final.
Indeed, it was taken to save Ukraine from the economic collapse and prevent it from returning to Moscow's orbit, the analyst said. But, according to the approved documents, European taxpayers cannot be made to pay for the modernization project. The money should come from companies most of which have long-term contracts and strategic cooperation agreements with Russia.
These companies are unlikely to support the EU policy of excluding Russia from the gas consortium, Rahr said. And so the project will face financial problems, because the West lacks the funds for such an ambitious plan.
Russia, Turkmenistan put off gas pipeline deal
On Wednesday, President Dmitry Medvedev held talks with his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov in the Kremlin.
An official from the Presidential Executive Office and a Gazprom source said there were plans to sign a contract for building a gas pipeline in Turkmenistan after the talks.
However, the document was not signed. When journalists asked why, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller quietly told the Russian delegation to leave and headed for the exit. Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko also declined to comment on the issue.
The 600km East-West pipeline was to link gas deposits in north-eastern Turkmenistan with the Caspian pipeline leading into Russia. Construction of the latter pipeline is scheduled to begin this year.
The Turkmen side will determine the status of the East-West pipeline, which could also pump gas from Turkmenistan for the planned Nabucco pipeline, due to transport natural gas from Turkey to Austria, via Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary, Mikhail Korchemkin, director of the East European Gas Analysis consultancy, said.
A source close to the top management of Gazprom said both sides were reluctant to sign the contract. President Berdymukhammedov did not want to sign for political reasons because there were plans to build the Trans-Caspian and Nabucco pipelines for transporting gas to Turkey and Europe, respectively.
He said Gazprom lacked the funding for the project because gas prices were expected to plunge.
Andrei Grozin, head of the Department of Central Asia and Kazakhstan Studies at the Institute of CIS Countries, said the multi-billion-dollar project was a major commercial risk during a period of unstable gas prices, and that the agreement would be scrapped.
Korchemkin said Moscow wanted to delay the signing of the pipeline construction contract.
Gazprom now buys too much gas from Ashgabat at European prices, thereby swelling Turkmen revenues. As European gas demand plunges, now is not the best time for launching such ambitious projects, Korchemkin said.
Gazprom to expand cooperation with European partners
Energy giant Gazprom will sell gas on the Italian market. The January 2009 Annual European Energy Policy Conference in Brussels demonstrates that the European Union trusts Russia, rather than Ukraine, analysts said.
GAZPROM Germania, a Gazprom subsidiary, and Italy's electric utility company A2A Alfa S.r.l will annually sell 900 million cubic meters of Russian gas on the Italian market. Gazprom plans to expand gas sales in Italy to 3 billion cubic meters by 2010.
Although many EU states are still reluctant to rely on Russia and Gazprom, analysts say the majority of European nations will allow the Russian energy giant to operate on their markets because this guarantees regular gas deliveries. There is still no alternative to Russia, which currently meets 25% of Europe's gas demand.
Some analysts believe that plans to expand the Ukrainian gas-transport network could torpedo Russian gas-pipeline projects. However, Moscow does not consider this issue to be very important.
"Ukraine can flex its muscles until Russia commissions the Nord Stream and South Stream gas pipelines in northern and southern Europe, respectively. However, leading EU states, namely, Germany, France and Italy, will support Russian projects because they are involved in them," Kapital analyst Vitaly Kryukov said.
Analysts say the Nord Stream and South Stream pipelines, due to pump Russian gas from Vyborg, Russia, to Greifswald, Germany, and to Italy and Austria via Hungary and Bulgaria, respectively, facilitate European energy security.
Kryukov said Russia should stop pumping its gas to Europe via Ukraine, which handles 80% of Gazprom's European-gas transits, that new pipelines would eventually be commissioned, and that gas deliveries via Ukraine would subsequently be minimized or even stopped completely.
Another market analyst noted contradictory European interests and said Gazprom maintained good relations with major European companies, but that its relations with EU officials were bad. He said EU officials who were concerned about growing Russian influence could try and delay Gazprom projects.
"Gazprom could pressure politicians through the business community," the analyst said.
Chechen president claims Moscow ready to finish counterterrorist operation
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said yesterday that Russian authorities would declare sometime next week an end to the counterterrorist operation in the republic.
Kadyrov believes that the operation will be ended, as the rebels have been completely defeated.
Experts and the military disagree, however. They believe that due to the financial crisis, the federal government is having difficulties with keeping such a large force in the North Caucasus.
"On paper, you can do whatever you want," Akhmed Zakayev, Chechen prime minister, told Kommersant. "In reality, nothing is going to change until there is a political settlement between Chechnya and Russia."
According to a high ranking Kommersant source in the Interior Ministry, the forthcoming end of the counterterrorist operation in Chechnya is related not so much to the government's success in defeating the separatists, but to economic difficulties. "Obviously, during the financial crisis, the government can no longer afford to maintain a thousands-strong force and pay combat and subsistence allowances," the source said.
Alexander Malashenko, an expert with the Carnegie Center and a well-known expert on the North Caucasus, shares this opinion. "The crisis has certainly played an important role in changing the federal government's policy in the North Caucasus," he said. "During the crisis, the government has to choose between spending money on post-war reconstruction of the republic or spending it on the reconstruction and on maintaining the troops at the same time."
The decision to end the military operation in Chechnya was most likely made during the March 20 meeting between Prime Minister Vladimir Putting and Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov. The meeting discussed the issue of financing the republic's reconstruction during the crisis.
According to agency reports, citing sources in President Medvedev's administration, it is too early to speak about the exact timing of the operation's end. "Currently, this issue is only being discussed."
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