MOSCOW, April 24 (RIA Novosti) Obama wants U.S. to benefit from relations with Russia / NATO appears ready to resume cooperation with Russia / Russia lavishes cash on pipeline race / Analysts say Russia to become leading grain exporter
Obama wants U.S. to benefit from relations with Russia
Relations between the United States and Russia have emerged from eight years of gloom during President Barack Obama's first 100 days. But neither country has a clear assessment of the current thaw. We can only speak about nascent trends, said a Russian analyst.
Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the Moscow-based magazine Russia in Global Affairs, said the tone of the new U.S. team differs dramatically from that of the George W. Bush administration. Ideology is now playing a minor role in Washington's rhetoric.
Barack Obama has decided to highlight practical matters, which is particularly visible in relations with China and Russia.
Evidence of the new approach is Washington's silence regarding the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed ex-head of the bankrupt oil company Yukos, the analyst writes.
The new team is apparently unwilling to pick fights. The lack of White House's reaction to Kyrgyzstan's termination of the U.S. Air Force base and to commentaries regarding the ballyhoo over the NATO war games in Georgia make a dramatic contrast to the behavior of the previous administration.
Lastly, the U.S. administration believes that Russia could be useful in tackling a number of crucial problems, such as Afghanistan, Iran, and efforts to strengthen the non-proliferation regime. This calls for improving relations, Lukyanov writes.
The White House's list of priorities no longer includes issues that have had a destructive effect on bilateral relations in the last few years, namely the expansion of NATO and the deployment of U.S. ballistic missile defense systems in Europe. According to the analyst, Obama sees no need for pedaling these projects, and this could ease tensions with Russia.
However, restraint is not weakness. The U.S. administration is overhauling its tactics with due regard to its dreadful inheritance. But it has not changed the strategic goal of strengthening the U.S. leadership, which rules out any deals or swaps of the spheres of influence.
Lukyanov writes that a more flexible and coordinated stance will allow Washington to create a less hostile environment for the attainment of its goals.
However, Washington may revise a pragmatic approach cleansed of ideological complications if it decides that it overestimated Moscow's ability to facilitate the solution of U.S. problems. Such a decline in interest could revert the situation to the George W. Bush era, when Russia's main problem was not so much Washington's hostility as lack of interest, the analyst concludes.
NATO appears ready to resume cooperation with Russia
NATO has pledged to supply Russia with data from its radars in Norway, Turkey and Poland, according to a proposal made public by Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich late last week.
The alliance expects Russia to reciprocate by providing information on potential threats to NATO member countries.
Analysts view this as NATO's demonstration of intent to resume large-scale cooperation with Russia.
Adam Rotfeld, a former foreign minister of Poland, has also expressed confidence that the United States will coordinate its ballistic missile defense program with Russia. In his view, the nascent dialogue between the Russian and U.S. presidents gives hope that they could come to terms on the missile defense issue.
Zarko Petrovic, project consultant for Russia and the CIS at the International and Security Affairs Centre, said: "Russia-NATO rapprochement is a positive development, which any sane person should welcome. We will support any initiative aimed at boosting confidence between the alliance and Moscow."
"The West is trying to demonstrate its readiness for dialogue with Moscow on all acute problems," an East European diplomat said about Poland's initiative. "We now need to determine, though, whether this is a sincere desire or yet another declaration of intent that will never be implemented."
Dmitry Yevstafyev, an analyst at the Moscow-based PIR Center for Policy Studies, said: "This gesture cannot be left without a response, as the alliance apparently wants to make it up with Russia. However, there are no practical benefits in this for Russia, because the proposal is largely a decorative gesture that was clearly initiated by the United States."
Russia lavishes cash on pipeline race
A paradoxical situation has developed around the South Stream project, writes Mikhail Korchemkin, director of the East European Gas Analysis consultancy. The European Union is trying to turn down Russia's proposals, citing plans to cut natural gas imports and diversify supply sources.
Gazprom has responded by raising the project's capacity and demanding Europe's official support.
Europe is skeptical and suspicious of the project, Korchemkin says. What arouses greatest suspicion is Russia's willingness to incur huge financial losses to promote South Stream and hinder the rival Nabucco project.
Firstly, Gazprom agrees to invest over 20 billion euros (Russia's stake in South Stream and the construction of the 2,400 km Russian section of the pipe). Russia could export more gas to boost profits, but Gazprom doesn't plan to do this. Moreover, Gazprom has a commitment to supply at least 110 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe via Ukraine. That, along with Nord stream plans and other operational pipelines, leaves no gas to fill South Stream, the analyst adds.
Secondly, Gazprom agreed to pay European prices for Central Asian gas and for gas from Azerbaijan. Reselling imported gas will yield no profit. Gazprom is forced to cut its own exports - its most profitable operations. The more imported gas the monopoly exports, the lower its profits, according to Korchemkin.
Thirdly, to push South Stream, the Russian government agrees to cut federal revenues, because imported gas is exported tax-free.
This is not even the first time the government has to pay for the pipeline race. The Blue Stream project was also intended to undermine the 1999 agreement on Turkmen gas supplies to Turkey. The tax breaks the government introduced led to a shortfall of $3 billion in customs and excise duties.
In summary, the financial losses facing Gazprom and the Russian government indicate that Russia is after political benefits from "more flexible" export routes, the analyst concludes.
Analysts say Russia to become leading grain exporter
Although the year is not over yet, Russia has harvested a bumper crop in grain, and has set a grain export record.
The Agriculture Ministry said Russia harvested 108.1 million metric tons of grain in the 2008-2009 agricultural year, which began on July 1, 2008 and will end on June 30, 2009.
The Prozerno analytical company said 116.7 million metric tons of grain had been harvested in 1990-1991.
In September 2008, the then Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev said Russia was able to export 20-25 million metric tons of grain. The latest Agriculture Ministry forecast estimates exports at 18-19 million metric tons. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said 16.4 million metric tons of grain had been exported in 2002-2003, an all-time high for post-Soviet Russia.
"At any rate, we have already exceeded this figure," said Arkady Zlochevsky, president of the Russian Grain Union, which estimated grain exports at 17.1 million tons last week. By late April, this total will reach 17.5 million metric tons, said Dmitry Rylko, director of the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies.
Andrei Sizov, CEO at the Moscow-based SovEcon consultancy, said this was facilitated by the ruble's devaluation and high global prices, which are however below the maximum 2008 levels.
Rylko and Prozerno general director Vladimir Petrichenko estimated 2009 commercial grain-export volumes at 20 million metric tons. Sizov said 21 million metric tons of grain could be exported.
The United States and the European Union will remain the leading grain exporters with 77 million and 28 million metric tons respectively, Sizov said. Rylko said Ukraine had already exported over 20 million metric tons. "Russia will probably become the fourth largest grain exporter by the end of the season," he told the paper.
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