Russia’s cannabis conundrum
Russia’s Federal Drug Control Agency proposed sowing more areas with cannabis, but is preventing it from being harvested.
In the past, the agency was a zealous fighter against cannabis, but it is now advocating sowing one million hectares with the plant. The cannabis variety they propose sowing must be low in psychoactive substances and is reportedly both healthy and economically beneficial.
There are at least four farms in Russia growing this type of cannabis – in Orel, Novosibirsk, Chuvashia and the Penza Region.
“This kind of cannabis is used in medicines and hemp is used in textiles, which is very important in the country where flax and cotton are no longer grown,” said Vladimir Bararaikin, a lawyer at the Penza Agricultural Research Institute. “Flax provides 1.5-2 tons of fiber per hectare, while cannabis yields 5-7 tons. Furthermore, cannabis fiber can be used to produce water-resistant ropes for the defense industry, the fuel sector and the navy. Russia has stopped producing them and now imports them from China and India, but research is underway. Growing cannabis plants that have an THC content below 0.1% is permitted in Russia. We are growing about a dozen such varieties at the institute. Drug users do not steal from our fields because these kinds of cannabis contain no psychoactive substances.”
Bararaikin added, however, that working with cannabis seeds is a complicated business.
“Under Russian law, you may grow cannabis with a low THC content. But you will still have problems with the Federal Drug Control Agency, because harvesting or transporting it are punishable under anti-narcotics articles.”
Paradoxically, no one has yet explained what will happen to the one million hectares of cannabis, the agency has permitted to be grown, if harvesting is still prohibited.
Russia invites West to join it in safeguarding peace in South Caucasus
Speaking at the 66th session of the UN General Assembly, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared that Russia was ready to act as a guarantor of peace in South Caucasus. He went on to invite the U.S. and EU to join Russia in this effort. Georgia appeared sarcastic about the prospect, Azerbaijan understanding and Armenia moderately optimistic.
“Russia is determined to do everything possible to avert the use of force and escalation of violence in Caucasus,” Lavrov said.
The diverse reactions from countries across the region are indicative of Russia’s current position in South Caucasus. This is the first time that Russia has asked the West for help. In the past, Russian leaders referred to the region as Russia’s zone of responsibility.
To some extent, Lavrov’s statement sounded like a warning about a possible rerun of the August 2008 hostilities.
Alexei Malashenko from Carnegie Moscow Center said Lavrov’s statement means Russia has accepted the current realities and does not want to display any hint of imperial ambition ahead of Vladimir Putin’s possible reelection as president. “If the West fails to stabilize the Georgia-Abkhazia-South Ossetia triangle, Russia will face less criticism,” he said.
Georgia responded by reminding Lavrov of the casualties it suffered at Russia’s hands. Georgia said it was not going to sign any agreements with “its autonomous regions” but would agree to sign a non-use of force agreement with Russia if “the international community” – the West – is involved.
EU spokesperson Maya Kocijancic sounded interested in Lavrov’s proposal but added they still had to study the context of the Georgia conflict.
Speaking about the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, Lavrov proposed continued negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group, with light pressure put alternately on the conflicting parties. Armenia could buy this, but not Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov, who also addressed the UN General Assembly in New York, reiterated the old conflict resolution requirements, including the pullout of Armenian forces and preservation of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. His deputy, Khalaf Khalafov, was far blunter several days ago when he mentioned Armenia’s ” unwillingness to withdraw from the occupied territories.”
Armenia responded that a compromise involves concessions on both sides while Azerbaijan only makes demands and “ephemeral promises,” which sound ridiculous from a country often criticized by PACE for backtracking on democracy by, for example, sanctioning “presidency for life”, said Naira Zograbyan, head of the Armenian parliament’s standing commission for European integration.
“A joint approach to the Karabakh problem is possible if Russia, America and Europe develop a package agreement which complies with current realities, and Turkey demonstrates its non-resistance,” said Konstantin Zatulin, head of the CIS Institute. “However, I do not believe Russia will be able to reach agreement with the West on all the South Caucasus issues, because we have very different views on the developments in Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” he added.
Transport Ministry to tighten access to international air routes
The Russian Ministry of Transport has drafted new rules for Russian airlines access to international destinations. Ministry officials are proposing a distribution of passenger routes based on the value of the carrier’s passenger traffic, its financial solvency and its punctuality. Those involved in the industry have already called the document “another tool to exclude mid-level companies from the market.” Analysts are suggesting that even the leading airlines will find it difficult to adhere to the new requirements.
Rosaviatsiya has said that this is not the final draft of the document, and that they will consider changes after discussions with the airlines. The Transport Ministry and Rosaviatsiya drafted the proposals after studying ideas outlined by Aeroflot CEO Vitaly Saveliev in his letter to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Saveliev insisted on distributing international routes based on an airline’s market share and revenue. He also suggested that an interdepartmental committee that is more transparent than Rosaviatsia be charged with distributing the routes. Putin instructed Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov to study Saveliev's proposal, according to a government agency source.
In early October, a working group consisting of representatives from the Ministry of Transport, the Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsiya), and the airlines is to form a common policy for amending Order N92 (which regulates airline access to international destinations). The Transport Ministry and Rosaviatsiya have already sent the draft proposal to the airlines for review. It is very restrictive in terms of conditions for airline access to international destinations.
The airlines cannot owe any back taxes or past duty, have any pension fund arrears or tax, fee, fuel charge or navigation service arrears when they reapplying for route approval. During the so-called “IATA season” (summer and winter navigation), carriers cannot have a record of more than 7% delays of two hours or more, or of cancelling more than 5% of their flights of a concerted timetable. In addition, an application will be rejected if an airline is not fully implementing the frequency of flights on its existing routes. Restrictions related to charter programs with designated carriers will be retained.
If the new policy was implemented this winter, Sky Express, VIM-Avia, Ural Airlines, Tatarstan Airlines, Avianova, Kuban Airlines and Rusline would be denied access to international routes. These airlines exceeded the 7% delay standard between April and August 2011, according to Rosaviatsiya. In addition, a number of carriers would not make the grade for financial reasons. Rosaviatsia has already classified 21 companies as insolvent, including Donavia, Orenburg Airlines and Avianova.
“Every day, Russian aviation authorities come up with more and more stringent rules,” a source at one of the Russian second-tier airlines said. “It is too late to change anything. All this fits into the overall strategy of reducing the number of airlines in the market.”
Dmitry Gorin, chairman of the transport committee of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia said that even the leading airlines will have trouble meeting the new requirements.
No major airlines would comment openly about the Transport Ministry's initiative.
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