MOSCOW, March 24 (RIA Novosti) S. Ossetia and Russian annexation/ Future of Rodina, Rogozin/ Altai preserve v. Gazprom pipeline/ Airline industry needs investment, not protectionism/ East Siberia-Pacific pipeline
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Question of South Ossetian annexation hangs in the air
The intention of South Ossetia, a breakaway republic in Georgia, to petition the Russian Constitutional Court to join the Russian Federation has puzzled both Tbilisi and Moscow.
Apart from a public statement made by South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity in the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, at a joint meeting of the North and South Ossetian governments, the region has not made any moves. "No one can comment on anything because we have not received any documents," Anna Malysheva, the head of the Constitutional Court's press service, said.
Moreover, it is unclear on whose behalf the republic will file with the court, which reviews complaints from individuals (including foreign citizens) and inquiries by Russian authorities.
If Kokoity sends a telegram to Moscow in his own name, another question arises: what issue will he address? The Constitutional Court does not settle territorial disputes but rather assesses the constitutionality of laws. Court officials have thus far been unable to say which Russian law could be contested in the case of a republic that does not want to remain part of Georgia.
"Moscow believes the status of South Ossetia should be determined through negotiations via the Joint Control Commission [which comprises Russia, Georgia, and North and South Ossetia]," said Mikhail Kamynin, spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry.
South Ossetian authorities intend to make the most of the situation surrounding the status of Kosovo. The breakaway province is only a step away from seceding from Serbia, which would set a precedent. However, the European Union, which supports Kosovo's independence, has indicated that it will not do the same for South Ossetia. In late February, the EU issued a statement supporting Georgia's territorial integrity.
The population of South Ossetia in 2003 was 70,000 people, of whom 67% were Ossetian and 25% Georgian. About 40,000 refugees from the republic have fled to North Ossetia. Many Georgians living in South Ossetia have both Georgian and Russian citizenship.
Vremya Novostei, Kommersant
Rodina losing chances to become "legitimate opposition"
The intrigue related to the possible dismissal of Dmitry Rogozin as leader of Rodina, a party with a socialist and nationalist ideological bent, and the party's failure to hold a congress have led the numerous scandals around the regional elections and may signal the edging out of the party, established in 2003 as "a Kremlin project," from legitimate political margins.
Rodina was designed to split the Communist party electorate and steal away votes in the 2003 national parliamentary elections. The party managed to collect the astounding 9% it needed, even only winning over part of the Communist electorate. Rogozin rested on his laurels for a while and remained loyal to the Kremlin. But his leadership ambitions and his move from nationalist to socialist campaign rhetoric evidently made Kremlin policy makers uneasy. The "reaction" was immediate; the federal center easily "drowned" the party in regional elections.
But what is the Kremlin's notion of an ideal party field for the next parliamentary and presidential polls? With the center favoring the left-wing electorate and its nearly leftist parties, Rogozin had the best chance to sell himself well. But election results revealed that a pseudo-bipartisan system is forming in the country - the Communist party has been finishing second with a large gap behind leading pro-presidential United Russia. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov seems to have won the Kremlin's confidence as head of an opposition that poses no threat to the government.
Some experts believe that, unlike his party, Rogozin himself has good prospects. Stanislav Belkovsky, president of the Institute of National Strategy, said the politician "would resurface in a new Rodina."
"He is too ambitious and too young to become a political pensioner," the political analyst said. "His Rodina will carry socialist flags with a tinge of imperial nationalism."
Nature preserve blocks Russian gas pipeline route
Russian natural gas giant Gazprom's most ambitious export project of the past 30 years may be stumbled by a nature preserve in the Altai Mountains that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The gas pipeline route proposed by Vladimir Putin may cause the energy giant a lot of trouble. The only way to lay the 3,000km-long pipeline, worth $4.5-$5 billion and designed to deliver up to 80 billion cubic meters of natural gas to China beginning in 2011, directly through the western sector of the Russian-Chinese border is across the Ukok Plateau (southern part of the Altai Mountains bordering Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China), said Mikhail Shishin, head of the Fund for 21st Century Altai. The nature preserve is home to rare animals like the snow leopard. "The Altai Mountains are one of the three largest centers of biodiversity in Russia and one of five in the post-Soviet space," said Yevgeny Shvarts, director of conservation policy for WWF Russia. Archeologists have discovered 300 ancient memorials and more than 1,000 burial mounds on the plateau. Altai residents consider the mountains to be sacred. "Natural heritage is in danger, and a loud scandal is unavoidable," Shishin said.
Alexei Butorin, director of the Natural Heritage Protection Fund, said the Altai pipeline would be a repeat of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline. After changes were made to the composition of an expert commission studying the pipeline route, pipeline monopoly Transneft was permitted to build the pipe just 800 meters away from Lake Baikal, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Butorin said it would be better to change the Altai pipeline route. But a Gazprom manager said no one had yet estimated the length or cost of a back-up route. Bypassing the plateau will raise the cost of the pipeline project by several hundred million dollars, said Dmitry Lukashov, an analyst with the Aton brokerage. To build a kilometer of the pipeline through the mountains will cost well over $2 million, said the expert who is involved in the project.
Gazprom has said it will bypass all nature preserves, but an official in the Russian Industry and Energy Ministry said China would never agree to an alternate route.
Gref suggests buying Western airliners
Russian Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref told the latest government session that it was necessary to remove the trade barriers banning imports of foreign airplanes. "The air transportation sector cannot compete on the global market because it is closed to foreign aircraft," the minister said. Industry experts agreed saying it was better to help the sector by investing in it.
Gref, whose focus is on "implementing measures to establish a national aircraft-manufacturing corporation," said that economic, not protectionist, measures would enable Russia to produce 50-65 regional and 29-37 medium-range airliners in 2008-2009.
"Instead of erecting trade barriers, Russia should directly compete against Western planes; this can be accomplished even without restrictive measures," senior officials with the Ilyushin Aviation Complex told the paper. The company's chief designer and board chairman, Genrikh Novozhilov, said, "The aircraft industry needs investment rather than bans."
Moreover, experts insisted that officials should not influence the R&D process or choose specific aircraft models. Ilyushin head Viktor Livanov said, "...Only customers and producers should choose [new models], while state support should create private investment incentives."
Pyotr Polyakov, assistant professor at the Moscow-based State Technical University of Civil Aviation, reacted calmly to the possibility of buying foreign airliners and said that passenger safety was the government's main responsibility.
Eastern Siberia-Pacific pipeline may be economic bubble - experts
The East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline may prove to be an economic bubble just like the Baikal-Amur (BAM) railroad project. Given the current shortage of known oil deposits in East Siberia, the pipeline to the Pacific coast could become idle like BAM, parliamentarians and geologists warn the government.
"The pipeline is being built before enough oil has been discovered," said Natalia Komarova, head of the State Duma (the lower house of parliament) committee on natural resources. The pipeline could receive oil from West Siberian deposits. "The government is neglecting this region [Western Siberia] but plans to channel nearly all appropriations into oil surveying on the Arctic shelf and in Eastern Siberia," she said.
The potential growth of oil production in Eastern Siberia will be several times smaller than that in West Siberia. But even the production growth at new deposits in West and East Siberia and the Sakhalin shelf might not make up for the falling production at old oil fields.
Valery Garipov, head of the oil subcommittee of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, suggested that geological exploration should be permitted only upon request. In this scenario, companies would make up for exploration costs by selling geological information. Garipov said the "speculative geology" could result in the rapid growth of proven and commercial hydrocarbons reserves.
But Natural Resources Ministry officials do not support the idea of requests for exploration licenses, instead preferring the centralized planning of exploration, especially in the case of priority resources and fields.
Ministry spokesman Nikolai Miletenko said Thursday that the ministry was guided by two priorities: resources whose profitable production will soon come to an end (oil, diamonds, gold, and platinum metals) and imported resources (manganese, tin, lead, etc.).