MOSCOW, July 23 (RIA Novosti)
Russia proposes new rules for election observers / Venezuela's conflict with the West plays into Russia's hands / Russian government to allot offshore oil deposits / Army commander could become Russia's military envoy to NATO / Prosecutor General's Office joins anti-inflation drive
Russia proposes new rules for election observers
Russia has proposed reforming the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which sends election observation teams to participating states.
Alexander Ivanchenko, director of the Independent Institute of Elections at Russia's Central Election Commission (CEC), put the proposal forward at a seminar on election-related issues in Vienna yesterday.
He said foreign observers should above all "respect the laws of the host country and its bodies of authority, including election authorities."
The OSCE is being encouraged to coordinate with the host country "the format of its mission, the candidacy of the mission leader, the number of international observers, the duration of their mission, and other issues related to the host country's sovereignty."
According to Ivanchenko, the mission chiefs should be "respected politicians with professional knowledge of election legislation." Observers should have "sufficient knowledge of election legislation and procedure" and "special training."
The CEC also says there should be no publications in the media about monitoring results before the voting is complete and a relevant report is presented to the OSCE Permanent Council. Observers should "avoid bias regarding participants in the political contest" and "political evaluations."
Ivanchenko also said the host country should have the possibility to officially react to the observers' conclusions by adding an appendix comprising its commentaries to the report.
ODIHR Director Ambassador Janez Lenarcic (Slovenia) also said election monitoring should not be politicized.
Joao Soares (Portugal), president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, said no additional obligations in this sphere were necessary.
"If we agree that international election monitoring is necessary and valuable, then observers' rights must not be limited, or else election monitoring will become a controllable event," said a former Russian member of the ODIHR on the condition of anonymity.
However, "some countries use the OSCE as a legitimization instrument and apply double standards," he added. "We need constructive moves, not hysterics. Only in this way will Russia, a major OSCE co-sponsor, will be able to protect its national interests."
Venezuela's conflict with the West plays into Russia's hands
On Tuesday Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived in Moscow to start talks on military and energy cooperation. Russian oil and gas giants are quickly taking a market niche vacated by Western players who have quarreled with the Venezuelan leader.
Vladimir Davydov, director of the Institute of Latin American Studies, said: "Venezuela is a very promising market for Russia. It has enormous resources. Russia is already exporting to Venezuela more than a billion dollars worth of goods. The main task now is to diversify into civilian commodities. Russia sells it tractors, trucks and other engineering products, but energy is the main area of cooperation. Business will not find it easy-going, because Venezuela is a transition economy going in the wrong direction. However, most forecasts predict high energy prices, so the Venezuelan economy is not threatened with collapse."
The analyst is not concerned about ill feeling from the West. "The Chavez regime is not liked in Washington, but it is highly likely that Obama will come to power and relations between the U.S. and Venezuela will get warmer."
Alexei Makarkin, deputy director general of the Center for Political Technologies, said Venezuela's conflict with the West only plays into Russia's hands. "Venezuela is interested in closer ties with Russia, this provides a chance for it to lessen its international isolation," he said. He does not think this will lead to a major quarrel with the West. "The U.S. treats Chavez in more or less the same way that the Kremlin treats Saakashvili."
Chavez's authoritarian ways hold little worry for Russian politicians, but businessmen do sit up and take notice. The multinationals operating in Venezuela have already felt the pinch: a year ago, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil had to pack up and leave after Chavez approved a law to nationalize 60% of private oil assets. Chevron, Total, British Petroleum and others that stayed had to stomach huge losses.
But according to Makarkin, economic risks for Russian companies are not high. "Hugo Chavez, like Vladimir Putin, is a man who gained political weight through high oil prices. While energy prices are high, the Venezuelan economy will not collapse. Political risks for Russian business are not high either although Chavez, like Putin, fears the political influence of large corporations. But he does not fear Gazprom."
Russian government to allot offshore oil deposits
Under the amended law "On the Russian Continental Shelf" and other regulatory documents, the Russian government will decide who will get federal-owned continental shelf deposits, calling off all previously scheduled tenders.
This is because the continental shelf contains an estimated 15.2 billion metric tons of crude oil and 84.5 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.
President Dmitry Medvedev recently said the shelf was a national asset, and that the government decision would ensure its prudent use, but that bylaws were essential.
Russia is only starting to develop its shelf deposits, which now account for just 1% of nationwide hydrocarbon output. The most advanced production sharing agreements (PSAs) involving Sakhalin-I and Sakhalin-II shelf projects faced major problems in the past.
The new law simplifies and shortens the deposit allotment procedure, making it possible to expedite shelf operations. The document allows only Russian-registered companies with legal-entity majority shareholders to develop the shelf. The government must be able to control them directly or indirectly.
The companies concerned must have five-year-plus experience of shelf operations.
The government will also list specific deposits due to be allotted without tenders.
Analysts said Russia's largest oil company Rosneft and energy giant Gazprom would be allowed to develop the shelf, and that foreign companies supply the required equipment and technology.
This April, Gazprom received the right to develop the Chayandinskoye oil and gas condensate deposit in the Sakha-Yakutia Republic, in north-eastern Russia, without a tender.
It is unclear whether there will be sufficient incentives for foreigners; moreover, Russian companies are still inexperienced shelf operators. However, foreign companies would agree to play a secondary role if the projects make headway.
Some analysts said the government decision was motivated by the fact that disputed sectors in the Barents and Bering seas, the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea accounted for 15-26% of the Russian shelf.
The disputed sectors contain an estimated 879 million metric tons of oil and 6.14 trillion cubic meters of gas.
Russia will have to invest 61 trillion rubles ($2.6 trillion) into shelf deposits, minus disputed sectors, by 2050. And the latter would require investment worth 1-12 trillion rubles ($43.2-52 billion).
By 2030-2050, annual hydrocarbon output could reach 80-90 metric tons on the continental shelf.
Army commander could become Russia's military envoy to NATO
General of the Army Alexei Maslov, commander-in-chief of the Land Forces, may be appointed Russia's top military representative to NATO, a diplomatic source said.
He said the general would be dispatched to Brussels in August or September, that his appointment could significantly strengthen Russia's military-diplomatic representation in the bloc, and that it proves Russia's interest in cooperation with NATO.
Vice Admiral Valentin Kuznetsov has been Russia's top military representative to NATO since 2002.
Maslov, aged 55, has been commander-in-chief of the Land Forces since November 2004, and is responsible for converting the army to contractual military service. His other duty is to form permanent readiness units, primarily in the North Caucasus.
An officer at the Russian General Staff said it does not matter who is appointed to the post, a general or a civilian. "They represent their country, and so may not voice their own views and professional vision of problems in Brussels," he said. "They say what the Kremlin orders them to say."
Another source said Maslov's appointment would not change much in Russia's relations with NATO.
"NATO continues to play cat and mouse with Russia," he said. "Its current goal is to deploy its bases close to Russia's western border. The Czech Republic has signed a preliminary agreement with Washington on the deployment of a missile tracking radar, and Poland will inevitably agree to house U.S. antimissiles."
"I think Russia will eventually withdraw from the CFE treaty and redeploy its forces, above all missile units, to the border. This will amount to a new round of Russia-West confrontation and the arms race," the expert said.
Prosecutor General's Office joins anti-inflation drive
The Prosecutor General's Office has for the first time joined the national effort to tackle inflation. It is setting up a task force to spot speculation and price collusion and monitor price growth. The unit is most likely to focus on separate markets, as requested by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Prosecutors said that pleas from individuals and public organizations are pointing to rocketing prices for some goods, in particular food, mineral fertilizers, gasoline and other fuel. The task force, the prosecutors' press service said, will comprise specialists from the Interior Ministry, Federal Anti-Monopoly Service, Federal Tariff Service, Federal Financial Markets Service, Transportation Ministry and Ministry of Agriculture.
The Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS), which has the right to react directly to price collusions, has confirmed the decision. "FAS representatives will take an active part in the group's work. It concerns us directly," its spokesman said. Similar comments were made in the other ministries.
No one knows who took the initiative to set up the group. Perhaps it came from Putin himself, who has repeatedly asked for the reasons behind growth of prices for aviation fuel (June 2008) and fuel oil (July 2008).
The Prosecutor General's Office has never been concerned with inflation. The Bank of Russia is responsible for maintaining consumer prices. But in Russia, where most of the prices and tariffs are regulated, and the markets monopolized, almost all federal agencies take a hand in the effort.
In 2008, as inflation picked up, the government took over the coordination of work and set up a commission headed by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin.
The breakdown of duties is now as follows: the Central Bank is responsible for the monetary aspect of inflation; the Federal Tariff Service and the Economy Ministry, for regulated rates; and the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service, for price collusions and competition. The Ministry of Agriculture recommends food prices.
The Prosecutor General's Office cannot be expected to contribute anything new to controlling inflation, however. Its spokesman said that "both economic and other causes, such as price collusions, broker operations, and stock exchange speculation, are behind growing prices." But top prosecutors still have a formal pretext for interference. The projected level of inflation is approved in a law on the budget, and if the real figure exceeds the set level this could constitute a possible violation of legislation.
Inflation by mid-July was 9.1%.
RIA Novosti is not responsible for the content of outside sources.