MOSCOW, December 24 (RIA Novosti) Washington to force Moscow to cancel S-300 missile system deal with Iran / Gas exporting countries form OPEC-type cartel / Economic crisis may slow arms race / American chickens can't fly all the way to Russia
Washington to force Moscow to cancel S-300 missile system deal with Iran
The United States has demanded explanations from Russia in connection with reports concerning the delivery of S-300 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems to Iran. Analysts said Washington and Israel were now trying to force Moscow to cancel the Iranian contract.
Although the United States insists that the deployment of S-300 SAMs in Iran could threaten the security of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, Russian analysts said such concerns were exaggerated.
"The S-300 is a defensive, rather than offensive, weapons system. Any claims that they threaten U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are nonsense," General of the Army Anatoly Kornukov, former Russian Air Force Commander, told the paper.
Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said the S-300 could only be used to effectively repel enemy attacks, but that its powerful radar could track U.S. aircraft in neighboring countries.
"The United States is worried because the Iranians would also receive tracking stations," Pukhov told the paper.
Although the S-300's role as a potential deterrent is over-exaggerated, the United States and Israel are deliberately raising a fuss, Pukhov said. "This is being done in order to exert political pressure on Russia," he told the paper.
Washington probably hopes that Russia could yield to pressure tactics in conditions of the global financial and economic crisis. Washington and Israel are now coordinating their efforts in order to persuade Russia to cancel the S-300 contract or to delay shipments.
Moscow recently canceled a contract for the delivery of SA-18 Igla (Needle) man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) to Syria.
"The Russian-Iranian contract was probably discussed in 2006," a well-informed source told the paper. He said the Iranian side had leaked information to the media a year ago, and that Russian industrial sources were now indirectly confirming such reports.
The United States and Israel are becoming active because the three-year contract will be implemented soon, the source said.
Gas exporting countries form OPEC-type cartel
Ministers from 11 gas exporting countries, which account for nearly 37% of global gas production (including Russia's 22%), signed an agreement on a new gas cartel in Moscow on Tuesday, approved its charter and chose the site for its headquarters.
Analysts say the cartel will become the gas exporters' global energy instrument for dictating their terms to the world.
Alexander Medvedev, first deputy CEO of Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom, said the forum was not "a gas OPEC" and the establishment of a gas cartel had no connection to gas prices.
But analysts say the "gas OPEC" will not only set prices, but will also influence the choice of currency for gas supplies.
Alexander Razuvayev, an analyst at Sobinbank, said a "gas OPEC" and the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) were one and the same.
Alexander Shtok, the due diligence director at the 2K Audit Consultancy, said: "Initially, the new organization will not differ much from the GECF. However, the establishment of its headquarters and the assignment of a diplomatic status to the organization points to a fundamentally new level of cooperation between gas exporting countries. At the least, the member countries will strive for this goal."
Analysts said the desire to smooth over the issue was for image purposes.
"The organization of gas exporting countries has had a very bad press, and is now considered as a threat similar to al-Qaida," Razuvayev said. "Therefore, statements saying that Russia is not creating a 'gas OPEC' are designed to calm consumers."
But the result will be exactly what consumers fear.
"We are witnessing the creation of a global energy weapon, but it would be unreasonable to say so out loud," a market analyst said. "NATO, which keeps expanding, also says its plans are not aimed at Russia."
Economic crisis may slow arms race
Over the past eight years, world arms exports and imports have grown from $22 billion to $55.1 billion, in Russia's case from $3.7 billion to $7.5 billion. During a recession most states traditionally cut their defense spending and go slow on army re-equipment, switching released funds to civilian industries and social programs.
For example, the U.S. military budget will be cut for the first time since 2001, from $515 billion in 2008 to $487 billion in 2009. Some Congressmen and Senators are urging Barack Obama to reduce future spending by another 20% to 25%. France plans to slash its military costs from 36 billion euros ($50 billion) to 34.5 billion euros. These steps will affect arms purchases, too. In particular, the United States plans to buy only 165 F-22 Raptor fighter jets instead of the scheduled 183. Experts are not ruling out that the same fate will befall orders for another fifth-generation aircraft - the F-35.
At first glance, Russia looks an odd man out. Gen. Vladislav Putilin, the head of the government military industrial commission, said that defense spending would grow from one trillion rubles ($37 billion at 27 rubles per dollar rate) in 2008 to 1.3 trillion rubles in 2009. Also impressive are plans for new equipment deliveries in the next three years: 300 tanks (troops have been receiving 30 to 35 new tanks per year in recent years), 48 aircraft, and 60 helicopters. But, in the opinion of experts, the general may have added up new and upgraded tanks. The actual defense order would be pared down by 15% and, since military prices are unlikely to fall by the same amount, the output of armaments will inevitably go down.
Many developing countries, losing windfall profits from mineral and manufactured exports, will have to forego large-scale refits of their armies in crisis time. The practice of selling outdated weapons to economically undeveloped countries with maverick regimes will also have to be abandoned.
American chickens can't fly all the way to Russia
U.S. poultry producers are still not allowed to import their products into Russia because they have not presented any guarantees that they do not use chlorine for disinfection. The current chicken stock in Russia will last a month.
Russian authorities have not issued a single permit for U.S. poultry imports next year, Alexei Alexeyenko, a spokesman for Russia's food safety watchdog (Rosselkhoznadzor), told the Vedomosti daily.
Although the government has set new import quotas, lowering the U.S. quota to 750,000 metric tons from last year's 931,000 tons, and several U.S. companies have repeatedly applied for permits over the past few weeks, they won't be getting any unless they provide guarantees that their products have not been treated with chlorine solutions.
"Such treatment is prohibited by an order of chief sanitary officer Gennady Onishchenko," Alexeyenko said.
The regulator expected a list of companies using chlorine in acceptable quantities in October after it filed a request with the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). An official there said the agency was working on it, but no list has arrived.
Albert Davleyev, head of the U.S. Poultry & Egg Export Council, said there was no reason to panic, because the current stock of U.S. chicken products in Russian warehouses will last for at least another month.
Russia's food safety regulator said yesterday that the 38 pork and poultry producers crossed off the suppliers list in 2008 won't be able to resume imports to Russia before February, after another inspection of American farms.
This time, the Russian regulator expects to check not only processing plants, but even the farms growing pigs and poultry meant for export.
"U.S. standards for poultry and animal husbandry are sometimes different from what is acceptable in Russia. For example, they allow a high content of antibiotics in meat," Alexeyenko explained.
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