MOSCOW, February 20 (RIA Novosti)
Gazprom's 'agent of influence' arrives in Tehran/ Russia concerned about drug trafficking from Afghanistan/ Politkovskaya murder case will have to be re-investigated/ Russia to fight crisis through militarization
Gazprom's 'agent of influence' arrives in Tehran
German ex-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, head of Nord Stream AG, operator of the gas pipeline being built from Russia to Germany across the Baltic Sea, arrived in Iran yesterday.
His unofficial visit coincided with the beginning of Tehran-EU talks on the possibility of Iran joining the Nabucco project, a pipeline planned to bypass Russia. Schroder, a long-time friend of Russia, may try to convince Iran to opt for Gazprom's South Stream pipeline instead.
Discussions on Tehran's involvement in European gas projects have been under way for some time. Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Yordan Popov, who has also been in Tehran in the past days, said Bulgaria would like Iran to supply its gas to Europe via Nabucco.
Tehran welcomed the news. Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Mahdi Safari said Iran was prepared to supply gas to Bulgaria and other European countries in view of the latest events in the energy sphere. He added that Iran could become an alternative energy supplier for Europe including via the proposed Nabucco pipeline.
Schroeder has a different view of the situation. According to Valery Nesterov of Troika Dialog, he had traveled to Iran to analyze the situation and Iran's gas development plans.
"The ex-chancellor is unlikely to have the mandate to sign documents, and he will definitely not lobby against South Stream," Nesterov said.
Mikhail Korchemkin, director of the East European Gas Analysis consultancy, said: "Schroeder as Gazprom's agent of influence will talk about export flexibility in Tehran."
Gazprom and Nord Stream AG refused to comment on the reason for Schroeder's visit to Tehran.
Nord Stream is a planned gas pipeline from Russia's Vyborg to Germany's Greifswald across the Baltic Sea. The South Stream gas pipeline is designed to annually pump 31 billion cubic meters of Central Asian and Russian gas to the Balkans and on to other European countries under the Black Sea.
Russia concerned about drug trafficking from Afghanistan
Since the U.S. launched its counter-terrorist operations in Afghanistan in 2001, the region's opium-poppy harvests have increased three-fold and production of opiates has soared by 44 times, said Federal Drug Control Service director Viktor Ivanov.
Ivanov said 12 metric tons of pure heroin, or 3 billion individual doses, were being annually smuggled into Russia, and that Afghan drugs were killing 30,000 Russians each year.
"The border-transparency doctrine has outlived itself," Ivanov told the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, on Thursday.
The State Duma subsequently advised President Dmitry Medvedev to set up a commission under the aegis of the Security Council. The government was told to negotiate with Moscow's CIS partners to improve efforts to tackle drug trafficking from Afghanistan.
The State Duma also advised the Federal Migration Service to amend agreements on simplified procedures for granting Russian citizenship to CIS nationals.
The Federal Drug Control Service (FDCS) must also step up efforts on the international scene.
An Interior Ministry official said the FDCS had failed to cope with the problem of drug trafficking from Afghanistan under its former director Viktor Cherkesov.
Ivanov's criticism of the United States and NATO is inappropriate because coalition operations are conducted under special UN mandates, Pyotr Goncharov, an expert on Afghan affairs, told the paper.
He said it was impossible to change or expand the UN Security Council mandate because NATO countries would block any efforts in this field, Russia's Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said.
NATO did not accept a proposal from Russia for a joint operation, dubbed Channel (Kanal), aimed at tackling the Afghan drug barons.
A source in the State Duma said Ivanov wanted to raise the Afghan drug issue in the run-up to negotiations between President Dmitry Medvedev and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama at the upcoming April 2 G20 summit in London.
The new U.S. administration has declared Afghanistan a high-priority in its foreign policy.
Politkovskaya murder case will have to be re-investigated
The investigators and prosecution failed yesterday to prove at Moscow's Military District Court the case into the killing of Novaya Gazeta investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. All the accused were unanimously acquitted by a jury. The law enforcement agencies demonstrated their total ineffectiveness in trying to solve the biggest political murder of recent years.
Nineteen out of 20 questions put by the judge before the jury went in favor of the accused. The only thing the jury did not doubt was the murder of the journalist on October 7, 2006.
The trial started last November, and ever since the prosecutors have been telling the authorities and the public that they had irrefutable evidence of the involvement of the accused in the crime. The investigation looked like a PR campaign: all TV channels kept showing footage on the killer, who either entered or came out of the entryway of the apartment block where the murder took place, or his photo-kit picture.
Prosecutor General Yury Chaika was the first to announce to the then-president, Vladimir Putin, that the highly-publicized case had been solved. This happened late in August 2007, shortly before the investigative branch split off from the prosecutor's office. Putin himself encouraged the investigation.
Lawyer Oleg Shcherbakov, member of the Moscow Bar, sees the reason for the flop in the howling incompetence of the investigators.
In the view of Alexander Lebedev, president of Novye Media holding, "the verdict is the result of inadequacy by Russia's law enforcement and judicial system." He said lawmakers could have done more to make the investigation more effective, but for some unknown reasons failed.
Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov believes the jury members "showed themselves as competent and serious-minded people from the outset." The main investigation lies ahead, he said.
"What has happened is a shame for the authorities," said Vsevolod Bogdanov, president of the Journalists Union.
Russia to fight crisis through militarization
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has instructed that a federal reserve of law enforcement and security forces be established.
The total number of personnel in the various law enforcement and security agencies already exceeds those of Russia's armed forces. Analysts say the country is using militarization to tackle the consequences of the global financial crisis.
The new reserve will comprise service personnel from the armed forces, the Interior Ministry and Civil Defense troops, and the Federal Agency for Special Construction, the Kremlin wrote on its website yesterday.
Russia is becoming increasingly militarist. The planned reduction in the number of interior troops was halted late last year. The number of personnel serving in various law enforcement and security agencies, who are not supposed to be used in defending the country against external attacks, now totals 2.5 million, which is more than Russia's Armed Forces.
Gazprom and Transneft have "corporate armies" hired to protect gas and oil pipelines.
The Interior Ministry is considering an "army" for the Olympstroi Corporation, to protect construction projects at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Andrei Krainy, head of the Federal Fisheries Agency, yesterday said the number of fish inspectors will increase by 50% and they will be issued with firearms and unmanned aerial vehicles, and that special task groups "Piranhas" will be set up at the agency to tackle poaching.
The Russky Reportyor magazine writes that a plant producing fire fighting equipment in Vargashi, Kurgan Region, has received a large order for armored cars with water cannons for use in dispersing demonstrations.
Political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin says the crisis is threatening internal stability.
Communist Party leader Dmitry Zyuganov said the number of jobless would officially reach 10 million by the fall. "This is a disaster," he said. "Global practice shows that the growth of unemployment by 1% increases crime by 5%."
If the Interior Troops are insufficient, the authorities will use Piranhas and even staff working at private security agencies, analysts say.
Gennady Gudkov, a member of the parliamentary committee on security, said: "Some federal officials carry an illusion that they can use military force to deal with the consequences of the crisis. They are wrong. History has seen quite a few examples when militarization only increases the risk of armed clashes."
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