Russia, Kyrgyzstan start fulfilling their promises
A Gazprom-controlled joint venture has started supplying jet fuel to the U.S. airbase at Bishkek airport. This fulfills a promise made by Almazbek Atambayev, who won the October presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan with Russian assistance. Other agreements stipulate a $30-million loan from Russia and a $256-million loan from the EurAsEC’s anti-crisis fund. In exchange, Russia expects to be given the go ahead for a military base in Kyrgyzstan, to gain control over Kyrgyzstan’s state gas company, Kyrgyzgaz, as well as the Dastan torpedo plant, and most importantly, to squeeze the U.S. air force base out of Kyrgyzstan. This would make Kyrgyzstan Russia’s closest ally in the post-Soviet space.
Gazpromneft–Aero Kyrgyzstan will supply 20% of the U.S. airbase’s fuel requirements (360,000 tons annually) in the next three months and could increase supplies to 50% in February 2012. In March 2011, Prime Minister Atambayev promised Vladimir Putin that the joint venture would supply at least half of the U.S. base’s fuel requirements.
A Kommersant source in the Russian government said Atambayev started fulfilling his promises after he won the October 30 election. “Russia helped Atambayev win and bilateral relations should improve now,” he said. “Bishkek will do everything President Kurmanbek Bakiyev promised.” A Russian Foreign Ministry source described relations with the new Kyrgyz authorities as a honeymoon.
Kyrgyzstan, weakened by last year’s revolution and ethnic riots in Osh, expects new loans from Russia, although growing gold prices ensured an 8.7% growth in the Kyrgyz GDP for January-September 2011 compared to a 1.2% decrease in the same period for 2010. Russian government sources said a $30 million loan could be granted after a new Kyrgyz government is formed and bilateral talks are completed.
Sergei Shatalov, deputy board chairman of the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) and managing director of EurAsEC’s anti-crisis fund, said Kyrgyzstan filed a request for a EurAsEC loan a year ago. If approved, the $255 million loan could be granted at a fixed rate of 1%-3%, with a five-year grace period and a 20-year maturity date.
To be eligible for that loan, Kyrgyzstan repaid its debt to Russia and signed and ratified an agreement on the conditions of EDB operations in Kyrgyzstan. Local sources close to the talks say the EDB may issue the loan in early 2012.
In response, Kyrgyzstan is supposed to set up a joint military base with Russia. Moscow has proposed that its five current military facilities in Kyrgyzstan be merged into a single base to be deployed on gratis terms for 49 years with the possibility of a 25 year extension. Russia promised to write off Kyrgyzstan’s $180-million debt in exchange for 49% of the Dastan plant, which manufactures the Shkval torpedo, and ownership of the Russian trade mission building in Bishkek. Also, Gazprom wants 75% of Kyrgyzgaz, while Inter RAO and RusHydro insist on hydroelectric power plant construction contracts. However, Russia’s biggest demand is the closure of the Transit Center at Manas International Airport, the last large USAF base in Central Asia.
Voters’ rights group inciting “Orange Revolution”?
Some election observers believe there is reason to investigate the Golos Association, a whistle-blowing NGO that also monitors elections. Golos has denied any impropriety.
Dmitry Orlov, head of the public organization, Honest Choice, who is also a Russian Popular Front activist, believes that Golos has been taking funds from foreign countries in order to destabilize Russian society as the elections approach. Golos, with the support of some opposition movements, is trying to stage an “Orange Revolution,” Orlov told reporters.
The closer the vote, the harder Golos is being criticized by other observer groups that are more loyal to the Kremlin. Civil Control, an association co-chaired by former Kremlin officer Yaroslav Ternovsky, devoted an entire news conference to Golos. The association’s chief executive, Georgy Fyodorov, said Golos, along with ODIHR OSCE and PACE, is trying to plant doubt and suspicion in people’s minds about the legitimacy of the upcoming election.
“They have a clear destabilizing tactic,” Fyodorov said. They are carefully conditioning the public to hear some “breaking” news of election fraud. The media will have a field day taping the ensuing clashes between pro-Kremlin and nationalist youth being dispersed by special police. This kind of footage would dilute any remaining trust in Russian elections. “It’s too cold to camp out in December,” he said alluding to the tent cities erected during the 2004 revolution in Ukraine. “But it’ll be warmer in March.”
Both Fyodorov and Orlov were especially critical of Golos’s interactive online map of election fraud, a joint project with Gazeta.ru, which has already received about 2,000 complaints. Civil Control collected only 135 fraud reports, with only 14 of them confirmed.
Orlov does not believe that Golos has the resources to actually stage a revolution. However, he pointed out that Golos, which receives grants from foreign organizations including USAID, also uses observers from two major political opposition movements, Solidarity and Parnas. “Doesn’t it look like Golos is channeling foreign financing into Russian political organizations, which is illegal?” he asked. “It would be useful to trace this financial chain linking Golos and Parnas.”
Golos head Lilia Shibanova dismissed the accusation as “ungrounded.” “Our operation is audited quarterly,” she said. “Ninety percent of our correspondents are university students, sociologists, political scientists and lawyers. The grants we receive are spent on offices, telephones, Internet and transportation.” She said they are usually reluctant to use Solidarity observers because they are “easily provoked and have problems with the police.”
Honest Choice’s allegations raised eyebrows in opposition movements. “Suggesting that we receive foreign financing is simply their paranoia,” said Parnas co-chairman Boris Nemtsov. “The authorities inspect us as often as they can. Anything like this would have landed us all behind bars in an instant.”
Solidarity leaders admitted getting paid for working as observers, but not by Golos.
When asked if they have complained to the authorities, Orlov said there are “enough grounds” for the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Foreign Ministry to initiate an investigation.
U.S. to grant three-year visas to Russians if Russia reciprocates
The months-long marathon to ease the visa regimes between Russia and the U.S. has ended, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told RIA Novosti yesterday. On November 19, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will exchange notes on the matter with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Bali.
The plan provides for issuing a three-year U.S. visa to businesspeople and tourists, and multiple-entry one-year visas to government officials, said Ryabkov. After the discussion, an agreement will have to be ratified, said Ryabkov, noting that the issuance of multiple-entry visas for three years is not stipulated by Russian law.
The Federal Migration Service would not comment. However, former Federal Migration Service employee Konstantin Poltoranin said that Russia's law on entry and exit, which limits a foreign national’s stay to one year, is unlikely to be changed for the U.S. Nevertheless, regulations in the recently adopted law on three-year visas for high skilled professionals may be amended – the amendments would naturally apply to American citizens.
In the March talks with U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin went one step further and proposed canceling visa requirements altogether. Russia hopes that the U.S. will consider the current prospective agreement as a springboard to do just that, said Ryabkov. A source close to the Foreign Ministry said that by signing the agreement, the U.S. would demonstrate that the Magnitsky List – a U.S. travel ban on Russian officials allegedly linked to the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky – does not apply to ordinary Russian citizens coming to the U.S., who would, on the contrary, be welcomed. In turn, it would be important for outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev's administration to demonstrate that the reset in relations is beneficial for Russia, in spite of the critics in Russia. But the source said a visa-free regime is unlikely in the foreseeable future.
This is a breakthrough decision, said another Russian diplomatic source, but it remains to be seen whether ratification will go smoothly in the U.S. Congress.
The U.S. does not have any fundamental objections to revisiting the visa issue, so the U.S. and Russia have taken a step towards the reset in this respect, said Leonid Slutsky, deputy chairman of the State Duma committee on foreign affairs.
Any simplification of visa requirements is good for business, said Boris Titov, the chairman of the national business association Delovaya Rossiya (“Business Russia”), adding that Russian businessmen travel to the U.S. less frequently than to Europe, but stay for longer periods.
Resolving the visa issue with the EU will be more complicated, Slutsky said. But Lavrov said yesterday that it was possible to agree on a roadmap for the abolition of visa requirements and to agree that after its execution, talks on a visa-free policy could begin.
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