Defense Minister Says Legendary Naval Cruiser Not Decommissioned
Russia’s Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has written to the president, refuting claims that the cruiser Aurora has been decommissioned. However, officials at Baltic Fleet HQ claim they have not been in charge of the ship since August.
The naval crew was dismissed in 2010 and the legendary cruiser was transferred to the Central Naval Museum. In August 2012, Russian Navy veterans asked President Vladimir Putin to intervene, suggesting he could use the ship during troop reviews. The president forwarded these recommendations to the Defense Minister.
“The reorganization aimed at creating a new image for the Russian Navy will not lead to a downgrading of the Aurora’s status or downplay its historic mission,” Serdyukov wrote.
He said the cruiser had been assigned to the Naval Museum without being dropped from the Navy.
“Turning a ship into a museum is in line with international practice, like the Wasa in Sweden, the Mikasa in Japan and the Constitution in the United States,” he wrote.
Serdyukov said a civilian crew of 32 specialists comprising retired servicemen with relevant experience and good career records will ensure “professional maintenance of the battleship’s systems.”
The Baltic Sea Fleet commander will remain in charge of the cruiser’s “upkeep, supplies, maintenance and repairs,” he wrote.
However, a source at the Baltic Sea Fleet HQ told Izvestia that naval officers and sailors had left the ship because it had stopped being part of the fleet in August 2012. Consequently, the Aurora is no longer serviced by the Navy.
“We need an order from the Defense Minister or an agreement with the museum. But we have nothing of the sort. Without documents, we cannot deploy personnel to service property which the fleet doesn’t own,” the source said.
He said the cruiser is currently being looked after by eight employees of the Naval Museum, which is legally under the Education Ministry.
“The problem goes deeper than the flag ceremony,” a museum representative said. “The Aurora won’t survive without regular maintenance by a military crew. Museum workers won’t be of any help if, say, there is a fire or a leak.”
The naval crew’s departure has interrupted the longstanding tradition of the daily hoisting of the St. Andrew's flag. The ceremony was later reinstated by students of the Nakhimov Naval School located opposite the ship. The five best students aged 14-18 accompanied by an orderly walk to the ship every morning to perform the ceremony. The school also plans to use the cruiser for educational purposes.
“Most of the equipment is of course obsolete and does not comply with modern requirements. But we can use its communications center and lifeboats, and teach our students semaphore signals there,” said school director Nikolai Andreyev.
The Aurora was launched in 1900 in a ceremony attended by Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, and joined the Imperial Navy in 1903. In 1944, it was turned into a naval museum.
Reports, Projects and Scenarios to Reconcile Elite
Before progressing with the inevitable economic reforms, the ruling elite and society have to decide on the kind of country they are to build. This is what the new Valdai International Club expert meeting will focus on. The Valdai Club will discuss liberal economic development scenarios – along with members of the conservative Izborsk Club.
There are four scenarios for Russia’s economic development over the next decade, believes Valdai Club co-founder Sergei Karaganov. He thinks the scenarios will be further developed before they are included in the final report for the government, which could be presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Oil prices and the ruling elite are two common variables in all four scenarios. Should the elite fail to implement reforms, falling oil prices could deliver the worst of these four scenarios. If prices remain steady but the elite are inert, the country could gradually ‘fade away.’ If the elite opt for economic reform, Karaganov predicts ‘adequate and stable’ development in Russia, even if oil prices fall. However, if oil prices stay stable, and reforms are implemented, the country will experience a rapid boom.
Currently the ruling elites are fragmented and divided into two camps: reformist liberals and patriotic conservatives. Karaganov hopes that a way forward will be developed that reconciles the security forces with the oil people, those on the left and those on the right.
Even if the elite agree between themselves, an agreement with society is still needed. Karaganov thinks the Russian middle class, or intelligentsia, “has woken up but it is forcing itself out of politics.” Hence any economic scenario must necessarily include “a number of non-economic measures,” such judicial system reforms.
Liberal scenarios put forward by the Valdai Club will be closely scrutinized by Izborsk Club experts. Opponents are also working on a report for the government, which is rumored to propose ‘a breakthrough strategy,’ says club member Alexander Prokhanov.
The breakthrough could be motivated by the fact that the world is on the verge of dramatic upheavals, but Russia is not prepared for a war. “Russia has neither the weapons nor the economy for war; Russians lack a military mentality,” Prokhanov says.
A new wave of the crisis would “destroy what remains of the liberal economy. The country needs a ‘mobilizing project’ to give a sharp jolt to the economy and the organs of power.” The defense industry should become the driving engine behind the mobilization project. Meanwhile, society needs new cultural values and a common cause or ideology to win over even those parts of society not related to the defense industry.
The debate as to which ideological path the country should take is slated for the second day of the session. Sergei Dubinin, Chairman of the VTB Public Council, will speak for the Valdai experts. Sergei Glazyev, Executive Secretary of the EurAsEC Customs Union Commission, will argue on behalf of the Izborsk Club.
Condoms and Baby Pacifiers Clutter Druzhba Pipeline in Eastern Europe
Foreign objects including condoms have blocked flow meters in the Russian Druzhba oil pipeline in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, a pipeline operator employee told Vedomosti. The meters registered an unexpectedly sharp increase in oil throughput.
The meters were stopped so that they could be inspected, and reserve instruments were used instead. The condoms and baby pacifiers were found in the pipe on October 7 and 8, first in Slovakia and later in Hungary. MOL spokesperson Domokos Sollar confirmed that the meters had been damaged but said the system had continued operating: “We fixed the disruption without having any impact on operating figures.” He did not specify what caused the disruption.
When asked about the reported presence of rubber objects in the pipeline, Pavel Karpovich, deputy director general of the pipeline’s Belarusian operator, Gomeltransneft, said he was not authorized to speak on the issue. “I don’t know why your esteemed publication should be interested in such information,” Karpovich said.
A Transneft official told Vedomosti that disruption to flow meter operation had been recorded in Serbia and Hungary. “We know about this. We know that the malfunction was due to rubber products found in the pipeline,” said Igor Dyomin, spokesman for the Russian oil pipeline operator.
There have not been any problems of this kind in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, he said: “We can assume that foreign bodies somehow found their way into the pipeline a transit country – Ukraine or Belarus.” Transneft experts believe that rubber products found their way into the pipeline together with elements designed to improve the oil flow.
This is no accident, Dyomin said: “When oil is stolen in Dagestan, thieves use high pressure to add water into the pipe. In this case, rubber products were added, disrupting flow meter operation. That is why it was impossible to calculate the oil throughput.”
Transneft received complaints about foreign rubber products in the pipe from its Hungarian and Slovak colleagues, Dyomin said, adding that the Slovak partners had refused to sign the oil acceptance act with Ukraine.
Slovakia’s Transpetrol and Ukraine’s Ukrtransnafta declined to reply to questions put to them by Vedomosti.
Ondrej Smolik, deputy chairman of the board of supervisors of Czech pipeline operator Mero, said that there were no malfunctions in their section of the pipeline.
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