Uzbekistan Tuning Up to Russia - Political Scientists
Uzbekistan, which slammed the door when it pulled out of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in 1999, is ready to return. Political scientists see this as a change of policy toward Russia by Uzbek leader Islam Karimov.
They say the events in Andijan were the reason behind this change. The United States denounced the use of force to quell the May 13 revolt in Andijan, which led to the loss of civilian lives.
These events certainly influenced Karimov's choice. Karimov demanded that the U.S. pull its air force out of the Khanabad base, where it had been operating as part of counter-terrorist efforts in Afghanistan, six months before Andijan. The reason was not failure by the U.S. to pay for use of the base. Karimov simply began questioning American intentions after the "color revolutions" in Tbilisi and Kiev.
The Uzbek leader apparently saw that in the case of a revolution in the country, similar to those in Georgia and Ukraine, Washington might refuse to help, while Moscow and Beijing would do their best to assist him.
This is why Karimov stepped up relations with China, including within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO - Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan), and joined the Eurasian Economic Community (Eurasec - Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan), a post-Soviet analogue of the European Union.
When the situation deteriorated in Azerbaijan and a power change was forced upon Kyrgyzstan, Karimov saw, without a doubt, that the time was ripe for choosing foreign policy priorities.
The Americans' withdrawal from Uzbekistan and Uzbekistan's readmission to the CSTO (Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) would benefit Moscow in the long run, as it will have to assume responsibility for regional stability from the U.S. But can the Kremlin do it better than the White House?
On the other hand, Nikolai Bordyuzha, CSTO general secretary, said that Tashkent had not yet filed an official admission request.
Did Terrorists in Nalchik Plan to Attack the Kremlin?
The actions of Russian security-related services during the October 13 terrorist raid on Nalchik foiled a major operation comparable to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. This is the conclusion of experts from U.S. analytical center Strategic Forecasting, StratFor. Russians are skeptical about this supposition.
According to StratFor's report titled Nalchik: The 9/11 That Wasn't, "The events in Nalchik apparently were supposed to be only the first phase of a plan that ultimately was to include flying explosives-laden aircraft into high-profile targets elsewhere in Russia." The possible targets of the force of "about 700 militants" were supposed to be "the Kremlin, a military district headquarters and a railroad hub in Rostov-on-Don, a nuclear plant in the vicinity of Saratov, and a hydroelectric plant or dam on the Volga."
"We cannot say so far that the militants in Nalchik planned an attack on the airport," Mikhail Pankov, head of the main Interior Ministry Department for the Southern Federal District, said commenting on StratFor's report.
In Nalchik, the militants attacked mostly security-related facilities. According to the Prosecutor General's Office, if they had seized weapons stored there, they would have attacked many other targets in the city. This means that they had the same goal as last year's attack in Nazran, Ingushetia - kill as many law-enforcement and security officers as possible, seize their weapons (they obtained 1,200 from an Interior Ministry warehouse in Nazran), and expose the impotence of law enforcement.
Moreover, only an experienced pilot can fly a passenger airplane, and the militants most probably did not have specialists who could have fueled five planes and taken off during fighting.
But even if they did, all five planes would have been shot down by army aviation or air defense long before reaching their targets.
Russia Offers Oil for U.S. Strategic Reserves
On Thursday, a top Russian official made a sensational offer to the United States. As much as 700 million barrels of Russian Urals oil can be pumped into U.S. strategic reserves, Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said. He even has a potential supplier in view, LUKoil, which, in his opinion could well replace Venezuela as the main U.S. oil supplier. Experts, however, say that the plan is difficult to fulfill and unnecessary.
Today only two Russian companies, LUKoil and Rosneft, supply oil to America, but their overall share in U.S. imports is small and does not exceed 2%, Valery Nesterov, an analyst with Troika Dialog, said. Theoretically, Russia could raise its share to 8%, or 50 million metric tons annually. But it will still be unable to replace Venezuelan producers, he said.
LUkoil is ready to admit as much. One of the company's managers said that the project could not be implemented without a Northern sea pipeline that would allow the oil major to export fuel to the United States via tankers from Murmansk.
Nesterov said the minister's statement was strange. "So far Venezuela has shown no intention of stopping or reducing its exports to the United States," he said. "As to LUKoil, it planned to enter the American market via Venezuela, not instead of it. Besides, this plan is unfeasible due to the absence of infrastructure and the uncertainty about the northern route."
Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft is ready to build the Northern pipeline from Kharyaga to Indiga simultaneously with an eastern one, company vice president Sergei Grigoryev said. But he explained, "LUKoil has not guaranteed us pumping volumes, so we cannot launch construction."
Economists doubt that the initiative could be beneficial for the Russian economy. "We are already suffering from high oil prices," Nikolai Kashcheyev, analyst with Vneshtorgbank, said. A huge influx of taxes from oil producers' windfalls has to be sterilized in the stabilization fund. "If we want to raise the price of Urals, how would this correlate with the tasks of the Central Bank and the Finance Ministry to contain inflation and strengthen the ruble?" he asked.
Congress Clears NASA to Pay for Soyuz Rides
The U.S. Congress is in the process of easing one of the snags in the partnership between Roskosmos and the National Aeronautics Space Agency (NASA) of the United States. One of the most serious problems that stands in the way of the International Space Station (ISS) project may be removed from the agenda soon.
This week U.S. congressmen unanimously passed amendments to the Iran Nonproliferation Act, which bans commercial dealings between U.S. state agencies and Russia's space industry.
After the amendments are approved by the Senate and signed by President George W. Bush, NASA will no longer have to bother about returning to Earth astronaut William McArthur, the 11th and last American who under initial understandings between ISS partners was to have a free ride on Russia's Soyuz in spring.
Although the anti-Iranian bill remains intact, NASA has now been cleared to pay for Soyuz rides, and the agency, as its administrator Michael Griffin hopes, will be able to buy Russian technology and know-how needed for completing the ISS.
The hiatus in supplies to the station due to the Columbia disaster and the grounding of space shuttle missions could be filled, if only partly, by Russian spacecraft. But that technically simple decision suggested by Russia proved politically unacceptable to the U.S. In talks, NASA officials have constantly referred to their legislators, who have not allowed them to pay for the building of additional Soyuz craft and Progress freighters.
Hardened by American promises, the Russian Space Agency has received the news with reservation. Its press service said a proper response would follow when the amendments ran their course and NASA officially informed Moscow. It added that the absence of a political decision was not an obstacle to negotiations on technicalities and so the ISS program would not suffer.
SOK Group Takes Over AvtoVAZ
On October 27, Vladimir Kadannikov, 64, resigned as AvtoVAZ board chairman citing old age. The most famous and influential auto industry manager stepped down because SOK Group, the second largest car manufacturer in Russia founded 10 years ago, now owns more than 60% of AvtoVAZ shares.
SOK Group executives began to influence the AvtoVAZ management more actively in the last few years. SOK now supplies 37%-50% of all AvtoVAZ accessories. It also controls the entire chain of car dealerships and the secondary spare parts markets. AvtoVAZ cannot unilaterally pull out of such cooperation because it would otherwise have to pay a fine of 14 billion rubles ($492 million) for terminating its exclusive spare parts delivery contract with SOK Group.
SOK Group has 44 specialized companies producing different car accessories. It also controls the Izhavto and Roslada factories. The group mostly produces car accessories (90%) and motor vehicles (3%), earning a total of $2 billion last year.
Rumors of Kadannikov's resignation had circulated more than once. But his ouster came as a complete surprise to the Russian auto industry. "The company was dismayed by his resignation," an AvtoVAZ source noted.
All market watchers agree that Kadannikov could have suited any Russian authorities, including present-day and future leaders. They believe that the Kremlin will prevent anyone from taking over AvtoVAZ; and it will support the enterprise in order to convince everyone that Russia has its own car industry.
AvtoVAZ shares rose after news of Kadannikov's resignation. The price of ordinary shares increased by 10.64% to reach 738 rubles ($25.93) by the time the stock market closed. And preference stock reached 624 rubles ($21.93), up 2.22%. Experts explain this by the fact that the old-time AvtoVAZ team has depleted its potential. Market players hope the new management will increase the company's capitalization.