NATO wants free oil and gas, Kalashnikovs from Russia / Georgia wants to retrieve 2008 defeat / West finds new pretext for toughening sanctions against Iran / Trans-Asian gas pipeline does not threaten Gazprom's interests
NATO wants free oil and gas, Kalashnikovs from Russia
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen's first visit to Russia is likely to focus on Afghanistan. NATO expects Russia to increase its contribution to the fight against the Taliban, but analysts say this will not suit Russia's security interests.
The talks between Rasmussen, who was elected the 12th secretary general of the North Atlantic alliance, and Russian officials are expected to take place in a favorable atmosphere. The first ministerial meeting of the NATO-Russia Council after the Georgia-South Ossetia war in 2008 was held in Brussels on December 4, and a working group on Afghanistan has been set up.
However, it turned out on Monday that NATO is dissatisfied with Russia's contribution to its operation in Afghanistan. A high-ranking NATO diplomat said on condition of anonymity: "The Russians could do more. They could send their AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles. They have oil and gas that they could give, not sell to the alliance."
A NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan and the coming to power of the Taliban there would threaten Russia's national security, and therefore Russia should help the alliance, said Alexei Arbatov, an associate member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
"Giving oil and gas to the alliance would not do, but the supply of firearms and even heavy weaponry, although not free, could be considered," Arbatov said.
However, Pavel Zolotarev, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute for the U.S. and Canadian Studies, thinks that allowing NATO to ship weapons across Russia, let alone supplying firearms to a conflict-ridden country, would not be in Russia's security interests.
"We want the situation in Afghanistan to stabilize," Zolotarev said. "But Russia is already doing enough to train Afghan drug enforcement professionals and has signed an agreement on military transit with the United States."
"The political importance of that agreement is comparable to the U.S. Lend-Lease assistance to the Soviet Union during World War II. The United States is at war now, and we are helping it," the analyst said. "The United States apparently wants Russia to open a second front, but we have already had our 'first front' in Afghanistan."
"It is important not to cross the line so that a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan leaves Russia on the frontline, allowing the West to continue to implement its plans for NATO's eastward expansion," Zolotarev said.
Georgia wants to retrieve 2008 defeat
Russia suspects Georgia of plotting revenge by attempting to get back the Akhalgori (Leningorsky) District of South Ossetia by force, a Russian diplomatic source said.
The area could become the site of a new faceoff between Russia and Georgia, which is likely to want to retrieve its August 2008 defeat in the five-day war. Russia's Defense Ministry also believes this threat is real, since Georgia has been reinforcing its troops on the district's border. In addition to regular exercises and maneuvers, they are being trained in mountain fighting by Western instructors, a ministry source said.
Georgia is taking arms deliveries from Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Turkey and Israel. The chief of the Russian General Staff, Nikolai Makarov, said in November that Georgia's forces are now armed much better than they were before last August.
Separated from the mainland South Ossetia by a mountain ridge, Akhalgori is 75% populated by Georgians and was controlled by the Georgian authorities before August 2008. The Defense Ministry source said a Russian motorized company is currently deployed in the region, reinforced with tanks and artillery.
A source in South Ossetian presidential office, although recognizing tensions between local border guards and Georgian police, said those were not "prewar" tensions.
"These provoking statements are completely unjustified," said Shota Utiashvili, head of the analytical department of the Georgian Interior Ministry. "After the war, our country fully complied with the Medvedev-Sarkozy six point plan; the Georgian army had returned to its original positions, and international observers confirmed that Georgia, unlike Russia, did not violate its obligations."
Georgia could attempt to get partial revenge, but it is hardly possible in winter, said Alexander Skakov of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies. This could be prevented by changing the South Ossetian government's policy in the region: They need to focus more on improvement of living standards there.
Georgia's chances are not high from the military point of view, said retired Col. Viktor Murakhovsky, who is familiar with the situation. Even one company, if it is correctly dug-in, is capable of holding back Georgian forces there. More importantly, South Ossetia cardinally changed its attitude toward the army after the August war.
West finds new pretext for toughening sanctions against Iran
All Iran needs to produce a nuclear bomb is a detonator, reported The Times on Monday. The newspaper quotes a report by Iranian scientists which shows that Iran is working on testing a neutron initiator that triggers a nuclear explosion.
This runs counter to U.S. secret service reports claiming that Iran had mothballed its nuclear bomb program in 2003.
Russian analysts say this media leak is part of a campaign to exert pressure on Tehran.
The Times had the documents which were originally written in Farsi translated into English and the translation separately verified by two Farsi speakers.
The undated documents titled "Outlook for special neutron-related activities over the next four years" imply that Iranian scientists are studying various neutron-trigger versions that would leave no radioactive trace, which could be easily detected by IAEA inspectors.
Iran allegedly wants to use uranium deuteride, a neutron source, for making the neutron triggers. This substance is thought to have no possible civilian or military use other than in a nuclear weapon.
Pakistan used uranium deuteride to make its own nuclear bomb, and Iranian specialists could have gained access to Pakistani studies in this sphere, said Anton Khlopkov, the founding director of the Moscow-based Center for Energy and Security Studies.
Khlopkov says that the secret services have had access to the documents for a long time, and asks why they had decided to leak them to The Times only now. He believes this media leak "could serve as a pretext for inciting the campaign against Iran."
"After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Iranian government was forced to mothball its weapons programs, despite its possible interest in obtaining neutron-trigger technology," Khlopkov said.
Two years ago, U.S. intelligence confirmed that Tehran had stopped its nuclear program in 2003 but said it was moderately confident that research had not been resumed until mid-2007 at the earliest.
Despite existing suspicions, it is very hard to obtain conclusive evidence of Iran's weapons-grade nuclear program, said Vitaly Fedchenko, a researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
For instance, the IAEA had criticized Tehran for developing polonium-beryllium neutron initiators in 2005. However, the issue was closed in early 2008 after Iran provided an explanation.
Trans-Asian gas pipeline does not threaten Gazprom's interests
The gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, which was officially commissioned on Monday, is the first big post-Soviet gas pipeline built without Gazprom. However, the Russian energy giant is not going to lose out, a Russian analyst writes.
Mikhail Korchemkin, director of the U.S.-based East European Gas Analysis consultancy, writes that there is a reason for the indifference to the project Russian authorities and Gazprom have displayed so far. They hardly ever mention it at news conferences or in public statements.
But the Russian media is skeptical. Commentators and analysts question the ability of Turkmen, Chinese and British professionals to make correct estimates of the gas reserves in the Iolotan-Yashlar group of deposits. The latest report on the "falsification of data about the prospected and recoverable reserves" of the group of fields was published in October, two months before the pipeline was to be unveiled.
However, the China National Petroleum Corporation, which is involved in gas production in Turkmenistan, apparently considered the assessment to be correct and the project was implemented without delay.
On the other hand, an objective analysis of the situation shows that the construction of the trans-Asian pipeline is a positive event for Gazprom, Korchemkin writes.
First, Russia does not want Turkmen gas to be shipped to Europe. Moscow was outraged even by hints of possible direct ties between Turkmenistan and the European Union. At the same time, Gazprom did not view the trans-Asian pipeline as an obstacle to its talks with China.
Second, the pipeline will allow Turkmenistan to gradually make good the economic damage done to it by Gazprom, which unilaterally stopped implementing a long-term gas supply contract and the additional agreement of January 1, 2009. As a result, Turkmenistan lost more than 25% of its annual GDP.
Without the Chinese project, Turkmenistan would have pushed forward the talks on the construction of the trans-Caspian gas pipeline and on its involvement in the Nabucco project, both bypassing Russia. This would not suit Gazprom at all, the analyst writes.
So, both the direction and the timeframe of the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kaxakhstan-China pipeline suit Russia very well, Korchemkin concludes.
The 7,000-kilometer (4,300-mile) pipeline is to be finished by 2013. It is to ship gas from the Karachaganak, Tengiz and Kashagan fields in Kazakhstan, as well from the gas fields of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The pipeline is expected to cost $7.3 billion.
MOSCOW, December 15 (RIA Novosti)
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The growing outright rivalry between the United States and China gives Russia more foreign policy weight, enabling it to assume the role of a balancer. So far it has been doing so rather skillfully. Today it may participate in a joint naval exercise with China that Beijing positions as outwardly anti-American. But tomorrow it can team up with the naval forces of the Old World.