I have no idea what to make of this report. That is except that this whole affair is getting stranger and stranger . . . and if true, scarier and scarier.
By Cahal Milmo, Peter Popham and Jason Bennetto
Published: 29 November 2006
Alexander Litvinenko, the poisoned former Russian agent, told the Italian academic he met on the day he fell ill that he had organised the smuggling of nuclear material out of Russia for his security service employers.
Mario Scaramella, who flew into London yesterday to be interviewed by Scotland Yard officers investigating Mr Litvinenko’s death, said Mr Litvinenko told him about the operation for the FSB security service, the successor to the KGB.
Police said that Mr Scaramella, who met Mr Litvinenko at a sushi bar in London on 1 November to discuss a death threat aimed at both of them, was a potential witness. He was being interviewed at a “secure location” in London but was not in custody.
The Health Protection Agency said that eight people had been referred to a clinic in London for tests for exposure to polonium-210, the radioactive substance that killed Mr Litvinenko. It declined to say whether Mr Scaramella was among them.
A post-mortem examination will be carried out on Mr Litvinenko on Friday.
In an interview with The Independent shortly after the poisoning became public, Mr Scaramella said that Mr Litvinenko, a friend and professional contact since 2001, told him he had masterminded the smuggling of radioactive material to Zurich in 2000. There have long been concerns that turmoil in Russia and other former Soviet states after the fall of Communism created an international black market in radioactive substances.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
I’m not sure how to take or what do to with yesterday’s Izvestia’s article (Mosnews has an English summary here) which reports that the slain leader of the Chechen nationalist movement, Alan Maskhadov believed Shamil Basaev was taking money from Boris Berezhovsky to wage war against Russia in the interests of the US and England. This information comes from statements from one “Maskhadovtsy” named Vakhit Murdashev and his lawyer Baiali El’murzaev. According to their statements, Maskhadov wanted reconcile with Moscow because he viewed that the US and England’s geopolitical interests in the Caucuses posed a more dangerous threat to Chechnya than the Kremlin. According to information Murdashev provided Izvestiia,
“Aslan Maskhadov feared that Shamil Basaev fell under the influence of Berezovskii, and worker for him for money, and could lose sight of the idea of independence and go under the sway of the West. If this was correct, [it could] work on tearing the Caucuses away from Russia. [Maskhadov and Basaev] had a fundemental disagreement over this, and in conversations with Murdashev, Maskhadov said that it was better to form an alliance with Russia than fall under the sway of the West.”
Potentially explosive stuff. However, some caution should be taken considering how some of the players are connected. Placing the exiled oligarch and major Kremlin critic Boris Berezhovsky as Basaev’s financier seems way to good to be true from the Kremlin’s perspective. Berezhovsky fled Russia to France to escape a fate similar to Mikhail Khordokovsky. The Berezhovsky-Basaev-US/Britian connection seems too conspiratorial and too easily explained as Russian concern about the US influence in the region. But what this story also presents is some bad news for the Kremlin. When Maskhadov was killed, many commentators quickly pointed out that Moscow now had no one to talk to on the Chechen side. According to other information released since his death, Maskhadov was trying to sue for peace with Russia. There are no such hopes with someone like Basaev. If the report in Izvestiia is true, it only shows further how Maskhadov’s death was a major and tragic mistake.Post Views: 98
By Sean — 11 years ago
As of Friday, the price of oil on the world market stood at $50 a barrel, the lowest it’s been since May 25, 2005. This is both bad and good news for Russia. As the world’s largest oil producer, Russia’s economy and international standing is measured in its ability to pump and sell crude. Russian independence is in relation to the price of oil. For the power elite in Russia the drop in oil prices bodes as a possible bad omen. But not quite yet. According to statements by Russian Development and Trade Minister German Gref, Russia’s Stabilization Fund, which now stands at $88.5 billion as of January 1, will not begin to take a beating until or if oil prices drop below $27 a barrel.
However, for consumers in Russia, who pay an average of $1.45 for a gallon of gas in Moscow (1 gallon equals 3.785 liters and it is now 38 rubles to the dollar), the drop in oil prices provides more relief to an ever increasing autocentic nation where monthly income averages around $300 a month.
But Russia’s, let alone the world’s other industrial(izing) nations, fortunes and misfortunes in regard to the price of oil might not be fully in their own hands. In the era of globalization, economic (mis)fortune is determined by the strength of the vast economic web that spans to every corner of the globe. Russian domestic economic policy is merely an afterthought when local conflicts in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East can veer the global economic rudder. The power of “peripheral nations” to affect the economic stability of “core nations” is a result of what analysts call the “resource curse.” Impoverished nations who have oil and gas as their sole economic resource are also some of the most politically unstable, making them an increasing factor in determining the economic future of the world’s powerhouses.
Nothing points to this fact more than Sebastian Junger’s excellent article “Blood Oil” in the most recent issue of Vanity Fair. Junger argues that the world’s oil prices could potentially be held hostage by small militant groups like Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. Since January 2006, MEND has intensified attacks on Nigerian oil pipelines and infrastructure and has repeatedly kidnapped oil workers. The effect of one attack on a Shell oil field in early 2006 resulted “in roughly 250,000-barrel-a-day drop in Nigerian oil production and a temporary bump in world oil prices.” The group’s most recent incident occurred Sunday, when MEND members hijacked a cargo ship and took 24 foreign nationals hostage. It is too early to tell if this attack will have an impact on the price of oil when markets open on Monday.
The threat of small power, Junger argues, can have nightmarish economic affects. In one scenario hypothesized by the Oil ShockWave conference:
[A] near-simultaneous terrorist attacks on oil infrastructure around the world could easily send prices to $120 a barrel, and those prices, if sustained for more than a few weeks, would cascade disastrously through the American economy.
Gasoline and heating oil would rise to nearly $5 a gallon, which would force the median American family to spend 16 percent of its income on gas and oil—more than double the current amount. Transportation costs would rise to the point where many freight companies would have to raise prices dramatically, cancel services, or declare bankruptcy. Fewer goods would be transported to fewer buyers—who would have less money anyway—so the economy would start to slow down. A slow economy would, in turn, force yet more industries to lay off workers or shut their doors. All this could easily trigger a recession.
Granted, by Oil ShockWave’s estimation the American economy would most likely be directly affected by such attacks. As of November 2006, the United States imports 10,126,000 barrels of oil a day, 919,000 of which comes from Nigeria and 1, 444,000 from Saudi Arabia. But suffice to say, a slump in the American economy would send shockwaves around the world.
How would regional conflicts affect Russia? If the last year is any indication, the economic prognosis of high oil prices is good for Putin’s state. The war in Iraq, political tension and instability in the Middle East and West Africa, and ecological disasters like Hurricane Katrina has produced a boom for Russia. The macroeconomic success of the Putin Administration is funded by petrodollars. This is not to say that as the world largest oil exporter, global instability is only good for Russia. Multinational oil conglomerates have hardly complained about rising oil prices. At the bottom line, the real beneficiaries of high energy costs are the global elite.
Still, the fact that 60 percent of Russia’s budget comes from oil and gas revenues makes it increasingly hostage to political (in)stability around the world. While, say, attacks by Nigerian militants in the Niger Delta might spike oil prices to Russia’s benefit, “at the same time,” writes Igor Nikolayev, “Russia is gradually becoming integrated into the international economic community. That means it is important to take into account economic-growth trends in industrial nations and emerging markets, the volatility of the world’s major currencies, and the movement of leading stock-market indices, among other factors.”
Thus, a paradox. Economic forecasters in the Kremlin are hedging their bets that oil prices will remain around $61 a barrel for 2007. From this estimate they are predicting that the Russian economy will show a 4.8-4.9% percent growth rate from 2007-2009. High oil prices equal a continued economic boom.
Yet, the maintenance of high oil prices comes at, albeit a long term cost. First, prices will rise at home, cutting into household and personal incomes creating dissatisfaction among the population. This is possibly the least threatening outcome since the Kremlin hardly responds to domestic political pressure. Second, high oil prices will raise tensions between Russia and importer regions like the European Union and its near abroad—Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia. It is no surprise that questions about Russia’s “reliability” come exactly when prices are so high that it gives Russia extra muscle against its customers. Nor is it strange that Russia’s problems with its near abroad have come when energy has become an effective political weapon against its former satellites. The cost of high prices here can potentially be costly, but that cost is more in relation to wider geopolitical struggles. If the English language media is any indication, Russia’s energy supremacy and its willingness to wield it have inaugurated a new Cold War. Third, and perhaps most costly, is that high oil prices resulting from geopolitical instability only hurt Russia in the long term, especially if its economic fate beyond petrodollars is increasingly tied with the economies of the United States, Europe, and East Asia. The Russian state might continue the fantasy that petrodollars can maintain its national sovereignty, but that may one day become a fetter on its economic solvency.
Hence Russia’s crude paradox. Either way you cut it, in the long run oil is more a curse than a blessing.Post Views: 183
By Sean — 12 years ago
Here is a summary of interesting news stories coming out of Russia this week.
—The U.S. military will abandon its airbases in Uzbekistan. Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s administration asked the U.S. to leave after it suggested an international probe into the massacre of over 800 people in town of Andijan. I’m surprised. Given the Bush Administration’s “commitment” to human rights, I figured that they would make the standard public condemnations, while assuring Karimov behind the scenes that their call for a probe was far from serious. Perhaps Karimov accidentally took them seriously. This news comes as the Andijan 15 are being tried in Uzbek courts for orchestrating an uprising. It seems that the EU is taking some “harsher” measures by placing an arms embargo on Uzbekistan.
—The drama around the Beslan Mothers and cult leader Grigorii Grabovoi heats up. Several of the mothers have filed a request to the Russian General Prosecutor Vladimir Ustinov to investigate Grabovoi’s dealings. The appeal stated: “This cultist’s cynical promise to resurrect those killed in the terrorist act is blasphemous to all those who suffered in this dreadful tragedy. We … ask you to investigate the legality of Grigory Grabovoi’s actions and to bring him to justice under Russian law.”
—Amnesty International released a report this week condemning abductions, secret detentions, and torture carried out by Russian authorities in Ingushetia and Chechnya. The report charges that “Russia’s “war on terror” is being used as an excuse for systematic human rights abuses.” Unfortunately, Russia is not alone it the use of Bush’s “war on terror” to commit such acts without concern for national or international law, not to mention, human rights. According to the press release, Amnesty International
“detected a new trend in the human rights abuses in the North Caucasus. People are reportedly being arbitrarily detained and held in incommunicado detention, where they are subjected to torture and ill-treatment, in order to force them to confess to crimes that they have not committed. Once they have signed a “confession” they are reportedly transferred to another detention facility where they have access to a lawyer of their choice and relatives; but the confession seems to be enough “evidence” to secure their conviction.”
Such measures are a disturbing reminder of Soviet practices. Then it was “enemies of the people.” Now its “terrorists.”
—In a sign of some progress and recognition of the problem of HIV/AIDS in the military, Russian soldiers will now be given condoms before they go on leave. Official statistics put detected HIV/AIDS cases in the Russian military since 1989 has number 2000. One can assume that this number is very, very low.
—Already in anticipation to the 2008 elections, the Federal Registration Service is going to begin a “proverka,” or check, of registered Russian political parties. According to legislation passed last December, registered electoral parties must have a national membership of 100,000, and at least 500 members in each of the county’s 89 regions.
—Kommersant is reporting that the bones of General Anton Denikin, the commander of the White Army during the Russian Civil War (1918-1920, are being flown from New York for burial in the Donskoi cemetery in Moscow. The transfer comes with a special Presidential envoy.
—In another sign of progress, a St. Petersburg Court ruled that Oktyabrskaya Railroad broke the law when it rejected a man’s application because he was a homosexual. In addition, a Yaroslav court upheld the rights of a lesbian woman who was fired from teaching because of “health problems,” i.e. she’s gay. Many Russians still believe in the Soviet view that homosexuality is a mental disease.
—I don’t think that I need to dwell to long on the biggest story coming out of Russia this week: Gazprom’s $13 billion purchase of SibNeft. The purchase further consolidates Gazprom’s dominance of Russian energy and oil markets as well as shows its intention to become a global player in oil and natural gas.
—And finally, Vitaly Matyukhin, a resident of Archangelsk has spent the last 15 years in a living his summer days in a refrigerator. Matyukhin apparently suffers from a rare heat exchange disorder where he can’t be in temperatures over 5 C. So during the warm weather of September he spends most of his time in a self built refrigerator, only to come out at night. Born in Krasnodar, he moved to Archangelsk to escape the southern heat. Only in Russia . . .Post Views: 336