Russia should avoid scrapping all its nuclear weapons
The Global Zero scenario that presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama are being urged towards is nothing new, writes Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Polity Foundation. All participants in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, concluded more than 40 years ago, have pledged to move towards total nuclear disarmament. But the practical implementation of the proposals raises many questions.
How is Nuclear Zero compatible with the rapid build-up of conventional weapons that many NATO countries far surpass Russia? Russia is being advised to scrap its Strategic Missile Forces, the most combat-capable part of its armed forces, the guarantor of Russia's security. But no Western countries have ratified the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. There are situation where Russia would be simply defenseless without nuclear weapons.
It would be just as well to clarify the attitude of other members of the nuclear club to the idea of Global Zero, such as Britain, whose nuclear forces are closely integrated with U.S., or France which has rejoined the NATO military set-up, or China that plays a growing role in strategic military issues. And even countries with nuclear-capable weapons outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty: Israel, India, and Pakistan.
It is clear that any movement towards START zero cannot be accompanied by a build-up in missile defense systems, because the U.S. pulled out of the arms limitation treaty unilaterally. It is also not out of place to find out whether the U.S. is going to re-join the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, if there is a future for conventional arms control, and will Russia's proposal to ban weapons in space be adopted?
The following criteria could be reasonable for Russia's and global security: 1. The number of allowed warheads could be fewer than those permitted by the Moscow Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions (1,700 to 2,200 units by the end of 2012). A required condition should include "reconstitution capability." 2. The number of delivery vehicles in the nuclear triad could be radically cut, but under no circumstance should ground-based missiles be destroyed initially. 3. Agreement must be reached on the relationship between START reductions and the non-deployment of anti-missile defenses. 4. It is necessary to clearly spell out in detail the control mechanisms for the monitoring agreements.
When these conditions have been reached, it may be possible to conclude a treaty strengthening rather than reducing Russia's security.
West increases financial assistance to Belarus
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has increased its assistance to Belarus by some $1 billion to $3.52 billion and approved the immediate allocation of a second tranche worth $679.2 million under a program supported by a Stand-By Arrangement (SBA). It is also proposing that Russia provide additional support to the Belarusian economy.
Analysts are warning that this will allow President Alexander Lukashenko to continue to benefit from flirting with both the West and Russia.
Earlier, Russia said it would like to examine the results of the IMF's work in Belarus before making a decision on the next loan of $500 million to the struggling ex-Soviet republic.
Moscow will now have to go back on the words of Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who said in late May that Belarus was headed for bankruptcy, or show that it will not fulfill its obligations.
Analysts think the Kremlin should ignore the IMF's appeal.
Konstantin Simonov, head of Russia's National Energy Security Fund, said: "If we issue the loan to Minsk, it will look silly and only encourage it to demand additional privileges. If we issue the loan after all, it should be related to acquiring a stake in Belarusian assets no matter what Lukashenko says about Russia's infringements on Belarus's sovereignty."
Moscow could use a variety of instruments to apply pressure on Belarus, such as a 30% duty on gas.
Dmitry Orlov, director general of the Russian Agency of Political and Economic Communications, said that a Russian loan would preserve the status quo, allowing Lukashenko to benefit from flirting simultaneously with Moscow, Washington and Brussels.
"We should refuse to grant the new $500 million loan to Belarus and also say we will no longer subsidize its energy prices and may terminate the Customs Union agreement," Orlov said.
Analysts say that Belarus's political activity is currently directed westward. However, Belarusian political analyst Yury Shevtsov said this is not a lean to the West but an attempt to balance the country's political line.
"The IMF and the European Union will not be able to sponsor Lukashenko for ever," Orlov said. "The Belarusian budget will immediately become unbalanced without the Russian market and Russian loans, and Lukashenko knows this only too well."
Russia's defense industry only surviving on exports
The defense industry's high hopes of government orders to see it through the recession have not yet come true. According to a survey by the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) think tank, the industry's major companies are being kept afloat mainly due to 2008 export contracts signed when the economic downturn was just beginning.
Missile developer Almaz Antei, a major defense company, got half of its profits from export projects. Irkut, the largest manufacturer of fighter aircraft, officially announced that exports accounted for less than half of its 2008 earnings. However it had more to do with the company's accounting practices as some of the aircraft were delivered to a Sukhoi holding where foreign instrumentation and equipment was installed, which was registered as domestic supplies and not exports. The aircraft were exported later anyway. All the Su-30 fighters produced by Irkut in 2008 were for export.
During a recession production of civilian products becomes a burden for defense plants, a source in the Defense Ministry said citing the Uralvagonzavod engineering plant as an example. The production of railway cars and other civilian equipment has provided it with two-thirds of its 2008 earnings, according to CAST. However, with the sharp drop in railway contracts and mass layoffs, military-purpose products may once again become the company's focus.
In fact, Defense Ministry orders provided the bulk of earnings to many weapon manufacturers such as the Degtyarev firearms plant in Kovrov or the Kurgan engineering plant (producer of armored combat vehicles), which ranked 11th in terms of revenue, earning 6.6 billion rubles in 2008.
To bail out other defense companies, especially aircraft manufacturers, as their export contracts dwindle in the recession, the government will have to increase orders for combat planes and helicopters such as Su-35 and Mi-8 MTV-5, suggested Mikhail Barabanov, editor of the Eksport Vooruzheniy magazine. These purchases are crucial for the survival of Russia's aviation industry and the Air Force. The Russian Army may find itself without air support if there is another outbreak of tension in the Caucasus unless new Mi-8 transport helicopters are delivered without delay. This situation could lead to casualties, Barabanov warned.
Crisis forces Russians to think about elections
The Levada Center has polled Russians on their attitude to changes in election legislation. The results demonstrate that people yearn for "real" elections, most likely because of the ongoing crisis.
As many as 57% of those polled said they are in favor of reinstituting direct gubernatorial elections, with 20% against. Some 42% said they wanted at least part of State Duma deputies elected in single-mandate districts, with 18% against.
Respondents are divided on lowering the election threshold to 5%, with 36% in favor and 30% against, and 34% unsure, which shows that Russians have lost interest in the current party system.
This is understandable since Russia's parliamentary parties do not really represent anyone. The electorate can only watch political life like some kind of reality show, which you either love or hate but cannot influence.
However, the non-parliamentary parties, whose leaders have recently met with President Dmitry Medvedev, do not represent anyone either, and so the president's gesture of goodwill was lost in the vacuum of simulated democracy.
The Levada Center's poll has shown that Russians are prepared to vote, but only for "what they can see and touch," such as single-mandate candidates and governors whom they would be able to call to account.
The people do not need parties at this stage, because they want to be able to punish candidates by voting against them or encouraging them by voting for them.
The criteria of efficiency are not based on political principles, for the people do not want doctrines and ideologies, or views and values. They want politicians to feed them. This "sausage democracy" has revived the people's need for elections.
Physical needs have made Russians remember democracy after a 20-year break, and they are again relating efficiency to electivity.
In a Russian model of democracy, people only demand elections when they want to eat. Nothing personal, only the economy - pure and simple.
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Any response would likely boomerang on Russia – the partnership between Rosneft and ExxonMobil is a case in point. The United States has hit Russia with a third round of sanctions. This time the Americans went with a higher caliber weapon, targeting Russia’s biggest energy companies (Rosneft and Novatek) and banks (VEB and Gazprombank).