MOSCOW, September 3 (RIA Novosti) Abkhazia-Georgia war in the Black Sea improbable / Russia launches new military reform stage / Prime Minister Vladimir Putin presses Bulgarian counterpart for decisions on energy projects / Russia admits plan to send MiG fighters to Syria
Abkhazia-Georgia war in the Black Sea improbable
The Abkhazian navy has been ordered to use weapons to stop the "piratical" incursions of Georgian warships into Abkhazia's territorial waters. The republic's president, Sergei Bagapsh, said they would not need the assistance of the Russian Navy or coast guards.
The Georgian border guards have detained 23 ships flying various flags on their way to Abkhazia so far in 2009. This week, a court in Kutaisi sentenced Mehmed Dzhoshkun Ozturk, captain of the Turkish tanker Buket that was carrying gasoline and diesel fuel to Abkhazia, to 24 years in prison for smuggling and violating the ban on unauthorized economic activity in what Georgia considers an occupied territory.
Mikhail Barabanov, a Russian naval analyst, said Abkhazia has the technical ability to fight Georgia's coast guards, because Russian marines sank Georgia's largest warships, the Dioskuria and the Tbilisi missile boats, in Poti during the military conflict in August 2008.
However, the analyst believes that the coast guards of the Russian Federal Security Service would most be likely instructed to curtail Georgia's naval raids. Under a Russian-Abkhazian agreement, Russia is obliged to protect the republic's maritime borders.
Abkhazian Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said: "We have agreements with Russia on border protection."
He said Abkhazia would highlight the problem of Georgia's "piracy" at the upcoming round of the Geneva talks on security in the South Caucasus scheduled for September 17-18.
"If this does not help, we will use force to solve the problem, just as we have done in the past," the minister said.
Igor Lander, president of Ukraine's Association of Marine Agents, said that international law allows merchant ships to pass through the territorial waters of coastal states but Georgia has been detaining ships bound for Abkhazia, allegedly for smuggling.
Lander said that responsible ship owners were unlikely to send their ships to Abkhazia's territorial waters in view of the high risk of conflict.
But Georgian military analyst Irakly Sesiashvili does not support this view. "There will be no naval confrontation. As for foreign ships going to Georgia, they usually drop anchor away from Abkhazia, in the ports of Poti or Batumi."
Russia launches new military reform stage
Under the current military reform, the Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet and Caspian Flotilla have been made subordinate to the commander of the North Caucasian Military District and will have the status of naval commands.
This is the only district in the army with combat experience, an expert said. The fleet, whose ships took part in the war with Georgia, will not do it any harm.
"It makes sense to subordinate the Black Sea Fleet and the Caspian Flotilla which are much smaller than their Soviet-era equivalents to the only fighting North Caucasian Military District," said Pavel Felgengauer, a Moscow-based military analyst.
In July 2009, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev summed up the results of the Caucasus-2009 strategic military exercise in Novorossiisk, emphasizing that the main task of the exercises was to streamline the joint inter-departmental troop-control system in the region.
Felgengauer said the military-command system was the essence of the ongoing military reform conceived by Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, and that the system would resemble the U.S. armed forces, where the various operational commands can include completely different military formations.
He said the system had already been introduced in the Kaliningrad Region, Russia's Baltic exclave, where the Baltic Fleet commands a military formation comprising army, coastal-defense, air force and air-defense units.
He said the General Staff wanted to establish a full-fledged military command in southern Russia.
The reform is not linked with the Black Sea Fleet's possible re-deployment from Sevastopol to Novorossiisk, where a naval base is scheduled to be built by 2016, Felgengauer said.
"The military has reached a consensus that the fleet will remain in Sevastopol. Russia will try and persuade Ukraine to extend the naval-base lease agreement, due to expire in 2017." Felgengauer said.
He said the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol was virtually defenseless against a ground attack, that its ships had to be scuttled during the 1853-1856 Crimean War, and that the fleet had sailed out during the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany.
"Russia will need an external base if it wants to defend the city," Felgengauer said.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin presses Bulgarian counterpart for decisions on energy projects
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with his Bulgarian counterpart, Boyko Borissov, in Gdansk late on Tuesday night and gave him an ultimatum: Bulgaria has to decide as soon as possible if it wants to join Russia in building the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline.
On July 10, 2009, Borissov, leader of Bulgaria's pro-European GERB party, which had just won the country's parliamentary elections, called a halt to all Bulgaria's negotiations with Russia, including a new gas supplies agreement, the South Stream section across Bulgaria and the planned Belene nuclear power plant. His idea was to sit down and think whether all of these projects coincided with the country's interests.
"All we are asking for is a decision as soon as possible," Putin said. "We have been discussing the Burgas-Alexandroupolis project for years. Just tell us 'No' and we'll forget it."
This is not the first time Putin has pressed his European counterparts in this way. In November 2008 he also asked Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen to decide faster on the construction of Nord Stream.
Finland lifted environmental concerns in July and gave permission to build the pipeline; the formalities will be completed this fall. This suggests there is a chance that the trick will work again, all the more so since in the north, Russia's only option if Finland refused would have been to build liquefaction plants, while in the south, there is much more room for maneuver.
The Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline can be replaced by the Russian-Turkish Samsun-Ceyhan project. The most important question is whether there will be enough oil to fill both pipes if both projects go ahead.
"At present, around 110 million metric tons of oil is shipped through the Bosporus every year, which is the ceiling for the route. And if we add up the planned capacities of both pipelines, we will get exactly the same amount," said Valery Nesterov from Troika Dialog. The two planned pipelines will eventually remove oil tankers from the strait. Therefore, according to Nesterov, if one of the projects is implemented now, the other will be automatically postponed for an indefinite period.
As for South Stream, that pipeline could cross Romania or Greece instead of Bulgaria. This will depend on how pliable Bulgaria's neighbors prove, while the country is trying to negotiate more privileges for itself.
Russia admits plan to send MiG fighters to Syria
Russia has officially admitted plans to deliver a batch of Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-31-E Foxhound fighters-interceptors to Syria for the first time.
Alexei Fyodorov, CEO of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), told business daily Kommersant that the 2007 contract had never entered into force, but that his company hoped to implement it.
He said UAC hoped the contract would stabilize the situation at the Nizhny Novgorod-based Aircraft-Building Plant Sokol now overhauling warplanes on orders from Rosoboronexport, the sole state arms exporter.
The United Aircraft Corporation brings together private and state assets engaged in the manufacture, design and sale of military, civilian, transport, and unmanned aircraft.
"The media, which 'concluded' the contract in 2007, annulled it in 2009," a spokesperson for Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG said in May 2009. The Syrian government officially denied the Russian statement two days later.
Syria was to have received eight warplanes under the $400-500 million contract. In the summer of 2007, Sokol launched preparations to fulfill the contract.
As production of MiG-31s stopped in 1994, Syria was to have received aircraft from Russian Air Force and industrial reserves. Sokol was upgrading the planes on the client's orders.
However, new problems may emerge even if the Syrian contract is signed. The Russian Prosecutor General's Office recently said investigators in its Investigatory Committee's Nizhny Novgorod division had opened a criminal case regarding a fraud that involved four MiG-31 airframes worth 466 million rubles ($14.5 million), part of the Sokol mobilization reserve.
Sergei Karabayev, managing partner of Karabayev & Partners law firm, said investigation agencies could decide to impound the disputed airframes as evidence during the above-said criminal proceedings.
Konstantin Makiyenko, deputy director of the Russian Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said all legal disputes regarding MiG-31 airframes would be resolved as soon as the government decided to ship the planes to Syria.
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