NATO-based European security system unacceptable for Moscow / U.S. lacks strength and desire for all-out stand-off with China - analyst / Russia may freeze export duties on timber / Vietnam to buy $1 billion worth of Russian aviation equipment /
NATO-based European security system unacceptable for Moscow
It looks like NATO has extended a hand to Moscow, but the latter is unwilling to shake it, a Russian analyst writes.
Igor Zevelev, director of the MacArthur Foundation Moscow office, quotes new Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who described the improvement of NATO-Russian relations as one of the alliance's priorities. Madeleine Albright flies to Moscow for consultations about NATO's new strategy, while Moscow's new defense policy puts NATO's "ambition to move its military infrastructure closer to Russian borders" at the top of the list of potential external threats, the analyst says.
But is Russia the only country refusing to see today's NATO as different from the old Cold War alliance? NATO's transformation is seen differently depending on whether it is viewed from Washington, Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow or Kabul.
NATO certainly holds an important place on many countries' "military-political radars." However, each "radar" is tuned to track different processes, the analyst reflects.
For Russia, NATO is not just a partner in the NATO-Russia Council. It is also an alliance whose policies and military planning are both anti-Russian and which has a growing network of bases near Russian borders.
During my time at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, I often heard high-ranking Central European and Baltic officials saying that NATO was primarily a bloc ensuring their collective defense against their most likely enemy, Russia, Zevelev writes.
Therefore, it is no surprise that many Russians view NATO's role similarly. According to the Levada Center, a Russian polling organization, 63% of Russians see NATO as hostile a group as it has ever been, while only 3% think that Russia should seek NATO membership.
However, a small but influential part of the Russian political elite thinks differently. The Institute of Contemporary Development (INSOR), a Moscow think tank, recently hosted an expert discussion of its high-profile project, "Russia in the 21st Century: The Image of the Desired Tomorrow," which does envisage Russia joining NATO one day.
Nevertheless, even if the Russian government accepts the concept of NATO as a different group from the purely military bloc it used to be, Moscow would still deem it unacceptable to build a NATO-centered European security system, because that would mean Russia finds itself shut out from its new architecture, the analyst concludes.
U.S. lacks strength and desire for all-out stand-off with China - analyst
Throughout 2009, analysts discussed Chimerica, a neologism describing the symbiotic relationship between China and the United States, with incidental reference to the legendary chimera.
The word Chimerica describes an economic entity comprising China, the world's largest manufacturer, and the United States, the world's largest consumer.
Although prospects for the G2, a proposed strategic alliance between the two superpowers capable of controlling the 21st century world, were discussed seriously, everything has completely changed in the past few weeks, writes a prominent Russian political analyst.
Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Polity Foundation, a non-profit, non-government think tank, says the current setback in Chinese-U.S. relations is primarily due to the Democratic Party's losses during mid-term congressional elections caused by 10%-plus unemployment, which could easily be blamed on China.
The Chinese response is becoming increasingly tough because Beijing is feeling strong during the current financial and economic crisis, the analyst writes. China, which has invested huge sums into the United States, does not think it depends on the U.S. more than the U.S. depends on it. Unlike the West, China has accumulated substantial currency reserves. In addition, Chinese culture in general, which is several thousand years old, feels superior to U.S. culture which was created only 233 years ago.
China is feeling apprehensive about the G2 concept because it fears possible U.S. domination. However, Beijing cannot dump its large currency reserves for fear of undermining the dollar and the U.S. economy. This would depreciate its own international reserves and reduce China's vital sales market, the analyst writes. U.S. corporations are also unlikely to withdraw from the fastest growing global market, the analyst writes. Who will finance the $1.3 trillion federal-budget deficit laid out by President Barack Obama for 2011?
Washington lacks the strength and desire for an all-out confrontation with China. Afghanistan and Iraq highlight the limitations of U.S. power. Regardless of the disagreements, Beijing understands America's role in the modern world.
This is distinct from Russia, which has dozens of alleged strategic partners. China has only two such partners, Moscow and Washington, the analyst writes.
No serious confrontation is anticipated. Moreover, the G2 concept is becoming increasingly far-fetched. A subsequent escalation of tensions would spell dire consequences for the global economy and any anti-crisis prospects. Buckle up, anyway, the analyst writes in conclusion.
Russia may freeze export duties on timber
During his visit to Finland, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that Russia may not raise timber export duties in the next few years. Experts believe this will maintain the current level of deliveries, but fail to generate new production capacity in Russia.
As early as 2006, Putin recommended that the government "stop chewing snot" and do what it could to encourage the lumber processing industry in Russia, rather than simply export logs. To promote the concept, timber export duties have been raised twice since 2007: first from 4 euros to 10 euros per cubic meter and then to 15 euros. It was planned to raise them to 50 euros in 2009, but was postponed until 2011.
Now, according to Putin, "the possibility of extending" the postponement further is being considered. But the prime minister said the intention to keep increasing these duties remains: "We wish no one harm; we only wish to do what is good for us." The industry supports the decision to maintain the current duties in the coming years, but nevertheless expect an increase eventually.
Russia supplies 20% of Finland's raw forest materials, Zakhar Smushkin, CEO of Ilim Group, said in a Vedomosti interview. "Tactically it is the right approach to keep the current duties unchanged, but strategically this cannot continue, because every nation should seek to produce high added value products."
This is no time to raise duties, says Dmitry Chuiko, PR director of Ilim.
If duties are increased, export volumes will fall, which in 2009 dropped by 40% anyway, warns Lilia Atamanyuk, an analyst with Lesprom Network.
Even the current rates are too high for the Finns, says Andrei Vasyukov, vice-president of UPM-Kymmene.
However, analysts believe the decision to maintain the current duties is more political in nature. In return, the Finnish government will expedite its endorsement process on the Nord Stream gas pipeline, says Atamanyuk.
Vietnam to buy $1 billion worth of Russian aviation equipment
Vietnam is becoming the largest buyer of Russian combat aviation equipment. Analysts say that this growing Vietnamese-Russian military cooperation is maintaining the balance of forces between Vietnam and China, as well as facilitating Russia's return to Southeast Asia.
Military officials and diplomats said that Russia signed a $1 billion contract with Vietnam the other week to deliver 12 Su-30MK2 Flanker-C multirole fighter planes, aircraft equipment and spare parts in 2011-2012.
In early 2009, Vietnam signed two large contracts with Russia estimated at between $3.6 billion and $4.3 billion, the first one for eight Su-30MK2 fighters. Initially, Vietnam wanted to buy 12 planes, but revised the contract in the wake of the economic crisis.
Analysts say that the Su-30 is one of Russia's best export aircraft. Its combat efficiency has been proved during many training fights, including against the U.S. F-15/16 fourth-generation aircraft. It forms part of the air forces of India, China and Malaysia.
Vietnam currently has 12 Su-27 Flanker and four Su-30MK Flanker-C fighter planes, as well as 140 MiG-21bis Fishbed fighters and 53 Su-22M Fitter bombers.
Alarmed by China's growing influence in the region, Vietnam has launched a large-scale rearmament program.
Professor Carl Thayer of the Australian Defense Force Academy said Vietnam is looking to acquire a capability to protect sovereignty over the Spratly Islands (Nansha Qundao in Chinese) in the South China Sea. They are also claimed by China, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines.
Vietnam is replacing its Su-27 with Su-30 planes, and it professionals therefore want to understand the technology of that plane, produced in China under a Russian license, Prof. Thayer told the newspaper.
In his opinion, Vietnam's weapons rely on the legacy of the former Soviet Union, and Vietnam would like to retain technological compatibility for maintenance and training purposes.
Rather than indicating a quarrel with China, Thayer believes that Russia's weapons sale to Vietnam represents its return to the region it left after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the closure of its Cam Ranh naval base in 2002.
MOSCOW, February 11 (RIA Novosti)
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Earlier this month, Russia hosted the Fourth International Meeting of the Arctic Council at Naryan-Mar, a seaport in the Barents Sea, to discuss issues relating to the infrastructure and safety of ships passing through the Northern Sea Route (NSR).