MOSCOW – Moscow hopes proposals made by world mediators to Iran over its nuclear program could lay the foundation for negotiations on solving the problem, Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov said Wednesday.
Russia was “closely coordinating” with the P5+1 group, which includes China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany, on the Iranian nuclear issue, Morgulov told the Interfax news agency.
Moscow expected “an updated package of demands” given by the Sextet to Iran during the late February Almaty meeting could lay the foundation for “consistent progress” in the nuclear talks, Morgulov said.
The parties held expert-level nuclear talks in Istanbul in late March to discuss a revised proposal that asks Iran to suspend its enrichment of uranium and disable the underground Fordow facility in exchange for limited sanction relief.
The next round of nuclear talks is scheduled for April 5-6 in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Russia believes a long-term settlement towards the Iranian nuclear issue should be based on the recognition of Iran’s “unconditional right to develop its civilian nuclear program,” Morgulov said.
Meanwhile, Russia highly values close dialogue with China over the Iranian nuclear program, as the two countries shared common positions in many aspects, he added.
Russia, together with China, believe the use of unilateral sanctions and political pressure on Iran only lead to a dead end, Morgulov said, adding that such moves were counterproductive and undermined diplomatic efforts in solving the problem.
The UN General Assembly on Tuesday overwhelmingly adopted the first-ever treaty to regulate the $80-billion-a-year conventional arms trade.
The assembly voted 154-3 for a resolution that will open the treaty for signature from June. Syria, North Korea and Iran – which had blocked the treaty last week – voted against it. Twenty-three nations abstained.
The first major arms accord since the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty would cover tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, as well as small arms and light arms.
It would aim to force countries to set up national controls on arms exports. States would also have to assess whether a weapon could be used for genocide, war crimes or by terrorists or organized crime before it is sold. The treaty will not control the domestic use of weapons in any country.
The vote capped a more than decade-long campaign by activists and some governments to regulate the global arms trade.
Every country is free to sign and ratify the treaty, which will take effect after the 50th ratification from among the 193 UN member states, which could take up to two years.
(AFP, AP, Al-Akhbar)
23 countries, including China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and India abstained.
Russia and China – which both abstained during Tuesday’s vote – said that the vague criteria defined in the document may lead it to being manipulated for political ends, with various hostile countries defined as “human-rights abusers”. Russia also wanted the document to ban the supply of arms to non-state actors, such as rebels in the recent Arab uprisings.
India, another country that refused to endorse the treaty, and a major importer of arms, claimed the treaty gave excessive leverage to exporting states, who would be allowed to unilaterally break contracts for supposed ethical violations.
Baghdad and Moscow have agreed to renew an arms deal worth $4.2 billion that was put on ice in 2012 amid corruption allegations. Russia reportedly agreed to send four extra assault helicopters as part of the renegotiation.
It will be post-Saddam Iraq’s largest arms deal with a partner other than the US and its key allies. The agreement has not yet been formally signed, but will be soon, Russian newspaper Vedomosti reported, citing a source in the Russian arms export industry.
The trade agreement was initially signed in October 2012 during Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s visit to Moscow. Russia agreed to supply Iraq with 48 Pantsir-S1 short-to-medium-range air defense systems and 28 Mil Mi-28NE strike helicopters, among other arms.
But the deal faced scrutiny in Iraq over corruption allegations. At the time, conflicting reports emerged over whether the contract had been scrapped entirely or subjected to renegotiation.
The situation was aggravated by turmoil in the Iraqi parliament, which saw heated debate over the national general budget for 2013. The disagreement was finally shelved in March 2013 after months of debate, as the country’s Defense Ministry was given a free hand in procuring military hardware.
A new version of the multibillion-dollar arms deal was presented in Moscow last Monday after a delegation of top Iraqi military officials visited Russia, according to Iraqi news agency Al-Mada Press.
Moscow met the corruption concerns undermining the deal by offering four extra Mi-28 attack helicopters, the source told Vedomosti. An Iraqi MP reported similar terms last week to Russian news agency RIA Novosti. Ali al-Sha’la from al-Maliki’s Rule of Law coalition said the new deal covers more advanced technology, including aircraft weapons and instruments that will beef up Iraq’s air capabilities.
Some Iraqi lawmakers have expressed resistance to signing the contract. Deputy Parliament Speaker Aref Taifour of the Kurdistan Alliance faction criticized the deal days after it was renegotiated, calling it a “waste of public funds and continuation of the corruption in the country” in a statement.
The Mil Mi-28NE ‘night hunger’ is the export version of an upgraded variant of the Mi-28 attack helicopter. Compared to the older Mil-28 helicopter, a ‘tank killer,’ it has all-weather and night combat capabilities, allowing it to strike at more targets.
The Pantsir-S1 combines surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft dual auto-cannons capable of engaging aerial targets at medium- and short-range. The Pantsir is designed to work in tandem with long-range SAM systems like Russia’s S-400 to protect critical infrastructure against air strikes.
The first batch of arms under the contract is expected to be delivered shortly after the agreement is signed later this year. Iraq is reportedly seeking to purchase other advanced Russian hardware, including Mikoyan Mig-29 fighter jets.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has condemned the US over its plan to continue financing certain Russian NGOs. Moscow has accused Washington of meddling in its domestic affairs.
“We consider the statement by the US State Department official representative Victoria Nuland, saying the US is going to continue financing some of Russia’s NGOs through intermediaries in third countries, avoiding the Russian legislature, a blatant interference into our internal affairs,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aleksandr Lukashevich said in a statement on Saturday.
Mass audits of Russian NGOs started on March 21, on orders from the Justice Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s office.
The checks immediately sparked criticism in the international rights community, which labeled them an attempt to pressure activists. Russia has maintained the checks are regular inspections to see if NGO work complies with Russian law – legislation was recently amended to require that NGOs receiving foreign funding register as ‘foreign agents.’
Victoria Nuland, US State Department spokesperson, said that Washington’s NGO funding will continue unabated: “We are providing funding through platforms outside of Russia for those organizations that continue to want to work with us,” she said at a Thursday briefing.
The Russian Foreign Ministry believes the US is engaged in “direct instigating of certain non-governmental and public structures to violate legislation related to the work of non-governmental organisations in the Russian Federation,” according to Lukashevich’s statement.
Russian diplomats were also incensed by Victoria Nuland’s description of the NGO raids as a “witch hunt.” Lukashevich’s statement described his American counterpart’s choice of words as “cynical and provocative.”
Moscow has said that its NGO policy is in line with generally accepted international practices. So far, auditors have reported no infractions in the activities of non-governmental groups, apart from one incident. On Thursday, ‘For Human Rights’ leader Lev Ponomaryov refused to turn over working documents to inspectors, saying that his organization had already been subjected to a recent check.
Law enforcers said the act was a refusal to comply with lawful demands, and started an administrative case against the activist.
President Putin on Friday asked Russia’s top Human Rights Commissioner, Vladimir Lukin, to monitor the situation with the NGO raids. “I would like to rule out any excesses there,” Putin said.
Russia says it saw ‘no concession’ in a decision by the United States to discard the final phase of Washington’s missile shield plan for Europe.
On Monday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, “This is not a concession to Russia and we do not see it as such. Our objections remain.”
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on March 15 that Pentagon planned to set up 14 more missile interceptors by 2017 in the state of Alaska to add to the 30 interceptors already deployed along the western US coastline.
Ryabkov said Moscow believed that the additional interceptors in Alaska “significantly expand US capabilities in the area of missile defense,” and added, “We are not experiencing any euphoria about this.”
With this decision, Washington will not go through with the fourth phase of its missile defense deployments in Europe, which were planned to be in Poland.
Moscow has long opposed the disputed plan, arguing that the would-be missile system in its “back yard” is not to secure the European allies of the United Stated but is effectively aimed at Russia.
Meanwhile, Hagel has said that the decision is part of an overall restructuring of how Washington viewed missile defense and international threats.
It is reported that Ryabkov is to meet Rose Gottemoeller, the US under secretary of state for arms control and international security, in Geneva on Tuesday to further discuss the matter.
Jordanian King Abdullah II’s recent visit to Moscow crowned a series of steps that Amman has been taking over the past few months, signalling a shift away from its traditional allies like Washington and Israel.
Until recently, Jordan was in the warm embrace of oil-rich Gulf Arab countries that, prepared to admit the Hashemite kingdom into their Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), would then shower it with billions in aid.
This is while Amman offered the services of its security and intelligence forces, coordinating closely with both Washington and Tel Aviv in a variety of areas, not least of which the unfolding crisis in Syria.
According to informed sources, last July 2012, Amman hosted a gathering of security officials from the US, Qatar, and Israel, who recommended setting up training camps for Syrian opposition fighters near the Jordanian city of Irbid.
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta admitted as much when he acknowledged in October 2012 that dozens of American soldiers were deployed along the Jordanian-Syrian border, explaining that “these units are tasked with establishing a base in Jordan and to assist the Syrian refugees and Jordanian armed forces to confront the dangers stemming from Syria’s chemical weapons.”
In the last few months Amman has begun to reassess its alliances in light of the Syrian crisis, perhaps embarking on a process of strategic realignment, moving closer to Iraq and Russia, at the expense of its traditional allies.
The prospective threat posed by the powerful Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and the more radical Islamist currents prompted the army and intelligence to convince the palace not to go along with Washington’s plan.
Amman even went so far as to completely close its border with Syria, preventing fighters and weapons from crossing it.
This came at a high cost for Jordan, as Saudi Arabia and Qatar – who were mobilizing all the forces they could muster against the Bashar al-Assad regime – to halt their support for the kingdom, causing a serious economic crisis in the country.
Iraq quickly moved in to try to fill the void and revive its once close ties with Jordan. An official visit to Amman by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at the end of 2012 led to the signing of several lucrative deals that would see cheap Iraqi oil once again flowing to Jordan.
As for Jordan’s relationship with Iran, “that’s a tough one for us,” says a high-level Jordanian security official, pointing out that the realignment underway may go far, “but it has its limits, for there are lines that cannot be crossed, and Iran lies outside these boundaries.”
In light of all this, King Abdullah II’s visit to Moscow on Tuesday, February 19 cannot in any way be seen simply as a routine call.
For its part, Jordan is seeking a counterbalance to US influence, for fear that Washington is preparing to force Amman into accepting a confederation with the Palestinians as a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Russia, on the other hand, sees this as an opportunity to bring Amman into its orbit, particularly on the Syrian question, where Moscow is in the process of pushing for a settlement.
Jordan’s diplomatic support in the Arab arena and the valuable intelligence it can provide on the Syrian opposition make it a critical resource for the Russians.
Secret Pentagon studies have cast serious doubt on the effectiveness of the US-planned multi-billion-dollar missile system in Europe, congressional investigators say.
The classified studies by the Missile Defense Agency were summarized in a briefing for lawmakers by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a congressional nonpartisan investigative body.
The GAO investigators said the briefing cast serious doubt on whether the system is capable of protecting Europe and US interests against potential missile attacks.
So far, the US has signed agreements for launching the missile system in Poland, Romania and Turkey.
The GAO briefing concluded that Romania was a poor location for an interceptor to protect the US interests.
The studies also expressed other concerns about the missile system, including production glitches, cost overruns as well as problems with radars and sensors that cannot distinguish between warheads and other objects.
Although military officials say the problems of the system can be overcome with difficulty, the governmental and scientific reports have expressed doubt on whether the system would ever work as planned.
While the Pentagon has embarked on giant budget cuts, the study is expected to prompt the Congress to reconsider the continuation of the multi-billion-dollar plan.
Republican lawmaker Michael Turner, who requested the GAO study, said the missile system might be useless, adding, “This report really confirms what I have said all along: that this was a hurried proposal by the president.”
The US plan for a missile system in Europe has been a bone of contention since former President George W. Bush’s tenure.
One the one hand, American critics said the plan was rushed and based on unproven technology. Russia, on the other hand, expressed concern that the plan sought to counter Russian missiles and undermine its nuclear deterrent power.
In his latest article on non-proliferation, the Executive Director of the US Arms Control Association Daryl Kimball urged the White House to delay plans for developing its missile interceptors in Europe as they merely prompt Russia to resist further cuts in its nuclear stockpile.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made the announcement on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.
“We have made clear from the outset that NATO has made the decision to establish a NATO missile defense system because it’s our obligation to ensure effective defense of our populations… Having said that, we have invited Russia to cooperate and… now it’s up to Russia to engage in that,” Rasmussen said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier that the missile program was reminiscent of the Cold War.
“Officially, we have abandoned the mindset of the Cold War,” Lavrov said.
On January 27, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said he saw “no flexibility” in the ongoing dispute.
“If we talk about the subject itself, it is extremely difficult. And so far we don’t see any flexibility… There is no flexibility,” Medvedev added.
- Turkish protesters, angry at NATO missiles, attack German troops (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The United States has announced it will withdraw from a joint rights working group with Russia.
“The working group was not working,” US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Friday.
The working group was part of the US-Russian Bilateral Presidential Commission established in 2009 by US President Barack Obama and his then-Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev to “reset” US-Russian ties.
Nuland said the Russian government’s recent restrictions on civil society prompted Washington to take the measure.
In July, Russia’s lower house of parliament passed a bill, forcing non-governmental organizations (NGO) involved in political activity with foreign financing to be classed as “foreign agents.”
The new legislation would force the NGOs to publish a report of their activities twice a year and carry out an annual financial audit.
“These new restrictions the Russian government is placing on civil society were increasingly calling into question whether maintaining this government-to-government mechanism was useful or appropriate,” she added.
However, Nuland said Washington would continue to work with Russia on different issues, including defense, counterterrorism, and nuclear security.
On Friday, Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s point man on human rights issues, said that the US State Department had not informed its counterparts in Moscow of the US withdrawal from the working group.
Nuland also lashed out at Russia’s lower house of parliament for passing a Friday draft law banning “homosexual propaganda.”
The United States is “deeply concerned” about the legislation, Nuland said.
Relations between Russia and the United States have deteriorated over the past months.
Last year, Washington angered Moscow by implementing the Magnitsky Act that imposed visa restrictions on and froze the US bank accounts of Russian officials who were allegedly linked to the death of Russian lawyer Magnitsky at a Russian prison in 2009.
No longer limited to US citizens suspected of human rights abuses at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, the updated list of Americans prohibited from entering Russia now includes new categories of individuals.
In December, the number of US citizens declared persona non grata in Russia stood at 11; now this number has been increased by 49 more people as new categories of individuals are added to the list, Aleksey Pushkov, the chairman of the State Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs, told reporters on Friday.
The new names, which contain both government officials and ordinary Americans, can be divided into three categories, Pushkov said.
The first category is comprised of “judges, investigators, secret service agents and Justice Department members” who are believed to be connected with the criminal prosecution and sentencing of Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, Russian nationals who were arrested by US officials, tried on American soil, and are now serving their prison sentences in the US.
Bout, a former Soviet officer who became the owner of an air transport company, was arrested in 2008 by US agents in Thailand. In November 2011, he was convicted by a jury in a New York federal court of intending to provide military weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), which the United States ranks as a terrorist organization, and conspiracy to kill US citizens. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Bout has pleaded his innocent to all charges.
Yaroshenko, a pilot, was arrested in Liberia in 2010 and transported to America on charges of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the US. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The second category of individuals prohibited from entering the Russian Federation include US Senators who were responsible for initiating the so-called Magnitsky Act, which was signed into law by US President Barack Obama in December.
The new US legislation attempts to punish Russian nationals who Washington believes are responsible for the death of Sergey Magnitsky, who died in a detention facility in Moscow in 2009 awaiting a tax evasion investigation.
The final category of persona non grata individuals include American adoptive parents who were found guilty of abusing their adopted Russian children or guilty of their deaths.
On December 28, 2012, President Putin signed the Dima Yakovlev bill, named after a Russian orphan who died of heat stroke after being left in a car for an extended period by his American adoptive parents.
Judges who delivered “inadequate” verdicts on such cases, as well as psychiatrists who claimed that those children allegedly had congenital deficiencies that supposedly caused their deaths are also prohibited from entering Russia.
- RT: Moscow responds to US Magnitsky Act with Dima Yakovlev Law (jhaines6.wordpress.com)
The Foreign Ministry has expressed outrage after a US court imposes a fine on Russia for its refusal to comply with a 2010 court order to return a collection of religious documents to a prominent US-based Jewish organization.
The move comes shortly after the Magnitsky Act, which saw US legislators attempting to exert pressure on Russia’s judicial system. A court in Washington is now attempting to penalize Russia for its possession of a collection of books, manuscripts and other Judaic documents.
According to the ruling, Russia would be required to pay $50,000 a day to Chabad Lubavitch, an Orthodox Jewish movement headquartered in New York City, until it releases the Schneerson Library, of which the Jewish group claims rightful ownership.
“It is outrageous that a Washington court has taken this unprecedented step fraught with most serious consequences as the imposition of a fine on a sovereign state,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
The ministry statement slammed the US ruling as “exterritorial in nature,” and a violation of international law. Russia considers the ruling to be legally null and void, the statement added.
Meanwhile, the US Justice Department also spoke out against the decision, arguing the court cannot introduce sanctions of this type against Russia, and that such a move would further damage US-Russian relations.
Chabad Lubavitch claimed the Schneerson collection – which includes 12,000 books and 50,000 rare documents gathered since the 18th century by Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn and his descendants in the Russian city of Smolensk – was illegally seized during a wave of Soviet nationalization projects.
“The Schneerson Library has never belonged to the Chabad; it never left Russia, and was nationalized because there were no legal heirs in the Schneerson family,” the ministry said. “The ‘return’ of these books to the US is therefore not an issue in principle.”
Due to the controversial question regarding the ownership rights of the Schneerson Collection, Russian museums are hesitant to travel to the United States with any exhibitions for fear of them being held hostage in the court standoff.
Meanwhile, the head of Russia’s Jewish Congress has said that Russia should be compensated by the Americans “50,000 dollars plus one dollar a day” for saving the collection from the Nazis and handing the massive collection of documents over to the National Library, where “they are kept carefully and remain available to the general public,” Zinovy Kogan told Itar-Tass in an interview on Thursday.
We should be grateful (to Russia) for the rescued books, he added.
The rabbi also challenged claims on the collection by the Chabad Lubavitch movement, reminding that the books were written “long before the emergence of the Chabad Lubavitch movement.”
Why should the books be given away to them, he asked.
“It does not matter where the books are kept. What is really important is they are available to the public. The books that are kept at the Eastern Section of the Russian State Library are available. Everyone is free to order and have a copy. No problem. Books are not to be treated as idols. Books will be books. They are not to be kissed and worshiped, they are to be read and studied,” Kogan said.
The Russian State Library in the 1990s agreed to give 70 books from the Schneerson archive to the Federation of the Jewish Communities of Russia. They are now stored at the library of the Moscow Jewish Community Center in the Maryina Roshcha neighborhood.
Yitzhak Schneerson died in 1950. He left behind no instructions regarding the future of his vast library.
Norway, Russia’s closest rival in the European gas market, seems to overtaking Russia’s Gazprom. Norway boasted record high exports in 2012, while Gazprom suffered the worst numbers in 10 years.
Norway increased its exports 16% in 2012 to reach 107.6bn cubic metres, according to Europe’s key statistics office Eurostat. This is “a record level, close to the Russian gas exports to Europe,” Michael Korchyomkin, head of East European Gas Analysis, told Kommersant daily.
During the same period, Russia’s gas giant Gazprom cut sales to Europe and Turkey by 8%, according to the company’s head Aleksey Miller. That’s the lowest export level for the last decade, Korchyomkin said.
At the moment Norway is breathing down Russia’s neck in its key European market – Germany. In 2011 Gazprom supplied 30bln cubic meters out of the total 80bn cubic meters of gas Germany consumes annually. Norway sold just a bit less – 28bn cubic meters. Norway’s Statoil accounts for about 70% of the country’s exports and in 2012 signed a 10 year contract to supply gas to Germany’s Wintershall.
Norway’s lower gas prices are another tool to win customers. The country’s Petroleum Ministry is suggesting charges for gas transportation in new contracts should be significantly cut, according to Reuters citing Norwegian Petroleum Minister Ola Borten Moe.The exact price cut remains unclear, with Kommersant daily assessing it at 7%.
Competitive pricing has become a crucial issue at a time when crisis – stricken Europe can’t afford huge bills.
On Thursday Gazprom 9M 2012 IFRS results showed things are not that rosy for Russia’s’ gas monopoly. The company’s profit for the period was down 12% year on year to $27.1bn, with the net sales of gas decreasing by 8% year on year, to about $61.4bn.
Net sales exclude the amounts paid by the company in form of value added tax and customs duties.
Earlier in the week Fitch rating agency predicted a further fall of sales for Gazprom in 2013, referring to weak economic conditions and slack demand.