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#April 6: Bravo, Iran!#
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov) – The U.S. military operation against Iran code-named “Operation Bite” and scheduled by the leading global media for April 6 did not take place. Bravo, Iran!
Bravo, because Iran did not swallow the bait. Eye-witnesses report that life there remained perfectly normal. State-run television and radio continued working as usual. News reports in the early hours of April 6 informed the audience as usual about the situation in Iran and the rest of the world, and the latest events in sports and culture. Now, the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to live a normal life, as if the “Bite” had never been planned.
A whole army of military experts had swallowed the provocative misinformation, and Iran could have reacted in the same way, especially with the U.S. carrier-based naval force next door – the Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft-carrier in the Gulf, and the Stennis aircraft-carrier in the north of the Arabian Sea.
When all experts talked about the imminent military operation, it was hard to resist the temptation of a pre-emptive strike. But if Iran had gone for it, it would have made a priceless gift to the United States, and in this case April 6th would certainly have taken place.
Military experts have every reason to talk about Washington’s readiness to resolve the Iranian problem by force, all the more so since it has had a plan for quite a long time now. This plan was drafted as soon as the first leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ayatollah Khomeini proclaimed a concept of exporting the Iranian-type revolution to the Middle East, and denied Israel the right to exist as a state. Khomeini did not conceal that one of the major motives of the Islamic revolution was to oppose the U.S. presence not only in Iran but also in the Middle East.
Although nothing terrible happened on April 6, the situation in Iran is closer to war than ever. Having adopted a tough stance on the UN Security Council sanctions, and refuting all Washington’s demands to curtail its nuclear program, Tehran is actually precipitating the war. Numerous forecasts of a potential strike come in handy. They are invariably accompanied by reassurances that the U.S. has got stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan, that Iran is not Iraq, and that Washington is not likely to risk a military action.
But it can well risk it. Indeed, Iran is not Iraq, and for the U.S. this has both negative and positive implications. It is hard to say which are stronger. Besides, the U.S. and NATO are not so badly stuck in Afghanistan. Finally, the main point is that Washington will never leave Israel to face nuclear Iran single-handed.
The trouble is that Tehran can talk forever about its lack of ambition to produce its own nuclear bomb, or appeal to Islam and Khomeini’s fetwa, which ostensibly prohibit the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction, but neither the U.S. nor Europe, nor even its Mid-Eastern neighbors will believe it. And there are grounds not to believe it but, regrettably, official Tehran does not want to consider them.
This is a stalemate. But if the U.S. has to make a choice between nuclear Iran and a military operation, it will undoubtedly opt for the latter.
But still Iran deserves a round of applause because it did not choose the move that suggested itself – to keep British seamen as hostages in the event of a strike. By letting them return home, Tehran made it clear that it is ready for constructive dialogue if its positions are considered.
Maybe, the European negotiators should meet Tehran halfway, and sit down at the negotiating table without the pre-condition of the cessation of uranium enrichment?
They could do that at least before a regular session of the UN Security Council. After all, the Iran-launched centrifuges will be enriching uranium in any case. Too much is at stake, and April 6 may still happen.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti. –0-

#ABM: Washington trying to use Europe as a cover#
MOSCOW. (Viktor Litovkin, Independent Military Review for RIA Novosti) – Russian military experts are perplexed by the arguments which the U.S. political and military top brass are using to justify their decision to deploy forward-based missile defense elements in Eastern Europe. Who would believe that a radar in the Czech Republic and 10 anti-missiles in Poland pose no threat to Russia and are only designed to ward off “rogue countries,” such as North Korea and Iran?
Pyongyang is located so far away from Europe that it makes no sense for it to send its missiles via Europe if it wants to strike at the United States. If need be, Tehran can also choose any other trajectory, for example, fly over the North Pole, making missile defense elements in Poland totally useless.
Moreover, in the next 20-30 years, neither North Korea, nor Iran will be able to get missiles that are capable of reaching the U.S. The ones they have now, or are developing, can cover no more than 3,000 km. In order to increase their range to at least 5,500 km, these countries will have to upgrade dramatically their scientific and technological level, and make a leap in computer technology and software, neither of which is likely.
For this reason, I agree with Russian military experts that the U.S. ABM defense elements in the Czech Republic and Poland are designed against Russian strategic missiles. Their deployment in Eastern Europe will upset the European balance of forces, and pose a serious threat to our defenses. The arguments that 10 anti-missiles cannot offset hundreds of Russian Topols and Topols-M (SS-25 and SS-27 in Western code), Stilets (SS-19) and Satans (SS-18) do not sound convincing. Nobody can guarantee that there will not be 20, then 100 or even more of them, or that they will not be replaced with their upgraded versions that are being developed in the United States. Moreover, high-ranking U.S. officials are saying that Washington is not going to consult even its closest NATO allies about the deployment of missile defense systems in Europe. Finally, it would be naĞve to think that Washington will limit its appetites to Poland and the Czech Republic, or to the modest potential that it
is now talking about.
Russian military experts also believe that President George W. Bush’s proposal to cooperate with Russia on developing a joint missile defense is a trick designed to mollify public opinion, primarily in Europe, which is naturally alarmed about the American plans for Eastern Europe. This is what Maj.-Gen. Vladimir Belous (Ret.), an author of several books on U.S. ABMs, told me on this score: “Such cooperation is out of the question. Our strategic nuclear forces are primarily aimed against each other. Their relations are based on the concept of mutual nuclear deterrence. Under the circumstances, joint ABM defense is unrealistic.”
It is hard to refute this argument. At the end of the last century, Russia and the United States signed an agreement to exchange information on the launches of strategic and theater ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles detected by their respective early warning systems. Moscow was planning to set up together with the United States a joint agency to control this process. More than seven years have passed since the agreement was signed but nothing has been done so far. The Russia-NATO Council has a group on ABM in Europe. It held several consultations on ABM defense. Moscow has placed information on its ABM systems at its partners’ disposal. Even joint computer courses were held on the problem. Brussels promised to buy individual elements of Russian military hardware for European ABM defense but nothing happened. NATO has decided to buy American hardware for Europe’s ABM defense on the grounds that the Russian equipment does not match the standards.
Meanwhile, the entire system of anti-missile and air defense of Greece, a member of NATO, rests on Russian hardware, for instance Tor-M1 and S-300 air defense missile systems. They are included into NATO’s integrated air and missile defense system, and the standards are acceptable. Why are they not acceptable for other European countries? Where is the logic here? Obviously, the political and commercial interests of Washington and its companies are more important than any logic.
Deployment of U.S. ABM elements in Poland and the Czech Republic will threaten not only Russia but also Europe. Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff Army General Yury Baluyevsky and Commander of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces Col.-Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov have already warned in public that if U.S. ABM defense elements are stationed in Eastern Europe, Russia’s strategic nuclear missiles as well as medium and small-range missiles will be targeted against them. The latter’s production was discontinued 20 years ago, but will apparently have to be resumed.
If Europe wants to live in the shadow of nuclear missiles and be a shield for American self-centered interests, it is free to make this choice, the Russian generals say. We wouldn’t like it to come under threat, but we are not going to sacrifice our national security, either. Therefore, we are compelled to give an adequate response to the threats that may appear on our borders.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti. -0-

#Ukraine’s economy and its political crisis#
MOSCOW. (Vyacheslav Vashanov for RIA Novosti) – The Ukrainian government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, has managed to stabilize the economic situation in the country in a short period of time.
Thanks to the government's efforts, Ukraine's GDP grew by 6.7% in 2006. Budget revenues in the first quarter of 2007 increased by 36% compared with the same period last year.
Ukraine's First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mykola Azarov and Economic Minister Anatoly Kinakh have said there were no signs of social or economic instability in the country, so there was no reason to dissolve parliament. The government fully controls the exchange rate and prices. Inflation was 0.7% in March and 1.8% in the first quarter of the year. Preliminary government statistics confirm that the economy has been growing rapidly.
Ukraine's business contacts with Russia are also developing quite successfully. According to available information, the Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Ministry has completed work on an annual protocol to the intergovernmental agreement on additional measures to ensure transit of Russian natural gas. Russia's Federal Agency for Atomic Energy is expected to sign a cooperation agreement with Ukratomprom, a Ukrainian nuclear power company.
Overall, there are all the necessary conditions for Russian-Ukrainian economic cooperation: both are big markets for each other's products. Ukraine also plays an important role as a transport corridor for Russian products exported to the West, especially by pipelines.
Ukraine is Russia's biggest trade partner among former-Soviet states. Russian-Ukrainian trade turnover was $24.2 billion last year, accounting for 37.4% of Russia's trade with former-Soviet countries. Apart from energy, Russia exports equipment, vehicles and chemical products to Ukraine.
The biggest contribution to the growth of Ukrainian exports to Russia came from the Ukrainian steel industry. In January-March 2007, Ukrainian steel and mining enterprises increased their output of rolled stock by 12% and of pipes by 22%.
In the medium term, the countries plan to eliminate the their trade imbalance, resulting from the high proportion of commodities in Ukrainian exports to Russia and from Ukraine's dependence on Russian energy resources.
Russia and Ukraine also plan to further develop their cooperation in the fuel and energy sector, including oil transportation and an international consortium for the development and management of Ukraine's gas transportation network. Another important part of bilateral relations is the aircraft and space sector, where the two countries are implementing large joint projects.
The political crisis in Ukraine, including the dismissal of the cabinet and a possible dissolution of the parliament, will have serious economic consequences. There are several alternatives for the development of Ukrainian-Russian economic cooperation.
One of the possible scenarios is that President Viktor Yushchenko will further his goal and dissolve the parliament. In this case it is unclear when a new parliament would be elected and, consequently, a legitimate government appointed. The absence of a cabinet might paralyze the work of the executive branch and economic agencies both in Kiev and in the regions. Under those circumstances, relations with Russia could be frozen indefinitely. The agreements reached earlier on gas prices, energy transportation and other key issues of economic cooperation would be revised. Russia would also have to forget about its plans to set up a single economic space with Ukraine's participation.
Another option is that Yushchenko's decree on the parliament dissolution will be found illegal. The incumbent Rada and Yanukovych's government will continue their work as the victors. Under these new circumstances, the united team of parliament and the government may take some pro-Russian measures. These could deal with Ukraine's entry to NATO, the status of the Russian language, the Black Sea Fleet, the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile defense system, active participation in the single economic space, and closer economic cooperation with Russia in general.
And there is yet another scenario: the conflicting parties will reach a compromise and the crisis will gradually fade away.

Vyacheslav Vashanov is head of the Research Center for CIS Economic Problems and member of the RIA Novosti Expert Council.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti. –0-

#Learning from Chechnya#
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Shusharin) – The inauguration of Ramzan Kadyrov, the new president of Chechnya, has added color to Russian political life – a serious political event was the subject of mockery for the first time. A group of young people gathered at the Chechen Republic’s Moscow mission to congratulate Mr. Kadyrov on his new position and nominate him for the Russian presidency. One of the slogans was “Putin today – Kadyrov tomorrow.” Strictly speaking, this was not open challenge to Kadyrov or the federal authorities, but in reality this action reflected what a large proportion of citizens and public associations with diverse political views think about Kadyrov’s presidency – not much, to put it mildly.

Ramzan Kadyrov irritates both Western-democracy-oriented human rights activists and those who consider themselves patriots of Russia. The former cite numerous evidence of his complicity in abductions, murders and tortures. The latter are furious that a former warlord has assumed power in Chechnya after a lengthy war. Moreover, he inherited this power from his father Akhmad. In other words, a Russian region has modeled itself on Azerbaijan, Syria and North Korea.

The gathering near the mission was preceded by a campaign to change the name of Akhmad Kadyrov Street in Moscow to Pskov Paratroopers Street in memory of the tragic fate of the 6th company of the Pskov Airborne Division, which died a heroic death in Chechnya. The campaign’s opponents argued there was nothing wrong with immortalizing Akhmad Kadyrov’s memory because his defection to the side of the federal government saved many lives. By the same logic, betting on his son was a good thing because there was no other way of pacifying Chechnya. The only option was to come to terms with one of the warring clans by giving it power in the rebellious republic.

So far Ramzan Kadyrov has shown respect for the federal government. His numerous declarations of loyalty do not count – words are just that. But his renunciation of the treaty on division of powers, which would give Chechnya a special status in the federation, is a serious political, or rather, a PR move. To be more precise, it is PR for the time being and will become political when we know what Kadyrov wants in return for rejecting the treaty. Most analysts believe he wants control over the republic’s oil industry.

Chechnya has been pacified using a tried-and-tested colonial method. But tsarist Russia’s accords with the local elites of incorporated territories (Georgia or the Bukhara Emirate) are poles apart from Russia’s agreements with those who control what is part and parcel of its own territory. The discontent with the current situation is largely rooted in the lack of official recognition of these agreements – instead there is constant chatter about “restoration of the constitutional system” in Chechnya. But everyone understands what this is all about, and many say bluntly that this clichÊ is purely ceremonial, and that Chechnya is ruled by a clan regime.

This negative impression is reinforced by the total absence of federals (those whose political biographies are linked with the federal government) in the republic’s key positions. Government at all levels and in all spheres of life belongs to people called militants – those who once formed illegal armed gangs.

Maybe this would be acceptable if their sphere of influence were limited to Chechnya. But the Kadyrov clan’s economic interests go far beyond the republic’s boundaries. It is enough to mention the recent participation of Kadyrov’s units in the seizure of the Samson meat-processing plant in St. Petersburg or the conflict around a factory in Kislovodsk. Kadyrov does not pursue only economic interests – during the clash between locals and the Chechen community in Kondopoga, Karelia, he warned that he could send paratroopers there.

Many experts believe that Kadyrov’s armed units could be used to suppress protests in Russia. This forecast does not seem so incredible considering that in the last few months the authorities have obviously been trying to suppress any demonstrations by the opposition using the police or combat units of youth organizations.

There is another possibility. Kadyrov’s clan-based state is not so different from the federal political arrangement, in which power depends on where one comes from or how cozy one is with government officials. For this reason, events in Chechnya deserve very close attention – the Chechen model may become federal.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti. -0-

#Searching for alternative sources of energy#
MOSCOW. (Yury Zaitsev for RIA Novosti) – The development of unconventional and renewable energy sources is a major challenge facing humankind in the twenty-first century. Technologies such as nuclear fusion and biofuels will prove vital if humankind is to find an alternative to hydrocarbons.
Under a bill that was recently signed by U.S. President George W. Bush, so-called “corn fuel” will account for 7.5 billion gallons of total national fuel consumption by 2015. President Bush probably decided to follow the Brazilian example because that country has been obtaining ethanol from sugar cane and using it as a motor fuel for a long time.
The European Union, which initially planned to increase the share of alternative power-generation sources in its energy mix to 10% by 2012, will probably achieve this goal by as soon as 2010. French nuclear power plants now generate 80% of all domestic power.
Russian scientists are also working hard to develop unconventional and renewable energy sources, which may soon be included in the national power-generation network. For example, small gas-turbine thermal power plants burning wood splinters and coal have an impressive potential and are expected to generate 5% of all electricity nationwide by 2020. They will mostly be used in Arctic regions, which now utilize small diesel generators and low-capacity furnaces burning huge amounts of expensive hydrocarbons. It costs, for example, $1,000 to deliver one metric ton of diesel fuel and $150 for one ton of heating oil to the Russian Arctic.
Environmentally friendly alternative sources of energy are an attractive power-generation option. “Dirty” organic fuels, such as coal, heating oil and firewood, now account for 70% of the energy balance in northern Russia.
Russia can also harness solar and wind energy from along its 12,000 km Arctic coast. Windmills are considered cost-effective when average annual wind speeds exceed 4-5 meters per second. Arctic winds blowing at over 5-7 meters per second can generate 45 billion kWh.
Likewise, solar panels can be located in the south of the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, in north-east Russia. The weekly amount of solar energy falling on the Earth exceeds the total energy potential of global oil, coal and gas deposits. Alexander Asseyev, director of the Semiconductor Physics Institute at the Siberian department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, estimated the country’s total solar-energy potential as equivalent to over two trillion tons of fuel. By placing solar batteries with an average efficiency of 12% over 4,000 square kilometers, it would be possible to completely meet the national electric power demand.
The Earth’s crust contains tremendous amounts of silica, exceeding deposits of uranium ore 100,000 times over. Obtaining this highly expensive element cost-effectively is the key to mass-producing solar batteries. Moreover, Russian scientists have mastered the production of multi-crystalline silicon for solar power engineering. Work is also proceeding apace to produce highly efficient gallium arsenide solar cells.
The first Russian tidal power plant, which was built on the Kola Peninsula, made it possible to design similar power plants capable of generating tens of millions of kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity.
In the mid-20th century, Russian scientists suggested using hot volcanic vapors to generate cheap geothermal electric power. In 1966, the 11,000 kWh Pauzhetskaya geothermal power plant was built on the Kamchatka Peninsula. The recently commissioned Verkhne-Mutnovskaya geothermal power plant generates 25% of all electricity in the Kamchatka Region. There are plans to expand its capacity by 20 kWh by installing additional power units running on recycled hot thermal water. Though geothermal plants are quite expensive, future operating costs are reduced because they harness “free” natural energy.
Russian coal deposits contain an estimated 260 trillion cubic meters of methane, which can be used as a separate fuel. Gennady Gritsko, director of the Coal and Coal Chemistry Institute at the Siberian department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said methane can be extracted from small deposits, domes and traps. This cost-effective method does not require any expensive mining operations. Gritsko said ventilation flows contain an unlimited amount of methane and can trap more gas than coal mines.
Coal can also be used to obtain synthetic gasolene and hydrogen for fuel. Hydrogen, the ideal environmentally friendly fuel of the future, produces nothing but water when it is burned. The hydrogen power industry would therefore help reduce toxic emissions and solve the global warming problem.
Another promising technology is thermonuclear reactors. Unlike conventional nuclear power plants that use heavy-element fission, they fuse the nuclei of two light atoms into heavy elements. Scientists set the task to simulate the fusion that takes place in the Sun in laboratory conditions and to harness it for commercial power-generation purposes. Deuterium and tritium isotopes, which fuse together inside the Sun, create chemically inert helium and emit tremendous amounts of energy, hundreds of times more than is emitted during uranium fission at conventional NPPs.
Research by Soviet and Russian scientists made it possible to solve the problem of thermonuclear fusion. Russia is now a full participant in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project. Vladimir Fortov, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said thermonuclear power plants may start generating household electricity by 2040. However, Nobel Prize winner Zhores Alfyorov, also a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said this would take much longer to happen.

Yury Zaitsev is an academic adviser at the Russian Academy of Engineering Sciences.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti. –0-

The Ukrainian Stalemate
Vadim Dubnov, independent commentator, for RIA Novosti
“President Viktor Yushchenko has signed a resolution dissolving parliament,” according to rumors circulating in Kiev in the last week of March. When the resolution really was announced, however, everyone engaged in the current Ukrainian confrontation were shocked.
No political force bases its plans on the dissolution of parliament, and none is entirely optimistic about it. Yulia Tymoshenko is the only exception, even though, to all appearances, the president’s move caught her unawares.
As for the rumors, they could have logically been expected much earlier, when parliament passed its Cabinet bill with the intention of drastically limiting the president’s powers. The triumphant Orange Revolution hero was to become a token figure, and not merely because the revolutionary achievements of 2004 would be reversed. In fact, a true reversal is out of the question—a new leader is not what any revolution is about. The new situation and new rules of the game ushered in by the revolution are what really matters.
The Orange Revolution removed the role of top moderator from the Ukrainian political landscape—a person present in almost all states that came into being with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Not ideology but business interests had split the Ukrainian elite even before the revolution. Now, the elite was adapting to new rules in a situation of permanent crisis, whose every stage showed that the actors on the political stage were completely interchangeable.
Here lies a clear difference between Kiev in 2007 and Moscow in 1993, with its seemingly similar confrontation. When Socialist leader Alexander Moroz and Anatoly Kinakh, president of the Ukrainian League of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, went over to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich’s team they might have looked like traitors. As things really were, they merely accepted the only possible form of political contention left to them.
The basic rules of the game remained abstruse and out of use for a long time. Political groups had the chance to smash their opponents during Leonid Kuchma’s presidency. Now, none can attain a decisive victory. Orange revolutionaries attempted last year to settle all their problems after the parliamentary poll using their usual method—in one fell swoop, and keeping the opposition out of it. The outcome was just the opposite of what they expected. The opposition took hold of the legislative and executive powers.
As we know today, it repeated the Orange bungle and so could not reap what it had sown. The ruling coalition did not intend to—and could not, for that matter—restore the previous arrangement of forces once the Cabinet bill had been passed.
First, it had developed a taste for political monopoly, and would not be content with a simple parliamentary majority now that it had an opportunity to gain a qualified majority and knock the president out.
Second, the president came up, by way of compromise, with an “imperative mandate” idea that quietly implied a ban on members of parliament shifting from group to group—something the ruling majority would not accept, and not only out of sheer ambition. The coalition could retain, let alone strengthen, its majority only by winning over deputies from other groups. More importantly, they could easily lose the majority if the Communists quit the coalition—a tangible threat. So parliament was doomed to be dissolved for formal reasons much more sound than those the president specified in his resolution.
It is hard to tell now which option was the worst, since President Yushchenko has once again made a choice between “bad” and “very bad,” something that has been his lot since the revolution.
Prime Minister Yanukovich has his chances on the upswing. That is evident. Yet, he can hardly support the idea of an early election. Even if he polls 40%, as the most optimistic forecasts have it, he may end up all alone in the new parliament, what with the small chances of his allies, especially the Socialists—they might be left outside parliament altogether. As for the Communists, they are extremely unreliable to side with even if they do get into parliament.
It does not take a sociologist to weigh the prospects of Our Ukraine, the president’s party, which appears to have a majority of the electorate in only four smaller regions, promising it a national total of 9-10%, and even that according to the most optimistic expectations.
Our Ukraine was a junior partner last year, a position that today looks like a dazzling success, by way of comparison. As for Tymoshenko, she may yet reappear in the foreground even if her election results repeat last year’s.
There is another considerable force emerging on the Orange side, the Narodna Samooborona (People’s Self-Defense), led by Yury Lutsenko, former Socialist and one-time interior minister. All that taken together promises the Orange coalition about 5% more votes than they have now, according to Alexander Vishnyak, leader of the independent Ukrainian Sociology Service.
Yushchenko does not seem to have the makings of an effective minority figure — but then, Ukraine may see quite a different arrangement.
All Ukrainian political forces without exception are dead set against Tymoshenko’s leadership. The nascent Narodna Samooborona, for one, is no less opposed to her than the veteran Our Ukraine.
However, as the most dynamic and spectacular of the Orange figures, Tymoshenko would hardly accept anything but the prime-ministerial portfolio—at any rate, she never has before. So the same old story will be repeated—an Orange coalition will be nipped in the bud again, and Our Ukraine will ponder whether to concede to a broad-based coalition with Yanukovich or plod along in a never-ending crisis with a parliament in which it still has no majority, once more betwixt and between. There is a ray of hope for Yushchenko in this bleak picture: he can retain his post up to the next presidential election—a hope that may outweigh all the formidable dangers.
All those forecasts will be irrelevant unless the country goes to the polls on May 27—rather a vague prospect for today, as there is only a flimsy chance that the parties will solve the crisis at the negotiating table. Neither of the contending sides has a sure chance, so they may yet meet each other halfway. But even if they do, the crisis will merely move to another stage. The match cannot end in a knockout victory, and the boxers are beginning to realize that.