Putin to invite Hamas leaders to Moscow

Electoral victory = respectability.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he intended to invite the leaders of the Palestinian Islamic militant group Hamas to Moscow, the Reuters news agency reports.

“Russia is maintaining contacts with the Hamas organization and intends in the near future to invite the leadership of this organization to Moscow,” Putin was quoted as telling a news conference in the Spanish capital Madrid where he was on a visit.

Didn’t wait long, did he?

The trade for Kosovo’s independence

One of the biggest issues in global politics this year is likely to be the future status of Kosovo.

The US and EU will want, if not full independence, then at the very least enough autonomy for Kosovo to become a de facto independent state.

But Russia is still pushing for Serbia to retain significant influence in and over Kosovo. The two countries have significant historical ties and, while I think Vladimir Putin will be prepared to do a deal over Kosovo, I think he’ll want to extract a very high price for any concessions.

Biggest among those concessions, will be Western acceptance of the independence claims of at least one (and preferably all) of the following Russian puppet statelets: Transdneister (of Moldova), Abkhazia or South Ossetia (both of Georgia).

Putin has already been hinting strongly at links between the two:

As Vladimir Putin began to hint at his marathon press conference yesterday, in return for agreeing to grant full independence to Kosovo, Moscow might ask in return that the countries of the West recognize the independence of pro-Moscow republics such as those of Abkhazia or South Ossetia, thus putting further pressure on Georgia.

But now he seems to be taking concrete steps via the UN Security Council to ratchet up pressure on Georgia.  Joel at Neweurasia.net notes that Russia has ruled out any reference to the Boden paper in the Security Council’s latest resolution.  The Boden paper was a framework document for discussions, which saw Abkhazia remaining an integral part of Georgia, rather than an independent state.

Russia has always encouraged the Abkhaz rejection, but refrained from vetoing references to it during UN negotiations. Now, however, Moscow no longer finds it necessary to mask its rejection of the document (Eurasia Daily Monitor). The confirmation of Russia’s long time de facto alignment with Abkhazia is cause for serious concern in Tbilisi, and begs the question: Will the expiring UNOMIG now be on the chopping block? This would leave Georgia in an undesirable head on situation with Russia in Abkhazia.

This looks to me like a clear statement of intent on Russia’s part.  And, perhaps more worrying, is the fact that neither the US, the UK or France have seen fit to oppose this Russian amendment to the resolution.

It’s beginning to look as though the US and EU are prepared to cut a deal which would effectively leave their ally Georgia out in the cold, for the sake of more stability on the EU’s borders.

Vodka shortage predicted

Far more worrying than any dip in oil supplies is this news that a massive shortfall is predicted in Russian vodka production.  Russians, as you would imagine, are taking the situation very seriously:

“Could Russia completely run out of vodka in 40 days?” was the apocalyptic front-page headline of the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper yesterday, which published advice from a panel of politicians and celebrities on how to live without vodka and a cartoon of a man wringing a bottle of vodka as if it were wet laundry so as to extract every last drop.

And why this vodka distilling crisis?

The cause of the chaos is an anti-counterfeiting law which came into force on 1 January, stipulating that every bottle of vodka must carry an excise duty stamp. Not enough of the new labels were made, and most of those that were have not yet made it to factories.

Without wishing to fuel any panic, I think it only fair to inform you that I’m off to clear my local supermarket’s shelves of vodka.

Russian blogosphere roundup

Veronica Khokhlova has compiled an amazing roundup of the English language Russian blogosphere, complete with an introductory paragraph for each blog:

Everyone in Russia seems to have a LiveJournal, and that huge, cacophonous Russian-language playground (and, often, a battleground) dwarfs what would otherwise be considered a pretty sizable English-language blogosphere. So sizable, in fact, that I have to issue this disclaimer: the annotated Russia blogroll below is, most likely, far from being exhaustive – even though compiling it has totally exhausted me.

It looks pretty comprehensive to me.

Money has the right to work!

Via Russian Marketing Blog comes this advert from an insurance company attempting to persaude Russians to entrust their cash into their safekeeping, rather than stash it under the mattress.

The Russian text reads: “Money has the right to work!”:
Working Money

Konstantin asks – would this advert be banned in the UK? I’m not sure, but I hope not. I only wish someone would make an advert so good, so we could all find out.

-30

Want to know what it actually feels like to live at 30 degrees below zero? Just ask Owen – who had the good fortune to be in St Petersburg while it endured the coldest snap for many a year:

Breathing becomes a bit annoying. If you breathe through your nose, the incoming air freezes the inside, literally, and when you exhale, it melts. The feeling of mucus alternately frozen and flowing is fun for the first twenty seconds. Also, I tend to get headaches when it’s cold, and I think it’s the same concept as Slurpie brain-freeze. The cold air chills the blood on its way up to my brain. This is slightly lessened when I breathe through my mouth. Unfortunately, this also has its downside … your gums freeze. There is a sharp, piercing pain at the gum line. So really, you just have to pick your poison. I tend to breathe through my nose. Mostly because the cars produce so much pollution that I’d like to filter out whatever little I can.

(By the way, this is celsius we’re talking about, not farenheit).

He goes on to note that can you feel the cold more in St Petersburg, because of the humidity from the Baltic sea.  Most of Siberia, on the other hand, is hundreds, if not thousands of miles from the sea.  Makes me glad I lived in Siberia, and not by the coast when I was in Russia.

On the other hand, as a Brit, I can see a good use for this principle.  Whenever someone from continential Europe complains about how cold it is this winter – at 5 or 10 below zero – all you need to do is sagely mention the curse of humidity that affects all island dwellers…

John McCain versus Russia

John McCain, a US senator with Presidential ambitions, has just called on world leaders to boycott the next G8 summit, in St Petersburg:

“Under Mr Putin, Russia today is neither a democracy nor one of the world’s leading economies, and I seriously question whether the G8 leaders should attend the St. Petersburg summit,” McCain said.

McCain is absolutely right about Russia not being a democracy, and to question whether a country with such poor democratic credentials, not to mention such poor economic credentials, should lead the G8.  It’s good that there is someone so outspoken in the US senate, who is prepared to focus on the democratic defecit in Russia.

I wonder though, whether his blunt attitude to a country which, despite its diminshed status, still plays a key role in world affairs, might damage his relationship with Russia if he were to become President one day.

Gazprom to buy British gas company?

Yesterday’s rumours that Russian gas giant Gazprom was to buy British firm Centrica (the company that owns British Gas) caused Centrica’s share prices to rocket – up 11% (£1 billion) in just one day’s trading.

Happily, the DTI have weighed in to dampen speculation:

The Department of Trade and Industry said last night that any new ownership at Centrica would face robust scrutiny and that “security of energy supply to the UK’s consumers is paramount”.

[…] “Any new ownership would face robust scrutiny by the regulatory regime before entering that market. The energy market regulator Ofgem and the competition authorities would have to be satisfied that consumers’ interests were assured,” said a spokesman.

This is good news, and I hope the DTI sticks to this line.  It would most definitely not be in the security interests of the United Kingdom to allow Gazprom to buy our biggest energy supplier. 

Russia has regularly demonstrated its willingness to use energy as a diplomatic tool, often arranging for energy supplies to be cut off to reinforce a political demand.  Their ability to do so has only been enhanced by a number of strategic purchases of energy companies throughout the Former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and attempts to purchase energy companies in Western Europe should be seen not just as a financial, but as a political investment. 

So far, Russia’s crude use of energy to bully other countries has been largely restricted to its weaker neighbours, but there is nothing to say that their relative confidence will not grow over the next couple of decades, especially North Sea gas supplies begin to run out, and the UK becomes increasingly reliant on imported energy.

Happily, it appears that Gazprom is backing away from it’s interest in Centrica, claiming its comments were “misinterpreted”.  Perhaps they were just testing the waters…?

Russia Today fights Russia Today

Russia Today (russiatoday.com) is a news portal about Russia, run from within the United States.

Russia Today (rttv.ru) is the RIA Novosti’s (in other words, the Kremlin’s) spangly new 24 hour Russian language tv channel, launched a few months ago.

And now, they’re fighting over the right to use the name ‘Russia’.  I know this because the fight is so serious that people are sending out press releases about it.
Russia Today…. um, that’s russiatoday.com… kicked the whole thing off a couple of weeks ago.  They sent a letter to Russia Today… um, to rttv.ru… demanding that Russia Today… that’s rttv.ru, in case you weren’t sure… immediately change their name, or face legal action.  Apparently, visitors to Russia Today… yes, russiatoday.com, the ones that sent the letter… were getting all confused, and thought that Russia Today… the Russian one… was something to do with Russia Today… the American one.

With me so far?  Good.

So, anyway, Russia Today… the one sponsored by the Kremlin… thought that this was a rather frivolous claim, and sent a letter to Russia Today… oh, come on, keep up – the American one… with the not entirely unreasonable request:

Please provide us with the following documents for consideration of your letter of January 17 2006:

  1. Legal papers, which prove the registration of the word combination “Russia Today” as a trade mark;
  2. Authorisation of the Government of the Russian Federation to use the name in the title

I await the Russia Today’s… come on, you know which one… response with baited breath.

In the meantime, I’m going to start a spread on when the United States, the United Kindom, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Nations launch a four way court case over who gets to be United.