Friday Shorts

Russia Pushes for WTO Membership at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum

Russia renewed its efforts to join the World Trade Organization on the margins of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, which concludes today. The E.U. Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton, the United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk and the Russian Economy Minister Elvira Nabiullina met to discuss Russia’s W.T.O. accession prospects. Russia, the largest economy outside the W.T.O., has been waiting to join the 153-member organization for close to 16 years. The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko stated that Russia would like to complete the process by the end of the year, which appears to be highly unlikely. Separately, the Russian officials told the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (O.E.C.D.) on Thursday that Russia will be submitting its formal membership application package on June 24-25, according to the O.E.C.D. Director of Legal Affairs, Nicola Bonucci.

Putin Reprimands the Aluminum Magnate Deripaska during his Visit to an Economically Depressed Town in Russia’s Heartland

In an obvious populist stunt aimed at shoring up the waning public support, the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin demonstrated his incredible micromanagement abilities during the visit to the economically depressed town of Pikalyovo with the population of 22,000 in the Leningradskaya Oblast. Protesting the wage arrears resulting from the closure of the alumina production plant the Pikalyovo residents blocked the federal highway Novaya Ladoga-Vologda for almost entire day on June 2. Fearing the spread of similar outbursts of dissent nationwide Prime Minister Putin rushed to Pikalyovo, where at a hastily arranged and highly choreographed meeting with the factory owners, local officials and union leaders, he resolved all matters and publicly humiliated once favorite aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska by forcing him to sign a contract that would allow the alumina plant to resume production.

Russia’s Chief of General Staff Reconfirms the Linkage between Progress on START Renewal and U.S. Plans for Missile Defense in Europe

Today the Chief of General Staff, Army General Nikolai Makarov told the media that Russia will not cut its nuclear deterrent as long as Washington’s position on the missile defense system in Europe remains unclear. General Makarov stated, “So long as the situation in the world is not clear, including on the missile defence system, we will not touch our nuclear potential…The question of strategic nuclear forces for us is sacred. We will provide as many resources as are needed to maintain stability in the world…We will leave our strategic missile forces practically unchanged.” General Makarov’s words will surely pour some cold water on American negotiators, who concluded the second round of talks on the renewal of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in Geneva this week. According to the chief U.S. negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller the talks held on June 1-3 were “very productive”.

Russian Plane Makes an Observation Flight over Estonia under the Open Skies Treaty

On Wednesday, May 27, 2009, a Russian military aircraft carried out a surveillance flight over Estonia in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Treaty on Open Skies. According to the Estonian General Staff, an Antonov An-30B aircraft equipped with a vertical optical panoramic photo camera conducted an aerial surveillance flight with seven Estonian defense officials on board to make sure that the flight pattern corresponded with a pre-approved 795 km route. It should be noted that Russia performed similar observation flights over Estonia in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. The Treaty on Open Skies is a confidence-building mechanism between the member-states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that was signed in Helsinki in 1992 and entered into force 2002. The overflights are used to generate and disseminate information on defense capabilities between the signatory states. Estonia acceded to the treaty in 2005 and it is supposed to allow up to four such overflights a year.

Russian Law Enforcement Authorities Uncover Missile Parts Smuggling Ring

On May 29, Russia’s Federal Customs Service announced that it had uncovered an international ring of active and retired military officers, who had been involved in smuggling parts of S-75, S-125, S-200 and S-300 air defense missile systems to Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Bulgaria for at least two years. The Russian customs authorities detained a dozen suspects and expropriated 22 tons of missile spare parts and components intended for smuggling. The statement issued by the Federal Customs Service also referred to the two recent interceptions of illegal shipments of missile system components, including a radar, on the borders with Ukraine and Belarus.

Only Eight Russian Nuclear-Powered Ballistic Missile Submarines are Ready for Combat

On Monday, June 1, the Russian military analyst Mikhail Barabanov, who is the editor-in-chief of the Moscow Defense Brief, an influential defense publication produced by the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (C.A.S.T.), stated that out of the total of 12 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines currently in service in Russian submarine fleet, only 8 were actually combat-ready.