RFE/RL: Russian Police Detain Pension Fund Officials In St. Petersburg
February 21, 2010
ST. PETERSBURG -- Police have detained Natalya Grishkevich, the head of the St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast branch of the state pension fund, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.
Local officials said Grishkevich's detention is related to an investigation into alleged financial machinations at VEFK Bank.
The investigation was launched in March last year after some 1 billion rubles ($33.3 million) disappeared from the fund's accounts at the VEFK-Ural Bank in Sverdlovsk Oblast.
VEFK Bank Chairwoman Olga Chechushkova and Sverdlovsk Oblast pension fund head Sergei Dubinkin were also detained.
Investigators revealed that the money allocated for pensions and social allowances in Sverdlovsk Oblast had been wired to St. Petersburg.
Viktoria Gulyayeva, the spokeswoman for the St. Petersburg pension fund, told RFE/RL that the fund's offices in the city and Leningrad Oblast are functioning normally.
She declined to comment on Grishkevich's detention.
Kyiv Post: Right activist: Stalin's portraits on Moscow streets 'political provocation'
Today at 10:45 | Interfax-Ukraine
Moscow, February 22 (Interfax) - Human rights activists have called on Moscow authorities to review their plans to put up posters of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ahead of the 65th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War.
"The authorities' intention to fill city streets with the executioner's portraits and use veterans as cover-up should be seen as a political provocation, as another "test" of Stalinists to see if this works," Alexander Brod, Director of the Moscow Bureau on Human Rights and member of the Public Chamber, told Interfax on Sunday.
The Moscow government is not planning a Stalin propaganda campaign during the days of celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Victory, head of Moscow's Advertising, Information and Decoration Committee Vladimir Makarov said earlier.
"Moscow authorities will start putting these stands at the city budget's expense as early as in April. Meanwhile, district authorities have already caught up the "patriotic" initiative and started hanging portraits of the "leader of peoples" within their subordinate areas," Brod said.
"No one gave former secretary of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee Dolgikh to speak on behalf of all veterans. Not all our veterans are Stalinists. It would be good to recall the views about on Stalin held by war veterans Viktor Astafiyev and Alexander Solzhenitsyn," Brod said.
"Stalin is the executioner  and this cannot be struck out from history," he said.
RIA: 400,000 cubic meters of snow removed from Moscow streets in 24 hours
A total of 392,000 cubic meters of snow have been removed from Moscow streets in the past 24 hours, a spokesman for the Russian capital's authorities said Sunday.
Igor Pergamenshchik said 12,000 snow clearing vehicles, 8,000 dump trucks and 5,500 people were used in the snow fighting effort on Saturday-early Sunday.
He said since the start of the winter, over 17 million cu m of snow have been cleared in Moscow.
Meteorologists say February has seen record snowfalls in the Russian capital in the past 40 years.
MOSCOW, February 21 (RIA Novosti)
New Europe: Anti-missiles vs. the Re-start
Author: Konstantin Kosachev
21 February 2010 - Issue : 874
This February, the US announced the plan to construct missile defense elements (anti-missiles) in Romania and Bulgaria, in the black sea water area. These systems will, supposedly, provide protection for the US and their European allies against possible Iranian threat. Russian Minister of Foreign affairs stated that the Russian Federation would like the US to clarify the reasons for such a measure. Commentary given by the US representatives does not sound too convincing per se. It failed to help disperse the atmosphere of concern, but has indeed succeeded in causing utter disappointment with this decision in Moscow. It signaled a perplexing divergence from the “re-start” attitude in Russo-American relations.
Our concern over this situation (as is over missile defense issues in general) does not always find understanding among our American and other western colleagues. For they claim that the system is going to solely serve the defensive purpose, and has limited capabilities.
But here we have to remember how much unease is brought upon our western colleagues by the possibility of delivering equivalent S-300 Russian missile defense systems to Iran. And when missile defense systems are to be deployed in Europe, then we are offered to think of it as if it were a routine situation, which is of such small importance, that there is no need whatsoever to discuss it with Russia.
It would have been a routine situation, had we had some system of checks and balances, which were to guarantee mutual trust, and excluded risks for whomever it could be in Europe. However, such system exists only within NATO, and because of this Norway, for instance, has no reasons to be concerned over US missiles being deployed on the South of the continent.
Unease in Russia
But Russia is not a member of NATO, and we have to remember, that we are talking about armaments of a military bloc that Russia is not a part of. When security is at stake, no sensible politician or army officer is going to find spoken affirmations, especially those claiming that no weapon is aimed at his or her country sufficient.
This is exactly why we say that we need an agreement basis for collective security in Europe. Once we have a written document on our hands, then within its framework we will be able to negotiate which missiles, missile defense systems we may or may not need in Europe.
We initially said that – and American colleagues, as we believed, supported us (at least such an agreement was reached between Presidents Obama and Medvedev) – it is imperative to draw up a list of possible threats, and in future, should any issue arise, act within the guidelines of this list. We should act jointly and in concord with each other. We should not put the partner in a position, where mass media is going to provide the information on any considerable decision.
The deployment of missile defense elements in Romania and Bulgaria does not look like an appropriate course of action, especially given that the possible threats are still to be agreed upon. Does the current state of events require such haste? Is there any justification for so eagerly wanting to deploy the missiles that are supposed to protect Europe from the Iranian threat before fully implementing the long-awaited re-start in our relations?
This makes us want to ask – who are these systems going to protect? Israel? The American fleet in the Persian Gulf? These are the two principal targets for future Iranian missiles. The quite limited range of Iranian missiles is not going to take them anywhere near Romania in the nearest future (and it’s doubtful that anyone in Tehran has had such intentions before – but this can now become a possible development.) The US has a lot of possibilities to bring its armaments close to the source of the potential threat without any political complications with anyone, and without having to breach into the ever so sensitive and disputable space of European security. There are several states neighboring Iran (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Azerbaijan, etc.), which would eagerly offer their support and territory to Washington.
And despite this all, we constantly keep hearing about Europe. Without any doubt, this attitude provokes a natural reaction from the Russian side, and creates an impression of, I would say, some carelessness in approaching issues of such grand scale.
A question of balance
It is regrettable that all of this is happening during the course of intricate talks between USA and Russia on the new START. Despite the obvious progress in this direction, not all issues have been resolved or agreed upon. The general mood of the negotiations is affecting the very course of these negotiations, their atmosphere. The important issue here is – without any exaggeration – the global security, the perspectives of a nuclear-free world, which have finally been given a tangible chance to come to life. And all of a sudden, as if it were orchestrated on the higher level, this Romano-Bulgarian missile issue emerges, creating an impression that someone was looking for a way to impede with the negotiation process.
We understand that this process (as does the President Obama) has many critics, including powerful opponents in the US Congress and the Pentagon. It can be suggested that divulging plans to deploy missile defense elements in Romania and Bulgaria is supposed to facilitate the advance of the new START through the US Congress to some extent. There it is supposed to encounter harsh opposition, overcoming which will require additional arguments. First, there are the interests of the defense establishment lobby, which has its own reasons for the deployment of missiles in the Southern Europe. Also, according to some arguments, antimissiles pose no threat to the Russian military potential, because they were developed to counter short- and medium-range missiles, and Russia has none (however, we have not heard whether the US are only going to use this class of anti-missiles in the nearest future). References are being made to president Obama’s September 2009 modified European antimissile plan, which came as a replacement for the construction of a third missile defense sector in Czech Republic and Poland.
All of these concepts are not without some ground to them, and can become topics for discussion. It is rather unfortunate that there has not been any discussion yet. And as for the matter of anti-missile deployment in Romania and Bulgaria – the US did not use its diplomatic channels to politely inform Russia beforehand. This is something that does not correlate with the proclaimed “restart” policy, which we would want to honor in our relations with the USA and the West as a whole.
It is necessary to understand that Russia is very concerned over such intentions coming from the US, especially in the context of general European and global security, undergoing START negotiations, and discussion of a Russian proposal for the European security treaty. Such attitude can not be seemed as a product of just military reasons, or specific Russian fears, some unhealthy (“paranoid”) obsession of Moscow with missile defense (however, we have to accentuate that we are talking about the weapon systems created to counter missiles that are flying in close proximity to the borders, or even over the territory of Russia, which would, without any doubt, cause anxiety for any country: there is the aspect of the regional balance of power, which would be completely violated, were the new powerful weapons to appear near the Black Sea).
We believe that the re-start of approach to security problems should undergo some qualitative and quantitative changes. Qualitative changes would mean changes in a wide area of aspects, including changing the relationship model between the partners, and higher regard of interests of one another. As for the quantitative changes – we should discuss a much wider and complex range of issues dealing with security. While sharing the same track, one can not make substantial progress by moving unilaterally without prior discussion with the partner or partners. Such approach would only result in the unfortunate shock effect. ( see page 14)
Konstantin Kosachev is a Russian political leader who is the Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs. A doctoral graduate of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Kosachev was an accomplished diplomat before his election to the Duma in 1999
Businessneweurope: INTERVIEW: Eurasian Development Bank seeks to build funds, links
Clare Nuttall in Almaty
February 22, 2010
2010 is an important year for the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB), according to its chairman Igor Finogenov. The EDB plans to grow its investment portfolio by over 50% and take in new members, and is managing the Eurasian Economic Community's (EurAsEC) $10bn anti-crisis fund.
In addition to economic development, the bank is helping to rebuild the links between its member countries that date back to the Silk Road era. "Integration in this region has an economic basis," Finogenov tells bne. "Looking at the region from a historical perspective, the countries have had very tight economic links.
Established in January 2006, today the bank has four members. In addition to founders Russia and Kazakhstan, it acquired two more full members - Armenia and Tajikistan - in 2009. "From the very beginning, our mission was to attract new members, with an initial focus on the EurAsEC countries," says Finogenov. "Since the name of our bank is 'Eurasian', and according to our charter there are no restrictions on which countries can join, theoretically any country in this region - from Iceland to Malaysia - could become a member of the EDB."
Membership for Belarus is imminent and Kyrgyzstan recently sent an official application to the bank's council. "There has not yet been an official application from Azerbaijan or Moldova, but I feel there is a great interest on the part of those two countries to work with our bank. We have also had close contact with the government of Mongolia regarding issues of cooperation," says Finogenov.
The bank currently has a $1.3bn investment portfolio, which it plans to increase to $2.1bn by the end of the year. Its focus is on projects with a development effect that contribute to integration within the Eurasia region. Other factors it looks for include transparency, support for mutual trade and investment between member countries, and positive structural changes.
The EDB's pan-regional presence has given it the scope to act in sectors such as energy and transport where it can take advantage of existing connections and build new links between member countries.
The energy sector, for example, has been one of the main areas of activity for the EDB. Projects in this sector include funding the construction of a new generating unit at Kazakhstan's Ekibastuzskaya GRES-2 power plant, reconstruction of the Argun thermal power plant-4 in Chechnya - the region's largest energy infrastructure project - and support for the modernisation of the Siberian Coal Energy Company's operations. "Electrical power is one of our priority directions for investment. There used to be a deficit of it in this region. We are considering various projects to eliminate this deficit, which can only be implemented successfully on an inter-state basis," says Finogrenov.
The interconnection of Eurasian power systems has had benefits across the region, points out Finogenov, citing the example of the north Kazakhstan and South Siberian energy systems. "After the recent accident at the SS GES in Siberia, Kazakhstan provided additional electrical energy to make up the deficit in Siberia, illustrating that integration structures provide for sustainable economy of the counties and how important the economic ties are," he says.
Cross-border cooperation could also help Central Asia exploit its energy resources. "In Central Asia, the major hydro-energy potential is located in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. An inter-governmental project in this area could cover the energy shortfall in those countries as well as in Afghanistan, Pakistan and China, which really suffer from a deficit of electrical energy," says Finogenov.
Other priority sectors for the bank include transport infrastructure, the high-tech and innovative industries, the agro-industrial sector, and the financial sector.
To fund its work, the bank carried out a successful $500m Eurobond issue in 2009. "We may consider a further issue this year, but this would depend on certain criteria," explains Finogenov. "First, we may consider issuing bonds in local currencies, because the currency risks when bonds are issued in foreign currencies are pretty high. We will monitor the situation carefully and will do our best to ensure that the state debt of our member countries does not grow as a result of any bond issues we decide to undertake. Second, we will look at the cost of the resources, because as a development institution we are financing infrastructure projects that need long-term, cheap resources."
Since the onset of the international economic crisis, the bank has responded by developing a special programme for operating under crisis conditions. "We review our investment portfolio and the programmes that are being considered for financing, we rejected some projects and changed the structure of others. As a result, we have not had any losses. In future, we will continue to very carefully monitor the economies of our member countries," says Finogenov.
In 2009, the EDB was appointed as manager of the EurAsEC anti-crisis fund, which, Finogenov says, will involve a huge amount of work this year. The bank is currently working to set out regulations for the fund's work. Rules for issuing finance to countries have already been approved, and rules for investment credits will soon be approved. The first applications to the fund are expected in the very near future. "The crisis taught serious lessons to every EDB member country, namely that the economic structure does not provide for sustainable development. This has taught us to work intensively to improve the economic structures in our member countries. Russia and Kazakhstan have launched programmes to modernise their economies, with the aim of eliminating the influence of the crisis," says Finogenov.
"The pace of recovery from the crisis has been pretty high, but this doesn't mean we can relax - we need to work," he adds.