News 16 Jan

Freedom House publishes its 2008 report on Freedom in the World.

Russia scored a 6 for Political Rights and and 5 for Civil Rights (1 is best, 7 is worst). According to their figures, Russia is no different from Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Brunei, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar and the UAE, and less free than Afghanistan, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Nepal, Togo, Thailand and Yemen. In other words, it sits right alongside the the tinpot dictatorships and monarchies of this world.

As you might well imagine, we have issues with that – and we’ll cover them in detail, probably in our next Editorial. Suffice to say for now that Da Russophile disagrees.

Russia’s Lavrov to attend Georgia inauguration – it was expected that Russia would send someone lower-ranking than its Foreign Minister. Probably this is tied with Saakashvili recently opting for better ties with Russia.

Polish President Warns About Russia Policy – sour old grapes (ducklings?) remain, but the Polish President is weak and his brother was swept out of power by a landslide. The forwards-looking Tusk administration lifted Poland’s opposition to Russia joining the OECD, and in return the Russians allowed Polish meat imports again after a 2-year ban. Goes to show that if you’re nice to Russia, Russia will be nice to you.

Welfare the big idea for Russia’s Medvedev – looks like the country is headed for a left turn (like Khodorkovsky predicted in 2005, ironically enough). Since 1999, Russia has built up the foundations for a modern economy and now it’s time to start re-building the welfare state. Medvedev has managed Russia’s National Priority Projects, and his main goals will now be to reform pensions (which are on average less than a quarter of the typical monthly wage of nearly $600) and tackle wealth inequality. He has also stepped up campaigning for the March Presidential elections.

A Go-Forward Path for Generating Prosperity – this describes recent oil-profits-aided government efforts to kickstart a hi-tech (IT, nanotechnology, biotech) industry in Russia, drawing on Indian (technoparks), Israeli (state venture company to invest in promising projects) and east Asian (special economic zones) experience. Russia has the R&D infrastructure for these plans to take off, but linking universities to industry remains a difficult task. It recommends a ‘go-forward strategy’ for Russia to concentrate on building up small- and medium-sized enterprises serving the domestic market, before going into internationally competitive enterprises.

U.S. Presidential Contenders: Who to Bet On? – Russia Blog also wrote an article on who the best US president would be from Russia’s perspective. McCain is a Russophobic Cold Warrior of the old school. Clinton was fine (saying that it’s not her right to dictate what government Russia should have – thanks, that’s so generous of you!), until she hurled a personal insult at Putin, alleging that since he was a KGB man, he had no soul (not that I think he or anyone else has a ‘soul’ for that matter either, but you’re a fine one to talk about who does or doesn’t have souls, Hillary!). Obama’s Realpolitik view is that Russia is “neither our enemy nor close ally”, and is most concerned about taking US and Russian ballistic missiles “off high-trigger alert and to dramatically reduce the stockpiles of our nuclear weapons and material” – we can sympathize with that. Huckabee has made few statements on Russia, mostly on co-operating on international terrorism. He’ll probably be like a second G.W. in more ways than social conservatism.

Death toll in fires hit 16,000 in Russia in 2007 – sad statistics, several times the rate in western Europe, but the number of blaze fatalities dropped by 7% from 2006. As such, it reflects general mortality trends from transport accidents, alcohol deaths, suicide and murder.

Belarus considers buying advanced Russian air defense system

New Car Sales In Russia Could Reach 2.7 Million In 2008 – some facts:

  • Russia is currently Europe’s third-largest car market.
  • Foreign manufacturers’ share of all new car sales rose to 64% in 2007 from 54% in 2006.
  • Sales are shifting to regional centres, reflecting the general trend of consumer growth.
  • Russia’s Economy Ministry expects annual cars sales in Russia to reach 4 million by 2010, making it Europe’s largest car market.

Russia looks for clout in pipeline talks – more on Jan 14’s Bulgaria story. The Burgas-Alexandroupolis is part of Russia’s web of pipelines approaching Europe. In total, they have considerable excess capacity, which will enable Russia to shift gas flows from one country to another, giving it increased political clout. Gazprom is also acquiring the NIS, the Serbian state oil company, apparently uncontested and at a massive discount. This is presumably in return for supporting Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo.

U.S. no longer values freedom? – allegations of dodgy voting procedure in New Hampshire from Russia Today, where in one county Ron Paul received no votes but had people complaining they voted for him. A Google search confirms rumors exist but it seems the Western media haven’t caught up with them.