Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had a pleasant, two-day summit last week in Beijing. The agreeable nature of their public encounter was evident when Hu thanked the Russian government for its assistance to the victims of the May 12 earthquake in southwest China, which may have killed as many as 80,000 people. “Between friends, there can be no other kind of relations,” Medvedev replied, while offering to provide additional help. Their only unpleasant comments were directed at third parties. The two governments expressed resentment of Western criticism regarding their human rights practices and actions abroad. A […]

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It’s no coincidence that Vladimir Putin chose France for his first foreign visit as Prime Minister. The visit demonstrates the growing importance of the two countries’ bilateral relations, in the context of Russian-EU relations. Russia and the EU will begin negotiations next month for a new Cooperative Framework Agreement, and France assumes the EU presidency in July. In a sign, too, of how central civil nuclear energy has become to French foreign policy, Putin will be accompanied by the head of Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear agency, which is seeking to broaden its collaborative contracts with its French counterpart, Areva.

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov traveled to the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol May 10-11 to mark the 225th anniversary of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. During that weekend, he made several inflammatory comments to the effect that the port and city still legally belong to the Russian Federation. Luzhkov’s remarks have further strained relations between Russia and Ukraine, which also differ on other issues, especially Ukrainian aspirations to join NATO. The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) responded by designating the Moscow mayor persona non grata. The SBU claimed that Luzhkov ignored “a warning regarding the unacceptability of actions harming Ukraine’s national interests […]

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The EU member states just greenlighted the opening of negotiations for a new cooperative framework agreement between the EU and Russia. The talks had been blocked less than a month ago at the EU foreign ministers’ summit by Lithuania, which had several outstanding grievances against Moscow, including resumption of interrupted oil deliveries. Those disputes have been included in the mandate of issues to be resolved in the new negotiations, which (barring any surprises) will open next month at the EU-Russia summit. That the negotiations’ opening rounds will take place under the French EU presidency is a stroke of luck, because […]

The latest figures released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute show a precipitous decline in the volume of Russian weapons sales to the Chinese military. Although Beijing remains the single largest recipient of Russian arms, the figures show a 63 percent decrease in the value of major Russian weapons deliveries to China, which is the lowest level in a decade. The decrease contributed to a 29 percent reduction in Russia’s overall export of major conventional weapons systems between 2006 and 2007. In addition, China and Russia have not signed any major new arms contracts in recent years and are […]

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Talk about a nice going away present. Just before leaving office on May 6, Russia’s former Prime Minister (now vice premier) Viktor Zubkov sealed a ruling that transferred one third of Russia’s federally owned gas reserves to Gazprom. The transfer, which took place without tender, followed a smaller but hefty one in April, and boosted Gazprom’s wealth by 13 percent. Meanwhile, “Prime Minister” Putin announced plans for a round of tax holidays for Russian oil prospecting and developing companies. Of course, if I’m a Russian oil prospector, I’ve got to be wondering whether the field I develop will ultimately be […]

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Richard Weitz’ roundup of the nuclear agreement signed last week between the U.S. and Russia is the most thorough I’ve read so far. I’d been under the impression that the agreement threatened efforts to reduce Russia’s stock of weapons grade uranium. But Weitz points out all the other ways that the agreement opens up areas of cooperative counterproliferation. Among the most convincing is that by offering Russia access to both the American domestic nuclear market and, via cooperative mechanisms, various foreign markets, the agreement provides a lucrative alternative to Russia’s nuclear cooperation with Iran. Ironically, that’s the very sticking point […]

On May 6, during Russian President Vladmir Putin’s last day in office, the American and Russian governments finally signed their long-sought civil nuclear energy agreement. The accord facilitates the transfer of technologies, materials, equipment and other components used to conduct nuclear research and produce nuclear power. Putin and Bush originally announced their intent to negotiate a U.S.-Russia Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation (known as a “123 Agreement”) at their joint news conference held on the sidelines of the July 2006 G-8 summit in St. Petersburg. Section 123 of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act requires the United States to negotiate a […]

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Interfax has got a brief interview with American Ambassador to Russia, William Burns. I mention it mainly as an excuse to note that Burns isn’t the only Embassy staff who will be leaving Moscow imminently. ITAR-TASS is reporting that the Russians just asked two military attaches to pack their bags, ostensibly in response to two Russian diplomats expelled from Washington, one last year and one in April. Interestingly enough, though, America’s position on the risk of war over Abkhazia was the first question Interfax posed Burns. Talk about tough assignments. Is there anyplace outside of Baghdad that’s been more of […]

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Not a lot of added value in this post, but I wanted to flag some Russian news items of recurring or semi-recurring interest. French FM Bernard Kouchner used President Dmitry Medvedev’s inauguration yesterday to reiterate France’s desire for a “new tonality” in the EU-Russian relationship. In particular, Kouchner emphasized Europe’s willingness to take Moscow’s concerns into account, and called Russia “. . .a part of [Europe’s] future.” The declaration reads at the same time as a call for Russia to put aside its confrontational posture, but also as a reassurance of Europe’s good intentions. Also, the U.S. and Russia signed […]

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As more and more of its unmanned drones wind up shot down over Abkhazia, withdrawing from a bi-lateral air defense treaty with Russia would seem like the sensible move for Georgia. With tensions this high on both sides of the border, though, it’s almost reassuring that the fictional transfer of power tomorrow in Moscow won’t create any instability in the Russian chain of command.

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It looks like the summit meeting of EU foreign minsiters was something of a mixed bag for Russia-EU relations. On the one hand, Lithuania blocked a memorandum calling for the negotiation of a new cooperation agreement to replace the current one, which dates back to 1994. Its unmet demands ranged from the purely bilateral (repairing an oil pipeline to a Lithuanian refinery) to the more generalized trade-off variety that I’ll probably soon regret having declared obsolete (a commitment to peacefully resolve the frozen conflicts in Georgia and other former USSR territories). Moscow Times has a good overview here, and Kommersant […]

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The rising tensions between Russia and Georgia, which I used yesterday to develop an abstract argument, are pretty alarming in more concrete ways. It’s easy enough to fall into the lethargic habit of saying, “Sure, there’s been a bit of sabre-rattling here, a downed drone there, but nobody’s going to actually go to war over this thing.” But as Richard Weitz makes clear in his latest WPR piece, we’ve actually got the makings of a hot conflict on our hands. Weitz concludes by advocating a global approach towards Russia: Instead, Russian-Georgian differences need to be managed within a wider context […]