|Eurasia Daily Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation — December 1, 2009 — Volume 6, Issue 220|
|December 01, 2009|
IN THIS ISSUE
* Russian air force continues long range bomber flights
Russian Strategic Bomber Flights: Long Range Deception
On November 24 and 25 two Russian Tu-95MS strategic bombers flew long range patrolling missions above neutral waters in the Arctic to the Atlantic Oceans. Russian Air Force spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Vladimir Drik said that during the 16 hour missions that featured mid-air refueling from Il-78 tankers, NATO F-15 and RAF Tornado’s followed the Russian bombers. Russian strategic aviation flights, according to Drik, “strictly comply with the international rules of using airspace over neutral waters without violating the borders of foreign countries” (Interfax, November 25). The UK defense ministry and the RAF dispute this, arguing that while these flights pose no direct military threat, and remain in international airspace, the Russian authorities consistently fail to inform the relevant air traffic control bodies of their movements; raising civil aviation flight safety concern since these military patrols transit some of the busiest air routes (Russia: a New Confrontation? House of Commons Report, July, 2009).
Last month, two Tu-160 strategic bombers successfully performed an air patrol mission of “unprecedented complexity.” Taking off from Engels airbase their route followed the country’s northern border into the Pacific, before returning across Russia’s southern borders after twice being refueled in mid-air: the 20 hours flight duration exceeded previous missions during the past twenty years (ITAR-TASS, November 20).
However, Colonel Anatoliy Tsyganok, the head of the Military Forecasting Center at the Institute for Political and Military Analysis in Moscow considers such flights militarily questionable. He referred to the Tu-160 and Tu-95 strategic bombers as “morally and technically obsolete,” reflecting the technology of the 1950’s to 1980’s. Their designated missions were to achieve key objectives using nuclear and conventional weapons in distant geographical locations and deep within any theater of operations. The Tu-95 entered service with Long-Range Aviation units in 1956, while production stopped in 1992. It will remain in service into the next decade, currently being refitted with upgraded onboard electronic weaponry and a new generation of “precision strategic missiles.” On the other hand, the Tu-160 was a “survivor” from the contraction in the Soviet defense industry in late 1980’s (Svobodnaya Pressa, October 30).
Indeed, Tsyganok believes the type of air patrolling mission now being conducted by strategic aviation is obsolete, since it has “fallen behind weapons-related development. It is highly vulnerable in the air and on the ground, it is dependent on the availability of refueling aircraft, and using it as a means of weapons delivery to the point of use takes up too much time. In an actual combat situation these aircraft would have been destroyed by enemy missiles long before they were able to deliver their retaliatory strike.” Their dependence on the presence of tanker aviation and advance prepared airfields clearly restricts its potential. In fact, any theoretical military justification only relates to supporting Russia’s presence on the Arctic shelf, after a military satellite tasked with surveillance of this and adjoining areas was accidently brought down two years ago. Tsyganok considers the underlying reasons for the resumption of such flights as purely symbolic: “In my view, moreover, the current patrolling is more of a PR exercise than a demonstration of real capabilities,” he noted (Svobodnaya Pressa, October 30).
The Commander-in-Chief (CINC) of the Russian Air Force (VVS) Colonel-General Aleksandr Zelin has repeatedly promised the modernization of the inventory. From 1994 to 2003 the VVS did not receive a single new combat aircraft. While Zelin was the deputy CINC from August 2002 to May 2007, on numerous occasions he publicly promoted such modernization. Meanwhile, his recent statements have become increasingly pessimistic in relation to procuring new platforms and upgrading existing ones (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, October 31). On August 5, Zelin stated: “In connection with the increased cost of creating and operating new-generation aircraft as well as the cost of their mastery by flight personnel, it can be expected that with the forecasted level of funding the numerical makeup of Air Force aviation may decline substantially by 2025. In this case manned VVS aviation will be incapable of performing the requisite scope of missions in a local war as required by program documents on national security and the military doctrine” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, August 10).
On November 26, Zelin said that he intends setting a date in December for a delayed maiden flight of the fifth generation fighter jet. He will visit its manufacturer in Komsomolsk-on-Amur to monitor progress. “I shall look into the state of affairs myself, and then it will be clear when the plane will make the first flight,” Zelin told a press conference at the defense ministry. He pointedly refused to specify when the flight might occur, which was previously scheduled before the end of 2009. During the same press conference he was scathing about the defense industry offering the air force inferior quality unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s), saying that he refused to certify them. He highlighted his dissatisfaction with Russian designed UAV’s “either with the speed, or flight altitude or the resolution capacity of their equipment. It is a sheer crime to make operational unmanned aircraft without the required tactical and technical characteristics.” Consequently, Zelin said that the VVS was dependent on Israel, having procured a dozen of their UAV’s, but admitted that the Israelis will not share advanced technology in this area (ITAR-TASS, November 26).
Nonetheless, Zelin stated that by January 1, 2010, the VVS will complete its structural reform from regiments to bases. In its planning stage, the VVS drew heavily on the experience of the Belarusian air force, which was similarly restructured several years ago. The reform itself is focused on consolidating the better trained units to intensify combat training, enhancing the proportion of combat ready aircraft and saving considerable funds (RIA Novosti, November 26).
Meanwhile, the resumption of long range strategic bomber flights was ordered in August 2007 by then President Vladimir Putin and has continued since. The underlying political message was calibrated toward declaring that Russia is “back,” and the country’s security elite appear to regard such flights as symbolically important. Equally, they appear aimed at disguising the difficulties facing the Russian defense industry in arresting the decline of the VVS.
Insurgent Violence Reported in Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria
The Jamestown Foundation
A spokesman for the Investigative Committee of the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office, Vladimir Markin, announced today (December 1) that a blast on the Tyumen-Baku railway line in Dagestan yesterday (November 30) was a terrorist act. That blast, which investigators said equaled 300 grams of TNT, slightly damaged a locomotive, but did not derail the eight-car train that was traveling on the rail line at the time of the blast.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, declared that the blast on the Dagestani railway was a terrorist act “similar” to the November 27 bombing of the Nevsky Express luxury train between St. Petersburg and Moscow, which killed 26 people and injured scores of others. A second explosive device partially detonated at the site of the Nevsky Express bombing on November 28 as railway workers were clearing debris. Alexander Bobreshov, a vice president of Russian Railways, said on Ekho Moskvy radio yesterday that the two blasts on the Nevsky Express line was an example of “the so-called double-blast method” used by “North Caucasus sabotage groups” (www.newsru.com, Moscow Times, December 1; Associated Press, November 30).
The Dagestani railway blast was just one in a series of apparent insurgent attacks in Dagestan. The republic’s interior ministry reported that a suspected rebel was gunned down yesterday when several people in a car fired at police at a checkpoint. The ministry said two policemen were wounded in the shootout. The incident took place in Dagestan’s Kizlyurt district (Associated Press, RIA Novosti, December 1). Also yesterday, a traffic policeman was hospitalized after being shot in the stomach in the republic’s capital Makhachkala. The policeman was reportedly in critical condition. Earlier yesterday, unidentified gunmen in Makhachkala fired on a car carrying Abrek Gadzhiev, the head of Dagestan’s Magaramkentsky district. Gadzhiev died of his wounds in the hospital. His driver was also wounded in the attack (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 30).
On November 26, an explosive device detonated in front of a diesel locomotive south of Makhachkala. Earlier that day, an improvised explosive device was discovered on the Mazdok-Kazimagomed gas pipeline in Dagestan’s Kayakentsky district. On November 25, unidentified gunmen fired on a car in which a police official was traveling in Makhachkala, wounding him in the head. That same day, gunmen in masks shot the commander of a Dagestani police Special Forces detachment (SOBR), Shapi Aligadzhiev, in Makhachkala. One of his bodyguards shot and killed one of the attackers but the others managed to escape. Aligadzhiev died later that day in the hospital. Also on November 25, a bomb disposal expert with the interior ministry’s internal troops was wounded when an explosive device detonated during an operation in a wooded area on the outskirts of the village of Gubden in Dagestan’s Karabudakhkentsky district (www.kavkaz-uzel, www.newsru.com, November 26).
Violent incidents have also been reported in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria over the past several days. Chechen interior ministry spokesman Magomed Deniev said today that one suspected militant was killed late yesterday in the village of Samashki and that a police officer was wounded in the shootout (RIA Novosti, December 1). The bodies of two police officers were found with bullet wounds in a car in the town of Gudermes on November 27. The officers were identified as Senior Lieutenant Myakhdi Khizriev and Sergeant Myakhdi Kasumov (RIA Novosti, November 28). The police chief of the Ingush city of Karabulak, Adyl-Kerim Tsechoev, died in the hospital on November 27 after his car was blown up in the town of Ordzhonikidzevskaya. A bomb equivalent to roughly 500 grams of TNT had been fixed to the undercarriage of Tsechoev’s armored car. An Ingush interior ministry source said the explosion injured a bystander (ITAR-TASS, November 27).
On November 26, a warrant officer was killed while another serviceman and a policeman were wounded in a shooting in Kabardino-Balkaria’s capital, Nalchik. Kavkazky Uzel on November 27 quoted a Kabardino-Balkaria law enforcement sources as saying that the incident took place around 4:00 p.m., local time, the previous day when police stopped two men for a document check, one of whom open fire on them with a pistol, wounding one policemen. A warrant officer and another serviceman from a nearby military post who happened to be walking by were also hit by bullets. All three men were taken to the hospital, where the warrant officer died. The shooter and the man who was with him managed to escape. Police said they managed to identify the two, one of whose passports was found at the scene of the shooting. Both were said to be 23-year-old residents of the city of Baksan.
On November 23, authorities in the city of Chegem in Kabardino-Balkaria found the decapitated bodies of Murat Dokshukin, a 27-year-old interrogating officer with the Chegem branch of the federal court bailiff’s service, and Albert Shebzukhov, a 26-year-old Bakasan district police investigator, in the trunk of a Mercedes. Investigators said the two had been tortured before being killed.
The federal Investigative Committee’s local senior investigator in Chegem, Anzor Tlepshev, said that the murder-beheadings may have been an act of revenge by the republic’s armed militant underground for an article local newspaper article trumpeting victory over the insurgents. “Following a news story in one of the republican newspapers about the liquidation of the leaders of the republican ‘Shura’, which had the headline ‘The Shura has been decapitated,’ the extremists announced that they would behead [law-enforcement] employees,” Tlepshev said (www.gazeta.ru, November 24).
Russia Tries to Build Political Influence in Moldova From Scratch
Moldova’s parliament, a product of repeat elections in July and deadlocked since then, has scheduled its fourth official attempt this year (technically the fifth attempt) to elect a head of state for December 7.
The governing Alliance for European Integration (AEI) officially supports Marian Lupu, leader of the Democratic Party (third-largest in the four-party Alliance) as its collective candidate for head of state. The nominally communist opposition has refused to designate a candidate thus far. The communists, in power from 2001 to 2009, hold more than enough seats to block the election of the head of state in parliament and force new parliamentary elections.
While the tug-of-war between the communists and the AEI captures public attention, a parallel contest is ongoing within the AEI itself. Behind the Alliance’s façade of unity, certain leaders have not conclusively given up their own presidential ambitions, which they seemed to have renounced when nominating Lupu as joint candidate. The current Prime Minister Vlad Filat, and the leader of Moldova Noastra (AEI’s smallest party), Serafim Urecheanu, had announced presidential ambitions prior to AEI’s nomination of Lupu. With the presidential election turning into a long-drawn-out process, and Lupu’s chances consequently looking more uncertain, internal rivalries seem recrudescent in AEI.
Lupu unveiled this situation for the first time in his latest news conference on November 24. Alluding to “differing positions and voices [within the AEI] regarding the presidential election”, he could not predict “whether these would unify or would divide even further.” Lupu warned against the intractable situation that would result “if the principles, adopted at the Alliance’s foundation, are not respected.” If the presidential election fails again and new parliamentary elections are held, Lupu said, the Democratic Party might run separately from the other AEI parties (Moldpres, November 24).
Concurrently, Lupu has proposed a 12-point platform for cooperation with the opposition Communist Party. Initiated by him and endorsed by the AEI, the platform is subject to further negotiation with the Communist Party, as a possible basis for Lupu’s election as president with that party’s support (Basapress, News-In, November 25).
Lupu is a Western-oriented politician, favorably regarded in Brussels and other European capitals, and with no links to Russia. Unlike the AEI leaders, Lupu has no personal links to Romania. He and some other AEI politicians of Lupu’s generation (now in their early forties) represent a cultural leap from the post-Soviet era into the European integration era for Moldova.
For its part, Russia would prefer a Moldovan leadership that modifies the existing, unambiguous European orientation by introducing a two-vector policy between Europe and Russia. By the same token, Russia would welcome a Moldovan leadership that sets limits to Romanian influence in Moldova.
Moscow’s optimal solution would be to support a respected Moldovan politician with a European face, who would preside over a two-vector policy. Furthermore, such a Moldovan president would have to operate in alliance with one or several political groups amenable to Russian influence. Moscow apparently hopes that it could embed Lupu into such an arrangement. The Kremlin’s attempts to persuade the Moldovan Communist Party or at least a part of it to break the deadlock and support Lupu’s election as president (EDM, November 4), however, have not borne fruit thus far.
There are no pro-Russia elements in the AEI; and few such in the opposition Communist Party’s leadership (which had distanced itself dramatically from Moscow in recent years). All Moldovan political leaders including communists subscribe to the goal of European integration (despite differences of degree in their understanding of that goal). The Communist Party, however, has switched from a pro-Europe stance to an equidistant stance between Europe and Russia in its electoral rhetoric this year.
While some AEI politicians feel close to Romania, and some are prone to Romanian national irredentism, no significant Moldovan politician is oriented toward Russia. Even among communist parliamentarians, political Russophiles (as distinct from cultural ones) are a few passive backbenchers. Russian direct political influence in Chisinau was absent during the nominally Communist Vladimir Voronin’s presidency (2001-2009). Pro-Moscow groups operate outside the Communist Party, on the left fringe of “Russian-speaking” ethnic groups. However, Chisinau’s intense partisan, factional, and personal rivalries –coupled with the urgency of external economic support to the new government– impel some leaders and groups to reach out not only to the European Union or Romania, but also to Russia. In this situation, presidential aspirants and government leaders responsible for the economy are engaging in tactical fence-mending with Moscow.
Consequently, Moscow sees an opportunity to build political influence in Chisinau for the first time since 1991. It has started this effort almost from scratch in recent months. The Kremlin and the Russian government are approaching Moldovan political groups and key contestants for power, seeking to shape the outcome and create a basis for working with a post-crisis government.
Putin, Tymoshenko Agree on Gas and Deride Yushchenko, Saakashvili
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Tymoshenko met in Yalta on November 19 and reached a number of agreements, confirming once again that their relationship is of a special character. Putin reiterated that Naftohaz Ukrainy, the debt-ridden state-controlled oil and gas behemoth, will not be fined for its failure to buy as much gas as stipulated by the January 2009 contracts between Naftohaz and Gazprom. The two rejected Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s calls for an urgent revision of the contracts and derided Yushchenko and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili who were meeting in Kyiv simultaneously.
Naftohaz will import 24-26 billion rather than 33 billion cubic meters of gas in 2009 as stipulated by contracts, and according to the take-or-pay clause in the contracts it could face multi-billion dollar fines. After his meeting with Tymoshenko, Putin said that Moscow would not penalize Naftohaz “taking into account the special character of relations between Russia and Ukraine” (Ukrainska Pravda, November 19). Putin probably had no choice, as the fines would have bankrupted Naftohaz, further complicating the problem of payments. Also, apparently not only will Naftohaz be “forgiven,” Tymoshenko believes Moscow will not fine any country for buying less gas in 2009 than stipulated by contracts with Gazprom because of the global recession (ICTV, November 22). Russia probably has not had enough gas to adhere to all of its contractual obligations in 2009, since it did not buy sufficient gas from Turkmenistan.
Putin and Tymoshenko confirmed their earlier agreement that Ukraine will not be granted a 20 percent discount from the price of gas in 2010, while it will charge 60 percent more for Russian gas transit to Europe. Throughout 2009 Putin kept warning the European Union as the main consumer that Ukraine would be unable to pay for gas. However, during his meeting with Tymoshenko he praised her cabinet for meeting contractual obligations. “For the first time in many years Ukraine has been fully meeting all of its obligations, which is an important factor for increasing energy stability in Europe,” he said (Ukrainska Pravda, November 19).
Putin and Tymoshenko rejected Yushchenko’s proposal to revise the Naftohaz-Gazprom contracts which he made in a letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ahead of the Putin-Tymoshenko meeting. Yushchenko reiterated that the contracts were harmful to Ukraine as the price of gas grew while transit fees were unchanged in 2009, and Naftohaz faced fines for buying less gas than agreed, since Gazprom has no obligations on the volume of transit. Yushchenko suggested that the base price of gas and Ukraine's obligations regarding the volume of gas to buy should be revised and that a “transit or pay” clause must be added to the contracts for Gazprom in 2010, so that it would face penalties for pumping less than a stipulated volume to Europe through Ukraine (www.president.gov.ua, November 19).
Medvedev’s adviser Sergey Prikhodko dismissed Yushchenko’s proposals as a “blackmail” of Russia and Europe (Interfax, November 19). Tymoshenko defended the contracts, saying that they were market-based and transparent while the pre-2009 relations with Gazrpom, according to Tymoshenko, were built on “a mega-corruption model” (Ukrainska Pravda, November 19).
Putin derided Saakashvili and Yushchenko who were meeting in Kyiv, suggesting that the two were discussing their “common defeats.” Earlier, Yushchenko defended his decision to supply arms to Georgia prior to the Russia-Georgia war in 2008, and meeting Saakashvili he reiterated his support for Georgia’s territorial integrity (Interfax-Ukraine, November 17; Channel 5, November 19). This must have angered Putin. He joked in his usual degrading style, warning Yushchenko apparently in a reference to a well-known BBC video showing Saakashvili chewing his tie in August 2008, that Saakashvili might chew Yushchenko’s tie. Tymoshenko played up to him, giggling (Channel 5, November 19).
Saakashvili was outraged, commenting on Putin’s behavior (Ukraina TV, November 19), and Yushchenko’s chief aide Vira Ulyanchenko called Tymoshenko’s reaction inadmissible (Ukrainska Pravda, November 23). Tymoshenko reacted in a similar manner in the fall of 2008 when Putin called Yushchenko a trickster for trying to prevent her visit to Moscow. Earlier this year, Tymoshenko complained in a telephone conversation with Putin that Yushchenko tried to hinder payments for gas. Putin confirmed that his relationship with Tymoshenko is special, summing up their meeting in Yalta. “It has been comfortable for us to work with the Tymoshenko government. I believe that relations between Russia and Ukraine have become more stable and stronger,” he said (Ukrainska Pravda, November 19).
Tymoshenko’s smooth relationship with Putin at a time when relations between Russia and Ukraine are strained and ahead of the crucial January 17 presidential election makes jealous other Ukrainian presidential candidates who also seek Moscow’s backing. Former parliamentary speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the third most popular hopeful according to opinion polls, predicted that Moscow would increase its political pressure on Kyiv in exchange to economic concessions to Tymoshenko (Ukrainska Pravda, November 15). Tymoshenko’s arch-rival Viktor Yanukovych, who leads the presidential race as the main opposition candidate, suggested that it is comfortable for Putin to work with Tymoshenko because she agreed to expensive gas thereby making Ukrainian industry uncompetitive vis-a-vis Russian companies (ICTV, November 23).
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