Archive for August, 2011

28
Aug
11

Medvedev compares Arab spring to the fall of the Berlin wall

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday compared the likely consequences of the Arab Spring to those of the fall of the Berlin Wall as he underlined the necessity of timely reforms to avoid unrest.

Revolts in the Middle East and North Africa “are of a historic character and can pave the way for transformations similar to those taking place in Central Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall”, the Russian leader told foreign ambassadors in the Kremlin.

“Events in the Arab world once again proved … that socioeconomic reforms, reforms that would take into account the interests of the widest majority of the population, must be carried out in due time,” Medvedev added in remarks released by the Kremlin.

The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 symbolised a bloodless end to communism, a move regarded as having had a domino effect across the Soviet bloc, ending in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Medvedev’s words came after leaders of the Group of Eight countries at their France meeting in May adopted a declaration on the Arab Spring which also drew parallels with the 1989 removal of the 43-kilometre (27-mile) demarcation line between East and West Berlin.

Medvedev has previously called the uprising in Tunisia a “lesson” to all governments that do not meet the aspirations of the people.

However Russia has been a dissenting voice in the West’s treatment of the Libyan conflict, having abstained from a critical UN Security Council resolution and later continuing to criticise the scale of the NATO-led campaign.

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16
Aug
11

Russia: Vladimir Putin launches his presidential campaign

In what could be seen as the start of a presidential campaign, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reflected Friday on decisions he made that he said could have cost him his political career – and declared that the risk was always justified.

He specifically referred to his response to the 1999 rebel attacks on Dagestan led by the notorious Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev.

Militants headed by Basayev and Saudi-born Ibn Al-Khattab attacked Dagestan in August-September 1999. Hundreds of people were killed in the subsequent fighting, a precursor to the second Chechen war.

“Unless I took resolute and tough action, the country would have fallen apart,” he said during a working visit to one of Russia’s biggest steel makers, the Magnitogorsk Steel Plant.

“I had to make a decision. I thought: That’s it, my career is over.”

Putin said he acted in accordance with the country’s national interests, with no consideration of political expediency.

Asked what he considered his most significant achievement in the past decade, Putin said a good deal had been done for the country but Russia had still a long way to go, specifically reduce poverty and ensure economic growth.

“New tools, new people and new ideas are needed, deep modernization and innovation are needed to accelerate economic and social growth and strengthen the political foundations of our society,” Putin said.

Asked what quality was most important in a president, Putin said, “integrity – integrity in everything,” adding that a person who “can’t keep his word must not even be allowed to head any team, let alone the country.”

The prime minister also stressed the importance of professionalism and diplomacy.

Putin’s comments come as analysts and ordinary Russians speculate who will run in next year’s presidential poll.

President Dmitry Medvedev and Putin have made clear that one of them – and only one of them – will run in the presidential elections on March 11, 2012, but it is anyone’s guess as to which one.

03
Aug
11

Will Prokhorov really enter Russian politics?

What is doing Mikhail Prokhorov? The Russian tycoon who recently announced his intention to start a political career is playing a confusing game. Will he really defy Prime minister Vladimir Putin or is it just a tactical and symbolic move?

Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, who leads a small party praised by President Dmitry Medvedev, ridiculed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s new political movement on Tuesday and said he would one day like the premier’s job.

Prokhorov, who made a fortune by gaining control of the world’s biggest palladium producer after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, last month took charge of a party which has called for Medvedev to run for re-election in the 2012 presidential election.

Putin and Medvedev have both repeatedly refused to say which of them will run in the March presidential election, though Putin created a new movement in May to widen the support of his ruling party ahead of a December parliamentary election.

The 46-year-old owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball club told the Kommersant newspaper that he agreed with Putin on some issues but not others, citing the centralized political system crafted by Putin during his 2000-2008 presidency.

The billionaire also mocked the swift rise in membership of Putin’s movement, the All-Russian People’s Front.

“You know, in my opinion, it is really laughable when 38 million agricultural workers join the Front in a single day,” Prokhorov told the paper, referring to a decision last month by Russia’s Agrarian Movement to join Putin’s movement.

While steering clear of direct criticism of Putin, he said the United Russia party which Putin leads was an ineffective monopoly. He said he hoped one day to be prime minister.

“Do you think I entered politics just to get into the Duma and then to relax and have a smoke?” said Prokhorov, adding that his free-market Right Cause party aimed to get 15 percent in the elections to the lower house of parliament, known as the Duma.

When asked why he wanted to become prime minister, the job Putin took in May 2008 when he stepped down as president after steering Medvedev in to the Kremlin, Prokhorov said:

“Because this job is clearer to me: it is connected with the things I have had to deal with in business. I have dealt with all sectors of the economy,” Prokhorov said.

OLIGARCH POLITICIAN

Prokhorov, the most influential Russian billionaire to enter public politics since the 2003 arrest of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said he did not know what Putin would think of his ambition.

“I don’t know. I think it would be better if you asked him,” said Prokhorov, who is ranked by Finans magazine as Russia’s second richest man with a fortune of $22.7 billion, behind steel magnate Vladimir Lisin with $28.3 billion.

Such a response is unusually blunt given the power of Putin, Russia’s paramount leader, who made clear during his presidency his view that the deeply unpopular oligarchs should stay out of politics.

Khodorkovsky’s business empire was carved up and sold after he fell foul of the Kremlin under Putin. He is still in jail.

But few investors and diplomats believe such a powerful tycoon as Prokhorov would have entered politics without the direct approval — or even a direct order — from Medvedev’s Kremlin.

His outspoken entry into politics may even help create the perception of competition in the election year while garnering support from notoriously cynical urban professional voters.

Right Cause called in November 2010 — before Prokhorov’s election as leader — for Medvedev to run for a second term in the 2012 election and last month the Kremlin chief praised Prokhorov, saying many of his ideas were similar to his own.

A whiz-kid of Russian finance who is sometimes called Moscow’s most eligible bachelor, he earned a fortune by selling a one-quarter stake in mining behemoth Norilsk Nickel just before the 2008 global crisis hammered Russia’s economy.

He has a 17 percent stake in RUSAL, the world’s top aluminum producer, and a 30 percent stake in Russia’s top gold producer, Polyus Gold.

Prokhorov quipped that with his wealth, he could even top the campaign financing for Putin’s party: “If not for restrictions on party funding, I would beat United Russia with one single payment.”