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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 1611

Russia's building boom collapses;
A chilly reception for the new "Solidarity"

Edited by Ilan Berman
January 7, 2009

December 10:

Russia's top military officer is pushing for new arms control talks between Washington and Moscow.
According to the Associated Press, General Nikolai Makarov, the chief of the Russian general staff, has publicly called for a new treaty governing strategic arms reductions between the two countries as a modern substitute for the START I treaty and the Treaty of Moscow. The former, enacted by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev back in 1991 and intended to draw down the nuclear stockpiles of both countries by a quarter or more, expires next year. The latter, signed by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in 2002, envisioned still steeper cuts to Russian and American arsenals. Both agreements, however, have been held in abeyance for years amid deepening distrust between the two countries.

December 12:

China's top leader is publicly reaffirming the strategic bonds between Moscow and Beijing. "As the strategic partnership between China and Russia develops, the relationship between the two militaries has also continued to become more consolidated and stronger,"
the Xinhua news agency reports Chinese President Hu Jintao as saying after consultations with visiting Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. "I hope... to advance the China-Russian strategic partnership and the relationship between the two militaries from a new historical starting point to better and faster development toward the future." During his visit to China, Serdyukov solidified plans for a joint Sino-Russian counterterrorism exercise, to take place next year, as well as cooperative military drills in 2009.

Even Russia's fabulously wealthy oligarchs are being hit by the global credit crisis.
The Property Wire reports that construction projects in several key Russian cities, launched just a year ago amid considerable fanfare, are now in serious trouble, as their oligarch patrons are forced to tighten their financial belts. Among the hardest hit, the trade newswire says, is Georgian-born billionaire Shalva Chigirinsky, who is now rumored to be seeking a bailout for eight real estate projects to the tune of $460 million. In 2007, Forbes magazine ranked Chigirinsky
618th on its list of the world's billionaires, with an estimated net worth of $1.6 billion.

December 13:

With its global energy clout at risk amid plummeting oil prices, Russia is contemplating drastic measures - from joining OPEC to slashing oil output - as a way of securing its "national interests." That is the message that Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has given to regional officials in the Urals. "We should defend ourselves,"
the Gulf Times reports Medvedev as saying. "This is the source of our revenues, including from both oil and gas."

Two of the Kremlin's most outspoken and prominent opponents have banded together to form a new political party. "Solidarity," the brainchild of former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and political activist (and former World Chess Champion) Gary Kasparov, is intended to serve as a democratic counterpoint to the Russian government's increasingly authoritarian practices,
the Irish Sun reports. “For the first time in Russian history, a true democratic movement which unites thousands of people is being formed here,” one of the movement's founding members, Vladimir Milov, told the group's inaugural gathering in Moscow, which was attended by more than 300 politicians from 45 of Russia's regions.

[Editor's Note: The new movement has not gone unnoticed by either the Kremlin or its loyalists.
According to news reports
, the party congress drew protests from pro-Kremlin youth activists - as well as a thinly-veiled threat against the participants in the form of dead and mutilated sheep that were deposited at the conference venue.]

Related Categories: Russia; Energy Security; Democracy & Governance; China; Russia and Eurasia Program

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