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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 1631
Moscow-Baghdad ties on the mend;
Russians blame the Kremlin for economic malaise
Edited by Ilan Berman
May 22, 2009
Hackers and cyberspies from Russia and China are targeting the U.S. electrical grid, the Wall Street Journal reports. The paper cites U.S. homeland security officials as confirming that, over the past year, they have logged a growing number of "intrusions" into the electrical infrastructure of the United States, as Russian and Chinese hackers have attempted to "map" critical infrastructure nodes. These efforts, U.S. officials say, are extensive. "Over the past several years, we have seen cyberattacks against critical infrastructures abroad, and many of our own infrastructures are as vulnerable as their foreign counterparts," says Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair. "A number of nations, including Russia and China, can [now] disrupt elements of the U.S. information infrastructure."
Another month, another energy tussle for Moscow. Itar-TASS reports that relations between Russia and Turkmenistan are on the rocks as a result of growing disagreements over natural gas. Turkmenistan's Energy Ministry, the news service reports, recently accused the exporting arm of Russian natural gas giant Gazprom of unilaterally scaling back its intake of gas from the Central Asian republic, thereby causing an accident in one of the pipelines linking the two countries. Russia's Foreign Ministry has chalked the accident up to a "technical" issue, separate from Gazprom's decision to scale back its purchases of Central Asian gas from Ashgabat. But "Turkmenistan’s decision to link the accident to the reduced amounts of intake on the Russian end of the pipeline hinges on the political situation, as bargaining between Moscow and Ashgabat over the prospects for production and transportation of this fuel is in full swing," TASS reports the Vremya Novosti newspaper as editorializing.
Six years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein upended Moscow's traditional ties to Baghdad, Russo-Iraqi relations are again on the mend. Iraqi Premier Nouri al-Maliki's high-profile visit to Moscow in coming days is intended as an olive branch of sorts, with Maliki bringing new proposals to bolster trade and diplomatic ties between the two countries. But Baghdad's impending charm offensive is being greeted with more than a little bit of skepticism in Russia. "[T]here are no reasons to be too tempted by the prospects of cooperation with Baghdad," writes commentator Andrei Murtazin for the RIA Novosti news agency. "As distinct from Saddam's Iraq, where the Soviet Union and Russia had very strong positions, today's Iraq is giving priority to U.S. and other Western companies. Therefore, in building new relations with Russia, the al-Maliki government will always look back at Washington. The only question is to what extent."
By the middle of the next decade, Russia's strategic arsenal will have undergone a major facelift, a top military commander has said. "Plans for the development of the Russian strategic rocket forces through 2016 foresee a decrease in quantity and a transformation in quality at the same time," Nikolai Solovstov, the commander of Russia's strategic missile forces, has told reporters in comments carried by the Agence France Presse. All told, Solovtsov has revealed, some eighty percent or more of Russia's ballistic missiles are expected to be modernized or replaced over the next seven years.
Who's responsible for the global economic crisis? According to a growing number of ordinary Russians, the answer is their own government. According to the news website sobkorr.ru, some 42 percent of respondents in a recent poll blame the current state of their country's economy on the "poorly thought out policies of the Russian leadership." The results come from a March 2009 study of "multi-region recognition of crisis" carried out in 17 of Russia's cities and regions by "Group 7/89," a grassroots sociological organization.
[Editor’s Note: Given the effect of Russia’s increasingly authoritarian political climate on pollsters and respondents alike, the results of public opinion surveys in Russia should be viewed with some caution.]