Russia's Putin May Return as President in 2009

November, 2008

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev could resign next year paving the way for his predecessor and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a Russian paper said on Thursday citing an unidentified Kremlin official. In his state of the nation address on Wednesday, Medvedev proposed extending the presidential term from four to six years, which Vedomosti said was part of an arrangement devised by first deputy head of the Kremlin staff Vladislav Surkov. The paper said, citing the Kremlin source that under the arrangement Putin's successor needed to amend the Constitution to secure a longer term in office for Putin and to carry out unpopular social reforms. The source told the paper that Medvedev may resign citing changes to the Constitution, leading to presidential elections being held next year. Vedomosti said Putin could then rule for two six-year terms, from 2009 to 2021. "There are no reasons why Putin should not return as president next year as the current president's term is not set to expire in 2009," the premier's press secretary Dmitry Peskov told the paper. Another source close to the Kremlin quoted by the paper said Putin had already started his election campaign. The premier has launched a personal website and is expected to lay out his manifesto as leader of the ruling United Russia party at a congress in November, following which he will broadcast a video link with the nation, the practice he resorted to as president. Political analysts and business have been playing a guessing game since Medvedev's election win in May trying to work out who is really in charge in Russia, the president or premier. A senior United Russia member quoted by the daily said the proposal to extend the presidential term, coupled with the increase in the parliamentary term to five years, was the beginning of constitutional reforms designed to turn Russia into a parliamentary republic. A source in the presidential administration said the amendments could be approved next year, the paper reported.


Putin Seeks to Further Build Ties With Iran

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia and Iran must continue to develop bilateral and multilateral projects, and welcomed Iran's contribution to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Putin met with Iranian First Vice President Parviz Davoodi on the sidelines of a meeting in Kazakhstan between the heads of government of SCO member states, comprising Russia, China, and four Central Asian countries. "Our relations are developing in a diversified manner in many directions," Putin said. He noted the countries' strong political ties, growing trade, which has reached $3.5 billion, and the large number of "perspective projects in bilateral as well as multilateral formats". On Iran's observer role in the SCO, Putin said: "we have welcomed Iran's participation in this international organization from the outset." The SCO, widely seen as a counterweight to NATO's influence in Eurasia, comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. The group primarily addresses security issues, but has recently moved to embrace economic and energy projects. Iran and Pakistan, who have held observer status in the SCO since 2005, previously announced their desire to become permanent members of the organization, but their request was not considered at a SCO foreign ministers meeting in Tajikistan on July 25. Russia and China have been cautious over admitting Iran, embroiled in a long-running dispute with the West and Israel over its nuclear program and alleged support for radical groups in Lebanon and other countries. Both China and Russia have major commercial interests in Iran. China wants Iranian oil and gas, and to sell weapons and other goods to the country, while Moscow hopes to sell more weapons and nuclear energy technology to Tehran. The Kremlin also needs Iran's endorsement for a multinational arrangement to exploit the Caspian Sea's energy resources. The other observers in the group are India and Mongolia.


Russia Must Develop Ways to Influence World Oil Prices - Putin

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Monday that the country must develop a set of measures to influence world oil prices. World oil prices have fallen more than 50% from a record high of $147 per barrel in July, as the global credit crunch has brought fuel demand down in most oil-consuming economies. "As a major exporter and producer of crude and oil products, Russia cannot remain on the sidelines with regard to the formulation of world pricing for crude, and we must develop an entire range of measures that would allow us to actively influence the market situation," Putin said. On Monday, Putin met with the heads of Russia's top oil companies to discuss crude export duty cuts amid the ongoing global financial crisis. Putin met executives from state-run Rosneft, Gazprom Neft, the country's largest independent crude producer LUKoil, the Russian-British joint venture TNK-BP, and Surgutneftegaz, as well as the national pipeline monopoly Transneft.


In other news:

Russia Backing Iran-Armenia Rail Link

Russia could participate in the construction of a major railroad linking Iran and Armenia, according to the president of Russia Railroads. President of Russia Railroads Vladimir Yakunin, said the company is ready to participate in the construction of the rail line should Iran, Armenia and Russia agree on the project's finance, Fars News Agency reported. Armenia's Transport and Communications Minister Gurgen Sargsyan has said that the rail link would cost approximately $2 billion, announcing that the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) have both shown interest in the project. Armenia currently has only one working international rail link that runs via Georgia, as rail tracks linking Turkey and Azerbaijan are inactive.

Under Review

The proposed link would require around 80 kilometers of new railroad construction in northwestern Iran, from the Armenian border on the Aras River to the Iranian city of Marand where the track would be connected to the Tabriz-Jolfa line. The railroad, which has been discussed since initial proposals were submitted in 2006, would be a major boost to the development of trade between the two countries. Armenia would also benefit from being able to use Iran as a transit route for transport links with the rest of the world. Sargsyan said the railroad's construction can take up to five years. Presently, three projects are under review. The first originates from Yeraskh, the second from Vardenis and the third from Gagarin, extending for 443, 449 and 397 km respectively. Armenia favors the project that starts from Gagarin and then through Gavar, Martuni and Jermuk.


At a meeting in Sochi in September, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev discussed the project with his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian as part of a cooperation agreement between the two countries. Russia Railroads' subsidiary South Caucasus Railroad took over the operation of the Armenian rail network on June 1 under a 25-year concession. Iran and Armenia have agreed to set up a working group, in which the Russians may be invited to participate. ADB has allocated about $1.5 million to finance feasibility studies on Armenia's ambitious plans to build a railroad linking neighboring Iran, Yerevan's Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said. "By the middle of next year, we will be able to approve business approaches, calculations of cost-effectiveness and to present documents prepared by the Asian Development Bank to the private sector, which could also participate in the project," Sarkisian added. In an apparent reference to Russia, Sarkisian said Armenia's "strategic partners" can also finance the railroad's construction. "I hope that we will be able to report next year serious progress in this sphere," he said. The project has for years been discussed by the Armenian and Iranian governments. The Armenian authorities have recently signaled their desire to finally get it off the drawing board, with Sarkisian declaring its implementation as one of his administration's top economic priorities. Armenia considers Russia as well as international lending institutions like the World Bank as potential sources of funding for the project. The lack of a rail link between Armenia and Iran is a major obstacle to the expansion of bilateral trade. Officials of the three countries should realize the advantages of the proposed railroad for themselves as well as the region, and make concerted efforts for implementing the project as soon as possible.


Russian Warships to Visit Venezuela on November 24-30

A task force from Russia's Northern Fleet led by the Pyotr Veliky missile cruiser will visit Venezuela on November 24-30, a spokesman for the Venezuelan Defense Ministry announced Friday. "A group of Russian warships will visit Caracas on November 24-30, when the first joint naval exercises are due to take place," the spokesman said. The Northern Fleet task force also includes the large anti-submarine warfare ship Admiral Chabanenko. The Russian ships are currently in the Mediterranean. Another Northern Fleet task force, led by the missile cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov, will conduct joint exercises with Black Sea Fleet warships in the Mediterranean in December. Capt. 1st Rank Igor Dygalo, an aide to the Russian Navy commander, said earlier that the Pyotr Veliky had called at a French naval base for the first time on Wednesday. He said the ship dropped anchor off Toulon on Wednesday morning, and would remain until Saturday.


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