Belarus drags out recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia for an indefinite period / Russian troops in Chechnya to be spread across North Caucasus / Assassination attempt on Yamadayev discredits Russia's policy in Chechnya / Surgutneftegaz buys its first core asset abroad
Belarus drags out recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia for an indefinite period
Despite pledges by high-placed politicians, the Belarusian parliament has not put recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia on the agenda of its spring session. Experts believe President Alexander Lukashenko has decided to put the issue on the back burner.
The appeal from the former Georgian provinces to the Belarusian parliament has been with Minsk since the end of last year, but nothing is yet known about its fate. The agenda for the spring session of the lower house of Belarusian parliament, which opens on April 2, does not include any examination of the appeal.
Political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov admires "Lukashenko's wriggling ability." "It was understood from the outset that he did not want to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia: like other leaders of former Soviet republics he is not keen to see legitimized the precedent of a forcible border change. Besides, recognition might indicate too obvious a step by Lukashenko towards Russia, which he does not want either," the analyst said.
At the end of March, Minsk received an invitation to join the European Union's Eastern Partnership program (until 2013 six former Soviet republics - Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine - are expected to receive 600 million euros from the EU). Brussels has markedly softened its rhetoric towards the Belarusian regime and Lukashenko is now in a position to draw funds simultaneously from Russia and the EU.
"This is Lukashenko's usual play on the nerves of Russia and EU at one and the same time," Lukyanov said. Russia will not penalize Belarus financially, "but will pay him back for it some day," said Alexei Vlasov, general director of the Information Analytical Center for Studying Post Soviet Public Political Processes. The Belarusian parliament will not examine recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia until forced to it by a pivotal change in the situation, the analyst said.
The tactic of skating over an unpleasant issue may bring fruit. "Only six months ago recognition of Abkhazia's and South Ossetia's independence was a matter of prestige for Russian authorities, while now it is becoming a sideline issue," Lukyanov said.
Russian troops in Chechnya to be spread across North Caucasus
Russia's Antiterrorist Committee is expected to adopt a decision today on ending the counterterrorist operation in Chechnya, which began in 1999.
Analysts say the 20,000 troops currently deployed in Chechnya will be used to restore constitutional order in Ingushetia and other North Caucasus republics.
A counterterrorist regime was yesterday announced in several regions of Ingushetia, a republic bordering on Chechnya.
Alexei Malashenko, a Caucasus expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said: "Nearly the whole of the North Caucasus is a zone of tension now, with armed clashes reported routinely in Daghestan and Ingushetia and sometimes in Kabardino-Balkaria. A similar problem has even been reported in Karachayevo-Circassia. In this situation, it would be unwise to withdraw the 20,000 Interior Ministry troops from the Caucasus."
"It would be impractical to dispatch the troops to their permanent deployment sites, because we may need them again soon," said a source in the Interior Troops. "It would be wiser to keep them close."
Alexei Mukhin, head of the Center for Political Information think tank, said: "The political leadership will take a decision on the equal distribution of the interior troops, currently deployed in Chechnya, throughout the North Caucasus. This would be appropriate in the current situation."
"In addition, this will help the authorities dampen the troops' growing discontent over cuts in their combat zone allowances," the analyst said.
Assassination attempt on Yamadayev discredits Russia's policy in Chechnya
The assassination attempt on Sulim Yamadayev, an opponent of Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, in Dubai last Saturday has delivered a painful blow at Kadyrov and the Kremlin.
It has been logically assumed that the Chechen authorities are behind the attempt, as neutralizing all possible rivals has always been the quickest way to ensure one's absolute power.
However, neutralizing opponents and killing them are two different things. The shooting of the Yamadayevs is fraught with a vendetta and will directly damage Kadyrov's image of a respectable leader, which he has recently been nurturing.
Some say high-ranking officials in the federal center could be involved in the killings of the Yamadayev brothers, allegedly to blacken Kadyrov's image.
The attempt on Sulim was staged when Kadyrov received Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's tentative agreement to end the counterterrorist operation in Chechnya and planned to open a republican customs office.
Another possible force behind the attempt could be Chechen business, some of whose leaders thought the Kadyrov era would end with the departure from the Kremlin of his main patron, Vladimir Putin. They could inspire the attempt to direct the blame at Kadyrov and the security services, so as to make people think about changing the scheme of government in Chechnya. In their opinion, the republic needs a civilian manager instead of a militant armed with a Stechkin gun.
It is unlikely that any of the apparent versions will be proved or at least followed by investigators to a logical conclusion, at least not until they know for sure what result the country leaders expect. And the Kremlin's decision depends on Russia's future policy for Chechnya.
Surgutneftegaz buys its first core asset abroad
After years of saving money, Surgutneftegaz has found a use for it. Russia's fourth-largest oil producer has agreed with Austrian OMV, the biggest single shareholder in Hungarian refiner MOL, to buy its 21.2% stake for ?1.4bn ($1.86bn).
So far, Surgut has been the only large Russian oil producer that has not planned expansion abroad.
Upstream production-focused Surgut needs refining assets. It currently produces 61.8 million metric tons of oil annually but refines only 22 million tons at its plant in Kirishi, Leningrad Region.
Denis Borisov, an analyst with the Solid investment company, said the acquisition of the refining and marketing-focused MOL would allow Surgut to increase refining to 40% from 35%. He said the company had no problem buying the Hungarian asset, as it had some $15 billion on its accounts as of the end of last year's third quarter.
Surgutneftegaz is Russia's only oil company that has been saving its revenues and has not taken out bank loans for years.
OMV has sold its stake in MOL after the European Commission refused to approve its attempt to take over the Hungarian company.
The Austrian company's decision to sell the asset offered a good chance to become established on the East European market, a government official told the Vedomosti daily. Nobody instructed Surgut directly, but the government discussed the possibility of buying a stake in MOL, he said.
MOL has three refineries in Hungary, Slovakia and Italy (total annual output 18.1 million tons in 2008) and a network of 1,069 filling stations in eastern and central Europe.
Surgutneftegaz is currently not supplying raw materials to the MOL refineries; the issue should first be negotiated, said Valery Nesterov, an analyst with Troika Dialog.
Surgut will not control MOL's policies, because the voting mechanism in the Hungarian company does not give any shareholder more than 10% of the vote irrespective of the size of their stakes, according to analysts from UniCredit Securities (previously UniCredit Aton), a member of UniCredit Group.
Therefore, Surgut's influence on the Hungarian company will be limited.
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