Russia strengthens its Middle East peacekeeping status / Moscow and Beijing block UN resolution on Korea / Russian authorities' reactions to assassinations damage its reputation / Alrosa to deliver $500 mln worth of uncut diamonds to Antwerp before yearend
Russia strengthens its Middle East peacekeeping status
Russia hopes to host a Middle East peace conference in July. The Kremlin thinks its importance will grow if it coincides with the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama.
Until recently, only Arab countries supported the idea of an international conference on the Palestinian-Israeli settlement, while Israel, the United States and other Western countries were not enthusiastic. But last January the conference plans were mentioned in a UN Security Council resolution at Moscow's insistence.
The newspaper learned from sources in the Israeli government that last week Moscow made a surprise move, which could greatly increase the attractiveness of the conference.
During his meeting with President Obama in London, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposed combining his first visit to Moscow in early July with the Middle East conference. Washington is considering the proposal.
Obama's agreement to attend the conference would greatly enhance its significance. In this case, Benjamin Netanyahu, the new Israeli prime minister, would be unable to ignore it.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, currently in Moscow on a four-day visit, seems to be pleased with the possibility and with the Russian leadership's promise to send a large batch of firearms to the Palestinian Authority.
According to the newspaper, Russia plans to supply 5,000 submachine guns, 1,000 handguns and 300 machineguns, along with ammunition.
Israel has approved the deal and is prepared to transit the weapons, which will also include 50 armored personnel carriers, which Moscow promised several years ago.
Israel, which had been firmly against the deal, has agreed to a compromise solution. Under it, the APCs will be shipped with their weapons dismantled.
Moscow and Beijing block UN resolution on Korea
The recent North Korean launch of what the country's government is stubbornly referring to as a 'satellite,' has led to a split in the UN Security council, where Russia and China are blocking any resolution condemning North Korea's actions.
A resolution drafted by the United States, Japan, France, and Britain and envisaging sanctions against Pyongyang was not even submitted for the Security Council consideration, as Russia and China resorted to their right of veto, saying that any rash move on North Korea was unacceptable.
Moscow and Beijing claim that Security Council Resolution 1718, adopted in October 2006, which prohibits North Korea from using ballistic missile technology, does not forbid orbiting civil satellites. It is possible that their position is prompted by Korea's threat to withdraw from the six party talks on the Korean Peninsula's nuclear issues if the UN condemns the launch.
Some foreign observers conclude that North Korean engineers have succeeded in extending the range but still failed, technologically, to create a fully fledged intercontinental ballistic missile which could cover over 5,500 kilometers (3,420 miles).
Alexander Zhebin, head of the Korean Studies Department at the Institute of the Far East, said the rocket North Korea launched on Sunday was not meant for any military purpose, because the country does not have warheads for intercontinental ballistic missiles. "So far, the country has not conducted a single launch to test IBM warheads," he emphasized.
According to Zhebin, the launch was rather a domestic policy event: "Kim Jong-il needed to show that he is still running the country and his military policies have tangible results."
"The launch could be viewed as a signal to [U.S. President] Barack Obama's administration to take North Korea seriously, to hold talks," he suggested.
"North Koreans want foreign relations similar to the Indian model: India has preserved nuclear forces, but other countries including the United States still cooperate with it in nuclear technology," Zhebin concluded.
Russian authorities' reactions to assassinations damage its reputation
A series of high-profile murders of Russians abroad, the strange reaction of the Russian authorities, and an inability to track down the killers and contractors is seriously damaging the international community's trust in Russia.
The latest example is the murder of Sulim Yamadayev in Dubai, which looks increasingly like the poisoning of former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. Both men had influential enemies in Russia and could have been dangerous for the Russian authorities. Investigations into the two murders could logically lead to Russia.
Yamadayev, 35, a Hero of Russia who commanded the elite Vostok battalion in Chechnya, was shot by a gunman in the underground parking lot of the Dubai apartment building where he lived.
The KGB was infamous for its policy of killing the regime's opponents. Its legal successor, the FSB, also conducts such operations, as the Russian authorities unwillingly admitted after the murder of Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, ex-president of Chechnya, in Qatar in 2004.
On the other hand, the assassinations of Litvinenko and Yamadayev could be attempts to discredit the Russian or the Chechen authorities. The murder of Yamadayev, a member of the influential Yamadayev clan fiercely opposed to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, could be a daring provocation.
It took place on the eve of the G20 summit in London and the meeting of Russia's National Antiterrorist Committee, which discussed the possibility of ending the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya.
Foreign secret services are unlikely to use such methods to discredit Russia, but there are forces in this country that would do anything to discredit Ramzan Kadyrov, who is crucial for political stabilization in Chechnya, and to retain control of Chechen oil.
Enemies of the Russian and the Chechen authorities have been killed abroad and in Russia. The murders of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a tough critic of Kadyrov and Chechen laws, Movladi Baisarov, former head of the Gorets (Highlander) paramilitary group whom Kadyrov hated, and Sulim's brother, Ruslan Yamadayev, have still not been solved.
The Russian authorities' refusal to properly investigate these murders will only strengthen suspicion of their involvement, which could however be totally groundless.
RBC Daily, Vedomosti
Alrosa to deliver $500 mln worth of uncut diamonds to Antwerp before yearend
The long-awaited revival of demand has reached the diamond market. Russia's Alrosa, which accounts for a quarter of global diamond production, has agreed with the Antwerp World Diamond Center (AWDC) the supply of $500 million worth of uncut diamonds before the end of this year.
So far, the Russian monopoly has only sold diamonds to Gokhran, Russia's state depository for precious metals and gemstones, which makes Antwerp Alrosa's first "real market" customer.
A distribution agreement will be signed soon and will document the delivery of diamonds to 15 companies in Antwerp. Alrosa declined to comment.
According to sources in two companies participating in the Antwerp diamond exchange, Alrosa's customers will include De Beers - Eurostar Diamond, Dali Diamond, Arslanian Freres and other.
Sources in Eurostar and Dali confirmed the signing of contracts, while a representative of Arslanian Freres only recognized that there had been talks.
Diamond cutters currently buy raw stones at knock-down prices from now bankrupt dealers and African countries which are forced to sell off reserves due to tight liquidity. As a result, the current revival on the diamond market is weaker than in other commodities markets.
Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said on Monday that the government could decide on acquisitions of more diamonds for state reserves over precious metals and other materials purchases, which would have to be reduced.
He also said that Russia was in talks with Belarus and Armenia, which agreed to purchase more Russian diamonds.
There are solid reasons for the demand to revive. In January 2009, retail sales of jewelry in China grew by 29.2% year on year. Israeli diamond tycoon Lev Leviev said recently that demand for diamonds had shot up 50% in March, while raw diamond prices rose by 10%.
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