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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 1783
NATO, Moscow up the ante in missile defense row;
Who's in charge of United Russia?
Edited by Ilan Berman and Amanda Pitrof
June 11, 2012
Russia remains opposed to the planned U.S.-led missile defense shield in Eastern Europe - and committed to retaliating against U.S. and European progress on the system. As part of that effort, Russian military officials have announced the successful test of a new intercontinental ballistic missile, one which uses a new fuel source to short the time required to launch into space. The announcement, which was cited by the New York Times, pointedly noted that the system was designed to overpower the proposed Western ballistic missile defense shield. The launch took place only four days after leaders at the NATO summit in Chicago reaffirmed plans to build the missile shield. Putin has countered with a call for the doubling of new missile system production in 2013.
The Al Arabiya news agency has released a report claiming that a Russian cargo ship carrying weapons is en route to the Syrian port of Tartus. The ship, called the Professor Katsman, is reportedly owned by a Maltese firm, which is owned by a Cypriot company which is in turn owned by a Russian firm. The Russian Foreign Ministry has declined to comment, according to the Associated Press, but Moscow has defended its weapons deliveries to Damascus in the past, claiming that government forces must be allowed to protect themselves from the rebel forces that are allegedly being armed by foreign powers.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s promises at United Russia’s 13th party congress to rebuild the organization from the ground up have been contradicted by a recent reshuffle within the pro-Kremlin political movement. The Moscow Times reports that Boris Gryzlov and Sergei Neverov, close allies of Putin protégé Vyacheslav Volodin, were named head of the party’s supreme council and general council, respectively. These appointments cast doubt on Medvedev’s announcement that United Russia's members “now must engage in rebuilding the party from scratch,” along with his promises to introduce primaries for mayors and governors.
The Voice of America reports that Moscow is still equivocating on the conflict in Syria. As Western governments blamed the recent massacre of 100 citizens in the town of Houla squarely on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov insisted that both sides of the conflict were to blame. In a meeting with Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, Lavrov maintained that it is “completely unimportant” to Russia who is in power in Syria, provided the Syrians themselves are given the opportunity to decide the “destiny of their country.” Both officials reiterated their support for Kofi Annan’s peace plan, which calls for a cessation of violence from both sides.
Vladimir Putin’s inauguration has done nothing to dampen the Russian government's criticism of U.S. envoy to Moscow Michael McFaul. In its third rebuke to the U.S. ambassador during his five-month tenure in Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused McFaul of going “far beyond the boundaries of diplomatic etiquette” in a lecture to university students. The offending speech was one in which McFaul reportedly told the group that the Kremlin “put a big bribe on the table” to get Kyrgyzstan’s government to force the United States out of its rented transit facility at Manas when the contract for the air base ends in 2014. Russian officials called the lecture “unprofessional,” adding that it was “not the first time statements and actions of Mr. McFaul... have caused shock.” According to Reuters, the State Department maintains that the statements were taken out of context, and that the speech was intended to highlight new trends of “openness and transparency,” in U.S.-Russia relations. McFaul, who was the architect of the Obama administration’s “reset” of relations with Russia, himself noted that his lecture “highlighted over 20 positive results of ‘reset,’ that our governments worked together to achieve.”
Russia continues to rank as one of the world’s most dangerous locations for journalists. In the latest attack to take place in Russia, a journalist working for Radio Mayak, was lured out of his home, and stabbed 20 times in the chest, neck, and arms. London's Guardian newspaper reports that the journalist, Sergei Aslanyan, may have been attacked as a result of a recent radio appearance in which he insulted the prophet Muhammad. The Russian Muslim community reacted angrily to Aslanyan's remarks - with one imam in Kazan even calling for an investigation. However, the paper notes, the attack could also be linked to Aslanyan's investigation into Russia's corrupt auto industry or traffic police. Over 50 journalists have been murdered in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, and the majority of the cases remain unsolved.