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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 1626
Russia's heroin habit;
Latin American bases for Russia's bombers
Edited by Ilan Berman
April 7, 2009
Russia's leaders are testing the boundaries of the Obama administration's commitment to a "reset" of their relationship, Australia's The Age reports. First up on the new U.S.-Russian agenda is a reboot of the long moribund arms control dialogue between the two countries. "The right moment has come today, for the first time after the end of the Cold War, for making real progress in resuming the global disarmament process on a broad agenda," Lavrov told the UN's Conference on Disarmament in Geneva following consultations with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "I am convinced that we should not miss this opportunity."
Worries over China's reverse-engineering of sophisticated military hardware has led Moscow to cancel a lucrative defense deal with Beijing - and caused a hiccup in the strategic partnership between the two countries. Iran's PressTV reports that Russia has cancelled its plans to supply China with sophisticated SU-33 fighter aircraft after the PRC insisted on "trying" the plans before purchasing them. The move follows disclosures that China had illegally "copied" components for the SU-27SK fighter jet, in violation of intellectual property agreements with Russia.
As part of stepped-up governmental efforts to combat corruption, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has issued a decree aimed at reforming the Russian civil service over the next four years. RIA Novosti reports that the main elements of the plan aims to implement a new method of management of, as well as increased professionalism and technological proficiency among, Russia's civil servants.
Opium trade has become an epidemic that threatens the long term viability of the Russian state, the country's drug czar has disclosed. "In recent years Russia has not just become massively hooked on Afghan opiates, it has also become the world's absolute leader in the opiate trade and the number one heroin consumer," the BBC reports Victor Ivanov, the head of Russia's anti-narcotics service, as telling his counterparts at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna. "Drug trafficking has become a key negative factor for demography and a blow to our nation's gene pool... [and] a challenge to Russia's civilisation." During January and February alone, Ivanov said, Russian authorities had seized nearly 1,000 pounds of heroin, a 70 percent increase over the same period in 2008.
The once numerous ranks of Russia's billionaires has thinned considerably, thanks to the global economic crisis. The Moscow Times reports that the most recent Forbes list of the world's wealthiest people includes 55 fewer Russians. All told, Russians made up some 17 percent of the total number of "casualties" on the Forbes list in the past year.
As part of its renewed strategic partnership with Havana, Moscow may soon base strategic bombers in the South American state. The New York Times reports Major General Anatoly Zhikarev, Russia's Chief of Staff of long-range aviation division, as saying that Cuba possesses a number of runways suitable for use by Russia's strategic bomber fleet. “There are four or five airfields in Cuba with 4,000-meter-long runways, which absolutely suit us,” Zhikarev has told reporters. “If the two chiefs of state display such a political will, we are ready to fly there.”
Cuba is not the only air base in the Western Hemisphere currently under consideration by the Kremlin. Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez has offered Russia use of a military airfield on the island of La Orchila, and that possibility is being actively mulled by Moscow. “If a relevant political decision is made, this is possible,” Zhikarev has confirmed.