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Monday, September 25, 2006

Russian economy can rival U.S., Germany in decade - minister

BOASTIN' MOSCOW, September 25 (RIA Novosti) - Russia can create an economy as strong as that of the United States or Germany in 10 years, the finance minister said Sunday. "We would like to create a system that will match the economic and financial strengths of the United States and Germany," Alexei Kudrin said in an interview with Russia's TV Channel One. "I must say, it could be done in about 10 years if we follow a very rational financial policy," the minister said. The lower chamber of the Russian parliament approved Friday in a first reading a 2007 federal budget that envisions a 25% increase in government spending, year-on-year, to 5.46 trillion rubles ($205 billion), and a surplus of 1.5 trillion rubles ($55 billion). Kudrin said that between 2000 and 2006, Russia passed through eight stages in the system of ratings assigned by the global ratings agencies, from the lowest rating, indicating financial crisis, to an investment-grade rating, which the country was assigned last year. "Seven steps remain to be taken to reach the highest rating that developed nations, such as the U.S., France and Germany, enjoy," Kudrin said. "It is an ambitious task to reach this rating, but Russia is capable of accomplishing it."

Should Russia claim great power status?

16:06 | 22/ 09/ 2006 - MOSCOW. (Sergei Kortunov for RIA Novosti) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting of a group of Western political analysts participating in the Valdai Discussion Club: "I wouldn't like to use the terms of the past. 'Superpower' is a term we used during the Cold War. What do we need such terms as 'power' and 'superpower' for?"
Some Russian and Western media interpreted these words as Russia's decision to abandon superpower ambitions. Political analysts concluded that the Russian ruling elite was not thinking about Russia's greatness and reconstruction.
But the transcript of Putin's speech, which has been published since then, shows that the president was speaking about Russia's great opportunities in the energy sector, although he refused to apply the term "superpower" to energy relations either. "You have probably noted that I have never said Russia is an energy superpower," he said. "However, we have more opportunities than any of the world's countries. This is an obvious fact."
The question merits serious analysis. Should Russia claim a superpower status, or reclaim the status of the former Soviet Union so as to challenge the Untied States, another superpower?
No matter what we may think about the Soviet Union, its dissolution in December 1991 inspired a feeling of loss in the overwhelming majority of Russians and people of the post-Soviet states. They think we have lost a great and powerful state.
On the other hand, few people want the USSR to be reconstructed in its old form. Polls show that most Russians do not want Russia to regain the superpower status if this is accompanied by a deterioration in their living standards. This is why the number of advocates of reunification with the CIS countries has been falling in the past decade.
But the majority of the people and the political elite would like Russia to be respected in the world, which explains the noticeable growth of great power sentiments in society and growing interest for discussions of "sovereign democracy", "energy superpower" and other related issued conducted by political analysts and experts.
The root cause of this is not the nostalgia for the old superpower, the Soviet Union, although it is a factor. The events of the 1990s and the early 21st century, specifically the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, the U.S. occupation of Iraq and recurring Western interference in the affairs of the CIS and Russia, are seen by many as proof that the West respects only economic and military might. Therefore, the potential loss of the great power status is regarded as the loss of independence and the ability to influence other countries and internal developments.
But is Russia a great power? The possibility has been questioned in the West and in Russia, usually on the back of its economic performance, share in global profits and trade, the structure of foreign economic relations, per capita GDP, economic structure, and the like.
Russia is far behind the industrialized countries on these counts (it is 46th in per capita GDP). As for the sustainable economic growth, it is explained, with good reason, by super-high world prices of energy resources.
However, the West has admitted Russia - not Brazil, Indonesia, India or China - to the G7 group of the world's leading countries in recognition of its political weight and potential economic might.
Russia is a great power in terms of its political importance, intellectual might and influence on global affairs, including as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and corresponding responsibilities. Apart from this, as well as the geopolitical situation and the existence of nuclear weapons (Russia is a military superpower without a doubt), other proof of Russia's great power status are its current and future opportunities of a resource provider, its hard-working and intellectual population, and the high scientific and technological potential.
These factors (territory, technological and human potential, and the existence of nearly all types of raw materials and resources) objectively make Russia a major world power.
Russians are well-educated and cultured people, with a major share of qualified professionals and specialists. Russia therefore is an industrial (and partly post-industrial) country, some of whose elements were created by Soviet defense industries. Russia's workforce differs from the developing countries' labor force, but is quite similar to the Western workforce. It has the same type of skilled workers, machines and technologies.
But the trouble is that Russia has a different mentality, culture of employer-employee relations and social structure (mostly for historical reasons), which prevents it from attaining Western productivity.
So Russia is a great power facing major economic problems provoked by changes in its economic, geopolitical and geoeconomic situation and transition to a new type of social development. The maintenance and mobilization of internal reserves promise a potential economic rehabilitation and transition to a stage of sustainable, innovation (post-industrial) development. Changes in the world, which are mostly positive, provide preconditions for attaining this goal.
Russia can attain and better the high Western results in absolute output. If, however, this does not happen overnight, the situation should not be dramatized. The loss of the superpower status has not stripped Russia of a chance for social progress and prosperity. Moreover, it can stimulate them.
Putin has said that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the 20th century. It was also a national catastrophe. There are three types of such catastrophes. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was a catastrophe involving a shift and, to a degree, an inversion. But it cannot be described as an exhaustive catastrophe because it can be remedied.
Russia has the means to guarantee its survival, national security, social development, human dignity, fundamental rights and liberties, and the wellbeing of the individual and his family. The fight for global leadership, such as between the Soviet Union and the Untied States, entailed major outlays. Ensuring national security and development is a much less costly undertaking but it is the underlying principle of survival. As for the idea of global geopolitical and territorial expansion, the Russian people have had enough of it.
So, should Russia claim the great power status or not? Yes, it should. It need not claim the role of "superpower" competing with the U.S. on a par, because the term withered away when the Cold War ended, as Putin has said correctly. Rather, it should claim an equitable role in the group of the world's top five countries, and not because it wants it. This is an objective and logical process, which cannot be disregarded.
Sergei Kortunov is deputy chairman of the panel of experts at the upper house's committee on international affairs.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Rockefeller: Bush Duped Public On Iraq

Senator Says World Would Be Better Without Iraq Invasion
Rockefeller Talks About Pre-War Intel
Democratic Sen. John
Rockefeller contends the Bush
administration pulled the
wool over the public's eyes.
(CBS News 09–11–2006) WASHINGTON When the Senate Intelligence Committee released a declassified version of its findings this past week, the Republican chairman of the committee, Pat Roberts, left town without doing interviews, calling the report a rehash of unfounded partisan allegations. Its statements like this one, made Feb. 5, 2003, by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell that have become so controversial, implying Iraq was linked to terror attacks. "Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associated collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenants," Powell said. But after 2 1/2 years of reviewing pre-war intelligence behind closed doors, the lead Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), who voted for the Iraq War, says the Bush administration pulled the wool over everyone's eyes. "The absolute cynical manipulation, deliberately cynical manipulation, to shape American public opinion and 69 percent of the people, at that time, it worked, they said 'we want to go to war,'" Rockefeller told CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson. "Including me. The difference is after I began to learn about some of that intelligence I went down to the Senate floor and I said 'my vote was wrong.'" Rockefeller went a step further. He says the world would be better off today if the United States had never invaded Iraq — even if it means Saddam Hussein would still be running Iraq. He said he sees that as a better scenario, and a safer scenario, "because it is called the 'war on terror.'" Does Rockefeller stands by his view, even if it means that Saddam Hussein could still be in power if the United States didn't invade? "Yes. [Saddam] wasn't going to attack us. He would've been isolated there," Rockefeller said. "He would have been in control of that country but we wouldn't have depleted our resources preventing us from prosecuting a war on terror which is what this is all about." Republicans say there was flawed intelligence to be sure, but they insist there was no attempt to mislead the public. "In 2002 and 2003, members of both parties got a good look at the intelligence we had and they came to the very same conclusions about what was going on," White House Spokesman Tony Snow said.

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