This is my last posting to the FAS blog, as I am moving on to pursue commercial interests, among other things. Working at an NGO has been a unique and unusual experience for me, and one I’m glad for, but it’s time to try something new (and yes, your blogger is, after all, a true believer in free market capitalism). I am staying put in the DC area, though, and will still be reachable via my new commercial website. In fact, do check it out at http://www.sovietcomputing.com. This is my edited e-book on the history of Soviet computing, fully downloadable and accessible 24/7. And there will be more to come out of this site as it evolves, since there are still many critical issues in international science and technology policy to tackle, especially as the former Soviet Union becomes a greater part of the global economy. I appreciate all your comments, emails, and support over the last several months. You, Dear Reader, make blogging all worth while. See you around, and stay in touch.
When I filled up my compact sedan this past weekend at the Getty station near my home, at – ouch! – 3.07 a gallon, I noticed an advertisement on the pump for a Lukoil credit card. I had not paid attention to this before, but Russian oil giant Lukoil owns the Getty name, and also several other brands in the Eastern United States. Those of us who live in the Washington, DC region no doubt have noticed a number of Lukoil direct-branded service stations popping up around the area.
Russia is rolling in profits not only from oil, but also from its natural gas reserves. And there is little doubt that Russian gas as part of nailing down a global energy security policy will be at the top of President Putin’s agenda at the G-8 Summit, which starts July 15 in St. Petersburg: http://en.g8russia.ru/
Today, May 31, 2006 marks the end of the University of California as the sole manager of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), after a 63-year run. Tomorrow LANL will come under the management of Bechtel, the University of California, BWX Technologies, and Washington Group International, collectively known as Los Alamos National Security (LANS), LLC, a private, for profit enterprise.
As I mentioned in my blog entry of February 23, 2006, Russia’s economy is booming. This is largely due to increasing revenues from its oil and gas industries. So high-profile are these industries that foreign investors and energy companies are aggressively getting in on the action. ConocoPhillips, for example, owns a 17.1 % stake in Russian oil giant Lukoil and Royal Dutch Shell has a prominent stake in Russian oil and gas. But the Russian companies themselves are on the march: Gazprom recently bought Sibneft to become the world’s second largest oil company in its sector after Exxon Mobil.
While residing in Kiev in 2001, I visited the Chernobyl Zone accompanied by several Ukrainian guides. Since then I have worked closely with Dr. Valery Antropov (second from left in photograph), manager of the Chernobyl State Complex Information Center for Radioactive Waste Management. Dr. Antropov provided me with invaluable guidance in understanding the current situation at Chernobyl and the cleanup and management efforts he and his colleagues undertake, while I composed an in-depth article on this.
The 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster is April 26, 2006. But my article is not about the anniversary. Instead, it chronicles a day at the Zone, and depicts the dismal, still potentially dangerous state of the site. Take a tour of the Chernobyl Zone with me here, and learn why the new containment shelter needs to be built soon, and why Chernobyl is still urgently relevant to current global nuclear energy policy.
By late 2005, the promises of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution appeared to have fallen flat on their face: President Viktor Yushchenko and his Our Ukraine party so far have failed to deliver on numerous promises made during his election; Ukraine today is not much closer to the European Union or NATO than in past years. And Yushchenko sacked his former Orange Revolution ally and prime minister Julia (pronounced “Yulia”) Timoshenko eight months ago over suspicions of corruption. Susequently Yushchenko and Julia had an apparent irreconcilable falling out.
Ukraine’s recent parliamentary elections witnessed Viktor Yanukovich’s Party of Regions take the lead, but without enough seats to form a majority in the 450-seat parliament. Under the Ukrainian Constitution, the parliament must form a coalition majority within 30 days of the new parliament starting work, and appoint a new government within 30 days after that. Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party is looking weak: in the recent election it came in third, while Julia’s Bloc came in second.
Remember Yanukovich? He claimed to have won the presidency in 2004 as a successor to Leonid Kuchma, in what was likely a rigged election bolstered by neighboring Russia. The Orange Revolution changed this verdict, but Yushchenko’s Western-leaning government is in trouble. So Julia is back in the limelight, proposing to form a new alliance with Our Ukraine to keep the Party of Regions at bay. On her website, http://www.tymoshenko.com.ua/eng/index/, on April 7, 2006, she said, “A union between Our Ukraine and Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc would keep Ukraine enthusiastically on the road to Europe, with a possibly greater chance than last year to pass needed reforms. “ And Julia has also said publicly that she will not cooperate with Yanukovich.
Who is Julia, exactly? A very powerful and rich woman, for starters. After Ukrainian independence from the USSR, she became the enterprising owner of a video rental company. Soon after she rose very quickly in the energy industry – becoming known as the “gas princess,” and a Ukrainian oligarch. She has long-standing political ambitions, and to her credit, has survived imprisonment by Kuchma and at least one attempt on her life in the last several years.
What is she like? Silnaya! (Strong!) an elderly Ukrainian colleague of mine reported. She is certainly that, and drop-dead gorgeous by the way: in the words of one of my male colleagues – she’s a total babe. And a very smart one, too. This can be a very powerful combination of features if she chooses to use her talents wisely. Julia wants once again to be prime minister, and quite possibly Ukraine’s next president.
Her proposal for a coalition has not gone unheard. Senior members of Our Ukraine have approved an orange coalition and Yushchenko confirmed: “This is the beginning of discussions and it’s not a big secret that we are aiming to create an orange coalition.” But Julia will not agree to any coalition that does not return her to her former job of prime minister.
In the meantime Yanukovich’s popularity is rising. He has warned against the formation of an orange coalition in the country’s new parliament: playing on voters’ fears, on April 6 his party stated that a renewed orange coalition “will lead Ukraine into an abyss.” Such statements make for entertaining political drama. And although popular with pensioners and many residents of eastern Ukraine, Yanukovich would be too Soviet in his approach to governing and would hinder Ukraine’s path towards democracy and the free market. Ukraine should not be allowed to slip back further under Russia’s influence or bend backwards towards its Soviet past.
The final decision to form an orange coalition with Julia will be up to Yushchenko. But can he and Julia overcome their petty differences and bickering and lead Ukraine forward towards Europe and the West? The next few months may tell.
Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko on Sunday claimed a third term after receiving a whopping 82.6 percent of the vote, in what critics are calling a blatantly rigged election. International observers have stated that the election did not meet accepted standards, and that voting intimidation ran rampant. European Union leaders are now threatening to impose limited sanctions on Belarus.
This scenario is nothing new. Critics have long called Lukashenko a dictator, well known for his excessive behavior and public rants: he once closed a highway so that he could rollerblade; he banned the wearing of face masks in public. And recently, Lukashenko had vowed to prevent mass movements like those that occurred in Ukraine in 2004 and swept Western-leaning Viktor Yushenko into power.
Nevertheless, some 10,000 people turned out in Minsk on Sunday evening during a blizzard to show their disagreement with the polling results. Most protestors were young, including many twenty-somethings who have no memories of Soviet days when the communist party unfailingly always won nearly 100 percent of votes. Belarus’s main opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich received only 6 percent of Sunday’s vote. He called the official vote tally for Lukashenko “monstrously inflated.” He and other opposition leaders have called for additional peaceful protests – in defiance of a government ban on election-day rallies.
In Belarus, the Soviet Union still lives in many senses. Most of the economy is under state control and the government makes 5-year economic plans. Mr. Lukashenko has resurrected statues of Lenin in Minsk, and the city’s main square is still called Oktyabrskaya Square. The KGB still spies on and harasses political opposition.
It is true that President Lukashenko does maintain a large number of supporters because of his access to cheap Russian energy and the stability he has provided pensioners in the wake of the USSR’s collapse. Many older Belarussians claim that Lukashenko has improved their standard of living since his ascension to office in 1994. And Belarus has never been a rich or powerful country.
But the generation gap is growing. Older people remember how the population was decimated and Minsk razed during World War II, and how the nation’s health suffered from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power station accident. Younger people want a modern and convenient democratic country, and have less fear than their grandparents did of the Soviet government and its secret police, Stalin’s purges, artificially created famines, and hard labor camps.
Belarus has witnessed tough times in its long and torrid history; it will see tougher times ahead if genuine popular opposition to Lukashenko continues to grow and potentially violent clashes between democracy-seekers and riot police ensue.
Been to Moscow lately? If you have, it’s impossible not to notice how commercial the city has become. New automobiles clog the wide boulevards and the air reeks with exhaust. Conspicuous consumption is now an ingrained part of life. Despite the staggering rift between rich and poor in Russia as a whole, Moscow has more billionaires than any other city in the world. Although still an emerging economy, Russia has been sailing along on profits made in the oil and gas industries, inspiring Russia’s leaders to reassert to the world that their nation is still a nuclear superpower.
Times are better in Russia than in the 1990s, when the ruble collapsed, and violent crime ran wild. President Putin is leading his country towards joining the global economy in an autocratic — but effective – fashion. Putin has wisely courted Western industry, and has secured Russia’s place as head of the G8. He also agreed to reduce Russia’s overall nuclear warhead count, but has at the same time stabilized the budgets for ROSATOM’s nuclear weapons programs. While not flaunting Moscow-style material wealth, Russia’s nuclear designers at the closed cities are now at least receiving their paychecks. And they’ve been busy building a new generation of warheads: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11179135/site/newsweek/from/ET/
“…Find them in all the caves where they are hiding, and eliminate them like rats,” President Putin told the Federal Security Service, or FSB, on Tuesday, urging them to intensify their hunt for Chechen rebels in the Caucasus. During this same speech to top leaders at the notorious Lubyanka, Putin stated that the Russian government supports Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) as important to democracy, but he urged FSB staff to be vigilant in preventing foreign countries from using NGOs to influence Russia’s domestic affairs: http://www.kyivpost.com/bn/23826/Is Putin hinting that NGOs are linked to terrorist activities in Russia?
Or, is Putin talking out of both sides of his mouth?
On Thursday Putin infuriated Israel when he invited Hamas leaders to Moscow for a meeting, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/10/international/10hamas.htmll, saying that Russia did not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, even though the militant Islamist group recently elected to power in the Palestinian Authority has called for Israel’s destruction. Russian Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov offered a pragmatic commentary on the situation, hinting that the West needs to accept the Palestinian leadership: “Hamas is in power, this is a fact, and secondly, it came to power as a result of free democratic elections.”
Just a few years ago, Russia claimed to be a member of the Middle East “peace quartet” along with the European Union and the United Nations. It is hard to interpret Mr. Putin’s policy twists and turns, which seem to become more convoluted the longer he is in power.
Russia, along with twenty-seven of thiry-five member nations on the IAEA board, voted on Saturday to refer Iran to the Security Council due to concerns that its leaders want to develop nuclear weapons. Russia has long maintained an enigmatic relationship with Iran, sponsoring the construction of a civilian nuclear power plant at Bushehr, and offering to enrich uranium for Iran on Russian territory. Russia seems to be siding with the United States and Europe on preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, although Vice Premier and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has stated that the Bushehr project and Iranian nuclear weapons development are unrelated: http://www.tass.ru/eng/level2.html?NewsID=2952118&PageNum=0
A diplomatic solution to this problem should be pursued foremost; Russia may have a large and difficult role to play in this tricky endeavor.