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Sunday, 20 November 2005 11:37

Putin's Russia Rebuilding Push

The Nation - Patrick Searle - What is it like to be the President of Russia? What are Vladimir Putin's priorities? What are his major concerns? His hectic schedule this past week throws some light on the problems facing the ruler of a country 1.8 times the size of the United States.


A Glimpse into Vladimir Putin's World
by Patrick Seale

The Nation
November 20, 2005

[Copyright Patrick Seale 2005, The Nation. Republished with permission of Agence Global]

Seale offers a week in the life of Valdimir Putin, or at least the high points of the week of this busy leader of Russia. With hints of the future: Is a picture of post-Putin Russia beginning to take shape?

Let us begin on Monday, 14 November, when, with great pomp and ceremony, Putin received the Uzbek president Islam Karimov at the Kremlin.

The two men signed a strategic treaty which draws Uzbekistan -- the most important country of Central Asia with a population of 26.4 million and large oil, gas and gold deposits -- back into the Russian orbit.

This development illustrates Moscow's keen interest in regaining a dominant influence over the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, which broke away when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and which were then the target of American penetration.

The new treaty opens the door to a renewed Russian military presence in Uzbekistan and slams the door on an American presence. This past summer Karimov gave the U.S. six months in which to evacuate its base at Karsi-Khanabad, close to the Afghan frontier.

On the same day, 14 November, Putin turned his attention to domestic affairs. He promoted Dimitri Medvedev, 40, to the post of Russian first vice-premier for economic and social affairs, with the specific task of "raising the standard of living of every Russian citizen."

Medvedev, an exceptionally able young man known in the Russian press as the "grand vizier," has until now been head of the Kremlin administration, a sort of shadow government. He has also run the oil and gas giant, Gazprom.

Some observers predict that Putin will not seek a third presidential mandate in 2008 -- which, in any event, is ruled out by the Constitution -- but might instead designate Medvedev as his successor, while himself taking over the running of Gazprom, the main motor of the Russian economy.

Three days later, on 17 November, Putin flew to Samsun, a major port on Turkey's Black Sea coast, for a summit meeting with Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi.

The three leaders attended the official opening ceremony of a remarkable engineering project -- the $3.4 billion Blue Stream pipeline built deep under the Black Sea to export Russian natural gas to Turkey -- and eventually to countries in southern Europe and perhaps even to Israel.

The Blue Stream pipeline company -- an equal partnership between the Italian ENI and the Russian Gazprom -- was established to operate the pipeline which this year carried some 4.5 billion cubic metres of Russian gas to Turkey. At full capacity, the pipeline will carry 16 billion cubic metres of natural gas a year to Turkey and beyond. It is a striking example of Russia's bold energy export policy.

The 1,213 km pipeline became operational in February 2003. It has three sections: a 373 km land section in Russia; a 396 km stretch running along the sea bed to Samsun in Turkey at a depth of over 2,000 metres; and, a 444 km section from Samsun to Ankara.

Russia equals Saudi Arabia as an oil producer, producing about 10 million barrels daily. Russia's oil and gas exports account for over 50 percent of its export revenues, one quarter of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and one third of the government's tax revenues. High oil prices have allowed Russia to pay off a large slice of its international debt.

Russia is a major exporter of fuel oil and natural gas to Western Europe, causing some European leaders to worry about their dependence on Russia for this strategic resource. A North European Gas Pipeline is under construction to boost exports, now largely delivered through the Ukraine.

China's explosive economic growth has bred an intense hunger for energy. By 2006, Russia will export at least 15 million tons of crude oil to China by rail.

The ceremony at Samsun was held under very tight security. Putin, alone, was protected by a team of 80 guards at the Grand Samsun Hotel. Rumours that Chechen rebels had supplied Al-Qaida with SA-18 missiles with a range of 3,000 metres put Turkish, Russian and Italian security services on high alert.

A day later, on 18 November, Vladimir Putin flew to Pusan in South Korea for a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, (APEC) attended by the leaders of the United States, Japan and China among other notables.

There were several important meetings in the wings of the forum, including one between Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush to discuss a way to solve the Iranian nuclear crisis.

This was just one week in the strenuous life of Vladimir Putin.

Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.

Copyright ? 2005 Patrick Seale, distributed by Agence Global
Released: 21 November 2005
Word Count: 781
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Agence Global is the exclusive syndication agency for The Nation and The American Prospect, as well as expert commentary by William Beeman, Richard Bulliet, Juan Cole, Mark Hertsgaard, Rami G. Khouri, Patrick Seale and Immanuel Wallerstein.

Advisory Release: 21 November 2005
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Last Updated on Sunday, 20 November 2005 11:37

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