Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Russia tests new rocket to beat missile defenses

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia successfully test-fired a new intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday featuring multiple warheads which can overcome missile defense systems, the defense Ministry said. A ministry spokesman said the RS-24 missile was fired from a mobile launcher at 1020 GMT from the Plesetsk cosmodrome about 800 km (500 miles) north of Moscow. Less than an hour later, Russia's Strategic Missile Forces command said the missile had hit its targets at the Kura test site on the sparsely inhabited far eastern peninsula of Kamchatka to the north of Japan.

"The RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missile will strengthen the military potential of Russia's strategic rocket forces to overcome anti-missile defense systems and thereby strengthen the potential nuclear deterrent of Russia's strategic nuclear forces," the Strategic Missile Forces command said in a statement. The launch comes amid a row between Moscow and Washington over U.S. plans to build a system in Europe to detect and shoot down hostile missiles. Russia believes the missile defense shield is a threat to its security while Washington dismisses such fears, saying the shield is intended to counter rogue states.

President Vladimir Putin promised in February this year a "highly effective response" to any U.S. efforts to deploy missile defenses, raising fears of a new arms race between the former Cold War foes. Further escalating the tension, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said on Tuesday that the deployment of medium and short range missiles by Russia's neighbors to the east and south now posed a "real threat".

"The Soviet-American treaty (on intermediate nuclear forces) is not effective because since (its signature) scores of countries have appeared that have such missiles while Russia and the United States are not allowed to have them," Ivanov told a military-industrial commission in the southern city of Znamensk. "In these conditions, it is necessary to provide our troops with modern, high-precision weapons." Ivanov, a former defense minister and leading hawk, is widely tipped as a front-runner to succeed President Vladimir Putin in elections next March though he has not said whether he will run.

The new RS-24 missile tested on Tuesday can be armed with up to 10 different warheads and is intended to replace Russia's earlier generation intercontinental missiles such as the RS-18 and RS-20. Its development is part of a drive to re-equip Russia's military with updated weaponry and replace hardware dating from the Cold War. Missiles carrying multiple independently targeted warheads are more difficult to intercept and destroy completely once they have been fired, making defenses against them much harder.

Friday, May 18, 2007

EU questions Russian human rights record


European Union leaders criticized Russia's human rights record — and were faulted in return — at the end of a summit Friday that produced no formal agreements but helped illustrate the widening political chasm between Moscow and the West. German Chancellor Angela Merkel complained that opposition activists were being prevented from traveling to a planned protest in the Volga River city of Samara, near the site of the EU-Russia summit. "I'm concerned about some people having problems in traveling here," Merkel told reporters. "I hope they will be given an opportunity to express their opinion."

Among the activists kept from boarding flights was former chess champion Garry Kasparov, now a leading political foe of President Vladimir Putin. Officials confiscated activists' passports and tickets at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, and held them for about five hours. Activists in Samara also said they were harassed. Russia's democratic freedoms and its treatment of critics are two of the most sensitive issues haunting Russia-EU relations. Merkel's remark came during a sometimes fractious exchange over the topics between Putin and EU leaders at a news conference.

Putin said his government does not fear protests, but insisted government opponents must abide by official regulations. He also blamed some violence on demonstrators. "They don't bother me in any way," Putin said of the so-called "Dissenters' Marches" staged by Kasparov and others, which police have brutally dispersed. "All those who want to stage demonstrations in accordance with the law have such an opportunity," he said. "But some provoke law enforcement forces to use force, and they respond accordingly."

Local officials had sanctioned the Dissenters' March in Samara that authorities kept Kasparov and others from attending. Putin deflected allegations that the Kremlin fears letting critics be heard. "There is no reason to fear marginal groups, especially so small," he said. He also criticized European governments, noting that German police have detained protesters. "Law enforcement authorities in practically all countries make preventative arrests, there are examples in Germany," he said. "Such action isn't always justified."

Merkel responded that police action during violent riots could be justified, but added: "If a person hasn't done anything yet, if he's just on his way to a demonstration, that's a completely different case." Putin also assailed the EU for failing to respond to the death of a Russian citizen during clashes between police and ethnic Russian protesters in Estonia over the moving of a Soviet-era war memorial in Tallinn, the Estonian capital. Tensions between Russia and Estonia cast a cloud over the summit.

Estonian government Web sites have come under massive cyber attacks in the weeks following the memorial's removal, and Estonian officials have suggested the attacks may have been coordinated by the Russian government. Russia denies that. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters at Volzhsky Utyos, a riverside resort, that democracy and rule of law are "sacred principles for the EU." "We stress the importance of democracy, freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of demonstration," he said. "These are values (which) I'm sure, unite, not divide us. It's very important for all European countries, and Russia is a European country ... to ensure the full respect of those principles and values."

As they argued over Russia's alleged rollback of democracy and the lack of progress in a dispute over a Russian ban on Polish meat, Putin and the EU leaders pointed to progress in trade and economic ties. Though no formal deals were reached at the summit, Putin said he and the EU leaders agreed to extend EU-Russia cooperation on cross-border trade, visa issues and scientific and technical cooperation. Putin also sought to present the Polish meat dispute as a bilateral problem that blocked the expansion of Russia-EU ties.

"We need each other, we are open for an honest dialogue between Russia and the EU," Putin said at one point. "But we must defend our interests in the same professional way as our partners do that." Merkel and Barroso emphasized European solidarity. "A Polish problem is a European problem," Barroso said. More than 100 protesters gathered at a square in Samara in the late afternoon, outnumbered by police, and marched through the streets shouting slogans including "Russia without Putin!" and "We need another Russia."

Several protesters held black-yellow-and-white flags of Other Russia, an opposition movement that includes Kasparov's United Civil Front. A few held a banner reading "Russian without Putin and successors."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

U.S., Russians, agree to ease rhetoric

By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press

Russia and the United States have agreed to moderate their rhetoric in a bid to improve strained ties, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday after Rice met with President Vladimir Putin. Rice said recent comments by Putin and other Russians had not been "helpful" to relations and had obscured positive developments and cooperation on a wide range of issues.

"We did talk about the need to keep the temperature down," she said after seeing Putin in an effort to calm rising tensions between the former Cold War enemies. She described some remarks as "overheated rhetoric," while accepting a Russian explanation that Putin's recent reference in a speech to Nazi Germany, widely perceived as criticism of the United States, was not intended to slight the Bush administration.

"I have said while I am here that the rhetoric is not helpful," Rice told reporters. "It is disturbing to Americans who are trying to do our best to maintain an even relationship."
"We are going to have our differences, there is no doubt about that. There are going to be old scars to overcome, there is no doubt about that ... But the relationship needs to be free of exaggerated rhetoric," she said.

Speaking separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Putin agreed. "The president supported the American side's understanding that it's necessary to tone down the rhetoric in public statements and concentrate on concrete business," Lavrov, who participated in the meeting, told reporters. Lavrov also suggested Rice had not dispelled Russia's opposition to U.S. plans to station a defense missile system in Europe, saying that "our stance on missile defense was reaffirmed." Rice said missile defense continued to be an area that the two countries needed "to work through" but that no country, including Russia, would have a "veto" on issues related to U.S. national security.

In another key area, Lavrov said that the two countries agreed to search for a mutually acceptable solution on Kosovo, but failed to achieve a breakthrough. "It was agreed to search for a solution on Kosovo that would be acceptable for all, but there is no such solution immediately in sight," he said after taking part in the meeting at Putin's residence outside Moscow. There has been growing transoceanic tension about the U.S. missile defense plan, concern in Washington about Moscow's treatment of its neighbors and steps Putin has taken to consolidate power in the Kremlin — seen as democratic backsliding — as Russia prepares for presidential and parliamentary elections next year.

Rice headed into the talks in Moscow acknowledging that ties were tense, but rejecting suggestions that a "new Cold War" had erupted. "I don't throw around terms like 'new Cold War,'" Rice said. "It is a big, complicated relationship, but it is not one that is anything like the implacable hostility" between the United States and the Soviet Union for a half-century after World War II.

"It is not an easy time in the relationship," Rice added, "but it is also not, I think, a time in which cataclysmic things are affecting the relationship or catastrophic things are happening in the relationship." She noted that the United States and Russia are working together in numerous areas: on Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs, the global spread of weapons of mass destruction and efforts to achieve Middle East peace.

Despite the agreement to cool down the rhetoric, a planned event at which Rice and Putin were to be photographed together and make brief remarks was canceled by the Kremlin and a senior Russian diplomat on Monday warned the U.S. not to try to go it alone in world affairs. In April, simmering Russian anger over U.S. plans to place missile defense components in Poland and the Czech Republic, both former Warsaw Pact members, boiled over despite Washington's pledges to cooperate with Moscow on the system.

Russia views the plan as an attempt to alter the strategic balance. Rice has dismissed such concerns as "ludicrous," but top Russian military officials have hinted the system might be targeted. Last month, hours before the United States and its NATO allies met in Norway to discuss the matter, Putin threatened to suspend Russia's participation in a key treaty limiting military deployments in Europe.

Rice says that NATO and the United States want to keep the Conventional Forces in Europe pact alive but cannot unless Russia abides with its treaty commitments.
Russia views U.S. activity in its former sphere of influence with growing suspicion. Just last week, Putin denounced "disrespect for human life, claims to global exclusiveness and dictate, just as it was in the time of the Third Reich."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Riot police show strength to warn troublemakers

By James Kilner

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Techno and rock music blared away as the bare-chested Russian policeman lay on his back on a pile of broken glass and nails. A colleague dropped three daggers, point down, on his stomach and trampled on his chest. Russia's special police, the OMON, were showing what they are made of. Kremlin critics and Western governments accused them of using excessive force to break up opposition protests last month. But the message they were sending on Thursday was they were ready to take on any troublemakers in a year when more protests are likely as Russia prepares to elect a new president.

"This is a warning," said an OMON colonel who called himself Vladimir Antonovich as he watched three policemen smash flaming bricks with their bare fists. "We want to show off what we can do." Last month foreign embassies and the EU said the OMON was too heavy-handed when it used batons to break up anti-Kremlin protests, called "March of the Dissenters," in Moscow and St Petersburg, and detained journalists. "The police were provoked in St Petersburg," Antonovich, the colonel, said, dressed in the OMON's urban camouflage uniform. "What does the March of the Dissenters need? It needs media coverage and they provoked the police into a reaction."

Crowd control is not the OMON's only role. Equipped with machine guns and armored vehicles, they patrol Russia's volatile Chechnya region and are trained to rescue hostages.
At a media event to which foreign journalists had been invited for the first time, the OMON showed off textbook crowd control techniques. Wearing crash helmets and body armor and carrying shields the police swung their batons in unison and marched forward one step at a time.


Opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who say he has trampled on democracy, have organized several protests. The authorities have mainly banned these marches or allowed watered-down versions and several times in the last few months protesters and police have clashed. An investigation has yet to judge if the police used excessive force.
In the sprawling, wooded base, a 1-1/2 hour drive from central Moscow the police reveled in showing their muscle. Unarmed police karate-kicked and punched "criminals" armed with knives, pistols and machineguns. They broke planks of wood over each others' backs, smashed glass jars filled with water with their bare hands, fired magazines of ammunition into the air and demonstrated various ways to break an aggressor's legs, arms and neck. Other displays showed off the latest patrol techniques in Chechnya, hostage rescue and the OMON's weapons from sniper rifles to pistols.

Later, in a newly redecorated gymnasium, Russia's Deputy Interior Minister Mikhail Sukhodolsky expounded the importance of the OMON to ensure peace and stability in Russia.
He said there are 20,000 OMON police across the country and that last year 38 died on active service. Behind him hung the Moscow OMON division's badge -- bearing the powerful bull-like bison -- and its motto: "Special forces know no mercy and never ask for it. That is how it was, how it is and how it will be."

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Scientist says Putin's Russia worse than under Stalin

Sun May 6

The pursuit of science in President Vladimir Putin's Russia is driven by profit alone and there was less government interference even under Josef Stalin, a Russian Nobel Prize winner said in a interview. Vitaly Ginzburg's comments to the Sunday Telegraph newspaper are likely to put Russia's scientists back on a collision course with the Kremlin. In March, Russia's Academy of Sciences, founded by Tsar Peter the Great, spurned a government plan to establish a new supervisory council that would control the body's finances and include officials from the presidential administration.

The government says the reform of the Academy is desperately needed to reverse the continuing brain drain from Russia, make research work lucrative for a generation of young scientists and help build the hi-tech economy Putin has set as his goal. "Of course, in Stalin's times the Academy was under the control of the central committee of the Communist Party," Ginzburg told the paper. "But in those days you could come up with an idea and create -- that's how we put the first Sputnik satellite into space. Now the government thinks science must bring only income and profit, which is absurd."

"Of course it is about Putin. Our democracy is far from ideal," said Ginzburg, 90, who shared the 2003 Nobel Prize for physics with fellow countryman Alexei Abrikosov. Putin, whose second -- and last -- four-year term ends next year, enjoys vast popularity nationwide while the economy is fast growing, people's incomes are rising and state coffers groan from windfall revenues from booming oil exports.

But critics at home and abroad accuse the Russian leader of backtracking on democratic reforms and establishing tight control over the bureaucracy and the economy. They say he is trying to bring the academy under his sway as well. Supporters of the reforms say too many institutions are run by cliques of elderly academics who resist change while promising young scientists are tempted abroad for better pay and opportunities. The Academy has boasted dozens of Nobel prize winners in its near 300-year history.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Sticks and Stones

By Fred Thompson

It bothers Americans when we're told how unpopular we are with the rest of the world. For some of us, at least, it gets our back up -- and our natural tendency is to tell the French, for example, that we'd rather not hear from them until the day when they need us to bail them out again. But we cool off. We're big boys and girls, after all, and we don't really bruise that easily. We're also hopeful that, eventually, our ostrich-headed allies will realize there's a World War going on out there and they need to pick a side -- the choice being between the forces of civilization and the forces of anarchy. Considering the fact that the latter team is growing stronger and bolder daily, while most of our European Union friends continue to dismantle their defenses, that day may not be too long in coming. In the meantime, let's be realistic about the world we live in. Mexican leaders apparently have an economic policy based on exporting their own citizens, while complaining about US immigration policies that are far less exclusionary than their own. The French jail perfectly nice people for politically incorrect comments, but scold us for holding terrorists at Guantanamo.

Russia, though, takes the cake. Here is a government apparently run by ex-KGB agents who have no problem blackmailing whole countries by turning the crank on their oil pipelines. They're not doing anything shady, they say. They can’t help it if their opponents are so notoriously accident-prone. Criticize these guys and you might accidentally drink a cup of tea laced with a few million dollars worth of deadly, and extremely rare, radioactive poison. Oppose the Russian leadership, and you could trip and fall off a tall building or stumble into the path of a bullet.

The hundreds of demonstrators the Kremlin has had beaten and arrested in the last few weeks alone, we are told, were not pro-democracy activists but common criminals -- like world chess champion Garry Kasparov. Demonstrating without a permit is a serious crime and, luckily for the Kremlin, it turns out that pro-government youth groups seem always to have permits for rallies at the exact times and places that anti-government protesters gather.

Another group that seems to be having trouble with permits is the media. Newspapers and television stations that aren't smart enough to know that America is the enemy and that things are great in Russia can't seem to get their paperwork in order. It’s some sort of IQ test, I guess.
President Vladimir Putin, though, shows no sign that he feels defensive about his remarkable string of luck. He knows who's really to blame for "meddling" in Russian "internal affairs." It's the United States.

He's lambasting us for yielding too much power. One example of this excessive power is the missile defense radar system we want to install in Poland and the Czech Republic -- to give the free world early warning of a missile attack by terrorists or a rogue nation like Iran. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that the Russians have been supplying Iran with both nuclear and missile technology while using their UN veto to block sanctions that would force Tehran to back down. Regardless, we're clearly at fault, he says, for putting a defense system close to Mother Russia.
So I wouldn't worry too much about the criticisms we receive. We make mistakes and at times the "carping" may even be on target, but it seems to me that we ought to look at a lot of the complaints as a badge of honor.

Fred Thompson is an actor and former Senator. His radio commentary airs on the ABC Radio Network and be blogs on The Fred Thompson Report.