Archive for the ‘Eurasia’ Category

Social Security in the BRIC Countries

August 9, 2012 Comments off

Social Security in the BRIC Countries
Source: IMB Center for the Business of Government

Social security is a well-established part of the societal landscape in traditional westernized countries. There are a variety of approaches, and there are substantial differences between the operation of social security under the predominantly insurance-based (or Bismarckian) systems and the social assistance (Beveridge) systems. But both were developed and matured in the context of the industrialization of societies and both reflect the need to provide social protection in mass-scale workforces. It is recognised that (at least historically) the development of social security was seen as a natural complement to the process of economic development. Indeed, they can effectively be characterized as two sides of the same coin.

But what can we draw from the lessons of history and how much do these lessons apply to countries undergoing the 21st century equivalent of the industrial revolution? The so-called BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries are experiencing the same kind of growth and rapid change experienced in western economies almost two centuries ago. Certainly, there are similar demands and pressures to balance economic advancement with social protection for those workers who provide the labour to fuel the economic development.

This report examines the existing nature of social security in the BRIC countries in order to consider the likely trajectory of its future development. The report provides a useful reminder that, whilst the underlying pressures are at least to some extent similar,
the starting places and norms are quite different. Also, the globalised world of the 21st century brings new pressures compared with the conditions that applied in the 19th and 20th centuries.

World Cities Culture Report 2012

August 2, 2012 Comments off

World Cities Culture Report 2012 (PDF)
Source: Mayor of London (UK)

The Mayor of London’s World Cities Culture Report 2012 is the biggest international survey of its kind. It has collected an unprecedented amount of data on the scope and impact of the cultural assets and activities that are produced and consumed in 12 major cities:
New York
São Paulo
Using 60 indicators and reports from each of the participating cities, the World Cities Culture Report 2012 shows that culture is seen as important as finance and trade and sits at the heart of public policy.

Can Russia Reform? Economic, Political, and Military Perspectives

July 29, 2012 Comments off

Can Russia Reform? Economic, Political, and Military Perspectives
Source: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College

These three papers represent the first panel of papers from SSI’s annual Russia conference that took place in September 2011. They assess the nature of Russia’s political system, economy, and armed forces and draw conclusions, even sharp and provocative ones, concerning the nature and trajectory of these institutions. The three papers presented here offer attempts to characterize first of all, the nature of the state; second, the prospects for economic reform within that state—perhaps the most pressing domestic issue and one with considerable spillover into defense and security agendas as well—in contemporary Russia; and third, the nature and lasting effects of the defense reform that began in 2008. The papers are forthright and pull no punches, though we certainly do not claim that they provide the last or definitive word on these subjects. The papers go straight to the heart of the most important questions concerning the nature of the state and the possibilities for its economic and military reform. As such, we hope that the papers presented here, and in subsequent volumes, provide insight and understanding to several critical questions pertaining to and/or affecting Russia, a country that deliberately tries to remain opaque to foreign observers despite its many changes. These papers aim to be a resource, to enlighten, to edify readers, and to stimulate the effort to understand and deal with one of the most important actors in international affairs today.

Grandparenting and mothers’ labour force participation: A comparative analysis using the Generations and Gender Survey

July 23, 2012 Comments off

Grandparenting and mothers’ labour force participation: A comparative analysis using the Generations and Gender Survey

Source:  Demographic Research
It is well known that the provision of public childcare plays an important role for women labour force participation and its availability varies tremendously across countries. In many countries, informal childcare is also important and typically provided by the grandparents, but its role on mothers’ employment is not yet well understood. Understanding the relationship between labour supply decisions and grandparental childcare is complex. While the provision of grandparental childcare is clearly a function of the social and institutional context of a country, it also depends on family preferences, which are typically unobserved in surveys.
We analyze the role of informal childcare provided by grandparents on mothers’ labour force participation keeping unobserved preferences into account.
Bivariate probit models with instrumental variables are estimated on data from seven countries (Bulgaria, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Russia and The Netherlands) drawn from the Generations and Gender Survey.
We find that only in some countries mothers’ employment is positively and significantly associated with grandparents providing childcare. In other countries, once we control for unobserved preferences, we do not find this effect.
The role of grandparents is an important element to reconcile work and family for women in some countries. Our results show the importance of considering family preferences and country differences when studying the relationship between grandparental childcare and mothers’ labour supply.
Our results are consistent with previous research on this topic. However, differently from previous studies, we conduct separate analyses by country and show that the effect of grandparental childcare varies considerably. The fact that we also include in the analyses Bulgaria, Hungary, Russia and Georgia is an important novelty as there are no studies on this issue for these countries.

CRS — Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia: Political Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests

June 26, 2012 Comments off

Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia: Political Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The United States recognized the independence of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia when the former Soviet Union broke up at the end of 1991. The United States has fostered these states’ ties with the West in part to end their dependence on Russia for trade, security, and other relations. The United States has pursued close ties with Armenia to encourage its democratization and because of concerns by Armenian Americans and others over its fate. Close ties with Georgia have evolved from U.S. contacts with its pro-Western leadership. Successive Administrations have supported U.S. private investment in Azerbaijan’s energy sector as a means of increasing the diversity of world energy suppliers. The United States has been active in diplomatic efforts to resolve regional conflicts in the region. As part of the U.S. global counter-terrorism efforts, the U.S. military in 2002 began providing equipment and training for Georgia’s military and security forces. Troops from all three regional states have participated in stabilization efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The South Caucasian troops serving in Iraq departed in late 2008. The regional states also have granted transit privileges for U.S. military personnel and equipment bound for Afghanistan.

Beginning on August 7, 2008, Russia and Georgia warred over Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian troops quickly swept into Georgia, destroyed infrastructure, and tightened their de facto control over the breakaway regions before a ceasefire was concluded on August 15. The conflict has had long-term effects on security dynamics in the region and beyond. Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but the United States and nearly all other nations have refused to follow suit. Russia established bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia—in violation of the ceasefire accords—that buttress its long-time military presence in Armenia. Although there were some concerns that the South Caucasus had become less stable as a source and transit area for oil and gas, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are barging oil across the Caspian Sea for transit westward, and the European Union still plans to build the so-called Nabucco pipeline to bring Azerbaijani and other gas to Austria.

Key issues in the 112th Congress regarding the South Caucasus may include Armenia’s independence and economic development; Azerbaijan’s energy development; and Georgia’s recovery from Russia’s August 2008 military incursion. At the same time, concerns may include the status of human rights and democratization in the countries; the ongoing Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over the breakaway Nagorno Karabakh region; and ongoing threats posed to Georgia and the international order by Russia’s 2008 incursion and its diplomatic recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Congress may continue to oversee the region’s role as part of the Northern Distribution Network for the transit of military supplies to support U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan. Some Members of Congress and other policymakers believe that the United States should provide greater support for the region’s increasing role as an east-west trade and security corridor linking the Black Sea and Caspian Sea regions, and for Armenia’s inclusion in such links. They urge greater U.S. aid and conflict resolution efforts to contain warfare, crime, smuggling, and terrorism, and to bolster the independence of the states. Others urge caution in adopting policies that will increase U.S. involvement in a region beset by ethnic and civil conflicts.

Adult Awareness of Tobacco Advertising, Promotion, and Sponsorship — 14 Countries

May 28, 2012 Comments off

Adult Awareness of Tobacco Advertising, Promotion, and Sponsorship — 14 Countries
Source: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (CDC)

According to the 2012 Report of the U.S. Surgeon General, exposure to tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship (TAPS) is associated with the initiation and continuation of smoking among young persons. The World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) requires countries to prohibit all forms of TAPS (2); the United States signed the agreement in 2004, but the action has not yet been ratified. Many countries have adopted partial bans covering direct advertising in traditional media channels; however, few countries have adopted comprehensive bans on all types of direct and indirect marketing. To assess progress toward elimination of TAPS and the level of awareness of TAPS among persons aged ≥15 years, CDC used data from the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) collected in 14 countries during 2008–2010. Awareness of any TAPS ranged from 12.4% in Turkey to 70.4% in the Philippines. In the four countries where awareness of TAPs was ≤15%, three of the countries had comprehensive bans covering all nine channels assessed by GATS, and the fourth country banned seven of the nine channels. In 12 countries, more persons were aware of advertising in stores than advertising via any other channel. Reducing exposure to TAPS is important to prevent initiation of tobacco use by youths and young adults and to help smokers quit.

CRS — Russia’s March 2012 Presidential Election: Outcome and Implications

March 27, 2012 Comments off

Russia’s March 2012 Presidential Election: Outcome and Implications (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Challenges to Russia’s democratic development have long been of concern to Congress as it has considered the course of U.S.-Russia cooperation. The Obama Administration has been critical of the apparently flawed Russian presidential election which took place on March 4, 2012, but has called for continued engagement with Russia and newly elected President Vladimir Putin on issues of mutual strategic concern. Some in Congress also have criticized the conduct of the election, but have endorsed continued engagement, while others have called for stepping back and reevaluating the Administration’s engagement policy. Congress may consider the implications of another Putin presidency, lagging democratization, and human rights abuses in Russia as it debates possible future foreign assistance and trade legislation and other aspects of U.S.-Russia relations.

Five candidates were able to register for the March 4, 2012, presidential election. Of these, Prime Minister Putin had announced in September 2011 that he intended to switch positions with current President Dmitriy Medvedev, and return to the presidency for a third term. Of the other four candidates—Communist Party head Gennadiy Zyuganov, Liberal Democratic Party head Vladimir Zhirinovskiy, and A Just Russia Party head Sergey Mironov—were nominated by parties with seats in the Duma. The remaining candidate, businessman Mikhail Prokhorov, was self-nominated and was required to gather two million signatures to register. Other prospective candidates dropped out or were disqualified on technical grounds by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC). Opposition Yabloko Party head Grigoriy Yavlinskiy was disqualified by the CEC on the grounds that over 5% of the signatures he gathered were invalid. Many critics argued that he was eliminated because he would have been the only bona fide opposition candidate on the ballot. Of the registered candidates running against Putin, all but Prokhorov had run in previous presidential elections and lost badly.

According to the final report of the CEC, Putin won 63.6% of 71.8 million votes cast, somewhat less than the 71.3% he had received in his last presidential election in 2004. In their preliminary report, monitors led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that the election was well organized but that there were several problems. Although the report did not state outright that the election was “not free and fair,” some of the monitors at a press conference stated that they had not viewed it as free and fair. According to the report, Prime Minister Putin received an advantage in media coverage, and authorities mobilized local officials and resources to garner support for Putin. The OSCE monitors witnessed irregularities in votecounting in nearly one-third of the 98 polling stations visited and in about 15% of 72 higher-level territorial electoral commissions.

The initial protests after Putin’s election by those who view the electoral process as tainted appeared smaller in size and number than after the Duma election. Authorities approved a protest rally in Pushkin Square in central Moscow on March 5, along with Putin victory rallies elsewhere in the city. After some of the protesters allegedly did not disperse after the time for the rally had elapsed, police forcibly intervened and reportedly detained up to 250 demonstrators, including activist Alexey Navalny, who later was released.

CRS — Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress

February 28, 2012 Comments off
Source:  Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
The diminishment of Arctic sea ice has led to increased human activities in the Arctic, and has heightened interest in, and concerns about, the region’s future. The United States, by virtue of Alaska, is an Arctic country and has substantial interests in the region. On January 12, 2009, the George W. Bush Administration released a presidential directive, called National Security Presidential Directive 66/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 25 (NSPD 66/HSPD 25), establishing a new U.S. policy for the Arctic region.
Record low extent of Arctic sea ice in 2007 focused scientific and policy attention on its linkage to global climate change, and to the implications of projected ice-free seasons in the Arctic within decades. The Arctic has been projected by several scientists to be perennially ice-free in the late summer by the late 2030s.
The five Arctic coastal states—the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark (of which Greenland is a territory)—are in the process of preparing Arctic territorial claims for submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The Russian claim to the enormous underwater Lomonosov Ridge, if accepted, would reportedly grant Russia nearly onehalf of the Arctic area. There are also four other unresolved Arctic territorial disputes.
The diminishment of Arctic ice could lead in coming years to increased commercial shipping on two trans-Arctic sea routes—the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage. Current international guidelines for ships operating in Arctic waters are being updated.
Changes to the Arctic brought about by warming temperatures will likely allow more exploration for oil, gas, and minerals. Warming that causes permafrost to melt could pose challenges to onshore exploration activities. Increased oil and gas exploration and tourism (cruise ships) in the Arctic increase the risk of pollution in the region. Cleaning up oil spills in ice-covered waters will be more difficult than in other areas, primarily because effective strategies have yet to be developed.
Large commercial fisheries exist in the Arctic. The United States is currently meeting with other countries regarding the management of Arctic fish stocks. Changes in the Arctic could affect threatened and endangered species. Under the Endangered Species Act, the polar bear was listed as threatened on May 15, 2008. Arctic climate change is also expected to affect the economies, health, and cultures of Arctic indigenous peoples.
Two of the Coast Guard’s three polar icebreakers—Polar Star and Polar Sea—have exceeded their intended 30-year service lives and are currently not operational. The possibility of increased sea traffic through Arctic waters also raises an issue concerning Arctic search and rescue capabilities. On May 12, 2011, representatives from the member states of the Arctic Council signed an agreement on cooperation on aeronautical and maritime search and rescue in the Arctic.
The Arctic has increasingly become a subject of discussion among political leaders of the nations in the region. Although there is significant international cooperation on Arctic issues, the Arctic is also increasingly being viewed by some observers as a potential emerging security issue. In varying degrees, the Arctic coastal states have indicated a willingness to establish and maintain a military presence in the high north. U.S. military forces, particularly the Navy and Coast Guard, have begun to pay more attention to the region.

CRS — Russian Political, Economic, and Security Issues and U.S. Interests

February 28, 2012 Comments off
Source:  Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Russia made some uneven progress in democratization during the 1990s, but according to many observers, this limited progress was reversed after Vladimir Putin rose to power in 1999-2000. During this period, the State Duma (lower legislative chamber) came to be dominated by government-approved parties and opposition democratic parties were excluded. Putin also abolished gubernatorial elections and established government ownership or control over major media and industries, including the energy sector. The methods used by the Putin government to suppress insurgency in the North Caucasus demonstrated a low regard for the rule of law and human rights, according to critics. Dmitriy Medvedev, Vladimir Putin’s chosen successor and long-time protégé, was elected president in March 2008 and immediately designated Putin as prime minister. President Medvedev continued Putin’s policies. In August 2008, the MedvedevPutin “tandem” directed wide-scale military operations against Georgia and unilaterally recognized the independence of Georgia’s separatist South Ossetia and Abkhazia, actions denounced by most of the international community. In September 2011, Putin announced that he would run in the upcoming March 2012 presidential election, and that Medvedev would then become prime minister. The two leaders claimed that they had agreed to consider this possible shift in roles in late 2007 when the two decided on their present arrangement.
Russia’s economy began to recover from the Soviet collapse in 1999, led mainly by oil and gas exports, but the decline in oil and gas prices and other aspects of the global economic downturn beginning in 2008 contributed to an 8% drop in gross domestic product in 2009. In 2010-2011, rising world oil prices have bolstered the economy. Russia continues to be challenged by an economy highly dependent on the production of oil, gas, and other natural resources. It is also plagued by an unreformed healthcare system and unhealthy lifestyles; low domestic and foreign investment; and high rates of crime, corruption, capital flight, and unemployment.
Russia’s military has been in turmoil after years of severe force reductions and budget cuts. The armed forces now number less than 1.0 million, down from 4.3 million Soviet troops in 1986. Troop readiness, training, morale, and discipline have suffered, and much of the arms industry has become antiquated. Russia’s economic growth during most of the 2000s allowed it to increase defense spending to begin to address these problems. Stepped-up efforts were launched in late 2007 to restructure the armed forces to improve their quality. Opposition among some in the armed forces, mismanagement, and corruption have appeared to slow force modernization efforts.
After the Soviet Union’s collapse, the United States sought a cooperative relationship with Moscow and supplied over $18 billion in aid for Russia from FY1992-FY2011 to encourage democracy and market reforms and in particular to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). U.S. aid to reduce the threat posed by WMD proliferation has hovered around $700 million-$900 million per fiscal year, while other foreign aid to Russia has dwindled. In past years, U.S.-Russia tensions on issues such as NATO enlargement and proposed U.S. missile defenses in Eastern Europe were accompanied by some cooperation between the two countries on anti-terrorism and non-proliferation. Russia’s 2008 conflict with Georgia, however, threatened such cooperation. The Obama Administration has worked to “re-set” relations with Russia. The Administration has hailed the signing of a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in April 2010, the approval of new sanctions against Iran by Russia and other members of the U.N. Security Council in June 2010, and cooperation in Afghanistan as signifying the “re-set” of bilateral relations.

Job Trends: Slow and Steady Recovery Continues, With Encouraging Signs in Developing Countries in Eastern Europe

February 15, 2012 Comments off
Source:  World Bank
+ Overall, the employment picture in middle-income countries continued a gradual recovery.
+ Signs of a strong resurgence were seen in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
+ Latin America’s rebound appeared to be moderating, while trends in East Asia were positive.

The Middle East Quartet: A Post-Mortem

February 1, 2012 Comments off

The Middle East Quartet: A Post-Mortem

Source:  Brookings Institution
It has been ten years since the four most powerful players in the Middle East peace process— the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations—came together under the diplomatic umbrella known as the Quartet. Formed in response to outbreak of the Second Intifada in late 2000 and the collapse of peace negotiations a few months later, the Quartet appeared ideally suited for dealing with the seemingly intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Its small but powerful membership allowed it to act swiftly and decisively, while its informal structure gave it the flexibility needed to navigate crises and adapt to changing developments on the ground.
Yet, despite the high expectations that accompanied its formation, and some modest success early on, the Quartet has little to show for its decadelong involvement in the peace process. Israelis and Palestinians are no closer to resolving the conflict, and in the few instances in which political negotiations did take place, the Quartet’s role was usually relegated to that of a political bystander. Meanwhile, the Quartet has failed to keep pace with the dramatic changes that have occurred in the conflict and the region in recent years, particularly since the advent of the Arab Awakening. Having spent most of the last three years in a state of near paralysis, and having failed to dissuade the Palestinians from seeking UN membership and recognition in September 2011, the Quartet has finally reached the limits of its utility.

Full Paper (PDF)

Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs Release of Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, Volume XV, Soviet Union, June 1972-August 1974

January 18, 2012 Comments off

Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs Release of Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, Volume XV, Soviet Union, June 1972-August 1974
Source: U.S. Department of State

The Department of State released today Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume XV, Soviet Union, June 1972–August 1974. Continuing the practice established in recent Foreign Relations volumes on the Soviet Union, this volume places Soviet-American relations in the global context of the Cold War, highlighting the conflicts and collaboration between the two superpowers.

The volume includes numerous direct personal communications between President Richard Nixon and Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev covering a host of issues, including clarifying the practical application of the SALT I and AMB agreements signed in Moscow. Other major themes covered include the war in Indochina, arms control, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), commercial relations and most-favored-nation status, grain sales, the emigration of Soviet Jews, Jackson-Vanik legislation, and the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war. High-level meetings and summits, both in the United States and the Soviet Union, are documented in detail, including Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger’s conversations with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko leading up to Nixon’s final visit to the Soviet Union in June 1974.

The European Security Policy and the Euro-Mediterranean Region 2010-2011

January 4, 2012 Comments off
Source:  European Institute of the Mediterranean
Over the last year, the shortcomings within the EU’s security policy towards its southern neighbourhood have dramatically come to the fore. For years, the EU has declared that the best way to ensure its security around the Mediterranean is through developing a “ring of friends” – “a zone of prosperity and a friendly neighbourhood” with whom the EU would enjoy “close, peaceful and co-operative relations” (European Commission Communication on Wider Europe, 2003). In order to achieve this goal, EU Member States have officially committed themselves to pursue a twofold strategy: to help stem the various conflicts which exist within the region and to promote good governance amongst their neighbours through the offer of closer bilateral ties. EU governments have invested significant efforts in attempting to achieve the first objective of supporting conflict resolution, and have been particularly active towards the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is considered a key EU foreign policy priority. But the difficulties of working as a single organisation composed of 27 countries have limited the EU’s ability to be taken seriously as a diplomatic heavy weight in the region. As a result, the impact of EU efforts has been limited and several of the conflicts across North Africa and the Middle East have continued to worsen.
While EU governments have been genuinely committed to conflict resolution, their interest in implementing their declared objective of strengthening good governance across their southern neighbourhood has been more limited. Over the years, the EU has often given only lip service to calls for democratic reforms and stronger respect for human rights amongst its Arab neighbours. Many European governments have preferred to cooperate with the various authoritarian regimes in place in order to guarantee short-term stability and secure the collaboration of southern countries in areas of interest to Europeans, including the control of illegal migration and counter-terrorism. But as popular protests toppled regimes across the Arab world during the early months of 2011, they threw into question many of the EU’s short-term security gains and highlighted the long-term unsustainability of its approach to the Mediterranean.

CRS — Russia’s December 2011 Legislative Election: Outcome and Implications

December 27, 2011 Comments off

Russia’s December 2011 Legislative Election: Outcome and Implications (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. Department of State Foreign Press Center)

Challenges to Russia’s democratic development have long been of concern to Congress as it has considered the course of U.S.-Russia cooperation on matters of mutual strategic interest and as it has monitored problematic human rights cases. Most recently, elections for the 450-member Russian State Duma (lower legislative chamber) on December 4, 2011, have heightened concerns among some Members of Congress about whether Russia can be an enduring and reliable partner in international relations if it does not uphold human rights and the rule of law.

In the run-up to the December 2011 State Duma election, seven political parties were approved to run, although during the period since the last election in late 2007, several other parties had attempted to register for the election but were blocked from doing so. These actions had elicited criticism from the U.S. State Department that diverse political interests were not being fully represented. As election day neared, Russian officials became increasingly concerned that the ruling United Russia Party, which had held most of the seats in the outgoing Duma, was swiftly losing popular support. According to some observers, Russian authorities, in an attempt to prevent losses at the polls, not only used their positions to campaign for the party but also planned ballot- box stuffing and other illicit means to retain a majority of seats for the ruling party. In addition, Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had increasingly criticized election monitoring carried out by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and insisted on limiting the number of OSCE observers. Russian authorities also moved against one prominent Russian non-governmental monitoring group, Golos, to discourage its coverage of the election. According to the OSCE’s preliminary report on the outcome of the election, the close ties between the Russian government and the ruling party, the refusal to register political parties, the pro-government bias of the electoral commissions and most media, and ballot-box stuffing and other government manipulation of the vote marked the election as not free and fair.

The day after the election, about 5,000 protesters rallied in central Moscow against what they viewed as a flawed election. When many of them began an unsanctioned march toward the Central Electoral Commission, police forcibly dispersed them, reportedly detaining hundreds. The Kremlin quickly mobilized pro-government youth groups to hold large demonstrations termed “clean victory” to press home their claim that minority groups would not be permitted to impose their will on the “majority” of the electorate. On December 7, 2011, several U.S. Senators issued a statement condemning Russian police crackdowns on those demonstrating against the “blatant fraud” of the Duma election. On December 10, large demonstrations under the slogan “For Honest Elections!” were held in Moscow and dozens of other cities. At the rally, Boris Nemtsov, the co-head of the unregistered opposition Party of People’s Freedom, reflected popular sentiment with a list of demands that included the ouster of the head of the Central Electoral Commission, the release of those detained for protesting and other “political prisoners,” the registration of previously banned parties, and new Duma elections.

Many observers have raised concerns that public unrest may continue, although security forces appear firmly in control and unlikely to permit the unrest to threaten the government. The Obama Administration has been critical of the apparently flawed Duma election, but has called for continued engagement with Russia on issues of mutual strategic concern. Some in Congress also have criticized the Duma election and the subsequent crackdown on protesters, and Congress may consider the implications of lagging democratization and human rights abuses as it considers possible future foreign assistance and trade legislation and other aspects of U.S.-Russia relations.

CRS — Russia’s Accession to the WTO and Its Implications for the United States

December 20, 2011 Comments off

Russia’s Accession to the WTO and Its Implications for the United States
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

In 1993, Russia formally applied for accession to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). In 1995, its application was taken up by the World Trade Organization (WTO), the successor organization of the GATT. Russia is the largest economy not in the WTO. However, after a number of fits and starts during the 18-year process, Russia’s accession to the 153-member WTO will conclude when, as expected, the WTO members invite Russia to join the WTO during the December 15-17, 2011, Ministerial Conference.

The immediate policy issue for Congress will be whether to enact legislation authorizing the President to grant permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status for Russia, a status that all WTO members are required to provide each other. Some Members of Congress have indicated that they view congressional consideration of PNTR legislation as the opportunity to ensure that the conditions on which Russia is invited to join the WTO address U.S. concerns.

In joining the WTO, Russia will have committed to bring its trade laws and practices into compliance with WTO rules and other market-opening measures. In doing so, it will take a major step in integrating its trading system with the rest of the world. Those commitments include:

  • nondiscriminatory treatment of imports of goods and services;
  • reducing tariffs and binding tariff levels;
  • ensuring transparency when implementing trade measures;
  • limiting agriculture subsidies; enforcing intellectual property rights (IPR) of foreign holders of such rights;
  • forgoing the use of local content requirements and other investment measures that limit imports; and
  • opening government procurement contract opportunities to foreign firms. In joining the WTO, Russia will also commit to accepting WTO dispute settlement procedures.

In return, Russia will have a voice in shaping and implementing the international trade regime. It will be able to hold its WTO partners accountable for adhering to WTO rules in conducting their trade relations with Russia, making those trade relations more predictable and stable. In addition, Russian economic reformers anticipate that WTO membership will make Russia a more attractive location for foreign producers and investors to do business by locking in trade-liberalizing reforms, which could increase Russia’s economic growth.

Concerns among U.S. stakeholders regarding Russia’s WTO accession are not so much over whether Russia should be admitted into the WTO but rather whether the conditions for its accession are adequate to ensure that Russia fulfills its obligations and provides meaningful trade and investment opportunities for U.S. firms. U.S. IPR holders remain cautious that Russia will enforce its commitments on IPR protection. Russia is currently a relatively small U.S. trading partner. However, U.S. manufacturing, agriculture, and service providers view WTO accession as an opportunity to broaden the bilateral trading relationship. In Russia, agriculture interests and some manufacturers, such as auto producers, are concerned that WTO membership will expose them to foreign competition that will adversely affect their interests.

Damaging M7.2 Earthquake in Eastern Turkey; Insured Losses $100 to $400 Million

October 28, 2011 Comments off

Damaging M7.2 Earthquake in Eastern Turkey; Insured Losses $100 to $400 Million
Source: EQECAT, Inc.

A damaging M7.2 earthquake occurred Sunday, October 23 in eastern Turkey, and has been followed by several strong aftershocks that may have exacerbated damage caused by the main shock. Hundreds of fatalities have been reported, caused mainly by building collapses.

EQECAT’s preliminary estimate of insured losses from this event is in the range of $100 to $200 million USD. Total economic damage is estimated in the low single-digit billions USD. Total economic damage is estimated at approximately one-tenth that from the 1999 M7.6 Izmit earthquake in western Turkey and 10 times the damage from the 2010 M6.1 earthquake in eastern Turkey.

The earthquake was felt throughout eastern Turkey, Armenia, and northwestern Iran, from Georgia in the north to Syria and Iraq in the south. Most of the damage occurred in Turkey.

Arms trade to Middle East and North Africa shows failure of export controls

October 24, 2011 Comments off

Arms trade to Middle East and North Africa shows failure of export controls
Source: Amnesty International

The USA, Russia and European countries supplied large quantities of weapons to repressive governments in the Middle East and North Africa before this year’s uprisings despite having evidence of a substantial risk that they could be used to commit serious human rights violations, Amnesty International said today in a new report.

Arms Transfers To The Middle East And North Africa: Lessons For An Effective Arms Trade Treaty examines arms transfers to Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen since 2005.

“These findings highlight the stark failure of existing arms export controls, with all their loopholes, and underline the need for an effective global Arms Trade Treaty that takes full account of the need to uphold human rights,” said Helen Hughes, Amnesty International’s principal arms trade researcher on the report.

“Governments that now say they stand in solidarity with people across the Middle East and North Africa are the very same as those who until recently supplied the weapons, bullets and military and police equipment that were used to kill, injure and arbitrarily detain thousands of peaceful protesters in states such as Tunisia and Egypt and are even now being deployed by security forces in Syria and Yemen.”

The main arms suppliers to the five countries included in the report were Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK and the USA.

At least 11 states have provided military assistance or allowed exports of weaponry, munitions and related equipment to Yemen, where some 200 protesters have lost their lives in 2011. These include Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, Turkey, Ukraine, the UK and the USA.

+ Full Report (PDF)

CRS — Russian Military Reform and Defense Policy

October 4, 2011 Comments off

Russian Military Reform and Defense Policy (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Russia has undertaken several largely piecemeal and halting efforts to revamp the armed forces it inherited from the Soviet Union. In 2007, near the end of then-President Vladimir Putin’s second term in office, he appointed Anatoliy Serdyukov—the former head of the Federal Tax Service—as defense minister as part of an effort to combat corruption in the military and carry out reforms. After the August 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict revealed large-scale Russian military operational failures, the leadership became more determined to boost military capabilities. U.S. government and congressional policymakers are following the progress and goals of these reforms as they consider issues related to U.S.-Russia relations and U.S. national security interests.

The reforms launched by Russian leadership called for reducing the total size of the armed forces from its size of 1.2 million in 2008 to under 1 million. Three major initiatives included accelerating planned cuts in the officer corps to reduce their numbers from 355,000 to a lateradjusted total of 220,000. The reforms also included revamping the training of noncommissioned officers to make them more effective and introducing military police, both aimed partly at boosting discipline in the barracks. The reforms aimed to reduce the four-tier command system of military districts, armies, divisions, and regiments to a two-tier system of strategic commands and fully manned brigades that could be quickly deployed for combat. A large-scale 10-year weapons modernization plan also was launched, and military budgets are being increased substantially. The weapons modernization plan prioritizes the procurement of new missiles and platforms to maintain strategic nuclear deterrence, but also includes new planes, helicopters, ships, missiles, and submarines for the Ground Forces, Air Force, Navy, and other arms of service.

Russia’s national security strategy, military doctrine, and some aspects of the military reforms reflect assessments by some Russian policymakers that the United States and NATO remain concerns, if not threats, to Russia’s security. Other assessments, however, emphasize enhancing counter-terrorism capabilities and possibly hedges against the rise of China. Seeming to stress these latter concerns, in December 2008, Serdyukov asserted that the reforms were aimed at switching to a performance-capable, mobile, and maximally armed military ready to participate in at least three regional and local conflicts.

Compared to Russia’s previous attempts to revamp its armed forces, the current reform effort has gone further in altering the force structure and operations of the armed forces, according to most observers. However, the reforms face daunting delays, modifications, and setbacks. It remains highly uncertain whether Russia will be able to marshal the budgetary and demographic resources to field a substantially professional military with high readiness, as planned, or to modernize its ailing defense industries to obtain a new array of weaponry over the next 10 years.

U.S. policymakers have maintained that Serdyukov’s defense reforms pose both risks and opportunities for the United States and the West. While warning that Russian military programs are driven largely by Moscow’s perception that the United States and NATO remain the greatest potential threats, U.S. policymakers also have raised the possibility that Russia’s military reforms might in the future make it feel less strategically vulnerable and that it might participate more in international peacekeeping operations. In general, U.S. policymakers and others have urged a policy of hedging against these possible risks through countervailing diplomacy and defense efforts while also following an engagement policy with Russia to cooperate on global issues of mutual interest and to encourage Russia to democratize, respect human rights, and embrace proWestern foreign policies.

Russia’s Afghan Problem. The Russian Federation and the Afghanistan problem since 2001

October 2, 2011 Comments off

Russia’s Afghan Problem. The Russian Federation and the Afghanistan problem since 2001 (PDF)
Source: Centre for Eastern Studies

Russia is facing a difficult choice regarding its further policy towards the Afghan problem. It seems that Moscow has no coherent or consistent strategy. It is likely that the Russian ruling elite, like expert circles, is divided on this issue. In practice, the Russian authorities now seem to be simultaneously implementing elements of various strategies, thus trying to leave themselves the widest possible room for manoeuvre.

The 2010 Pakistan Flood and Russian Heat Wave: Teleconnection of Hydrometeorologic Extremes

September 3, 2011 Comments off

The 2010 Pakistan Flood and Russian Heat Wave: Teleconnection of Hydrometeorologic Extremes (PDF)
Source: Journal of Hydrometeorology

In this paper, we present preliminary results showing that the two record setting extreme events during 2010 summer, i.e., the Russian heat wave/wild fires and Pakistan flood were physically connected. We find that the Russian heat wave was associated with the development of an extraordinary strong and prolonged extratropical atmospheric blocking event, and excitation of a large-scale atmospheric Rossby wavetrain spanning western Russia, Kazakhstan, and northwestern China/Tibetan Plateau region. The southward penetration of upper level vorticity perturbations in the leading trough of the Rossby wave was instrumental in triggering anomalously heavy rain events over northern Pakistan and vicinity in mid-to-late July. Also shown are evidences that the Russian heat wave was amplified by a positive feedback through changes in surface energy fluxes between the atmospheric blocking pattern and an underlying extensive land region with below- normal soil moisture. The Pakistan heavy rain events were amplified and sustained by strong anomalous southeasterly flow along the Himalayas foothills and abundant moisture transport from the Bay of Bengal in connection with the northward propagation of the monsoonal intraseasonal oscillation.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 363 other followers