RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Feb 4th, 2009

040209.jpgTODAY: Kyrgyz President announces intention to close US air base, although still in talks with US; closure could hinder Obama’s foreign policy aims with Russia; Belarus signs air defense pact with Russia; EU commissioners to meet in Moscow on trade disputes; Tajik President in Moscow; Alexander Glukhov.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced yesterday that his country would close a US air base supporting NATO’s military operations in Afghanistan in exchange for a set of financial incentives, ‘dampen[ing] optimistic hopes [of] a change in Moscow’s combative stance toward the West’.  A US military official called the announcement ‘political positioning’, and denied that the base would close.  The US will make an official response later today, but as of early this morning, the US had received no official notification to close the base, and its embassy in Kyrgyzstan says it will continue talks to keep the base open.  Many see the news, compounded by Iran’s announcement that it has successfully launched a home-built satellite into orbit, as creating significant obstacles for US President Barack Obama’s plans to convene arms reduction talks with Russia.  The Times notes that ‘better relations between Moscow and Washington are crucial to Obama’s other foreign policy priorities’.  

Russia and Belarus have signed an air defense pact that reflects their opposition to US plans for a missile shield in Eastern Europe, with Belarus reportedly receiving economic aid and a discounted arms deal in exchange for the agreement.  The agreement has reportedly ‘been in negotiation for years.  Despite all this, the FT’s Europe editor still sees ‘a new realism in Russia about its vulnerabilities, which could lead to a more positive dialogue with the west’. The President of the European Commission and a team of key commissioners will hold talks in Moscow this week, initially postponed due to the Ukraine gas row, on trade disputes and a new visa feud.

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon was in Moscow late last night after reversing an earlier decision to cancel his visit.  Yulia Latynina writes on Alexander Glukhov, who deserted the Russian army ‘for a Big Mac’.  The BBC has updated its Russia timeline, which begins with the Mongol invasions in the 13th century and ends with last month’s election of Metropolitan Kirill as Patriarch of the Orthodox Church.

PHOTO: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Kyrgyz counterpart Kurmanbek Bakiyev shake hands after signing documents in Moscow February 3, 2009. REUTERS/Alexander Nemenov/Pool (RUSSIA)