Russia’s Faltering Energy Empire

Russia says foils plot to attack chemical arms facility

Militants have previously carried out deadly bombings in Moscow and other parts of Russia outside the mostly Muslim North Caucasus, but specific allegations of plots to attack sites holding weapons of mass destruction in nuclear-armed Russia are almost unheard of. Authorities believe the suspects planned to build a bomb and attack the Maradykovsky chemical weapons storage and disposal facility in the Kirov region, about 1,000 km (620 miles) northeast of Moscow, the Federal Investigative Committee said. “The suspects planned a terrorist attack … that could have risked killing hundreds of people,” it said in a statement. It said the men had traveled north to the remote Kirov area from Moscow to plan the attack and it identified them as followers of Wahhabism – an ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam that is practiced in Saudi Arabia and which has become a derogatory term for Islamist radicalism in Russia. Investigators found bomb components and “literature with extremist content” in an abandoned house in the area where the suspects, aged 19 and 21, were living, the committee said. It said the suspects were natives of the North Caucasus, a mountainous southern region not far from the Black Sea city of Sochi, where Russia hosts the 2014 Winter Olympics in February. The region is some 2,000 km (1,200 miles) from Kirov. Insurgent leader Doku Umarov, a Chechen, has urged fighters to use “maximum force” to stop the Olympics taking place. President Vladimir Putin has staked his reputation on the Games and ordered authorities to boost security in the North Caucasus, where the Islamist insurgency is rooted in two post-Soviet wars pitting Chechen separatists against the Kremlin. After suicide bombings that killed dozens in the Moscow subway in 2010 and at a Moscow airport in 2011, Umarov called for more attacks on infrastructure in the Russian heartland, but no other major attacks have occurred outside the North Caucasus. Russia inherited the Soviet Union’s declared stockpile of 40,000 metric tons of chemical weapons. In 1997 Moscow ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, which requires member states to declare and dispose of all chemical weapons and production facilities. Russia and the United States had pledged to destroy their chemical arsenals by 2012 but both missed the deadline. They have recently led diplomatic efforts to ensure Syria starts destroying its own chemical weapons stockpile.

The shale gas revolution has led to a steady and continued rise in U.S. natural gas production. Experts anticipate U.S. gas production to reach between 800 and 880 billion cubic meters by 2035. By comparison, US production was just 681 bcm in 2012 . Prior to the revolution, the United States had been expected to import gas from Qatar and other producers. However, domestic gas production has diminished the United States dependence on foreign sources, freeing up those sources for import by other consumers, including Europe. Increased U.S. production and the subsequent decrease in imports, combined with the possibility that the United States may export LNG at spot prices, could increase the quantity of gas on the market available to Europe. The saturation of available gas may put additional momentum behind efforts to shift prices away from long-term contracts with oil-linked gas prices, favored by Russia, towards cheaper spot pricing. In 2012, pressure from European consumers to change the gas-pricing formula forced Gazprom to return $2.7 billion to customers; Gazprom set aside an additional $4.7 billion to prepare for potential retroactive rebates this year. 10 percent of Russias GDP comes from gas. Such a loss of profit has the potential to seriously harm Russias economy. The shale gas revolution is not exclusively a North American phenomenon. Experts believe that Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania also have unconventional gas reserves .

Russia Responds to Anti-Migrant Riots by Arresting Migrants

State-run television networks meanwhile touted the effort as a sign of Sobyanins toughness on illegal immigration. Nikolai Petrov, an expert on local elections at the Carnegie Endowment in Moscow, says this campaign strategy lifted a long-standing taboo among the ruling party. Previously, xenophobic rhetoric was the providence of fringe politicians and right-wingers, while the elites around Putin saw it as uncouth and even dangerous to play on racist sentiments, says Petrov. The dangers became particularly clear in December 2010, when football fans and skinheads staged a riot at the Kremlin walls, beating dozens of dark-skinned passersby and leaving swastikas scrawled on surrounding buildings. That was the most violent display of ethnic hatred to erupt in Moscow under Putins rule, and it reminded the elites that xenophobia is a force best kept contained. (MORE: Russias Elections: Even in Defeat, Anti-Putin Camp Finds Victory ) But as last months mayoral election approached, Sobyanins campaign team seemed unable to resist the political temptation. Polls showed anti-immigrant sentiment was high among the electorate, and it was a far easier issue for Sobyanin to turn in his favor than corruption or tawdry social services. So Sobyanin not only failed to dampen these racist feelings, not only turned a blind eye to manifestations of racism, but he took up this anti-immigrant rhetoric as the basis of his campaign, Petrov says. The Moscow mayor was not the only politician trying harness this energy. Particularly among young men, aggression toward immigrants is no less ferocious in Russia than in many European countries inundated with foreign laborers. But Russia has no independent party capable of representing the political far right; the Kremlin has not allowed such movements gain a foothold in the electoral processes.