Russia and the United States to begin data exchange under New START Treaty; President Medvedev calls PM Putin’s remarks on Libya “unacceptable”; Russia says NATO not doing enough to intercept Afghan drugs trade;
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  • According to reports, Russia and the United States are set to implement an extensive regime of mutual monitoring and information exchange on their nuclear stockpiles under the New START Treaty. The US Nuclear Risk Reduction Centre transmitted the U.S. database to Russia which included information about missiles, launchers, heavy bombers, and warheads that are covered under the Treaty. Data exchanges are to be held every six months and the right to begin conducting on-site inspections officially begins 60 days after the treaty's entry into force on April 6. The treaty was ratified by the US Congress in December, 2010 and by the Russian Duma in January 2011. The obligations under the treaty are reciprocal and act as a confidence building measure. The treaty was signed in April 2010 by the Presidents of Russia and the US and it aims to bring down the number of nuclear warheads to 1550 from the current upper limit of 2200.1

    In a rare split between Russia’s two top leaders, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev described Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s comments on Libya "unacceptable”. Earlier, PM Putin had denounced the United Nations resolution allowing military action in Libya as "a medieval call to crusade." The Russian Prime Minister called the UN resolution "defective and flawed." However, President Medvedev said he considered the UN resolution to be correct, adding if he did not believe the UN-mandated action was the proper way of handling the Libyan crisis, he would have ordered the Foreign Ministry to oppose the measure when it was voted on in the Security Council. Medvedev stressed, "Under no circumstances is it acceptable to use expressions that essentially lead to a clash of civilizations, such as 'crusades' and so on. It is unacceptable,”. "Medvedev further noted,"Under no circumstances is it acceptable to use expressions that essentially lead to a clash of civilizations, such as 'crusades' and so on. It is unacceptable,"" Medvedev said. He however clarified that Russia would not participate in the coalition campaign in Libya but would act as a mediator if needed. He noted it was unclear in Libya "with whom to speak”.2

    However, Russia's Presidential envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov has criticized NATO allies for not doing enough to help Moscow curb drug trafficking from the land north of the Hindukush. Kabulov said Russia continues its operations to intercept drugs on a regular basis. But he accused Russia's partners in NATO of only sending observers instead of doing any, in his words, "practical participation." Kabulov accused the Europeans of taking for granted that Russia will absorb the flow of Afghan drugs before it can reach Europe. He also said he believed the United States is far more concerned with synthetic drugs and Colombian cocaine travelling through its borders than heroin from Afghanistan. Russian officials have long advocated for bigger effort to destroy poppy fields and drug laboratories in Afghanistan. According to UN reports, 92 percent of the world's opium poppies are grown in the South Asian country.3

    Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and a high level delegation comprising of Communications Minister Igor Shchegolev, Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik, and the head of Russian gas giant Gazprom Alexei Miller discussed the implementation of the South Stream project and the European energy situation in Slovenia. The major goal of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visit to Slovenia was to sign a "shareholder agreement and the corporate charter of a project company to design, build and maintain the Slovenian segment of South Stream. Slovenia will become "one of the leading gas transit states in the Balkans" when its segment of South Stream is brought into operation. Putin also signed a number of agreements on tourism, transportation and science on his second visit to Serbia since June 2001.4

    Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov has said that Russia will invest 3 trillion roubles ($100 billion) in the development of the country's defence industry in the next decade. Russia will invest 77 billion roubles ($2.6 billion) in the production of ballistic missiles alone in the next ten years.5 However, Prime Minister Putin has declared that Russia will double the production of ballistic missile systems starting in 2013. The Armed Forces will receive new strategic and tactical missile systems, such as RS-24 Yars, Bulava and Iskander M. Putin said Russia will invest 77 billion roubles ($2.6 billion) in the production of ballistic missiles in line with a state program on the modernization of the defence industry until 2020. Missile manufacturers, including a missile production plant in Votkinsk, will receive 15 billion roubles ($500 million) in the next three years for the development of production capacity.6

    The U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs Ellen Tauscher has said that reaching an agreement with Russia on cutting the tactical nuclear weapons stockpiles is likely to be a complicated process and will take some time to materialize. The U.S. Senate adopted a resolution in December 2010 obligating the US government to start bilateral talks on cutting the TNW stockpiles - landmines, artillery shells and short-range missiles which it believes Russia has in large numbers. President Barack Obama said in a message to the Senate in February his country expects to hold talks with Russia on TNW within a year after the New START arms reduction deal came into force on February 5. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has said that it is too early to discuss limiting the number of TNWs because Russia needs to see the way the U.S. fulfils its commitments under the New START.7

    Reports noted that as part of the ongoing oil dispute between Russia and China, Moscow believes Beijing has underpaid it $100 million for oil in 2011 under a landmark 20-year supply deal. Analysts said the dispute around the deal could jeopardize cooperation between the world's No. 1 energy producer and consumer. Rosneft and Transneft borrowed an unprecedented $25 billion from China in 2009 to finish building Russia's first pipeline link to China as part of a broader deal to supply Beijing with 300 million tons of crude over 30 years. The deal is worth $220 billion under current prices. Industry sources said the current dispute centres around the pricing formula, with China saying Russia should give it a discount because it is cheaper to send crude to China than to the Pacific port of Kozmino, while Moscow insists it applies similar tariffs to both routes.8

    In another development, Russia has shifted to a permanent daylight-saving time after people set their clocks ahead one hour early on March 27 under a decree from President Medvedev. Under Medvedev government, the total number of time zones has been brought down to 9 from 11 and the new policy has been justified on health grounds. A poll conducted in February indicated that about 60 percent of Russians support Medvedev's decision to permanently set Moscow's time four hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.9

    According to reports, Russia's population has dwindled by 2.2 million people since 2002 to 142,905,200 people. The all-Russia census, the second since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, was held between October 14 and 25, 2010. Volga and Siberian federal districts are the most populated, with over 61% of the country's residents living there. Russia remains a highly urbanized country. The share of urban population grew to 73.7% from 73.3% back in 2002. The share of men dropped to 46.3% from 46.6%, and the share of women rose to 53.7% from 53.4%.10

    In other developments, the Duma has ratified a treaty signed between Russia and Norway that divides the Barents Sea into clear Norwegian and Russian zones, bringing Norway closer to a new oil and gas drive in the Arctic. The area to be divided after 40 years of dispute is about half the size of Germany. Last year Russia and Norway signed a deal to delimitate their maritime border in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean after 40 years of negotiations. Both countries have been disputing the 175,000 square km area since 1970. The absence of defined maritime border often resulted in detentions of fishing vessels in the region. The agreement has also paved the way for the lifting of a 30-year-long moratorium on oil and gas extraction in the previously disputed zone.11