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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 433,491 346,520 310,000 16
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 2,610 2,140 1,750 97
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 359  (24/11/10)

The fulcrum of the world
There is a flurry of international meetings going on this autumn in which Russia is naturally a star turn - or foil. On November 11-12 came the G20 summit in Seoul, decisive for world economic cooperation. The G20 group comprises the world's 19 leading national economies, plus the European Union. It was formed in 1999, and held its first meeting that year.

Until 2008 the G20 was overshadowed by the smaller G8 grouping of France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, the US, Canada and - Russia. However, this has changed since the global financial crisis that began in 2008; the G20 has now effectively replaced the G8 as the main global economic forum. Countries on the periphery of Europe are causing the most trouble at the moment, notably Greece and Ireland.

On November 19-20 came the latest NATO summit in Lisbon, from which Russia is not a member, although it sent observers, including their president no less. It was of course a hot topic, indeed the hot topic, on the agenda.

Coming up on December 1-2 is the latest gathering of the OSCE in Astana, which formally stands for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It could, however, be amended to stand for Eurasia, with Central Asian states attending and China and India represented. Russia is of course a central player and indeed often the issue at hand.

NATO and Russia forge an alliance; “an end to the Cold War?”
There is no doubt that the presence of President Barakh Obama in the White House is a major plus for the US in world diplomacy.

Apart from anything else, he is, unlike his predecessor, an obviously likeable man. The Russians have taken to him, as have the Europeans generally.

Obama supreme?
He may have pulled off the greatest feat of his presidency so far – a rapprochement between NATO and Russia, the two powers that hold over 90% of the world's nuclear weapons, which could destroy civilisation in an almighty flash. But we have to be aware of where the other 10% are. They could do the same.

It was agreed at the Lisbon meeting of NATO in November to put aside differences and cooperate on a range of issues, notably a U.S. missile shield to protect Europe. The accords, reached between President Dimitry Medvedev of Russia and the 28 NATO leaders, could be the beginning of a long-term strategic and security partnership, according to leaders at the summit meeting. The formerly nasty problem, since the Russians were convinced it was directed at them, has been defanged.
“ We agreed to cooperate on missile defense, which turns a source of past tension into a source of potential cooperation against a shared threat,” President Obama said at the end of the two-day NATO meeting in Lisbon. “We see Russia as a partner, not an adversary.”

European leaders also signaled their approval. “The fact that we are talking to Russia about common threats and the chance to cooperate with Russia on missile defense is an extremely important step,” said Chancellor Angela Markel of Germany. “That could be proof that the Cold War has finally come to an end.”

Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, two sworn enemies — NATO and Russia – are coming to terms. There seems to be every reason to suppose that there will be no war between these, the world’s two largest nuclear powers, so the logic comes into play that if they are not to be enemies, then they might as well be friends.

Although the meeting generated excitement among allies and was described by both sides as historic because of the practical demonstration of collaboration, much of the main work was focused on Afghanistan. NATO and Afghanistan agreed on November 20 to the goal of a phased transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan government by the end of 2014, although NATO officials acknowledged that allied forces would remain in Afghanistan, at least in a support role, well beyond that date.

Plans by the United States of the George W Bush era, to deploy a missile shield across Europe had been staunchly opposed by Russia, especially by Vladimir Putrin, who was one of the most outspoken critics of the system during his tenure as president. Mr Putin, who is now prime minister, had said that deploying parts of the shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, countries that were once part of the Warsaw Treaty, would undermine Russia’s security. This had been the major problem area and this was what was resolved after Mr. Obama altered the shield’s deployment and embarked on “resetting” relations with Russia. That included inviting Russia to participate in the shield and, more importantly, negotiating a new arms treaty aimed at further reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, by as much as 30% initially which still leaves them vastly superior than any combination of other nations.

The extraordinary reaction in the USA to these very positive developments between Nato and Russia is from the newly elected Republican right whose primary mission in life is not the good governance of their nation but to be party political to the ninth degree, to try to obstruct Obama becoming president again for a second term by denying him a success, any success.

The Republicans in the United States in November declined to act quickly on ratification of what is being called the new Start treaty, an unusual alliance has emerged, with Obama winning support not only from Russia but also from leaders in Eastern Europe for the speedy approval of the treaty. “Throughout the summit, there was intense lobbying by the administration to win support for the ratification process,” said the Czech defence minister, Alexander Vondra.

Obama underlined that “I have received overwhelming support from our allies here that Start — the new Start treaty — is a critical component to U.S. and European security,” he said. “And they have urged both privately and publicly that this gets done.”

Even though the Baltic states remain sceptical, if not suspicious, about NATO’s more open policy toward Russia, they could not refute Mr. Obama’s argument that fewer nuclear weapons in Europe meant greater stability, security and trust.“There are a whole range of security interests in which we are cooperating with Russia and it would be a profound mistake for us to slip back into mistrust as a consequence of our failure to ratify Start,” Obama said.

Several other deals were struck between NATO and Russia. The NATO-Russia Council, long a talking shop over security issues and often criticized by Russia for lacking substance, will be revamped. NATO leaders and Russia agreed to use the council to create “a common space of peace, security and stability.” Those words are close to the language set out in what was Russia’s foreign policy goal to establish a new security architecture across this area and one that would be legally binding. But Russia’s plans had then won little support from NATO allies, most of whom said the idea behind the Russian plan was to undermine NATO and the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Russia also agreed to allow more NATO supplies, including equipment, to travel across Russian territory to Afghanistan, increasingly important for NATO after the recent attacks on its equipment and convoys that use neighbouring Pakistan as a base. Both sides will also establish a common fund to maintain helicopters in Afghanistan.

“We have large plans, we will be working in all areas, including European missile defence,” Mr. Medvedev said at a news conference held with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO secretary general. Now comes the hard part, as Mr. Medvedev acknowledged in Lisbon. He said many details of the missile defense shield still had to be worked out. “The scheme would only be peaceful when it is universal,” he said.

Gen. Nikolai Y. Makarov, chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, said there were good reasons to link the Russian and NATO missile defence systems. “Now there is the technical side, how to join the two systems,” he said. “It will all depend on the configurations.”

The NATO-Russia Council also will produce results soon, officials said, in order to give credibility and momentum to the Lisbon agreements, while also legitimizing Mr. Medvedev’s decision to move closer to NATO.

With Russia due to hold presidential elections next year, diplomats said Mr. Medvedev now would have to sell this new NATO relationship domestically. That includes convincing hard-liners who remain deeply suspicious of NATO, despite Mr. Rasmussen’s assurance at the news conference with Mr. Medvedev that “we pose no threat to each other.”

START treaty on the brink
Presidents Barack Obama of the US and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia have urged Republicans to support a new sweeping arms control treaty between the two countries after the pair held an impromptu meeting on the sidelines of the Nato summit. The US administration has warned that failing to ratify the treaty would endanger the substantial gains made in relations with Russia.

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, said the issue was one of "life and death" with thousands of Russian nuclear missiles still pointing at American soil. "This is in the national security interests of the United States, there is no doubt about it," she said on US television.

Mr Medvedev, the Russian president, said it could be "very unpleasant" if there was no START deal and hoped "commonsense will prevail".

"Many people's efforts aimed at resetting the relationship not only between Russia and the United States but also between Russia and Nato would be wasted," he said.

Mr Obama, the US president, has made ratification of START his highest foreign policy priority in the current "lame duck" session of Congress. Both he and Mr Medevedev held an "informal" 20 minute meeting during the Nato summit on November 20.

He requires 14 Republican votes for ratification but was dealt a major blow when Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the party's appointed spokesman on the issue, said more time was needed to examine the treaty's implications.

In January, a new Congress partly controlled by Republicans will be sworn in, making the task much harder.
Nato and Russia agreed over the weekend to jointly examine a missile shield to defend Europe and to boost the flow of supplies to the Afghan war through former Soviet territories.

Sounding frustrated on the last day of the summit in Lisbon, Mr Obama said military officials, senior members of past Republican administrations and European states backed the treaty with Russia.

He said his administration had sought to address Republican concerns about the US nuclear arsenal by agreeing to add $4 billion (£2.5 billion) to the $80 billion (£50 billion) already earmarked to modernise it.

"There is no other reason not to do it, other than the fact that Washington has become a very partisan place," Mr Obama said.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the top US military official, said he was "extremely concerned" that the failure to ratify the new START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) in the US Senate had left the Pentagon unable to inspect Russian nuclear sites for almost a year.

The treaty, signed by Mr Obama and Mr Medvedev in April, caps both side’s nuclear warheads at 1,550, and the number of deployed delivery vehicles to 800.quite enough to destroy the world, let alone each other

It also allows both sides to inspect each other's nuclear-weapons facilities. No treaty = No inspection!

Obama and his advisers have laboured the point that they are continuing the work of Ronald Reagan, a Republican president who is a hero to those now blocking ratification.

"This is in the tradition of not just bipartisan but non-partisan action on behalf of arms control treaties, going back to President Reagan, who famously said, 'Trust, but verify.' Well, right now, we have no verification," said Mrs Clinton.

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