UPDATE 3-Russia halts Lithuanian dairy imports before EU summit
Greek actress Ino Menegaki, playing the role of high priestess, raises an Olympic torch of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games during a handover ceremony at the Panathenean stadium in Athens October 5, 2013. Credit: Reuters/Yorgos Karahalis By Karolina Tagaris ATHENS | Sat Oct 5, 2013 7:26pm BST ATHENS (Reuters) – The flame that will burn at next year’s Sochi Winter Olympics was handed over to Russia on Saturday in the marble stadium that hosted the first modern Games in 1896. After a six-day trek across 33 towns in Greece’s mainly mountainous northern regions, the flame that was lit last Sunday by the sun’s rays at the birthplace of the ancient Games in Olympia was presented to Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak. From its overnight perch on the ancient Acropolis, the flame travelled through Athens’ streets before being carried into the stadium, built in 330 BC, by Greek figure skating champion Panagiotis Markouzios. As he lit the golden cauldron encircled by priestesses in long, cream-coloured, pleated robes, the crowd erupted in cheers of “Russia! Russia!” “We are especially emotional,” Hellenic Olympic Committee head Spyros Capralos said. “The flame, for us Greeks, is a piece of our country, a part of our history and a tight bond to our ancestors”. The flame will be flown in special safety lanterns from Athens to Moscow on Sunday and it will then begin the longest torch relay in the history of the Winter Games from the Red Square. It will travel more than 65,000 km, looping around Russia’s 83 regions on foot, in sleighs, hot air balloons and even on a trip to space, as Russia prepares to showcase its modern post-Soviet face. More than 90 percent of the Russian population will be within one hour of the flame before the lighting of the Olympic cauldron takes place at the stadium at the Black Sea resort of Sochi on February 7. “For me it is a great honour, responsibility and pleasure to be here tonight, on the land that gave birth to the European civilization and presented the world with the Olympic Games,” Kozak said. “On this momentous day I am telling you with certainty that our country … will succeed in fulfilling its commitment to the Olympic movement.” Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to deliver a “brilliant” Games to show how far Russia has come since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. But Russia has come under mounting international criticism over a new anti-gay propaganda law which critics believe is repressive and preparations for the Games will not be plain sailing for the Russian hosts. Earlier in the day, a group of Greek gay activists raised the rainbow flag outside Greece’s Acropolis museum in Athens.
Lithuania, which borders the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad and joined the EU in 2004, has had trucks held up for days at a time in recent weeks after Russia stepped up customs checks, causing heavy losses for Vilnius’s freight industry. Taking aim at another sector, the Russian consumer protection agency Rospotrebnadzor said inspections of Lithuanian dairy imports had revealed “numerous violations” of quality and sanitary standards in products including cheeses and yoghurt. “We are seeing a sharp weakening of (Lithuania’s) position on protecting the rights and safety of consumers,” Rospotrebnadzor chief Gennady Onishchenko said, according to the Interfax news agency. Russia is also stepping up monitoring of Lithuanian meat and fish imports, state-run news agency Prime reported, citing an unidentified source. Rospotrebnadzor declined to comment. Lithuanian Agriculture Minister Virgilijus Jukna told reporters the government had received no “official news about halting milk or meat or fish exports”, but President Dalia Grybauskaite said her country’s patience was wearing thin. WTO COMPLAINT? “The situation which is developing at our border and in trade relations with Russia has been worrying for the past several weeks,” Grybauskaite told reporters. “It is necessary to prepare to refer the trade obstacles which Russian institutions are raising to Lithuania at the World Trade Organisation,” she said. Russia’s Onishchenko denied politics lay behind the suspension, but Kremlin critics have seen ulterior motives behind such trade restrictions in the past, including bans on wine and mineral water from Georgia and vegetables from the EU. “It is obvious that this is used as a means of political pressure”, said Nerijus Maciulis, chief economist at Swedbank in Lithuania, adding that around one fifth of the country’s dairy exports went to Russia, or 0.4 percent of national output.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (on the sidelines of an economic summit in Indonesia) that Iran likely wants “more clarity” about the way forward. “Iran probably wants more clarity,” Lavrov said. “More specific steps to be spelled out on the road to the result which we all want to achieve. And I think this will be discussed next week in Geneva, a meeting to which Iran agreed. And to which Iran and three plus three are getting ready in a very constructive mood, as our contacts in New York show.” Kerry said the United States is encouraged by Iran’s recent outreach efforts, but that actions, and not words, are what will make a difference. “So what we need are a set of proposals from Iran that fully disclose how they will show the world that their program is peaceful,” Kerry said. “And we have made it clear that if there are those indicators, the United States and our allies are absolutely prepared to move in appropriate ways to meet their actions. Kerry said Iran has not responded to an offer the P5+1 group made earlier this year, which called for Iran to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent and halt enrichment at one of its nuclear facilities. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Sunday that offer was no longer valid, and that the P5+1 should come to next week’s negotiations with a “new point of view.” Iran says its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes and wants the international community to lift a range of sanctions imposed for its refusal to halt enrichment activity. The possible threat of a ballistic missile strike from countries like Iran has led the United States to plan a missile shield in Europe. Russia disagrees with the move, saying the system could neutralize its own strategic missile force and leave it vulnerable to the West. Kerry said Monday it is too early to make determinations about the system as long as the Iranian threat continues.
US, Russia Want Clarity on Iran Nuclear Issue
The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) and the New Economic School (NES) are pleased to announce the launch of the 2012 Russia Balance Sheet Project Speaker Series, titled Emerging Russian Futures: Transformation or Stasis?. Over the past three years, the Russia Balance Sheet Project (RBS) has established itself as the top name for objective, data-driven analysis of the most pressing policy issues in Russias domestic social, economic, and political development, foreign and security policy, as well as U.S.-Russia relations. These dialogues come at a critical time after the disputed December 2011 parliamentary elections when Russian society is possibly mobilizing to reform its political system and demanding better governance, social welfare and services, and less corruption. It is precisely the multidisciplinary approach of RBS that is likely to yield the greatest insights about the nature and trajectory of this change. The community that RBS will work with includes the U.S. and Russian policy communities, leading corporate figures, and other stakeholders with an interest in improving U.S.-Russia ties. With the increased uncertainty of Putins transition back to the presidency next year, there is a deep need to raise awareness in Washington of shifting and diverse perspectives of Russias socio-economic development, public opinion, and foreign and security policies and their implications for the future of U.S.-Russia relations. In the near term, we expect that this speaker series will promote public education in U.S. policy circles about Russia as the US Congress prepares to consider the extension of permanent normal trade relations status (PNTR) to Russia as it accedes to the World Trade Organization. Multimedia