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Cablegate: Fico's Russia Trip: Vague Promises and a Nicely Painted Car

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PP RUEHIK
DE RUEHSL #0500/01 3341719
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P R 301719Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY BRATISLAVA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0289
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHSL/AMEMBASSY BRATISLAVA 0337

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BRATISLAVA 000500

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/CE J. MOORE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL ENRG RS LO
SUBJECT: FICO'S RUSSIA TRIP: VAGUE PROMISES AND A NICELY PAINTED CAR

BRATISLAVA 00000500 001.3 OF 002


SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) PM Robert Fico's jaunt to Moscow on November 16 was
criticized for its timing (the day before Slovakia officially
celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of Communism) as
well as the deliverables. The latter include more talk of a
joint venture with Gazprom and a wide-gauge rail extension to
the Austrian border, and a new agreement for Russia to provide
nuclear power technology to Slovakia. With few substantive
deliverables, the trip seemed mainly a plea for continuous gas
this winter and an affirmation of good feelings between Fico and
whoever is on the throne in Moscow. End summary.

IT'S ... A FREE CAR!
--------------------

2. (U) As Fico set out for Moscow, a young KDH (Christian
Democrat) political activist staged a colorful piece of
political street theater to protest the premier's departure for
Moscow the day before the twentieth anniversary of the fall of
Communism. He left a bright red Ziguli car on the street in
front of Fico's government office, painted neatly with the
slogans, "I'm Red Robbie's car, heading for Moscow," "Decent
people celebrate, Bolsheviks flee," and "November '89: 'I didn't
notice it!'" The protest received wide press coverage which
continued through the end of the week.

GASSING ON ABOUT GAS
--------------------

3. (SBU) As to the substance of Fico's visit, Fico and Putin
were said to have discussed a joint venture on gas between the
GoS and Gazprom, which would compete with the Slovak monopoly
SPP to distribute gas and build gas storage in Slovakia. The
two have talked about this possibility in vague terms at
previous meetings, and the statement issued at the end of this
meeting seemed to indicate that the idea has not progressed much
since then. Putin identified the project as simply an
opportunity to be discussed; a later meeting with Gazprom's
Alexey Miller had the two agreeing to start expert
consultations. According to FM Lajcak, Fico and Putin also
discussed scenarios for the coming months and PM Putin suggested
that a reprise of last year's gas cutoff was a distinct
possibility.

4. (SBU) The reason for Fico's interest in inviting Gazprom onto
his home turf is clear: he needs financing for more gas storage,
particularly in eastern Slovakia, and he is itching for a
competitor to SPP. While this latter point sounds illogical,
given that the GoS owns 51% of SPP, Fico hates the fact that he
does not fully control the company and its transit revenue, and
he misses no opportunity to threaten his French and German
partners with nationalization. As for the Russians, it is
doubtful the thankless business of distributing gas to the tiny
Slovak market would have much appeal, but nosing into the 70
bcma transit business--about 2/3 of Russian gas to Europe--is
altogether another matter.

GLOWING ABOUT NUCLEAR COOPERATION
---------------------------------

5. (SBU) Of slightly more substance was the nuclear power
cooperation agreement signed with AtomStroyExport. The exact
terms are not clear, and if this agreement has anything in
common with similar ones penned previously, it is a general
statement of good intentions between comrades in peaceful
cooperation. The agreement follows a meeting of the
Russian-Slovak working group on nuclear power, created last year
as part of a broader bilateral commission on economic and
scientific cooperation. The working group's statement mentions
Russian interest in completion of the new reactors at the
Mochovce power plant, renovation of the currently operating
reactors at Mochovce and Jaslovske Bohunice, and installation of
new reactors in Slovakia. Most interestingly, only the Russian
side trumpeted the agreement. The GoS has kept quiet about the
nuclear agreement, though it is hard to tell whether this is
because it is cool to the idea of morQRussian reactors or wary
of public scrutiny for a coming sweetheart deal.


6. (SBU) The Russians made mention of the desire to step up
cooperation on the Bratislava cyclotron, a research-for-debt
project that has become a warehouse for aging Slovak physicists
and a backwater of research. The GoS promised more funding,
which, since it is all aimed at buying Russian hardware, seems
to have made the Russians happy.

BRATISLAVA 00000500 002.3 OF 002

PLAYING WITH TRAINS
-------------------

7. (SBU) The Moscow visit also give Fico a chance to push
another of his hobby-horse projects: the extension of a
wide-gauge railway from Kosice to the Austrian border. The
economic logic of this extension is not obvious, but he was
happy to bring the project up again in his joint statement. The
joint statement curiously expresses satisfaction with Slovak and
Russian engineers' progress in extending the railway, conjuring
images of engineers toiling over drafting tables and visiting
busy work sites. Putin's statement, on the other hand, merely
speaks of a possibility to be explored in upcoming discussions.
Who will pay for this multi-billion euro project, or even
whether either side takes it at all seriously, remains to be
seen.

COMMENT: WHAT'S REAL IN THIS PICTURE?
-------------------------------------

8. (SBU) With so little accomplished, what really was the point
of the Fico visit? It seems to have been a good opportunity for
Fico to plead for his reliable energy partner not to cut off the
gas again, and for the reliable partner to show off a happy if
somewhat nervous customer. Certainly the list of joint projects
is to be taken with more than a grain of salt, but the
expression of warm feelings toward Moscow, and the intent to
cooperate on state-funded projects for which each side hopes the
other has some money, seems sincere enough. The two real bits
of all this talk (besides the obvious bit about gas) seem to be
about the Slovaks' desire to get some free infrastructure from
its old sponsor, and the sponsor's desire to get deeper into the
energy business in Slovakia.
EDDINS

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