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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Dec. 20, 2007

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Today: Yabloko Youth Leader plans to unseat Yavlinsky and create a new movement; Economic Development and Trade Ministry will help spin Russia’s image to inspire investors; Sochi draws huge investment, Kaliningrad is experiencing a boom; London’s Royal Academy exhibition of French and Russian paintings is in jeopardy after Russia withdraws loans of its works.

President Vladimir Putin is the first Russian to be named Time magazine’s person of the year since Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev won the title in the late 1980s. The article outlining the choice explains: “TIME’s Person of the Year is not and never has been an honor. It is not an endorsement. It is not a popularity contest. At its best, it is a clear-eyed recognition of the world as it is and of the most powerful individuals and forces shaping that world — for better or for worse.” Many have called the announcement “unlikely”.

One news source quotes former Federal Security Service (FSB) colonel, who said that “the genius of Putin’s management of the country is that the president and his team have turned the main weakness of Russian state management — corruption — into its greatest strength.” Ilya Yashin, the 24-year-old leader of Yabloko’s youth group, has announced that he would seek to unseat Grigory Yavlinsky as the party’s leader and unite liberal politicians in a new political movement. First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says he will resign as chairman of Gazprom if he wins the presidential election in March 2008. According to a recent opinion survey by VTsIOM a total of 45% of Russians are likely to vote for Medvedev. Who is Dmitri Medvedev? Minister of Economic Development and Trade Elvira Nabiullina has admitted that it will be extremely difficult to keep inflation under 12% this year, with exact figures to be announced in January.The Economic Development and Trade Ministry has announced that it will create an agency within the state-owned Development Bank in order to counter the flow of negative political news out of the country and lure foreign investors with positive information. “We face a significant discrepancy between Russia’s investment image abroad and the real investment climate inside the country,” said Nabiullina. “The pace of development in some regions makes them attractive propositions for companies eager to enter Russia’s fast growing market,” but Western investors have “pulled billions of dollars out of Russia since August to cover their global credit hits.” The chairman of MDM bank says that Russian businesses should “prepare for the worst”. The Olympic resort at Sochi, however, “is drawing in massive investment figures,” and the artificial Federation Island is currently being planned as a demonstration of “over-the-top wealth”. Gazprom has increased its stake in Moscow’s main power generator Mosenergo. Oil firm Surgutneftegaz has elected a career oil manager, Vladimir Yerokhin, as its new chairman. Gazprom said that it may not seek to purchase additional shares in Russia’s OGK-6 utility because RAO UES, its owner, had rejected some of the terms related to the acquisition. Kaliningrad is currently feeling the effects of a boom, and the Kremlin is reportedly striving to turn it into “a showcase for cooperation with the European Union.”Japan’s vice minister of trade said that Exxon Mobil, the operator of the Sakhalin-1 project, should decide who gets to buy natural gas from the venture, and not the Russian government. Russian and Polish authorities have signed a memorandum to officially end a two-year ban on exports of Polish meat to Russia. Citigroup has failed to secure $10 billion in financing for Vladimir Potanin, the Russian oligarch, because of continuing turmoil in the credit markets, meaning that his bid to buy a 25% stake in Norilsk Nickel “will almost certainly fail”. Russia has offered to help Libya develop nuclear power ahead of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to “the country that holds Africa’s biggest oil reserves”.It is being reported that a number of Russia’s top businessmen have been “eyeing English soccer teams.” The chairman of Lukoil is thought to be interested in the Birmingham City club. The Royal Academy in London is struggling to save its blockbuster exhibition of Russian and French masterpieces after Russia withdrew its loans of the paintings over fears that the paintings could be seized in legal battles over their rightful ownership. The British Culture Minister and Secretary have apparently failed to satisfy the Russians that the paintings will be safe.(PHOTO: Time magazine has named President Vladimir Putin its person of the year, in recognition of the Russian leader’s role in making Moscow “a critical linchpin of the 21st century.” (AFP/Time Inc.com))