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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Nov. 12, 2007

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Young people pretend to worship a giant election poster of the main pro-Kremlin party United Russia during their one minute-long flash mobbing event just outside the Moscow Kremlin, on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2007. The poster reads: ‘Moscow votes for Putin!’ (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Russia’s upper chamber of parliament could propose extending Russia’s four-year presidential term to seven years. Dozens of regional political groups calling for President Vladimir Putin to stay on after his second term finishes next year are reportedly planning to meet this week to unite into a national movement, in a move that is likely an attempt to “boost United Russia’s popularity.” A Kremlin-ordered opinion poll released by VTsIOM indicated that support for United Russia has dropped 6 percentage points over the past two weeks, possibly due to “higher food prices […] and the novelty of Putin’s decision to lead the party in the vote wear[ing] off.” The government will not enforce a Central Bank directive to close down thousands of automated payment terminals while a committee of officials is given a month to find a compromise. Luc van den Brande, a senior member of the Council of Europe, the major European human rights body, has launched an outspoken attack on Russia’s elections three weeks before they take place, saying he had serious doubts that they would be free, fair, open, democratic or transparent. Only 11 out of 85 parties that wanted to stand in the December 2 poll had been allowed to do so, he said, with almost all of Russia’s democratic opposition kept off the ballot paper. “The election is as ersatz a contest as any fought during the Soviet era.” Gazprom has reached a preliminary deal on raising the price of gas supplies to Ukraine by $30 per 1,000 cubic meters. “The most important thing is that this price is acceptable for Ukraine,” said deputy chairman Alexander Medvedev. “Gazprom’s unusual boardroom lineup is the result of a deliberate policy introduced by Putin of appointing trusted Kremlin insiders to head Russia’s largest state companies.” A special report on oil and gas audits can be found here. Billionaire Oleg Deripaska says Russia’s economy would benefit from a drop in energy prices. Hyundai Motor, South Korea’s largest automaker, will build a vehicle factory in Russia to help meet surging demand. Alisher Usmanov’s Metalloinvest has denied it is preparing a bid for French steel tube maker Vallourec after a it was reported it is readying an offer. “This information doesn’t correspond to reality.” Thanks to oil prices, Russia “now has the world’s third-largest currency reserves, worth more than $430 billion.” The downside of cashing in on rising oil prices, for Russia, is “the need to manage the inflationary pressure they create.” A clash between Russia and its major gas customer the European Union is likely to get worse, jeopardising supplies. Russia’s influence in Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia has “evoked stress in the Baltics” regarding potential corruption. Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey met with Putin in Moscow, praising increased investment and growing economic ties. It was also requested that Russia ease visa regulations. The United States and Russia will commemorate their bicentennial of diplomatic ties this year. Poland’s prime minister designate Donald Tusk has expressed optimism that Polish ties with Russia can improve, while relations remain strained on a number of issues including energy and missile shields. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in Moscow. The two sides are expected to sign an agreement under which Russia would build four nuclear reactors in India, and have made significant progress on the creation of a joint venture for the production of titanium dioxide and other titanium products. A severe storm has broken a small Russian oil tanker off the Ukrainian port of Kerch, spilling up to 2,000 tons of fuel oil in what environmental official Oleg Mitvol described as a serious environmental disaster. “This problem may take a few years to solve. Fuel oil is a heavy substance and it is now sinking to the seabed,” he said. At least six Russian vessels were hit by the same storm. Over 350 Russian policemen and Interior Troops servicemen have died this year while on duty. By 2050, there will be “fewer than 100 million Russians, compared with 142 million today.