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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Nov. 16, 2007

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A Russian soldier takes a break during military training manoeuvers in Siberia, September 2007. The Russian senate has voted to abandon a key Cold War treaty limiting conventional military forces across Europe, a move strongly criticised in the West and by NATO. (AFP/File/Yuri Yuriev)

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Warsaw-based office will not be able to monitor balloting in the upcoming election. “Despite repeated attempts to attain entry visa into the Russian Federation for […] experts and observers, entry visas have continuously been denied. […] It is with regret that […] it will be unable to deliver its mandate under these circumstances.” Two-thirds of voting-age Russians “do not believe that December’s elections to the State Duma will be conducted honestly.” Hundreds of activists met in Tver to formally establish the “All-Russian Council of Initiative Groups to Support Putin” movement, to help ensure that Vladimir Putin continues running the country after the completion of his second presidential term. Organizers of the session said the movement “is not affiliated with any party,” but the grass roots members reportedly admittedthat they are members of United Russia and were sent to the sessions by NGOs close to regional authorities.” Another component of the For Putin movement, the web site Zaputina.ru, claims that 54,000 visitors have signed up to urge Putin to continue in power. The movement claims to have the support of 30 million people. “We are not campaigning for a third term. We respect the opinion of the president but suggest a position that will keep him as the national leader.” It is thought that United Russia will probably win two-thirds of the seats in the next parliament – enough to change the constitution. The State Duma holds its final session today, leaving behind it “a legacy of Kremlin-sponsored laws that have pushed political dissent to the brink of extinction.” “If politics is a world of paradox and scandal, then Vladimir Zhirinovsky is the poster boy.” Viewpoints on the forthcoming elections can be found here. Gazprom has revealed how it charges for gas, in a bid for transparency that “is likely to kill off talk of political motives behind price increases.” The company has upgraded gas reserves in the giant Shtokman field to 3.8 trillion cubic meters, and is to create an operating company, which will plan, finance and build Shtokman’s first phase, by Dec. 20. Ukraine and Russia have agreed principles of natural gas pricing for the medium term. Merrill Lynch has bought a 10% stake in Trust Banking Group, a company formerly controlled by Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The current managers bought it from Khodorkovsky’s Menatep Group in 2004 “to distance it from the billionaire and his now-bankrupt Yukos.” Anatoly Chubais, the head of Unified Energy System, insists that he will resist Gazprom’s efforts to snap up large chunks of the power sector, which is “threatening to undermine the government’s large-scale reform of the industry.” Chubais is currently overseeing the breakup of the UES electricity monopoly in a bid to make the sector competitive. Deputy Finance Minister Andrey Vavilov wants Russia’s stabilization fund money invested in Western stock market indexes. Nordic banks “are expanding into new markets including Russia and Ukraine” to boost growth as the expansion of the Baltic economies slows down. SABMiller, the London-listed brewer, highlighted the growth potential of the Russian beer market, saying that “Russia is one of the most exciting markets in the world.” Investment firm Prosperity Capital Management said on Friday it has postponed the London listing of its Russian electricity fund, New Russian Generation, due to poor market conditions. Russia’s fourth-largest oil producer, Surgutneftegas, plans to increase production with a $3 billion investment plan this year. As it has already signaled, Russia has announced that it will suspend its compliance with the key Cold War arms treaty, the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. The moratorium is understood by NATO officials as legitimate. The European Union’s Russia policy is “now in tatters”. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has expressed support for Russia and Ukraine joining the World Trade Organisation. According to NASA officials, when the space shuttle fleet is retired in 2010, the United States will be dependent on “an increasingly hostile Russia” for five years to give American astronauts access to the International Space Station. Russia’s lower house of parliament has ratified an intergovernmental agreement on restructuring Cuba’s $166 million post-Soviet debt to Russia. Australia has been named as the world’s worst polluter. Russia was ranked lower than China and the US, with 661m tonnes of CO2 output per year. 29 members of a Russian sect have taken up residence in a remote cave in order to wait for the end of the world.