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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Nov. 23, 2007

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Residents of Manturovo settlement listen to Andrei Lugovoy, a former KGB officer named as a suspect in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London last year, during their meeting in the southwestern Russian Kursk region November 22, 2007. The meeting was part of Lugovoy’s campaign as candidate for the nationalist LDPR party in next month’s parliamentary elections. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov (RUSSIA)

Former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, head of the Russian People’s Democratic Union, says he is the target of a vast, pro-Kremlin conspiracy to undermine his goal of shaking up an authoritarian political system after a number instances of “harassment”. Andrei Lugovoi is using his new-found reputation (as suspect in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, who died one year ago) to try and drum up support for his party, although to little effect. President Vladimir Putin’s references to the “enemy” in his political speeches “never reflect reality [and have] one main function: to mobilize supporters.” United Russia officially declared it wouldn’t take part in the election debates broadcast by local and federal TV channels, but some 13% of respondents questioned thought they spotted debating envoys of United Russia on TV in the first week of broadcast all the same. Russia’s Interior Ministry has accused four Agriculture Ministry officials, employees of Rosselkhoznadzor, of accepting a bribe worth more than 16 million rubles. Three Russian generals have been fired, according to an aide to the defense minister, after Putin “criticized ministry officials for inefficiency.” The final word on the election monitoring row has been issued by the Russian foreign ministry, which accused the OSCE of “a flagrant unwillingness to follow the regulations established in Russian legislation and an attempt to impose a monitoring system that was a product of the office’s own invention.” Russian Central Election Commission head Vladimir Churov said, “We have done our part, we have invited them and done everything for the beginning of the preparation of the mission’s work.” Putin is set to officially unite Russia’s nuclear power producers into the United Nuclear Industrial Corporation in a move aimed at doubling the nuclear component of national power generation by 2030. Russia’s power industry is enticing for investors “because it is one of the world’s fastest-growing.” The Chief of Russia’s Federal Customs Service has confirmed intentions to differentiate between exporters and importers depending on how transparently law-abiding they are, and “granting preference to [the] bona fide”. Gazprom’s plans to raise natural gas prices for Europe by at least 20 percent next year could generate more cash for a faster development of its giant Arctic fields, but could negatively affect future demand. Mercury Group, the Russian franchisee for European luxury-goods makers including PPR’s Gucci unit, expects sales to rise 50% in 2007 as a booming economy fuels demand for luxury goods. Germany’s E.ON has increased its stake in OGK-4 from 70.4% to 72.7%. Russian steel firm Maxi Group said its owner would sell a majority stake to Novolipetsk Steel by the end of the year after a deal to sell to billionaire Alisher Usmanov fell through. The growth of Russian insurer Ingosstrakh, controlled by Oleg Deripaska’s Basic Element, is seeing its growth “hampered by a shareholder dispute”. A recent report by the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness at Harvard Business School says that Russia, despite being among the world’s leading emerging economies, remains “uncompetitive”. A British professor and human rights lawyer, who has represented Chechens who have accused the Russian military of abuse, has been expelled from Russia for having the wrong type of visa. The Federal Migration Service denied any political motive. A spokesman said: “One should be careful about one’s visa. A foreigner visiting Russia with a tourist visa cannot work here.” President Putin and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi have “blessed” a joint venture between Gazprom and Eni to carry out a feasibility study into the South Stream pipeline. “The South Stream project has a strategic significance to ensure energy security for Europe,” said Putin. The $14.8 billion project would send 30 billion cubic meters of Russian gas to Europe annually. In some attempts at compromise on the missile defense question, Washington has reportedly agreed to concede and allow the Russian military to monitor missile facilities in Eastern Europe and postpone the start of the operation of a missile base in Poland. There is little optimism about whether or not this will make any difference, however, and Russia is said to be “disappointed” with the offer.