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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Oct. 11, 2007

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Serena Williams of the US hits a return against Ukraine’s Tatiana Perebiynis during their Kremlin Cup tennis match in Moscow, October 11, 2007. (REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin (RUSSIA))

Russia’s Economic Development and Trade Ministry has suggested establishing a state agency whose sole purpose would be the worldwide promotion of Russia. Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov has appointed Vasily Yakemenko, leader of pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi, to head the newly established State Committee for Youth Affairs. Government control over the nuclear weapons and power sector will increase if the State Duma approves a bill to create a state nuclear energy corporation, called for by President Vladimir Putin in his state-of-the-nation address in April. The open letter from Russian law enforcement official Viktor Cherkesov regarding in-fighting and power struggles in the Kremlin has “confirmed fears that the Russian elites […] are engaged in private turf wars.” One analyst commented, “this is the reason behind Putin wanting to keep control after next year. He is the only person who has the authority to carry out a balancing act between these forces.” Putin’s future plans are still a hot topic for discussion. “Every Russian or Soviet leader changes the structure of government to serve his own tactical interests.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy has met with “some of Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics” during his current visit to Russia, “risk[ing] the anger of the Kremlin.” Regarding relations with Iran, the issue most carefully followed by the global press during the two-day talks between the presidents, Sarkozy said, “I was told [by Putin] that the Iranians are ready to cooperate. […] Maybe we have the wrong analysis of matters in Iran.” The two “gave only minor indications that they had found common ground on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program,” and optimism over the meeting has dissipated somewhat, with Putin reportedly saying, “We do not have information that Iran is trying to create a nuclear weapon. We operate on the principle that Iran does not have those plans.” But, he said, the Kremlin shared the West’s concern that Tehran’s nuclear programme should be “transparent”. In contrast to his evasive comments over Iran made during the French President’s visit, Putin said elsewhere that the two countries most threatened by Iran are Israel and Russia, and that two are “complete partners in this matter.” Putin has also accused the European Union of ignoring moves by the bloc’s members Estonia and Latvia to glorify Nazism. “Some facts we come up against in several countries of Eastern Europe provoke surprise and incomprehension,” he said, although it is Poland that apparently “remains Russia’s most staunch enemy in the Central European region.” The British embassy in Moscow has denied the allegations, made by Russian spy chief Nikolai Patrushev, that MI6 is hatching a plot to “dismember” Russia. “We don’t interfere in internal politics.” The British press has not taken kindly to the allegations, which one newspaper referred to as “an outburst of passive-aggressive paranoia”. Russia’s leading banks have become more transparent over the past year, but progress has been uneven, according to a new report by Standard & Poor’s. “There is a general trend toward transparency,” said one of the report’s authors, but the report itself says that “this positive trend is inconsistent across the individual banks.” Sakhalin Energy, the operator of the Sakhalin II oil and gas project in Russia’s Far East, has already signed $10 billion worth of contracts with Russian companies under the project. Former electricity monopoly Unified Energy System will delay the sale of its OGK-6 subsidiary until market conditions improve. UES’s former executives, Leonid Melamed and Dmitry Zhurba, plan to raise as much as $10 billion to invest in Russian electricity assets by 2010, with plans to invest $2.5 billion this year alone. Regarding Putin’s comment this week that Russian businesses need to rely more on Russian managers, one analyst responded that Putin is “playing up pre-election patriotism and reiterating his nationalist stance toward the natural resources sector.” A Shell executive, speaking at an investment forum this week, said that Russia “must work with foreign oil majors if it wishes to keep pace as a leading energy supplier on global markets”. Officials from the Belarusian Energy Ministry and state-owned gas transit company Beltransgaz will negotiate 2008 natural gas prices with Russia’s Gazprom in Moscow. LSR Group, a Russian real estate and building materials group, is planning to raise up to $1.5bn (£750m) from a dual listing in London and Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin has approved a set of goals for the country’s demographic policy up to 2025. Russia’s population, currently at about 142 million, may fall by one third by the middle of the century. The country plans to invest almost 500 billion rubles ($19.3 billion) in socio-demographic programs to 2010. New data reveals that 96% of all immigrants to Russia in 2007 were natives of the CIS, with migrants mostly from Uzbek nations and Ukraine. A new crew bound for the International Space Station, including Malaysia’s first astronaut and the first woman assigned to command the station, has blasted off aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.