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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Oct. 2, 2007

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President Vladimir Putin looks on while attending a congress of the United Russia party in Moscow, Monday Oct. 1, 2007, at which he suggested he could become prime minister, the strongest indication yet that he will seek to retain power after he steps down as president early next year. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

Today’s news has been dominated by the “bombshell” announcement, interpreted as “crass political manipulation” in a “quasi-democracy”, that Vladimir Putin will head the election list of United Russia in December’s parliamentary election, and could therefore also become prime minister next year. A transcription of his announcement can be found here. “The market will like it — the market likes whatever Putin does,” commented one businessman. Putin’s announcement will, of course, deal a severe blow to A Just Russia, the other pro-Kremlin party: “A Just Russia is a tool that is not needed anymore”; and a United Russia victory in the next elections is “virtually guaranteed”. There is also a “Vladimir Putin” on the liberal Yabloko party’s regional list – part of a “rich tradition” of attempting to confuse the electorate. The press continues to profile Garry Kasparov, emphasising not the possibility of his party’s success, but of the importance of free elections. The most recent meeting of Putin and his government has been written up as a “pantomime”. Putin’s announcement caused Russian stocks to rise in London as investors responded positively to the news that his economic influence would likely continue. Russian mutual funds have suffered losses this month of roughly 1.8bn roubles, possibly due to the withdrawal of money by top clients. MegaFon, Russia’s third-largest telecoms company, could supersede its competitors if its latest accounts are an indicator of future progress. Billionaire Alisher Usmanov denied a report saying that he is in talks with TeliaSonera about buying its stake in a telecommunications company that has a holding in MegaFon. Usmanov’s recent purchase of the Rostropovich art collection has been donated to a St. Petersburg presidential residence “on the orders of” President Putin. Russian state railway operator RZD is in talks with Deutsche Bahn to acquire a Polish rail freight company, thought to be PKP Cargo. Russian car dealer Motorika said it would build a $100 million factory in Ethiopia to assemble customized Lada Nivas to serve as ambulances in hard-to-reach rural areas. Metals tycoon Vladimir Potanin will buy out Mikhail Prokhorov’s stake in Interros, their joint-owned holding company, and the two are apparently in the process of separating their various business interests, which include stakes in Norilsk Nickel and Polyus. Polymetal reported a first-half loss of $7.7 million from a profit of $27 million the previous year as it battled with falling production. State control is spreading amongst Russian businesses and NGOs, with state funding being handed out to both: “Private businesses, like the NGOs, are feeling pressure to team up with the state as state companies snap up oil and gas assets,” and the Russian military have turned to one NGO, the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees, for members to serve on its draft boards. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that Washington is concerned about the “concentration of power” in Russia, and The new chief of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, said that Russia will have to give up some of its power at the Fund as part of a much-needed reform. Russia and China may agree in November to build an oil pipeline. Russia has loaned its voice to the condemnation of recent militant attacks in Darfur, but has declared Georgia “anti-democratic”. Russia has sent technicians to upgrade Syria’s air defense system, and Russian warplane exercises around Alaska and Canada have become routine in the past few months. The Second International Nuclear Forum will open this week in St. Petersburg. If the re-election of Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine is confirmed, Russia may cut off gas supplies to the region as it did in 2005.