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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Oct. 31, 2007

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Russian President Vladimir Putin hugs Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II while visiting Butovo, a site south of Moscow, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2007. The Butovo firing range was used for executions from 1930 until after Stalin’s death in 1953. Some 20,000 people, including priests and artists, were killed there in 1937-38 alone. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel, Pool)

Recent demonstrations calling for Vladimir Putin to stand for an illegal third term “were not entirely an expression of free will,” as reportedly “hundreds of students and state railway workers were ordered to attend demonstrations.” United Russia’s refusal to engage in televised debates with other rival parties ahead of the December elections “robs the Communists of their only viable counterpart.” A spokesman for United Russia said, “We are indeed not going to participate in the debates, and we intend to use the time allotted by the law for explaining the main thing to the voters — Putin’s Plan.” The Central Elections Commission plans to increase voter turnout by facilitating the homeless vote. The State Duma has begun sending out invitations to international observers to monitor the upcoming elections less than five weeks before the Dec. 2 elections. The lateness of the invitations has “raised uncertainty among observers, who said any delay made their work more difficult.” Putin has paid tribute to victims of Soviet-era repression, visiting a firing range in Butovo where more than 20,000 people were killed during Stalin’s terror. He used the opportunity to call for political pluralism. “Political disputes, battles and a struggle between opinions are necessary, but this process should be creative rather than destructive.” Grigory Yavlinsky, the leader of the liberal opposition Yabloko party, commented: “When he takes Stalin out of Red Square, then we’ll have something to talk about.” Putin’s live question-and-answer session earlier this month was mainly about “military rearmament and the country’s accession to the WTO; in some respects, the two goals contradict each other.” Gazprom’s biggest minority holder, the German company E.On, has pressed for changes in procedures for overseas sales. E.On’s proposal has received “no comment” from Gazprom. Unified Energy System aims to raise at least $40 billion from share sales in units by next summer as the state passes power generation into the hands of investors. Troika Dialog has agreed to buy a 7.9% stake in Ursa Bank, one of the country’s largest regional lenders. JW Construction, Poland’s largest homebuilder, will expand its operations in Russia by investing $23 million in two projects in Sochi. Profits at Russia’s largest state-controlled crude producer Rosneft have increased almost 20% in 2007. Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, aims to raise about $1-1.5 billion through the listing of its Global Depositary Receipts on the London stock market next year. Diversified company Sistema, which is largely funded by Russia’s mobile phone operator Mobile TeleSystems, intends to invest $100 million a year for the next four years in expanding its healthcare services. Metals giant RusAl has completed the final phase of a project to build an aluminum plant in south Siberia. The United States expects to complete a program of security improvements for Russia’s network of strategic nuclear rocket forces this week. The improvements intend to ensure that none of Russia’s nuclear materials fall out of government control. Georgetown University has hosted a conference dedicated to the economy and geopolitics of Russia’s power industry, with a view to determining how US-Russia relations would be affected should Russia turn into an energy superpower. The most unfavorable scenario, the participants of the conference concluded, would be “Russia’s emergence as the second Saudi Arabia.” Iranian President Mahhmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking hours before he was due to meet Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Tehran, said his country would not back down on its nuclear stance. Lavrov said, “We will firmly stick to the resolutions of the UN Security Council” regarding settlement of the issue. During the meeting, he urged Iran to continue working with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, and to “do it as actively as possible, to clarify all questions that the international community has regarding Iran’s previous nuclear program.” Other sources say that Iran has accepted Russian proposals and is ready to work with Moscow on the details on implementing them. A spokesman for Ahmadinejad quoted the president as saying: “The Islamic Republic of Iran has serious plans to develop cooperation with Russia.” Kazakhstan and Russia intend to intensify cooperation on fuel and energy projects. Russia could sign an agreement with India this month to build another four power units for the Kudankulam nuclear power plant. The British government has refused a parliamentary request for it to publish two official reports about the activities of Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov. At least seven people have been killed in what is being called a terrorist explosion on a bus in the southern Russian city of Togliatti.