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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Oct. 5, 2007

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Members of pro-Kremlin youth organisations rally near cardboard cut-outs of President Putin and United Russia party leader Boris Gryzlov. (Photo: Reuters)

Putin’s decision to head the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party’s list of candidates for the December 2 Duma elections will upsetthe Putin administration’s efforts to develop at least the appearance of a two-party pluralist political system.” Amidst criticism of state-run companies, Putin sent a draft law to the State Duma this week to establish a state-run atomic energy corporation. Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov has dismissed Sergei Oganesyan, head of the state agency that coordinates oil exports, supposedly at his own request. Oganesyan’s resignation “could be linked to the planned merger of Transneft and Transnefteprodukt.” At the most recent government meeting, Zubkov instructed the Economic Development Ministry to pay greater attention to improving the quality of analysis and forecasts of Russia’s social and economic advance. Grigory Yavlinsky of the Yabloko party is touring the country to win support in the next election, talking about the ways in which “misguided economic reforms in the 1990s ha[ve] produced the systemic corruption Russia has today”. Dresdner Bank plans to expand its private wealth management business in Russia. Siemens AG, Germany’s largest engineering company, formed a “strategic partnership” with Alexei Mordashov, CEO of Severstal, to control Power Machines after the billionaire bought 30% of Russia’s largest turbine maker. Siemens and Mordashov now control 55% of Power Machines. Evraz Group SA, Russia’s second-largest steelmaker, said first-half profit almost doubled due to rising prices. Funds accumulated from Swedish-owned, Russian-based Black Earth Farming’s forthcoming IPO in Stockholm would be used to expand the company’s land holdings in southern Russia, adding to a “growing number of foreign players looking to run large-scale farming projects in the country”. Russia has received its first liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers, built in Japan for Russia’s largest shipping company, Sovkomflot. Russia may soon resume wine imports from the Georgian breakaway republic of Abkhazia. “Neglect” of European energy security has allowed Gazprom, Russia’s natural-gas export monopoly, to invest “billions of euros” in western companies, “seeking de facto control”. Gazprom said Ukraine cut its use of the fuel by almost 30% in the first three days of this month. President Putin has met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev at the annual border regions forum in Novosibirsk, exhibiting apparently frosty relations, likely due to problems and delays on various strategic partnerships. A Russian military base in Tajikistan, on the central Asian border, is to be re-armed with new and upgraded military equipment. Russia has expressed concern about discrimination against ethnic Russian communities in Latvia and Estonia following a Russian-EU consultation on human rights. The Russian press, including Kommersant, has picked up on a pro-Putin article published in yesterday’s Times. ABC News will be permitted to send a correspondent to its Moscow bureau two years after having had foreign correspondents frozen out of Russia by the government. Following the airing of an ABC interview with Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev, Russia refused to let foreign journalists into the country. October 7 marks the one year anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya’s death, but it is still perceived that “physical intimidation and murder remain constants feature of Russia’s media landscape.” Opposition activists plan to rally in central Moscow to commemorate the occasion and demand free elections in a ‘Dissenters’ March’, organized by former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Construction workers have stumbled upon 34 skeletons in a cellar a few hundred meters from the Kremlin, in what may be proof of a Soviet secret police execution site in the center of Moscow. In June, Putin said that Russians should not have a cult of guilt about the Stalin era because “in other countries even worse things happened“. Nikolai Petrov, a researcher with an organisation dedicated to exposing Soviet political repression, said of the discovery: “At a time when Stalin is being rehabilitated and held up as a hero, this reminds us of the true horror of those days.”