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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept. 14, 2007

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Who says I’m colorless? New Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov holds flowers at the parliament in Moscow on Friday, Sept. 14, 2007. (Photo: AP)

The Duma has approved Viktor Zubkov, Vladimir Putin’s surprise Prime Minister, a move which is being compared to Boris Yeltsin’s appointment of Putin as PM in 1999. Zubkov addressed the final configuration of the previous government line-up prior to the vote, placing emphasis on rebuilding Russia’s military-industrial complex and on combating corruption, calling it a “major issue in our efforts to increase the effectiveness of the state administration.” Analysts are more skeptical. “Corruption is ubiquitous in Russia. It is the very texture of Russian life,” Masha Lipman told the MT. The Times of London reports that the reshuffle could strengthen party politics in Russia, and an editorial in The Guardian argues that “Elections in Russia are less about offering genuine choice than providing a chance for voters to affirm a candidate who has already been anointed.” Putin implied today that Zubkov was in the running for the presidency. Also today, Putin has dismissed the commander of the Russian Navy. Russian cities Norilsk and Dzerzhinsk are on an annual list of the ten dirtiest places in the world, as compiled by US ecological organization the Blacksmith Institute. Rosneft, Gazprom and LUKoil have all made it into Platts’ annual Top 250 Global Energy Companies list. The number of Russian companies in the rating has almost doubled since last year. The Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel Works is to receive a $507m loan for its largest investment project this decade, announced a consortium of banks including Deutsche Bank and ABN Amro. In anticipation of a possible buy-out, Oleg Deripaska’s, Basic Element has been “aggressively” acquiring bonds of fallen oligarch Mikhail Gutseriev’s Russneft. The vice president of Transneft, Yury Lisin, has been made acting head of the company after Semyon Vainshtok stepped down in order to take over preparations for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The deputy head of the Federal Service for Financial Markets has called for the state to tap the phone lines of financial institutions to help crack down on insider trading. Plans for a US missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic have hit obstacles in Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia – Russia is already an opponent of the plan. The debate over ownership of Arctic territory is set to arise in May 2008. José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, says that proposed procedures to bar foreign investors from buying energy assets in Europe are not targeted at the Russia’s state-run energy companies, but it is thought that limits could possibly affect the Gazprom monopoly. Russia’s intention to withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty has provoked the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to call for a conference on the matter, pleading that the treaty is in Europe’s interests. Due to impending gambling restrictions, the owners of Ritzio Entertainment, Russia’s largest gambling operator, are in talks to buy franchise rights to Virgin Megastores. An editor at a Russian newspaper has been detained on suspicion of blackmailing a senior official. And a Moscow-based political think thank, the Middle East Institute, has called US President George Bush’s announcement of a partial withdrawal from Iraq “a pure PR move.” The global media is obsessed with the beginning of the trial of the “Bitsevsky Maniac” – Moscow’s worst serial killer in decades (49 murders), who would routinely lead his victims to the corner of Bitsevsky Park to visit his pet dog’s grave before bludgeoning them with a bottle. America’s biggest diaper company announced plans to build a factory in Russia.