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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept. 17, 2007

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Astronauts Faiz Khaleed (R) of Malaysia, Michael Fincke of the U.S. (L) and Salizhan Sharipov of Russia wave as they start their exams in Star City Cosmonaut Training Centre outside Moscow, September 17, 2007. (Photo: REUTERS/Sergei Remezov)

Backing his assertion that the race for the presidency is wide open, Vladimir Putin has discussed five possible successors to his presidency, including Victor Zubkov, Yabloko’s Grigory Yavlinksy, and the Communist Party’s Gennady Zyuganov, although he did not mention Sergei Ivanov or Dmitry Medvedev without prompting. The Guardian reported that analysts believe Putin might want a weak one-term president so that he can return to power in 2012, and the BBC reported that Putin is likely to remain an influential political figure. An International Herald Tribune editorial argues that Putin’s Russia shows “distinct echoes of the Soviet Union”. The Times asserts that the next President will be the candidate with Kremlin backing, and Radio Free Europe discusses the siloviki’s control over Russian political life. Investors are remaining “cautious” as they await the appointment of the new government. Yabloko’s Yavlinsky spoke optimistically about his party winning a spot in the next Duma, and in “full-scale PR action”, the United Russia party held a Day of Jogging on the weekend, attracting 10,000 participants. It has emerged that Denis Manturov, a close ally of Putin and head of Oboronprom, was appointed deputy industry and energy minister the day before the resignation of Mikhail Fradkov. It is thought that First Vice Premier Dmitry Medvedev will vacate his post, and is expected to replace Alexey Miller as Gazprom CEO. Whilst France is warning the world to prepare for war with Iran, it has been reported that enriched uranium fuel is ready to be shipped from Russia to Iran’s first nuclear power plant. On leaving his post as Indian Ambassador to Moscow, Kanwal Sibal said that “Moscow will be the first to benefit from nuclear cooperation between India and the United States.” Finland’s Defense Ministry suspects Russian IL-76 military-cargo of intruding on Finland’s airspace. The Sunday Times wrote that Britain “is finding the reshaped Russia uncomfortable to live with,” and ponders the possible onset of a new Cold War. The Independent reported that Putin said Russia has no intention of cutting oil and gas production, and regional energy reports are predicting increased gas output from Siberia. Gazprom and German utility E.On have agreed to spend a combined $8.6bn gaining control of two power generators belonging to United Energy System, the national utility being split up by the state. British energy minister Malcolm Wicks is in the Caspian region this week to lobby for a gas pipeline that would supply Europe directly with gas – and bypass Russia. Rexam’s $297 million purchase of Russia’s Rostar was blocked by the country’s antitrust body which said the combination would distort competition in the beverage can industry, although its real reasons for blocking the move likely have more to do with the fact that Rostar is owned by Oleg Deripaska. Bankers are speculating that the recent rush of Russian IPOs could be hit by the turmoil in global markets. Russia’s cellular giant MTS has paid €310 million to buy out 80% of K-Telecom, Armenia’s biggest operator. The big story in the UK press today is that Andrei Lugovoi, the former Federal Guard Service officer wanted in Britain for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, could soon have immunity from prosecution, as he intends to make a bid for a Duma seat, thanks to some help from Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Salavat Karimov, who led the investigation of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is retiring from the Prosecutor General’s Office. Nezavisimaya Gazeta said it feared the authorities were trying to silence its critical reporting by arresting its deputy editor, Boris Zemtsov, last week on extortion charges. Moscow’s Basmanny Court has detained Shamil Buraev, the former chief of Achkhoi-Martan in Chechnya, on suspicion of “arranging” the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. And from the BBC today: Russia blasts gerbils into space