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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept. 19, 2007

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Representatives of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party and the opposition Communist Party debate in the Interfax news agency office in Moscow on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007. (Photo: AP)

This week the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, or RSPP, which represents the country’s biggest business groups, will meet with Putin during a three-day investment forum in Sochi amid mounting speculation that major changes at the top of Russia’s economic ministries and state-run companies are being considered. Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has resigned from his position in a move that one Kremlin spokesman said “shows that Russia is a European country.” Serdyukov is married to the new Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov’s daughter. Lukoil CEO Vagit Alekperov, his wife and son have raised their holdings in the company, buying $22m of Lukoil stock. A Public Opinion Fund Poll indicated that, at this stage, A Just Russia would not have enough support to win seats in the Duma elections. The Soviet era dissident and human rights campaigner Sergei Kovalyov has joined up as the #2 candidate of the Yabloko party. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told visiting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that neither military force nor unilateral sanctions were acceptable in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. Following a meeting with his Iraqi counterpart, Lavrov said that Iraq was interested in expanding Russia’s role in its post-war revival and pledged to ensure greater security for Russian companies. The European Commission proposed that energy giants sell off their power grids and gas pipelines in order to boost competition and investment and shield markets from outsiders such as Gazprom, saying that “foreign predators must be banned from EU markets”. The proposal was attacked by Alexander Shokhin, head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs as being “against the free market spirit of the European Union”. At a shareholder meeting of the recently seized company Russneft, former Itera and Sibneft senior executive, Alexander Korsik, was supposedly nominated to run the company by Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska’s Basic Element is still awaiting regulatory approval to complete the purchase of Russneft. Kommersant published a special report on nationalization in the Russian oil sector, focusing on the privatisation of shares in Rosneft and Gazprom. A unit of Gazprom has hired a group of international banks to raise $2.2bn for a three-year loan to expand its production and refining business. TNK-BP, Russia’s third-largest oil firm, wants to start hydrocarbon exploration and production in Venezuela. Russia is not immune to turmoil in the global financial markets, but the Moscow Times argues that its position is “favorable” due to strong reserves and a fiscal surplus. A Central Bank of Russia poll reveals that Russian banks view credit issues as posing the greatest risks to the market and liquidity. Transtelecom, the communications arm of state-run Russian Railways, has opened an office in Beijing in an effort to promote its planned digital telecoms link with Asia. ST Towers is to spend $2bn on building a tower in Moscow that would be Europe’s tallest. Celtic Resources Holdings, a miner of gold, copper and molybdenum in Kazakhstan and Russia, has received a takeover offer. Analysts point to Severstal, which already owns 22% in the company, as the potential buyer. BHP Billiton has announced it will boost exploration in a number of countries including Russia. The Guardian revealed that Landsbanki acted as a broker for Usmanov’s investment vehicle Red & White Holdings in its purchase of a 21% stake in Arsenal Football Club. After yesterday’s visit to the Russian-operated radar station in Gabala, Azerbaijan, US General Patrick O’Reilly, who led the “technical-level” delegation, said that the Pentagon was committed to cooperation with Russia on missile defense, but the director of the Pentagon’s missile-defense program said that the Soviet-era early warning system was incapable of replacing a tracking radar the United States had proposed basing in the Czech Republic. A spokesman for Putin responded that Russia was ready to upgrade the system to suit US requirements. Russia is to create a stock of enriched uranium worth $300m, to be kept in the International Centre for Uranium Enrichment in Angarsk, according to Rosatom, the Federal Atomic Energy Agency. The move was made in order to “further the cause of non-proliferation”. A Russian diplomat said that a UN and World Bank Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) initiative may enable Russia to recover up to $200 billion assets stolen by corrupt leaders, but World Bank chief Robert Zoellick said that the initiative was aimed at poor African countries, not Russia. US Press Secretary Dana Perino apparently missed out on news of the vacuum bomb tested by Russia last week, while detective novels based in the Tsarist era are becoming wildly popular.