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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept. 25, 2007

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Russia’s newly appointed Health Minister Tatiyana Golikova, left, and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, right, are seen at a Cabinet meeting in Moscow, Monday, Sept. 24, 2007. (Photo: AP)

President Vladimir Putin’s new cabinet has finally been announced. In a surprising development, the cabinet remains largely unchanged, with Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev keeping their same positions. Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin was promoted to deputy prime minister; Putin’s longtime ally Dmitry Kozak was named regional development minister; and two women joined the cabinet. Putin refused to accept the resignation of Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who submitted his resignation last week because the new Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov is his father-in-law. The delay over the announcement of the new government remains unclear. A recent poll by the Yuri Levada Analytical Center indicates that Russians rank social issues as more urgent than economic issues in terms of what they expect from their new government. Sergei Mironov, the head of Russia’s upper house of parliament, said that Zubkov could become the next president, but added, “I want Vladimir Putin to be the president in 2012.” Garry Kasparov has been chosen as candidate for next year’s presidential elections by Other Russia. Putin is to appear in an advertising campaign for the Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid, Russia’s most widely-circulated newspaper. There are increasing concerns that Nashi, the pro-Kremlin youth group, is becoming a militia of sorts. “When young, lively people are politically indoctrinated and given the backing of the State, they feel invincible. And that is very dangerous.” Moscow City Court has sustained the absentee arrest of Boris Berezovsky, who currently resides in London. Steel magnate Alexei Mordashov is on a spending spree. He bought a 30.4% stake in Power Machines, Russia’s leading turbine maker, from Vladimir Potanin’s Interros holding, out-bidding fellow Kremlin-friendly billionaire Oleg Deripaska. Mordashov’s Severstal also raised its stake in gold miner Celtic Resources by 4.6% in a deal worth over $12m, fueling speculation that the steel firm would make a full bid for the London-listed company. Celtic Resources, however, rejected Severstal’s subsequent takeover offer, saying it was too low. Uralkali, the world’s fifth-biggest potash producer, has revived plans to list on the London Stock Exchange. Alrosa, which accounts for 97% of Russian and 25% of global diamond output, is to hold an initial public offering within the next 18 months. The Kimberly-Clark Corporation is planning to construct its first manufacturing facility in Russia. Freedom House’s annual Countries at the Crossroads Report described Russia as having “a model of governance that denies basic political rights and shuns democratic accountability,” and said that Putin’s sovereign democracy “contains little in the way of genuine democratic governance”. Russia’s Federal Tax Service could be looking to crack down on tax evasion by the country’s richest people through the creation of a new unit to scrutinize their financial activities, in a move to “check and control the oligarchs”, although such a unit would not be implemented for some time. Putin has also revised the structure of federal executive bodies as part of his desire to appear to be fighting corruption. The website of Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, was taken down after billionaire Alisher Usmanov threatened legal action over allegations it made about his past imprisonment. The website of Boris Johnson, London mayoral candidate, was also affected, as his site was held on the same server as that of Murray. Johnson was not pleased, saying it was “unbelievable that a web site can be wiped out on the say-so of some tycoon.” The Russian delegation will hold negotiations in Geneva this week with Saudi Arabia regarding Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), of which it has sought membership since 2005. Could Russia’s shared interests with Iran be clouding the issuing of sanctions? An increasingly assertive Russian stance is forcing Europe’s Nordic nations to toughen up their traditionally accommodating approach.