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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept. 28, 2007

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Sergey Lavrov, minister of foreign affairs of the Russian Federation speaks to the press at the presentation of Russia Today and Rusia al-Yaum English and Arabic news channels, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2007 in New York. (AP Photo/Dima Gavrysh)

In his first cabinet meeting since the reshuffle, Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov chastised Russian banks for failing to offer credit to domestic companies and said it was a “disgrace” they had to turn to foreign banks for loans. A senior United Russia official, on condition of anonymity, said that first deputy prime minister and presidential front-runner Sergei Ivanov could be put at the top of the party’s federal candidate list for December’s State Duma elections. “This is a really good option. We are seriously considering it.” The transfer of supervision over the federal target programs, worth over 500 billion rubles annually, from the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade to the Ministry of Regional Development is not proceeding peacefully. According to a survey conducted by the Public Opinion Fund, 53% of Russians think that Zubkov should change government policy, although only 2% of Russians looked negatively on Zubkov’s appointment as prime minister. Could Vladimir Putin support Valentina Matviyenko, the governor of St Petersburg, in next year’s presidential elections? Or has he convinced himself that “he is the only one who could “save” the Russian nation, and the job is unfinished”? A court in east Siberia has extended the custody of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, ex-head of Yukos, for another three months over a new probe. Steel pipe giant TMK said this year’s first-half profits had risen 26%. VTB Group reported a 12.5% drop in first-half net profits but is “well positioned to sit out the global financial crisis”. According to the Central Bank’s deputy chairman, local banks will increase mortgage-lending rates and some may temporarily curb mortgage lending because of the rise in borrowing costs. Russian carmaker Gaz Group is to team up with Canada’s Magna International, hoping to regain popularitythrough radical restructuring and modernization”. Russia is currently three to five times less efficient in its energy usage than Western European neighbors. Engineering company NPO Energomash, which makes rocket engines for U.S. firm Lockheed Martin, was approached by a lawyer for a €7m ($9.9m) bribe to reinstate its export license which was frozen in May, according to company spokesman Yury Korotkov. Another corruption scandal at the Accounting Chamber: chief inspector Sergey Klimantov and first deputy head of the administration of Vladivostok, Sergey Dubovitsky, were arrested for allegedly extorting $120,000 from a Moscow firm in exchange for removing violations from an audit. Surgutneftegaz will build a $6 billion refinery, capable of processing 12 million tons of oil a year, by 2011 to meet growing demand for gasoline and other oil products. The project to build a luxury island off of Sochi will taken on by Abu Dhabi-based Allied Business Consultants, who will spend $6.2 billion. Vladimir Yakunin, the president of Russian Railways, has been interviewed by the Moscow Times. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov exchanged harsh remarks over their stance on Iran at a working luncheon of G8 foreign ministers this week, due to “obvious tactical differences”. According to French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, China and Russia will block any effort to impose further United Nations sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program for as long as four months. Moscow wants to see a UN agency report on Tehran’s past suspicious nuclear work before it will consider new sanctions. The joint Russian-U.S. naval exercise Pacific Eagle 2007, which has started in the Amur Gulf, near Vladivostok, will include mine-sweeping and anti-submarine operations. Interceptor missiles deployed in Poland as part of a US missile defense shield would be fast enough to target Russian intercontinental missiles, contrary to US assurances, says Ted Postol, a US researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. India and Russia held discussions on the possibility of cooperation in space exploration, manned space flights in particular. Roscosmos head Anatoliy Perminov emphasized that Russia regards India as its principal partner in the development of such a program. Chinese President Hu Jintao has met with Sergei Mironov, who’s chairman of the Russian Federation Council to discuss Sino-Russian ties. Hu Jintao says this year’s “Chinese Year in Russia” has received positive feedback, and said he hopes legislators on both sides will work for the development of relations between the two countries. A group of Saratov journalists has written an open letter to President Putin, asking him to protect them from persecution by officials of pro-Kremlin party United Russia. The letter cites a September report in the Saratovsky Rasklad weekly that State Duma Deputy Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin purportedly injured a woman with a spearfishin gun. Putin on the 2014 Sochi Winter Games: “When we talk about the environment, we unfortunately have to admit that at this point in a city of half a million people there is no proper sewage system, electricity supply or infrastructure. All this will have to be resolved in preparation for the Olympics.” London is holding a new Russian Film Festival this fall. Papers released at London’s National Archives show that the British felt the need to protect Rudolf Hess, who spent 42 years in prison as a Nazi criminal, from Moscow’s desire that he “drink his retribution to the bottom of the cup“, and that Russia blocked UK plans to release him.