Today in Russian Business – Feb 13th, 2009

The idea of merging Norilsk Nickel with several other Russian miners is generally agreed to have no merit, and to be a means of merely unloading company debts onto the state, but mergers have not been ruled out entirely, suggests one of the company’s chief executives.  The ruble has been steadily strengthening this week, making its biggest gain against the dollar since 1998.  Adding to yesterday’s threats, Alexander Bastrykin is now claiming that officials in the Finance Ministry have embezzled $18 million, but again referred only to ‘a former and current deputy finance minister’.  Officials later said that Bastrykin was accusing Sergei Storchak and the former deputy minister Vadim Volkov.  Some see the attack as a sign of renewed pressure by hardliners on liberal Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, and some say the accusations are politically motivated. ‘These people can’t go after Kudrin, because he is too close to Putin, but they can go after his subordinates,’ suggested a Uralsib analyst.  Stora Enso will delay its plans to build a paper and pulp mill in Nizhny Novgorod.  The $1.5 billion Russia Tower skyscraper may find a new home after original development plans fell through due to lack of funds.