WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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March 24

IZVESTIA

On January 1, 2005, a new accumulation system for housing provision to servicemen will be launched in all Russian departments where military service is stipulated. The issue was at the top of the agenda of the president's conference with the leadership of the ministries of defence, economic development and finance in the Kremlin. The implementation of the programme in 2005 will cost 2.43 bln rubles (one US dollar is approximately 28.5 roubles).

"The situation is paradoxical," said Putin. "An officer can hope to get a flat of his own only upon retirement. In fact, he is a victim of a conflict of interests: if you want a flat, resign, if you want to serve, you get nothing. So, those who give the state more, who serve it and are ready to sacrifice their life for it, get less from the state" than those who decide to retire.

"A total of 136,000 military families are 'homeless'," added Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov. "And 28,000 need better housing. Actually, this means that every third family of a commissioned or warrant officer has no flat."

These figures are nothing new and not a state secret. They have varied a bit, depending on the economic situation, without changing the grim life of servicemen. Hence the simple conclusion: the current system of housing provision to servicemen cannot solve the problem. "If we continue to work by it," Putin said, "we will not solve the problem of 'homeless' officers even in 50 years."

KOMMERSANT

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said the number of solved crimes in the city was "shamefully low" - 37% in 2003. The mayor was shocked that the results of police work are becoming worse, even though "the city does not deny the Main Department of the Interior for Moscow in money for improving its material and technical base."

Crime rose by an average of 30% in 2003 or by 43,000 crimes compared to 2002. On the other hand, criticising the police for the number of crime will not solve the problem, as "they will simply conceal the true figures."

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA

Konstantin Kemularia, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Georgia to Russia who has handed his credentials to President Vladimir Putin, spoke with this newspaper about Russo-Georgian relations and the role of Moscow in the settlement of the crisis in Adzharia.

"We are grateful to Russia for its non-interference in the problem," said the Ambassador. "It was worth a lot in this case, for in the very first days of the crisis the ruling quarters of Adzharia said openly that they pinned their hopes on the 12th Russian military base in Batumi, the assistance of some Russian officials, and foreign aid. Happily, nothing of this kind has happened. In my opinion, this is one of the new realities in Georgia-Russia relations. As far as I know, Moscow acted on the assumption that Adzharia is an internal political problem of Georgia. The crisis was stopped at a dangerous edge, actually without intermediaries. It is important that Russia's encouragement of a peaceful settlement of the crisis was limited to non-interference. This stand of Moscow had a sobering effect on some of our hot-headed politicians."

VREMYA NOVOSTEI

After the initial expression of "concern," Moscow has taken a harsher stand on the murder of Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin in Israel. "We support the idea of a statement by the UN Security Council chairman that would express a strictly negative attitude to the assassination of the Hamas spiritual leader," said Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Yuri Fedotov.

Russia has called for a conference of representatives from Russia, the USA, the EU and the UN in Cairo, believing that the murder of Ahmed Yassin may thwart the attempts to restore peace in the Middle East.

Prominent Middle East expert Yevgeny Primakov told this newspaper: "I am afraid the peace process will be postponed now. I come to think that there can be no peace settlement while Sharon leads Israel. When there is a glimmer of hope, Sharon invariably resorts to such tricks as the murder of Yassin, which throws the situation back."

GAZETA

The Central Bank of Russia has decided to raise the salaries of its staff (the average salary in the bank is now $800) by 5%. Since the bank has a staff of 82,712, this decision will cost it dearly. Accordingly, Chairman Sergei Ignatyev has promised staff cuts.

Russia has the world's second largest staff of its central bank in absolute figures and per 100,000 of population. China is ahead of Russia in absolute figures (150,000) but it has 11 central bank employees per 100,000 of population while Russia has about 60. The European Central Bank together with the central banks of the 12 Eurozone countries has a staff of about 56,000 (18 per 100,000 of the zone's population), while the USA has only eight bankers and Britain, 4, writes Gazeta.

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