WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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MOSCOW, March 29, 2004. (RIA Novosti)

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA

President Vladimir Putin met journalists in his residence of Bocharov Ruchei in the resort city of Sochi and explained why he had reformed his administration. "The administration was born as revolutionary headquarters," he joked, speaking about the early 1990s. "I hope there will be no more revolutions here. What we need now is an efficient administrative tool, not a headquarters". This tool should not "interfere with the competence of other executive bodies of power, such as the government," he added. Apart from this, the Russian leader explained why it was necessary to reform bodies of power, "People get surrounded by different clingfish and outdated ideas and start cherishing their posts instead of working efficiently", the newspaper writes.

The Kremlin hierarchy has changed beyond recognition, Nezavisimaya Gazeta points out. Putin has re-built the Kremlin power pyramid, taking into account the importance of the working sector of every employee.

IZVESTIA

The plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) held in Moscow fell short of expectations and did not have any personnel scandals, Izvestia writes. The attempts by certain party functionaries to raise inner party problems were nipped in the bud by the leadership.

The central event of the plenum was the report from the committee's deputy chairman, Ivan Melnikov, "On the efficiency of Communists' work in state bodies of power". The picture was rather pessimistic: in the current system of relations between the government, parliament and the president the Communist Party is no longer an influential participant in the political process. After the report was given, functionaries discussed it with gloomy expressions on their faces: the subject of changing leadership was discussed quite openly. Consequently, party leader Gennady Zyuganov had to answer questions about his successor, but he did it in his own style, without saying anything specific. "I think about how to prepare a young and strong team. I am interested in this. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union once died of old age. We need to combine experience with young enthusiasm," he said desperately, Izvestia reports.

GAZETA

Members of the Russian Agrarian Party have proposed that party leader Mikhail Lapshin step down. They blame him for the new failure at the parliamentary elections and disappearance of $2 million, Gazeta writes. The session of the party's regional leaders adopted the following address to Lapshin, "We request that you do not to stand in the way of the long-needed reform and for the sake of preserving the party to resign voluntarily from the post of its leader, opening way for new leaders and new ideas".

Lapshin, however, denies all the accusations, including one that he has failed to account for $2 million. He received the sum, according to Gazeta's sources in the party, "for selling a place in the party's federal list at the State Duma elections".

The current candidates for Lapshin's successor are the party's deputy chairman and businessman Alexei Chepa, former Communist candidate at the presidential elections Nikolai Kharitonov and State Duma deputy Vladimir Plotnikov, the newspaper reports. The new head will be elected at the party's congress in April. By May 19, the party has to submit its financial report to the Central Election Commission, otherwise its activities will be suspended in compliance with the law on political parties, Gazeta explains.

VREMYA NOVOSTEI

Seven would-be member nations have not yet officially joined NATO, but Belgian military C-130 transport aircraft have already landed at the Lithuanian air base, Zokniai, VN reports. On Sunday, they delivered four F-16 fighters, about 50 experts and technical equipment for the aircraft to Lithuania. A few days earlier, AWACS surveillance planes, carried out aerial reconnaissance above the Baltic countries. According to schedule, from now on, the F-16 fighters will start guarding the Baltic countries' air space. Later, the Belgian interceptors will be replaced with UK fighters on a rotational basis, to be followed by Danish and Norwegian ones.

VN quotes many Russian experts as saying that now NATO'S military planning centre will move eastwards. In particular, nearly half of the US military contingent in Germany is to be transferred to Bulgaria and Romania, NATO newcomers. There is no talk about deploying ground bases in the Baltic countries yet, but NATO officials have already announced the possibility of setting up small "temporary posts" that could become the basis for rapid deployment of a real base if need be, writes VN.

KOMMERSANT

Polimetal, Russia's major silver producing company, has circulated a sensational press release: it has received export licences for precious metals and intends to take at once 200 tonnes of silver abroad already in early April, Kommersant writes. This means that about 25% of Russian annual silver production will enter the world market. At issue are the deliveries of several batches of silver to the total sum of $55.8 million to Great Britain, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

According to Polimetal Director General Vitaly Nesis, "such operations allow us to develop our brand, dealing with direct consumers and concluding long-term contracts, which is important for silver that makes 50% of the holding's production in monetary terms. This is the key step in implementing the 'from the deposit to the consumer' organisation principle."

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