WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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MOSCOW, April 2. /RIA Novosti/.

IZVESTIA

Almost all the leaders of the European Union (EU) are arriving in Moscow today. The delegation is led by European Commission president Romano Prodi. Eight days before the official enlargement of the European Union, its leaders will hold consultations with Russia on all the disputable aspects of Moscow-Brussels relations . Neither Moscow nor the EU need a cold spell in bilateral relations, notes Izvetsia, this is why the sides are sure to be as constructive as possible - they will assure each other of "paying close attention" to each other, "a priority direction of cooperation" and so on.

Izvetsia cites the data of the sociologists of the All-Russian Public Opinion Study Center (VTsIOM) according to which "if a referendum on Russia's joining the EU were held today", then 45% of the Russians would vote "for", while 30 %- "against". The results of the polls show that the number of "the Eurooptimists" has not changed since 2001, whereas the share of "the Eurosceptics" has grown from 16% to 20% over the past year alone.

GAZETA

Beijing is still one of the main strategic partners of Moscow and a major importer of Russian weapons, notes Gazeta.

The portfolio of China's military orders has exceeded $6 billion. Whether this trade will grow or not depends on Moscow's ability to withstand European expansion to the Chinese arms market. Russian defense minister Sergei Ivanov discussed this problem with top Chinese military leaders in Beijing. Throughout post-Soviet history, China has been a major importer of Russian arms and combat equipment, notes Gazeta. Its share fluctuated between 30 and 50% of Russia's total arms exports. Only last year, India slightly outstripped China in the volume of deliveries. In the middle term, hardly anyone will be able to shatter China's leadership. Thus, the portfolio of orders for the deliveries of Russian arms and combat equipment to China until 2010 has already exceeded $6 billion, with the whole portfolio of orders being $15 billion. What is special about Chinese purchases is that they are done in batches that are large for the current situation in the arms market, notes Gazeta.

KOMMERSANT

Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Kislyak met with the political directors of the South American Common Market (MERCOSUR) in the Argentinean capital Buenos-Aires. This organization was created in 1955. It includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Chile, Bolivia and Peru are associated members. As of today, MERCOSUR is a major integrated market of Latin America, which covers 45% of the population of the continent (over 200 million people).

"This is the first contact of such a kind made in pursuance of the agreements reached between Russia and MERCOSUR during the visit of the Russian foreign minister to Latin America in December 2003," said Mr. Kislyak at the end of the meeting. "We discussed our countries' approaches to the expansion and strengthening of trade-economic and scientific- technological cooperation. We consider that we have good prospects for developing dialog. From the point of view of Russia's interests, our first contact is positive. In the person of MERCOSUR, we are acquiring an interested and constructive partner".

TRUD

The Russian cabinet of ministers approved the privatization plan for 2004 proposed by the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. This issue, which was "routine" only recently, has become topical thanks to premier Mikhail Fradkov, notes Trud. He stated right away that in this matter a quantitative approach must be discarded . "We are facing the task of not only getting rid of state property. We must make our property work".

Economic Development and Trade minister German Gref stated in his report that an efficient privatization process is being held back by outdated legislation. Sixty federal laws and 16 presidential decrees will have to be revised.

The privatization plan for 2004 includes 1,063 federal state unitary enterprises and the blocks of shares of 717 joint-stock companies, informs Trud.

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA

The dollar's exchange rate has started soaring and this time the world tendency has affected the Russian foreign exchange market, writes NG. In Russian tenders on Tuesday the dollar rose by more than 15 kopecks and as a result, the dollar's exchange rate reached 28,88 rubles, the highest index in the past several months. On Wednesday the dollar's exchange rate continued to rise. The demand for dollars among banks has grown - more and more market participants believe that the tendency has changed in the direction of the dollar's growth. It is generally recognized that the strengthening of the US currency is due to the stabilization of the economic situation in the USA, notes NG.

Many banks that in the beginning of the year sold dollars in order to buy them later at a lower price abandoned this practice - the majority of banks expect a further rise in the dollar's exchange rate, reported Konstantin Korishchenko, deputy head of the Russian Central Bank.

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