WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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MOSCOW, April 29 (RIA Novosti)

IZVESTIA

Vladimir Putin is shocked that Russia's northern regions are losers on the domestic market despite their vast potential. He said this at the presidium session of the State Council (consultative agency under the president) in Salekhard, centre of the Yamal-Nenets autonomous area (Northern Russia). Comprehensive measures should be taken to change the situation, said the president, from restoring order in the use of natural resources to establishing clear-cut criteria for assigning the northern status to territories.

Russia's North has a vast economic potential (above all raw materials) but the number of unprofitable enterprises there is incredibly high. The average share for Russia is 43.5% of the total number of businesses, but it is approximately 50% in most northern territories and more than 65% in some of them.

The economy of the North, Putin said, must be diversified. "It would not be correct to say that we must do nothing but extract minerals there," he thinks. However, it is impossible to liquidate the dependence of these territories on raw materials. The other enterprises there are mostly auxiliary ones.

The president called on the federal centre and the regions to join forces to solve acute problems and invited the governors to formulate a development concept for the northern territories. "The success of a clever and strategic northern policy will boost the economic development of the entire country, not to mention the dynamic progress of the northern territories proper," he said.

GAZETA

The Federation Council (the upper house of parliament) has adopted a law raising the mineral resource extraction tax and the export customs duty on oil. This means, Gazeta notes, the senators agreed to the legislative initiative to increase the tax burden on oil extracting companies. Under the new law, which is to come into effect in August, the export duty will be differentiated according to world oil prices. Also, the law alters the existing scale of export oil duties and introduces an additional interval: with oil priced between 20 and 25 dollars per barrel the duty charged will be 45%, if priced over 25 dollars, it will be 65%. The financial and economic preamble notes that with the new law in effect the federal budget will get additional revenue. For example, with a price of 24 dollars per barrel, revenues will rise by 27.8 billion roubles (one dollar equals approximately 29 roubles), if over 27 dollars, by 59.8 billion roubles, and if above 30 dollars, by a total of 98.9 billion roubles. As the drafters of the law claim, its benefits go beyond mere financial contributions to the budget. It is designed to rehabilitate the entire economic situation in the country. With the natural resources rent imposed on primary producers, a level playing field will be created for all participants in the economic process, and will, as a result, promote an inflow of investments in Russia, Gazeta remarks.

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA

Adzharia is making serious preparations for an invasion of government troops of Georgia, says NG. Tanks have appeared in the streets of Batumi to protect all the city's key facilities. On instructions of head of the autonomy Aslan Abashidze, a state of emergency has been re-imposed throughout the whole of Adzharia, with a curfew added in Batumi. Armoured personnel carriers with full ammunition complements are stationed again on the border river Choloki. What is more, Abashidze has issued a decree mobilising the reservists and establishing "security councils" in each district of the republic.

On balance, NG notes, the "Adzharian spring" is continuing to compress, and with the rhetoric resorted to by the sides chances for a peaceful outcome of the confrontation between Tbilisi and Batumi are getting slimmer and slimmer. However, Nezavisimaya Gazeta believes, a serious deterioration of the situation is unlikely before the end of the week. The "fort" in Tbilisi is being held only by parliamentary speaker Nino Burdzhanadze. President Mikhail Saakashvili is in Warsaw, and Premier Zurab Zhvania and the defence minister are in the US.

TRUD

"Extraterrestrial" production of minerals on asteroids can be organised by the 40s or 50s of this century, says Trud. Vladislav Shevchenko, head of the Moon and planets research department at the State Astronomical Institute, claims that one so-called "metallic" asteroid a kilometre in diameter "contains mineral resources five times the amount of steel produced in the world every year". This means that by the middle of the next century, Shevchenko believes, "with most minerals exhausted globally mankind will be able to use environmentally clean cosmic raw materials". In the academic's view, raw materials "will be much simpler and cheaper to deliver from the asteroids than from the Moon," Trud informs its readers.

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