WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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MOSCOW, May 27 (RIA Novosti)

IZVESTIA

A free country for free people and doubled GDP by 2010 are the goals President Vladimir Putin set the state and himself in his state-of-the-nation address on Wednesday, Izvestia writes. The president was expected to give a broad programme for his second term, but he did more than that. According to him, the time has come to make long-term plans and achieve large-scale, national objectives. This time the goals were indicated not in economic figures, but in straightforward ideas: available housing, good quality health care, and good education, all of it based on a civil society.

The ceremony itself did not change much, though everything was conducted in a stricter and more ascetic air. Putin was true to his own tradition and, according to the newspaper's sources, made changes to the prepared speech the evening before and even during the address itself.

KOMMERSANT

On Wednesday, Georgia celebrated its main national holiday, Independence Day. Its central event was a military parade on an unprecedented scale for the country, Kommersant writes. It was meant to demonstrate that President Mikhail Saakashvili was determined to solve two key tasks: to build a capable army and to restore the country's territorial integrity. According to him, since the "rose revolution" in November 2003 the new authorities have done a great deal to strengthen the army and raise its prestige in society.

"We have secured serious achievements on the international scene," he said. "Georgia has regained respect, we have established close contacts with the USA and remain its allies in the fight against international terrorism. Accordingly, we have decided to triple our mission in Iraq and send new units of volunteers there (there are currently 500 Georgian troops in Iraq). We have managed to fundamentally improve relations with Russia and to achieve a new level of relations with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey. For the first time, Georgia is being seriously discussed as an EU candidate." In his speech, the president focused on the restoration of the country's territorial integrity, yet defied expectations by refraining from any bellicose or threatening statements, the newspaper points out. Instead, he addressed Abkhazians and Ossetians in their native languages, and called on them to build a democratic state together with the rest if Georgia. Again, Saakashvili proposed transforming the country into a federation and making Abkhazia a constituent member.

"Mr Saakashvili's address to the Abkhazian people in Abkhazian is a good sign," Abkhazian Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba told Kommersant. However, the Georgian leader "did not say anything new, for Abkhazia will not give up independence in exchange for the status of a constituent member in a Georgian federation," he added.

GAZETA

Turkmenistan has declared all degrees issued by foreign universities to be invalid. All state employees that received higher or secondary vocational education outside Turkmenistan after 1993 have been given their notice of dismissal as of July 1, 2004. This means that the republic will lose thousands of engineers, doctors, nurses and teachers, who, in line with the country's usual practice, will be replaced with graduates of one-year courses and military servicemen, Gazeta writes.

Most non-Turkmen degrees, from 80% to 90% of them in the last ten years, were issued in Russia and other CIS member states. From 1991 to 2004, Gazeta points out, the number of Russians living in cities and comprising a significant part of the country's intellectual, political, economic and management elite, has fallen from 334,000 to 110,000. At present, the population of Turkmenistan is 6.3 million people, 91% of whom are Turkmens and 1.8% Russians. In 1991, the ratio was 77% to 7% respectively.

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA

Russian Natural Resources Minister Yuri Trutnev has come up with a shocking proposal, to introduce a tax on oil reserves, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. "We are not sure that the present model, when the severance tax and the export duty are the main taxation tools, is the best," he said. "If we want companies to make better use of their reserves instead of keeping them, we should create incentives for that, for example, make them pay not only for each tonne of production, but also for each tonne of reserves." Analysts believe that the proposal is due to the state's desire to make the most of high oil prices on global markets. If the idea is implemented, oil producers will start concealing their real reserves, while further exploration will become pointless.

The minister admitted that the state had almost left the geological exploration sphere, while business had not entered it, as its interests there are not protected, the newspaper writes.

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