(RIA Novosti does not accept responsibility for the articles in the press)
$36 million for half of Zenit FC
Former owners of St. Petersburg's Zenit Football Club, Vladimir Kogan and David Traktovenko, have made a profit of $36.247 million in selling their club to Russian energy giant Gazprom. For the first time in the history of Russian soccer, we know the exact price of a club. Experts consider it fair, with prices of Russian players currently on the high side.
At the weekend Gazprom revealed the sum it had paid to gain a controlling stake in Zenit, one of the Russia's most popular soccer clubs. According to a Gazprombank IFRS report, the gas monopoly purchased a 51% stake in Zenit for $36.247 million. The bank's press-service was not available for comment on Sunday.
David Traktovenko, former co-owner of banking house Sankt-Petersburg and Zenit chairman, refused to discuss the deal, quoting a clause in the contract forbidding the release of this information.
Most experts polled by Vedomosti say that the price Gazprom has paid is fair. German Tkachenko, president of ProSports Management and ex-president of Krylya Sovetov Samara, said that half the sports facilities of the St. Petersburg club, plus its players, who are professional by Russian standards, and its strong brand, are fully worth $36 million. "Understandably, purchasing a club is a ticket to further spending, because Russian soccer is no money earner. But the ticket can be capitalized and resold to a higher bidder later on," he said.
The cost of players on the Russian soccer market is unrealistically high, said Maxim Belitsky, sport director of Sportima agency, and so the price Gazprom paid for half of Zenit can be considered adequate.
But an expert who asked to remain anonymous said that the gas monopoly had paid through the nose. Gazprom paid so much for the sporting brand, because only Zenit's training facilities and contracts with some soccer names are among the worthwhile items on its books. "Abramovich paid something like $48 million for a controlling stake in Chelsea, and repaid about $185 million in club debts. But Chelsea had on the physical balance some real estate in London's center, including a hotel. And the possible commercial benefits and sports successes of the London and St. Petersburg clubs are like apples and oranges," said the expert.
Earlier, deals to sell Russian clubs have never been made public. Spartak fans, for example, who wanted to know how much LUKoil vice-president Leonid Fedun forked out to acquire the club, had to make do with approximate expert estimates. Analysts and soccer market players estimated the Moscow club "at $70 million."
Tkachenko said that before Krylya Sovetov was sold, he had put the full value of the club at about $25 million. He did not name the size of the deal, however. For Torpedo Moscow, businessman Alexander Mamut offered $31 million. Michael Sterling, director of sports market agency Global Sponsors, said that Russian clubs are generally difficult to put a price on - the soccer market is undeveloped, and market criteria are absent. He said Gazprom did aim to pay a market price for Zenit, because the company's top managers supporting the club were most likely moved by personal or image-building motives.
Russian soccer is now emerging from the shadows it had been in throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, said Tkachenko. Large companies such as Gazprom and LUKoil have entered the country's soccer market, he said, and the size of these concerns makes them do business by Western standards, and disclose the price of major purchases.
A trial of an opposition leader begins in Minsk
The trial of Alexander Kozulin, a former candidate for the Belarusian presidency and leader of the social democratic party Gramada, has begun in Minsk. Local observers say the charges are politically motivated, and that it will be a show trial.
Criminal charges were brought against Kozulin immediately after the presidential election. He is accused of organizing an unsanctioned protest on March 25, and of hooliganism. The latter charge refers to his attempts to gain registration as a delegate at the All-Belarusian conference on March 2 and to hold a news conference at the National press center on February 17. Both episodes ended in clashes with police.
In court, Kozulin said he had not started the fracas at the press center. "The incident was organized by the Belarusian intelligence services in order to discredit me as a presidential candidate," he said.
"The fight was started by my authorized representative, rights advocate Oleg Volchek, and police officer Yakimovich, who is considered the injured party," he said.
Kozulin denied that he had organized a March 25 protest, during which protesters clashed with the police. Although the authorities are concealing information on injured protesters, there are rumors that some may have been killed.
Kozulin tried to challenge the judge and prosecutors on grounds of their "partiality and lack of objectivity", but to no avail. His lawyer asked to call Ivan Sokolovsky, head of the National press center, Interior Minister Vladimir Naumov, some police commanders, representatives of the Minsk city administration and even Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko as witnesses.
The lawyer said it was necessary to "hold an impartial trial and prove Kozulin's innocence." However, local observers and opposition activists do not believe he will be acquitted. In Belarusian practice, all real rivals of the president either get prison sentences or disappear forever.
"This is a purely political process," said Alexander Milinkevich, another ex presidential candidate, leader of united democratic opposition, adding that there could be no talk of impartiality.
"Almost no witnesses for Kozulin have been called to court," he told journalists. "I believe I could be useful to investigators. I was among the organizers of the March 25 protest, I invited people to it, but I have not been summoned to court. I believe that only policemen will be asked to testify at the trial." At the first session, journalists and two representatives of foreign diplomatic missions were asked to leave the courtroom.
Irkutsk airport one of the most difficult for pilots in Russia
An Airbus 310 belonging to S-7 Airlines crashed at Irkutsk airport on the morning of July 9. The plane careered off the runway, smashed into a concrete fence, hit private garages, exploded and caught fire.
The press service of the Irkutsk regional administration had reported 125 fatalities by the time RG was going to print; two more passengers died in hospital.
Aviation safety experts said Sunday they were not surprised by the latest air crash in Irkutsk.
Irkutsk airport officials said pilots considered their airport one of the most dangerous in Russia and a recent study confirmed this.
Experts said flying conditions were difficult because the airport is at 600 meters above sea level and has steep landing approaches. Aircraft engines can also malfunction because of low atmospheric pressure.
Pilots have to maneuver above residential areas as the airport is located in the city and is surrounded by garages and other facilities.
The airport was overhauled and its runway extended after disasters in 2001 and 2003. Aircraft now have to land and take off in the direction of Lake Baikal. But it appears that such measures are not enough.
Yanukovych wants to be Ukraine's prime minister
Viktor Yanukovych, who lost Ukraine's 2004 presidential elections to Viktor Yushchenko, may become prime minister this week. He was nominated by the anti-crisis parliamentary coalition of the Communist Party, the Socialist Party and the Party of Regions (led by Yanukovych), created last week.
Many analysts describe the current events in Ukraine as a counterrevolution. The "orange" coalition, which was negotiated for more than three months and created in early June, kicked the bucket on the evening of July 6. Its demise was provoked by the Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, who became speaker in accordance with separate agreements with the Party of Regions.
The creation of the anti-crisis coalition opened a new stage in Ukraine's development that was halted in fall 2004, Yanukovych said.
Experts say little will change in Ukraine's domestic policy. The Party of Regions, which plays first fiddle in the coalition, will work to restore the efficiency of the state mechanism, continue market reforms and support export-oriented sectors. But foreign policy will revert to closer relations with Russia and freezing Ukraine's movement toward NATO and the European Union. However, the country did not make major leaps toward the two organizations under its "orange" governments either.
The "blue counterrevolution" (blue is the color of the Party of Regions) will be as quiet as the "orange revolution," Ukrainian political analyst Vladimir Fesenko, head of the Penta Institute, told popular daily Vremya Novostei.
In his opinion, "the new political alliance in parliament would be unstable" because "the big Donetsk capital represented by Yanukovych has nothing in common with the left-wing marginal parties."
Fesenko said the Party of Regions would try to form an alliance with the pro-presidential Our Ukraine. "The anti-crisis coalition has opened the door to 'orange' parties," he said. "By fall, the Party of Regions will try to get rid of the left-wing parties if they get the support of ideologically close Our Ukraine."
President Yushchenko, who called for creating "a broader coalition" in parliament that would include the Party of Regions and "orange" parties, will have to play a double game to maintain his "orange" electorate at the 2009 presidential election, as well as control the situation in the country.
Part of pro-presidential Our Ukraine will remain in firm opposition to the anti-crisis coalition, but the other part will join it.
"The ideologically motivated part of Our Ukraine will not join the anti-crisis coalition," Fesenko said. "The industrial lobby and big businessmen of the pro-presidential bloc, whose interests are represented by Anatoly Kinakh and Yuri Yekhanurov, will join the coalition now or in the fall, depending on the posts they are offered."
If Our Ukraine joins the anti-crisis coalition, it will have to close its eyes to the appointment of Yanukovych as prime minister, Yevgeny Kushnarev of the Party of Regions said Sunday.
This is quite probable, because not the pro-presidential bloc but the Party of Regions set the terms, and the appointment of the party's leader as prime minister is a kind of revenge for the defeat in the 2004 presidential election.
Nikolai Azarov of the Party of Regions could be suggested as a compromise figure. According to another scenario, if Our Ukraine comes to terms with the anti-crisis coalition, acting Prime Minister Yekhanurov may be approved for the post. But chances of that are slim.
"Orange" revolutionaries have called on Yushchenko to dissolve parliament before the anti-crisis coalition initiates his impeachment. But the president promised to act in compliance with the constitution. He said parliament would be dissolved only if the government is not formed by the constitutional deadline, July 25.