What the Russian papers say

MOSCOW, July 21 (RIA Novosti) No need for Russia to join WTO/ Yukos cut to half its worth/ Third term for Putin?/ Will the Duma leave Russia without medicine in September?

(RIA Novosti does not accept responsibility for the articles in the press)


No need for Russia to join WTO - it's already there

Georgia could hinder Russia's formal accession to the World Trade Organization and spark another political scandal after the WTO allowed Tbilisi Tuesday to withdraw from its agreement on Moscow's entry.
Russian officials who said Georgia's decision has little to do with economics are in no hurry to resume talks. This is detrimental to the interests of the United States and the European Union, which have already obtained some concessions from Moscow. Russia, a de facto WTO member abiding by its requirements, would stop doing so unless it becomes a formal WTO member.
Russian authorities who commented on this Georgian move said the international community's efforts to bail out the Georgian wine industry might cost it dearly, because the political conflict with Tbilisi may spoil the results of Moscow's talks with WTO countries over the last few years.
Russia can only join the WTO if all member-countries in the Working Party on its bid agree to this. Moscow has reached a consensus with all WTO countries, except the U.S., after years of intensive talks. Although any country that has signed a bilateral protocol can withdraw its signature, no one expected this to happen. Consequently, everybody was taken aback when Georgia said talks between Tbilisi and Russia had to start again.
Georgia insists that Russia is not honoring the signed agreement. Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili said Georgia would not approve Russia's WTO accession unless all problems on its discrimination against Georgian exports are solved and "illegal" checkpoints in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are closed.
The Russian Economic Development and Trade Ministry said Georgia was violating WTO norms on agricultural produce and wines. Experts told the paper that Georgian authorities wanted to use the WTO entry ticket in their political game with Russia.
Valery Draganov, member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia faction and chairman of the lower house of parliament's economic policy committee, said international practice knew of many comic situations in which politics collided with economic interests and impeded global processes.
"The Georgian move has a targeted political aim and has nothing to do with economy," Draganov told the paper.
He said the final Georgian decision would depend on the U.S., its main partner, and President George Bush. Georgia would face a dilemma if this happened. Russian negotiators have repeatedly said that Moscow and other WTO partners would profit from Russia's admission because it would have to reduce trade barriers gradually and scale down agriculture subsidies after joining. But President Vladimir Putin recently said that Russia would assume no commitments if the WTO refused to admit it.
The Economic Development and Trade Ministry now wants to find out whether Tbilisi has any legal grounds for withdrawing from the agreement. A ministry spokesman told the paper that the Russian-Georgian WTO protocol was not an international document. "The Vienna Convention sets forth specific terms for the conclusion and cancellation of such protocols and Russia will now analyze the legal aspects of this issue," he said.


Yukos cut to half its worth

Yukos's creditors failed to decide its fate Thursday and postponed a meeting until July 25 under a formal pretext. The meeting, which should determine the company's value, may create a scandal. But this will not save "the former darling of Russia's stock market" because President Vladimir Putin has washed his hands of it by saying that it will be liquidated soon.
The creditors' meeting was cut short at the request of the Federal Tax Service, formally because a report from court-appointed external manager Eduard Rebgun did not say if the company could remain profitable.
The state postponed the meeting because it apparently wants to act in accordance with law and because the Russian and foreign media keep the limelight on the Yukos case.
The main stumbling block is the valuation of the remaining Yukos assets. A company spokesman told the creditors that the court-appointed administrator had assessed the company at $16.890 billion and its debts at $18.560 billion, whereas Yukos assessed itself at $30 billion, including $9-$10 billion of the privileged stock in Yuganskneftegaz, more than $20 billion of Yukos's remaining assets, and $3-$4 billion of its share in Gazprom Neft (formerly Sibneft).
The evaluation of Yukos's assets was influenced by the initial public offering of state-owned oil company Rosneft. The preferred shares of Yuganskneftegaz were assessed in the restructuring plan presented to the creditors at only $3.6 billion, whereas the Sibneft stock is allegedly worth $4.2 billion.
Rebgun said about the glaring difference in the assessments: "The assets were assessed on the basis of [Yukos] documents, and all changes were substantiated. I did not invent anything."
The external manager refused to tell the paper's online edition exactly where the assessments differed. He said: "The report will be provided on July 25, when professionals will ask questions about the documents and criteria for the valuation."
"I have no right to disclose the details before the creditors' meeting," Rebgun said.
Experts are surprised at the difference in the valuations provided by Yukos and the manager. Many of them said that even different methods could not produce such widely differing results.
"It is difficult to comment on the figures provided by the sides," said Artyom Gapeyev, executive director of the Audit A group of companies. "However, a nearly 100% difference in valuations would be impossible if correct valuation methods were used. However, why has the Yukos head [Steven Theede] filed his resignation if the company management is convinced it costs more than its liabilities and has a restructuring plan?"
A "theoretical" valuation of assets always differs from the selling price, said Igor Vasilyev, an analyst with the Financial Bridge brokerage. The relevant examples are the low price Rosneft paid for Yuganskneftegaz and the price which gas monopoly Gazprom will most likely pay for the Yukos stake in Sibneft.
Of the remaining Yukos assets, only the preferred shares in Yuganskneftegaz, whose value depends on the share conversion during Rosneft's consolidation, may be sold at a fair price.
Gazprom indirectly accepted one of the figures provided by Yukos when it bid $3.4 billion for Yukos's 20% stake in Sibneft.
The energy giant will probably try to conclude negotiations before July 25, when the creditors may decide to proceed with Yukos's bankruptcy and its assets will be seized. If that happens, the stake in Sibneft will be put up for sale at a higher price.

Vremya Novostei

Third term for Putin?

A group calling itself Accord and Stability in North Ossetia, a Russian republic in the Caucasus, announced Thursday it would prepare a referendum to change the Russian Constitution to enable Vladimir Putin to run for a third consecutive term.
Vremya Novostei presents a timeline of who has given public support for the idea and when:
October 19, 2004 - Pavel Borodin, the state secretary of the Union State of Russia and Belarus, said a referendum on the third term for Putin would be a good idea.
March 21, 2005 - Sergei Mironov, the speaker of the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, said the Constitution should not be amended but Vladimir Putin should be transferred to another important position for the four years following 2008 and run again in 2012.
August 10, 2005 - The far-eastern Primorye Territory assembly proposed a third-term amendment to the Constitution.
August 12, 2005 - Viktor Tolokonsky, the Novosibirsk Region governor, said publicly he would vote for a third term if the issue were discussed at a referendum. Igor Rimmer, a member of the St. Petersburg city assembly, announced a third-term amendment would be drafted.
August 18, 2005 - Mikhail Prusak, Novgorod Region governor, said the Constitution should not be amended to add the third term but promoted another amendment extending presidential term of office to seven years.
August 21, 2005 - Leonid Markelov, the Mari El Republic president, supported the move: "I cannot see any infringement on democratic standards if State Duma deputies propose the relevant constitutional amendments."
July 1, 2006 - Valentina Matviyenko, the St. Petersburg governor, citing "her personal opinion," said Putin's re-election to a third term would guarantee stability.

Moskovsky Komsomolets
Cherchez la pharm(acy)

Will the State Duma leave Russia without drugs in September?

It looks as if Russia is on the brink of a new shortage. The authorities are just itching to regulate one more market sector. But every reform in this country spells a disaster. This time the "mortal peril" is overhanging pharmacists. To believe Boris Gryzlov, the speaker of the lower chamber of parliament, the first problem to be addressed by deputies after their summer recess will be medicines.
Russian parliamentarians plan to discuss a law banning sales of drugs that have no protection against counterfeiting. According to the most conservative estimates, the fake drug market in Russia is worth $300 million a year, while the proportion of counterfeit drugs is between 7% and 10% of the pharmaceuticals marketed across the country and well over that in some of the regions.
The most frequently counterfeited drugs are antibiotics (36%), anti-inflammation medications (21%), and spasmolytics (14%). Statistics show that foreign fakers lead the field with 73%, followed by domestic ones with 27%. But should the new law see the light of day, it would hit Russia's legal producers and sellers the hardest.
"By adopting such a document," a pharmaceutical market expert told MK, "the authorities are seeking to establish general supervision. But it is impossible to introduce an integrated control system for all drug makers, including foreign ones. Other countries may refuse, which means the rules would be adopted only for our plants or, more likely, the pharmacists. But code swiping devices and computers may prove too expensive for Russian pharmacies. It means corner-shop drug stores will simply close down."

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