VimpelCom seeks to expand throughout CIS in 2 yrs

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MOSCOW, September 15 (RIA Novosti) - VimpelCom [RTS: VIMP, NYSE: VIP], Russia's second largest mobile phone operator, is seeking to expand throughout most of the former Soviet Union by the end of 2008, the company's head said Friday.

VimpelCom operates in 78 out of 88 regions in Russia under the Beeline trademark, as well as in the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Georgia.

But chief executive Alexander Izosimov said the company had even bigger plans for the next two years. "I believe all the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States will be involved in the next two years," he said.

The CIS unites 11 former Soviet republics as full member countries in a loose alliance. Turkmenistan is an associate member, but the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, which have referred to the U.S.S.R. as a period of occupation since independence, never joined the grouping.

Izosimov said the company forecast a 160% increase in the number of its subscribers in Ukraine over the second half of the year from 569,000 in early July to 1.5 million at the end of 2006.

VimpelCom, majority owned by Norway's Telenor and Altimo, the telecoms arm of Russian financial major Alfa Group, bought leading cell phone operator Ukrainian Radio Systems late last year. The transaction proved controversial because Telenor said the price had been inflated.

Telenor holds 26.6% of shares in VimpelCom and Altimo (previously Alfa Telecom) holds a 32.9% stake.

VimpelCom is listed on the Russian Industrial Leaders Index (RUXX) - a composite economic index of 20 Russian companies with financial instruments (shares and depository receipts) placed on bourses, including the New York Stock Exchange, the London Stock Exchange, Nasdaq and AMEX.

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