What the Russian papers say


MOSCOW, January 30 (RIA Novosti) Justice minister sees way to extend Putin's term - expert/Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei calls on Russia to form a "gas OPEC" /Russia, Europe to begin energy dialogue instead of energy blackmail - expert/Russia set to produce Canadian airliners/Venezuela to buy Russian Tor M-1 air defense systems

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Justice minister sees way to extend Putin's term - expert

Russian Deputy Justice Minister Vladimir Kolesnikov has proposed extending President Putin's term in office.

The explanation is simple and elegant in its own way - four years are not enough for a president to travel all over the country, he said. Experts believe there are Kremlin insiders from law enforcement and security agencies behind the extravagant proposal.

Kolesnikov, who was known as a master of political provocation during his work as Russia's deputy prosecutor general, made another radical proposal.

The current Constitution is outdated, he said, and so "a new one, taking into account present day realities, should be adopted." Its main shortcoming, he said, is that the presidential term is too short.

Yuri Sharandin, chairman of the Federation Council's Constitutional Legislation Committee, said: "Everything Kolesnikov said contradicts the Constitution. It is a political statement," he said.

Alexei Makarkin, deputy head of the Center for Political Technologies, said that Kolesnikov was voicing expectations of some Kremlin insiders from law enforcement and security agencies.

The variant involving a "successor" is the least acceptable to them, he said, "as they do not have a real candidate. That means that any potential successor will challenge them both politically and economically, as they have all acquired economic vested interests [during Putin's term]."

Law enforcement officials may seriously want to extend Putin's term somehow, the expert said. "They want to preserve the status quo. So they are interested in any variant that would extend it."

"None of the variants can be ruled out for now," Makarkin said. "The third term scenario is extraordinary, but I would not rule out even that. The successor will be chosen in the second half or even at the end of 2007, so there is still time for other scenarios to emerge."

Vremya Novostei

Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei calls on Russia to form a "gas OPEC"

Moscow's advances to Tehran have produced a tragicomic result. Russia, in the person of its Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov, has received a proposal from Iran's spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei, that places Moscow in a delicate situation in which it has to choose between the lesser of two evils.

Khamenei has said that Iran and Russia, who together control half of all known natural gas resources in the world, should set up an international pool of major gas exporters. Tehran clearly wants to establish an anti-Western coalition. And a "gas OPEC" provides the perfect opportunity for Iran to find additional counter-arguments in its indirect dispute with the United States and Europe over its nuclear program.

In effect, Iran has suggested that Moscow either make up its mind to form a genuine military-energy union with Iran, or else continue to cooperate with Tehran to blackmail Washington and Brussels ever so slightly.

It is not the first time the subject has been raised.

At a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Shanghai last June, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not mince words when discussing what he termed cooperation "in fixing both gas prices and flows in the interest of global stability."

Since then, Moscow has successfully managed to evade the issue. But the blunt approach seems to have taken the Kremlin aback. At any rate, no high-level response followed.

That is further proof that Moscow is unable and unwilling to accept Khamenei's proposal.

Saying yes to a gas cartel with Iran would mean Russia changing camp to become an opponent rather than a partner of the West, and not only in energy terms.

But saying no is not very fitting either. First, Tehran may take such behavior as a deadly insult, undermining further friendship and cooperation.

Second, Moscow risks losing its unofficial status as Iran's defender. The Kremlin needs that status no less than does Tehran, because it adds to its international prestige and allows it to play a stabilizing role in the developing conflict.


Russia, Europe to begin energy dialogue instead of energy blackmail - expert

We have heard a great deal recently about how bad it is to use energy as a political tool or even weapon, writes Konstantin Simonov, director general of the Foundation for National Energy Security in Vedomosti.

That is debatable - Russian gas on the Yamal Peninsula seems to be a more civilized way of protecting national interests than U.S. missiles in Poland and radar systems in the Czech Republic, he writes.

Besides, there is not much choice - Russia does not have any trump cards except oil and gas reserves, which means that it has to use them.

Of course, Russia is blackmailing Europe. A high-ranking delegation's trip to Algeria ahead of Romano Prodi's and Angela Merkel's visits to Russia is hardly a mere coincidence.

The two European politicians do not want to listen to their national companies which are urging them to accept Russia's proposals, to make Germany and Italy a northern and southern center of Russian gas distribution.

Repeated statements about energy supplies to Asia also seek to provoke a response not so much in Beijing and Delhi as in Brussels, Berlin and Rome, Simonov writes.

As oil and gas production grows very slowly, it will be impossible to maintain current export levels to Europe and simultaneously begin significant deliveries to China.

But Europe also uses energy as a weapon. The constant talk about energy independence, about switching over to alternative fuels, manufacturing cars that run on beetroot juice, demands to ratify the Energy Charter, proposals to set up a think tank on energy security in the EU, debates about Central Asia being an alternative to Russia - all that is also blackmail.

Everyone understands that a surge of deliveries from other regions or giving up on hydrocarbons is the same paper tiger as the notion of supplying energy to Asia without reducing exports to Europe.

The EU should stop scaring Russia with various charters and green books. After all, all real proposals on energy cooperation have so far addressed Europe.

But one never knows. Perhaps Russian political elites will really start shifting toward their new Asian allies in about 18 months.


Russia set to produce Canadian airliners

Russian Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref has said that an agreement to sell facilities, forms and records for the production of 53-seat airliners to Russia has been reached at the economic forum in Davos.

Some sources said production of Bombardier Q-300 planes could be relocated from Bombardier Aerospace company's Downsview plant in central Toronto to Samara-based Aviakor plant, which is controlled by business tycoon Oleg Deripaska's Basic Element.

If successful, the project would torpedo the Russian-Ukrainian Antonov An-140 regional airliner, which seats 34 to 52 passengers, experts told the paper.

Aviakor has been trying to master production of the An-140, which closely resembles the 56-seat Q-300, for several years. However, Basic Element has no intention of terminating the program, and proposes different specifications and markets for both models.

If the project is a success, Russia will receive its first foreign aircraft production plant.

It is obvious that the Q-300 is more widespread than the An-140. Russia will control at least one-third of the turboprop plane market if Q-300 production is relocated to Samara, Oleg Panteleyev, head of the Aviaport Web site's analytical department, said.

He opines that Aviakor has the potential to assemble both the An-140 and the Q-300. However, it would be pointless to turn out two identical aircraft models. The arrival of the Q-300 would mean sure death for the An-140 project, Panteleyev told the paper.

Infomost Communications General Director Boris Rybak said it would also deal a blow at the promotion of European ATR turboprop airliners.

Experts said the Q-300 project might face major problems because it is unclear how fast Russia's regional air-traffic market will grow. The project is premature if the market only begins growing 10 years from now, Rybak said.

Although the market is still unprofitable, the Q-300 can replace the 118 obsolete An-24 planes in Russia. Moreover, turboprop aircraft are becoming more popular on the global market as the result of high fuel prices.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta

Venezuela to buy Russian Tor M-1 air defense systems

Venezuela has announced plans to purchase Russian Tor M-1 air defense systems, news agencies reported yesterday, quoting Venezuelan Defense Minister Raul Baduel.

The statement from Caracas came soon after Moscow announced it had completed deliveries of the same systems to Iran, evoking sharp criticism from the United States and Israel.

The press service of Rosoboronexport yesterday refused to comment on the possible deal with Venezuela.

Pavel Zolotarev, deputy director of the Institute for the U.S. and Canadian Studies, said that Russian weapons exporters did not like to advertise such contracts. There are no restrictions on selling air defense systems to Venezuela, he said.

"Of course, the deal will generate further negative reaction in Washington," he said.

Last year, the U.S. State Department asked Moscow to review its contracts on aircraft and assault rifles deliveries to Venezuela.

The Russian Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry said at the time that the contracts were fully in line with international law, and that a review was "absolutely impossible."

It is very likely that Moscow and Washington will have a similar exchange over the Tor systems.

Observers recall Hugo Chavez's July visit to Moscow and the statement that followed from the U.S. State Department, which introduced sanctions against Rosoboronexport and Sukhoi.

On July 28, 2006, Washington prohibited American companies from maintaining business contacts with the two Russian companies related to deliveries to Iran of materials and technology that could be used in its nuclear programs, as well as of ballistic and cruise missiles.

Russian experts, including Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said at the time that it was "Washington's revenge" for multi-billion-dollar defense contracts with Venezuela.

By ensuring his country's security, Chavez definitely helps Iran, at least by escalating tensions between Russia and the U.S. Washington is extremely irritated by the growing cooperation between regimes that are unfriendly towards America.

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