MOSCOW, April 18 (RIA Novosti) Council of Europe split over March of Dissent/ West determined to change government in Russia/ Russians want Putin to be president for life - poll/ Gazprom fails to establish control over Sakhalin energy project/ Yukos generation assets bought by obscure company
Council of Europe split over March of Dissent
The events surrounding the dispersal of Marches of Dissent in Moscow and St. Petersburg have produced a mixed response from the Council of Europe's top leadership. Following sharp words against Russian authorities Monday by President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Rene van der Linden, its Secretary General Terry Davis was low-key, saying Tuesday that the matter required looking into. Some observers are linking the change in tone to the Council's wish to get the 14th protocol to the European Convention ratified as soon as possible.
The protocol simplifying the decision procedures at the European Court of Human Rights cannot come into force because Russia is the only country out of 46 Council of Europe members that has not ratified it. The court is practically jammed with a backlog of petitions and is unable to carry out reforms. Jean-Paul Costa, its president, will visit Russia on May 10-11 to try to allay Moscow's fears that the court rulings are politically motivated and to persuade it to ratify the 14th protocol.
The break up of the March of Dissent is being discussed on the fringes of PACE, but is not on the agenda of its current meeting. Konstantin Kosachev, who leads the Russian delegation to PACE, said he understood the harsh stand taken by Van der Linden, but at the same time described the marchers' actions as "clearly provocative."
The head of the State Duma international affairs committee believes the opposition specially staged the march in a place banned by authorities in order to hit television screens.
Kosachev called the U.S. State Department report sharply critical of the human rights situation in Russia, Boris Berezovsky's call for a forcible change of government in Russia, and the Marches of Dissent, which all took place just before PACE's spring session, links in one chain.
"It is a pity that law enforcement bodies gave in to the provocation and used force," the member of parliament said.
West determined to change government in Russia
The Russian policy towards the West, mainly led by the United States, can be described as a strategy designed to weaken and contain the country, a prominent Russian analyst writes in the popular daily Izvestia.
Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Moscow-based think tank Politika, writes the most recent example of that policy was Western support and media promotion of the two March of Dissent rallies in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Information about the marches held by marginal opposition groups in Russia was breaking news in the West for days, pushing back even the news about the terrorist attacks that claimed dozens of lives in Iraq and the protest demonstration of 200,000 people in Turkey.
Such actions are not fostering democracy, because the majority of participants in the Moscow and St. Petersburg marches were National Bolsheviks and neo-Nazis, who are not interested in democracy, but are determined to use violent methods to fight authorities and will not stop at breaking the law, Nikonov writes.
This is why about 150 people, including former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, were arrested and fined 1,000 rubles ($38.76) for obstructing traffic.
Last year's conference of "dissidents" was attended by two U.S. undersecretaries of state and several Western ambassadors. According to Nikonov, reliance on an organization with a strongly neo-Nazi segment and a nearly zero electorate, which is prepared to use force and break the law, shows that the West is determined to clamp down on Russia. It will no longer try to "involve" Russia, but will move towards a change of regime here.
However, although a slight chance of a "color" revolution in Russia exists, the requisite conditions for it are absent, the analyst writes. A "color" crowd will always be tiny in Russia, smaller even than a "rose" or an "orange" crowd. And Washington's direct assistance to the "dissidents" is not true aid but a kiss of death, taking into account America's popularity, or rather lack of it, in the minds of the global public and the Russian electorate.
Why has the United States decided to turn Russia into the enemy? Russians do not like such crass attempts to force "happiness" on them, Nikonov writes. Russia's economic situation is better than it has ever been, and the mood among Russians is very positive. For the first time an opinion poll, carried out last year showed that more than half of Russians thought the country was moving in the right direction.
It appears that this is exactly what displeases the West, Nikonov concludes.
Russians want Putin to be president for life - poll
On Tuesday, influential pollster VTsIOM (All-Russian Public Opinion Center) said 65% of Russians would like incumbent President Vladimir Putin or any other head of state to serve three terms in office and to have their tenure extended.
The VTsIOM sample survey, conducted on April 7-8 for the St. Petersburg Politics Foundation, involved 1,600 respondents in 153 populated localities in 46 regions, territories and republics. The statistical error margin did not exceed 3.4%.
Two thirds of the respondents said they supported the proposals of Sergei Mironov, speaker of the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, and leader of the pro-Kremlin Fair Russia party, to extend the presidential term from four to seven years.
Only 24% opposed this, whereas 69% of respondents supported constitutional amendments allowing Putin to run for a third term. The number of respondents opposing this initiative has dwindled from 28% to 23% in the past year.
Under the proposed amendments, any president could rule Russia for 21 years because the people still view heads of state as tsars.
If amended, the national Constitution would allow Putin to serve seven years in office, starting 2008, and to head the state for 29 years.
Joseph Stalin (1879-1953) was the only Soviet leader to remain in power for 31 years, a record unbroken by many Russian tsars.
There was no legislation limiting the tenure of the tsars and Communist leaders, who ruled the country as long as they lived. Palace coups and revolutions were the only way to oust them, including the last tsar Russian Emperor Nicholas II (1868-1918).
Gazprom fails to establish control over Sakhalin energy project
Russia's state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom has again failed to establish control over Sakhalin Energy, which operates the country's biggest PSA energy project in the Far East. The signing of the agreement on Gazprom's acquisition of a controlling stake in Sakhalin 2 scheduled for April 16 never took place.
After many hours of talks members of the project's supervisory board, which consists of six representatives of the project's shareholders and six Russian officials, failed to agree certain details of the transaction.
Gazprom and other participants at the late night meeting refused to comment on the situation. Earlier, however, representatives of the Russian gas giant had said that there were two unresolved issues that were hindering the signing: it was necessary to approve the project's budget and to decide who would be responsible for Sakhalin Energy's environmental violations committed before Gazprom bought into it.
It is unlikely that the signing failed because of budget disagreements, experts said. The new cost sheet had already been endorsed by all parties in the project - Gazprom, Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell, Japanese Mitsui, Mitsubishi and even by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The cost of the project was estimated at $19.4 billion, out of which $3.6 billion is non-refundable spending to be carried by previous shareholders.
The transaction was first expected to be closed in February. At the end of March, Bogdan Budzulyak, member of Gazprom's board, said that the signing had been delayed because the company did not want responsibility for the environmental violations. The deal will go through only if the gas monopoly is not liable for them, he said.
The gas monopoly's reluctance to pay is easy to understand: Oleg Mitvol, deputy head of the Russian Service for Supervision of Natural Resources Usage, estimated the environmental damage incurred by Sakhalin Energy at about $50 billion. The need to settle the issue allowed Gazprom to purchase the controlling stake at an almost $3 billion discount - the market price of the stake was estimated at $10 billion.
Yukos generation assets bought by obscure company
An unknown Moscow company has bought the generation assets of the beleaguered oil producer Yukos at 20% less than their market value. Experts are now arguing who is behind the obscure buyer, state-owned companies Gazprom Neft and Rosneft, seen as frontrunners for most of Yukos's assets, or a foreign investor.
Monte Valle was registered in Moscow in August 2003 and its CEO is a U.S. citizen, Steven Patrick Lynch, according to the Spark database. The main activities of the mysterious firm are related to preparing the sale of its own real estate. No more information is available in open sources. Lynch refused to talk to journalists.
Nikolai Lashkevich, press secretary of Yukos's bankruptcy receiver Eduard Rebgun, gave the following comment, "The most important thing for us is that the buyer acts in line with Russian law, is solvent and is able to pay the bid price."
Yet industry experts said the company had bought the lot too cheap. "The cost of the lot almost doubled against the starting price, but it was still 20% below its market value," said Dmitry Skryabin of Aton.
"This sum is bewildering; the stake could have been sold for at least 40% more," said Semyon Birg of Finam. "It had a price tag of about $177 million, but it was sold for $137 million." It is unlikely that any foreigner would have been allowed to buy the lot at such a low price, so the buyer was probably the gas giant Gazprom or the oil company Rosneft, which had put up a shell company for the auction just to be on the safe side," the analyst said.
Moreover, Gazprom has long been interested in the territorial generating company TGK 4, and its 3% stake was the most expensive asset in the lot; its market price is about $54 million, he said.
Skryabin agreed that Gazprom could be interested in the lot, yet he said that it was more likely that the energy assets of Russia's biggest bankrupt company had been acquired by a foreign portfolio investor.
An investment banker said he had heard of Monte Valle bidding at auction in the interests of Deutsche Bank. The bank's representative Olga Podoinitsyna yesterday refused to comment.
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