MOSCOW, October 9 (RIA Novosti) Gazprom threatens Orange coalition with difficult gas price talks / Severstal to buy two gold deposits for $200 million / Financial sector loses one of its iconic figures - banker / Public has vague idea of "Putin's Plan" - survey / Politkovskaya's murder still unsolved, her son says
Kommersant, Vremya Novostei
Gazprom threatens Orange coalition with difficult gas price talks
Gazprom wants the agreement on the settlement of Ukrainian consumers' $1.3 billion gas debt signed before a new, most likely "orange," government takes over in that country. The Russian state monopoly is obviously trying to check any potential attempt by the new Ukrainian cabinet to disown the previous government's debts.
Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller and Ukrainian Minister of Fuel and Energy Yuri Boiko reached a principal agreement Monday in the course of long and difficult negotiations. Well-informed sources said they coordinated a schedule of payments for the natural gas that was delivered to Ukraine this year: $650 million will be paid by assigning 5 billion cubic meters of gas now stored in Ukraine's underground tanks to Gazprom, while another $650 million will be raised through loans.
One of the sources added that [Viktor] Yanukovych and [Viktor] Zubkov would soon approve the scheme and the debt would be settled before October 20.
A Ukrainian government source said Gazprom's demarche had in fact two purposes - to weaken Ukraine's position in the run-up to the 2008 gas price talks and to lay hands on a bigger share of that country's downstream gas market.
However, Gazprom should not be too confident about achieving its informal goals. Last summer the Russian gas giant picked a similar price fight with Belarus. In July, Gazprom threatened that country with cutting supplies unless it cleared the $456 million debt in three days. As an option, Russia then proposed to differentiate between contracts to supply gas to Belarus and transit contracts. But Minsk refused, and eventually repaid the debt. Ukraine could do the same.
The Ukrainian source said they realized what Gazprom's goals were and were not planning to make concessions. Ukraine will repay the debt and enter next year's price talks, the source added.
However, the Russian monopoly has managed to win a minor political advantage. Volodymyr Bronnikov, a Ukrainian parliament member with the Party of the Regions, said Gazprom had warned the Orange coalition it would give them a hard time at the upcoming price talks if Yulia Tymoshenko came to power. He believes Viktor Yanukovych, the Orange coalition's rival, will now have certain political advantage in forming the government.
Severstal to buy two gold deposits for $200 million
Russia's largest steel company Severstal could spend as much as $200 million on the Tabornoye and Pogromnoye gold deposits in Yakutia, a republic in north-eastern Russia, and in the Chita Region in Eastern Siberia.
Sources said Severstal experts had already begun to study both deposits that could expand production to 1.3 and 1.6 tons throughout 2007.
A source said Severstal-Resurs, which manages all of Severstal's mining operations, was eyeing assets owned by Arlan Investment Company, but that it was only interested in part of Arlan's gold production units.
Lehman Brothers analyst Vladimir Zhukov said the Tabornoye and Pogromnoye deposits were worth $200-$300 million.
This summer, Severstal, which was not previously interested in the gold-production sector, announced its decision to buy a 22% stake in Irish company Celtic Resources Holdings, which produces gold, copper and molybdenum in Russia and Kazakhstan.
In September, Severstal-Resurs increased its stake in Celtic Resources to 29.5% and issued an offer for all remaining securities. The Severstal subsidiary, Severnaya Zolotorudnaya Kompaniya (Northern Gold Mining Company), received permission to develop the Uryakh field of the Sagan-Gol vein gold property in Buryatia, a republic in Eastern Siberia.
Top managers of several gold production companies said Severstal was ready to assess all industry assets being offered for sale.
Severstal could become one of the five largest national gold producers if its plans are implemented. But Zhukov said other companies owned the largest and most attractive Russian gold production assets.
Severstal, which currently buys small deposits located far away from each other, may have trouble managing them, Zhukov told the paper.
Financial sector loses one of its iconic figures - banker
Market players seemingly accustomed to unexpected shakeups in the higher echelons of power could not hide their surprise and disappointment at the transfer of Andrei Kazmin, head of Russia's largest bank, to oversee Pochta Rossii, the country's postal service.
A former deputy finance minister, Kazmin was appointed head of Sberbank in January 1996, and turned a remnant of the Soviet banking system with negative capital into the highest-rated bank on the post-Soviet space with a market capitalization of $90 billion.
Over the intervening years the value of this chief Russian banking "blue chip" has rocketed more than 50-fold. A contributing factor has been not only the growth of the Russian economy, but also the fact that the bank has practically kept its monopoly position on the market.
Despite his dismissal, no plausible explanation has been provided as to why Kazmin was asked to abandon his post, which he has held successfully for so many years. The conclusion suggests itself that simply somebody else wanted to get his position. Ex-minister German Gref is tipped as Sberbank's new chief.
It is difficult to consider Kazmin's new appointment as even equivalent to his former stewardship of the largest Russian bank.
"This is demotion pure and simple," said the manager of one of the Russian banks. "With good professionals at a premium, it is beyond me why our financial system, understaffed as it is with qualified personnel, should be stripped of one of its iconic representatives," he said.
Garegin Tosunyan, president of the Association of Russian Banks, was "extremely negative" towards the shake-up decision.
In annualized terms, Sberbank's profits will be 100 billion rubles.
Kazmin's new brief cannot boast of equally impressive financial results. Founded in 2003, the company, according to preliminary figures, will post a 2007 loss of 6 billion rubles in yearly terms. This forecast comes from former Pochta Rossii director general Igor Syrtsov, who resigned last week.
Analysts are left second-guessing as to what will follow.
In many countries, post offices provide a string of banking services and are used as an arm of the payments system (pensions and municipal bills). In Russia, it is Sberbank that handles most of these functions. Perhaps Kazmin's appointment as head of Pochta Rossii may gradually bring elements of banking to the Russian postal services, said David Nangle, an analyst with Renaissance Capital. Maybe some plan lurks behind this appointment. Or maybe nothing will change, he said.
Public has vague idea of "Putin's Plan" - survey
A recent public opinion poll suggested that most Russians were indifferent to politics and were only vaguely aware of their president's political course. Of those who have ever heard of "Putin's Plan," only 7% are ready to trust the pro-Kremlin United Russia party with its implementation.
Boris Gryzlov, the leader of the party of power, explained that plan in simple terms, in a speech at the October 1-2 party congress. He described it as a "vector of Russia's future development."
Still, judging by a recent survey conducted by Russia's national public opinion center, VTsIOM, ordinary Russians are no experts on Putin's plan, quite unlike the lower house speaker. Around 40% of respondents, who said they had heard of the plan, could not explain what it was about. Another 15% said it had to do with "improving living standards and social development," 11% mentioned "economic development," while 9% said it was to do with "raising Russia's international prestige."
Only 42% expressed certainty that Putin had had a clear-cut plan from the start. Another 40% said he had had no plan at all, but had simply played it by ear. Still, they are convinced he now knows what he is doing.
Even though VTsIOM conducted its survey before Putin decided to head United Russia's election list, it suggested one curious conclusion. "Putin's Plan" is in fact the title of United Russia's election program. However, only 2% of the respondents were aware that it was "a plan United Russia was following." A little more than 7% thought it was the president's plan which United Russia was supposed to implement. This means that most Russians do not see a clear connection between Putin's plan and the party in power, so the fight is not over yet.
Politkovskaya's murder still unsolved, her son says
The senior investigator for major crimes at the Prosecutor General's Office Investigation Board, Petros Garibyan, said Monday the Anna Politkovskaya case had been solved. But so many things about the investigative journalist's murder remain unclear one year after she was gunned down in her apartment block in Moscow that the official's upbeat announcement seems rather premature.
Politkovskaya's son, Ilya, is one of those who believe it would be still too early to close the investigation into the assassination of the outspoken journalist, known for her critical reports about the Russian military campaign in Chechnya and the policies of President Vladimir Putin. In fact, he doubts the case will ever be fully solved. "Of course, I don't believe my mother's murder has been solved," he said. "So far, only some of those who are part of the criminal chain have been detained. But I'm sure that all the detainees are involved in the crime. Their roles - who was in charge of what in preparing and committing the murder - are already known, but I wouldn't disclose this so as not to hamper the inquiry. On the other hand, as for me personally, I'm not at all sure all the links in the criminal chain will ever be tracked down and put behind bars."
Sergei Sokolov, editor-in-chief of the Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper Anna worked for, shares Ilya's skepticism.
"I would be more cautious in assessments at this point," Sokolov said, commenting on Monday's statement by Petros Garibyan. "By the way, the investigator said in an interview that the whole chain from the mastermind to the executor has yet to be established and that conclusive evidence proving their guilt has to be put together for the court."
The exact motives behind the crime are also unclear. So it seems like no specific information is known apart from the number of those accused.
"Eleven have been charged and ten arrested," an Investigation Board spokesperson said. "But, as Garibyan said, the list has not been closed yet. Meaning that more people may face charges."
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