MOSCOW, November 30 (RIA Novosti) Referendum in support of Putin/ Gazprom,TNK-BP Kovykta deal delayed indefinitely/ Uzbekistan follows Turkmenistan and raises gas prices/ Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan ready to compromise on Caspian/ Nokia to import directly to increase sales/ The value of human rights drops among Russians
Referendum in support of Putin
The Kremlin-initiated campaign to ensure a large turnout at the December elections to the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, is gaining momentum.
Acting at the request of the Kremlin, mobile operators have started sending text messages to their subscribers inviting them to vote. In effect, the parliamentary elections are turning into a referendum in support of President Vladimir Putin, which will have major political, although not legal, consequences.
Anton Bogatov, chairman of the board of investment company Nexter, said the mobile operators' actions cannot be qualified as illegal. "Subscribers can delete these text messages as spam, but spam is not a crime, and so operators cannot be held criminally accountable," he said.
It is reported that company staff are being forced to take out absentee ballots to votes at their place of work. This is being done to ensure people vote.
Election practices in the former Soviet countries show that absentee ballots are a highly technological tool for manipulating election results. To date, 700,000 have been issued, or several times more than in 2003.
The opposition claims that a high turnout would ensure the presence of the protest voter, who will not vote for the pro-Kremlin party United Russia even though Putin heads its election list.
Boris Nadezhdin, a member of the federal political council of the opposition Union of Right Forces (SPS), said: The authorities "do not need a high turnout" at the polling stations. Their advocacy of attendance has only one goal, "to make the people believe that the turnout was high," which opens the door to large-scale rigging.
From the very start of the election campaign, the party of power described the upcoming elections as a referendum in support of Putin. A referendum is considered valid with a 50% turnout and with 50% plus one vote (about 30 million) of those who vote.
If United Russia receives a comparable vote on December 2, the Kremlin will have a strong political, if not legal, ace up its sleeve.
Gazprom,TNK-BP Kovykta deal delayed indefinitely
Gazprom's deal with Russian-British joint venture TNK-BP on the Kovykta field has been delayed. Probably, Gazprom does not want to peddle: it would prefer half of TNK-BP to its assets.
In June, TNK-BP agreed to sell a 62.9% stake in Rusia Petroleum (holding a license for the Kovykta field in Eastern Siberia with proven and probable reserves estimated at 2.02 trillion cubic meters of gas) and a 50% stake in the Eastern Siberia Gas Company to Russian natural gas monopoly Gazprom.
The transaction price was to be discussed within three months. Alexander Medvedev, Gazprom's deputy CEO, assessed the two TNK-BP assets at $600-$800 million, while Robert Dudley, TNK-BP's president and CEO, expected to raise as much as $850-$900 million from the transaction.
It was planned to discuss all the transaction terms and conditions by December 1 and close the deal by the end of the year. However, it is now delayed for an indefinite period of time "for technical reasons," a Gazprom official said.
Vladimir Buyanov, BP's spokesman in Russia, confirmed this but refused to specify the delay period or explain reasons for the postponement.
According to a Gazprom manager, the company's leadership has taken "timeout" in order to consider the purchase of a stake in TNK-BP, not in its separate asset.
A high-ranking government official confirmed this.
However, the Gazprom source said the gas monopoly will have to attract tangible funds - $18-$25 billion for the purchase of a stake in TNK-BP and it may find it difficult and expensive to borrow because of the liquidity crisis.
Half of TNK-BP may cost Gazprom $20-$25 billion, said Valery Nesterov, an analyst with the Troika Dialog investment company. This sum is higher than its current market capitalization by 13%-40% because of a bonus for control, Nesterov explained.
The companies have not yet held any concrete negotiations, but if the price offered is good enough, TNK-BP's Russian shareholders will consider the issue because this is the right time for withdrawing from the oil business, a source close to the shareholders said.
TNK-BP's employees say that rumors concerning Gazprom's plans to become a TNK-BP shareholder have been about for several months now.
According to TNK-BP's spokesman Vladimir Bobylev, these rumors fly about regularly, but so far TNK-BP's co-owners have denied that the company's shareholding structure may change.
Uzbekistan follows Turkmenistan and raises gas prices
Uzbekistan has decided to follow Turkmenistan and raise gas prices, too. Russia is likely to agree, because it has nothing to lose by the move. Kazakhstan could follow suit, but not earlier than the middle of next year.
"Until the end of 2007 the price will be $100 per thousand cubic meters, but in December we will hold talks on raising it," said a source in the Uzbekneftegaz company.
The source said in fixing the price Uzbekistan would move from regional to global market tariffs.
"Clearly, Uzbekistan will be insisting on the same terms as Turkmenistan," said Alexander Razuvayev, head of market analysis at Sobinbank.
"It will be $130 per thousand cubic meters in the first half of 2008, and $150 in the second, while from 2009 the price will be determined by a formula," he said.
"Gazprom will agree easily, because higher prices of Uzbek gas will not affect Russia, but consumers in Ukraine, which receive gas from Central Asia via RosUkrEnergo," said Natalia Milchakova, of Otkrytie brokerage.
Politics, too, plays a role. "By agreeing to the new prices, Russia will reaffirm its reputation as a good business partner, a big brother of Uzbekistan," Razuvayev said.
Dmitry Abzalov, an analyst with the Center for Current Politics, pointed out another aspect - the possibility for Gazprom to consolidate its standing in Europe.
"Its head Alexei Miller has already said that next year the price for Russian gas in the EU could grow to $350 per thousand cubic meters," said Abzalov. "Turkmenistan's and Uzbekistan's steps could only help Gazprom to justify its prices without fearing claims of deliberate hikes."
The third country in Central Asia that supplies gas to Russia is Kazakhstan. But experts say this republic is unlikely to follow suit just now, primarily because Kazakhstan was the one that set the wave of price rises going.
In spring it raised prices for its gas, and now Russia is paying Kazakhstan $145 per thousand cubic meters.
"Now is the wrong time for Kazakhstan to jack up its prices," Abzalov said. "Perhaps it will decide to push them up in the middle of next year when the agreement with Turkmenistan on $150 per thousand cubic meters comes into effect."
Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan ready to compromise on Caspian
The news of the Turkmen diplomatic mission reopening in Baku caused a sensation in both Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, after a seven-year break in their diplomatic relations.
Experts attribute the change in the Turkmen government's policy toward Azerbaijan to a willingness by both countries to compromise on dividing the disputed Caspian Sea resources, as it was their reluctance to meet each other half-way that led to the crisis in their relations.
The disruption in bilateral relations in the late 1990s came as a climax of political differences on the status of the Caspian Sea, and their dispute over a major offshore borderline oilfield, Kyapaz, known in Turkmenistan as Serdar, with an estimated 80 million metric tons of oil and 32 billion cubic meters of natural gas.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan failed to reach an agreement among themselves and with Iran on the delimitation of their borders on the Caspian. Baku insisted on the median line sectored division, which would give it a clear advantage in claiming offshore oil reserves, while Turkmenistan believed it would be fairer to divide the Caspian waters with due account of the coastal oil fields.
The situation changed after Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov took over as President of Turkmenistan. The negotiations on the issue intensified, and Baku responded with proposing a joint development project on Kyapaz.
Expert Ilkham Shaban said that proposal complied with the interests of both countries.
Turkmenistan is short of offshore drilling platforms, modern development technology and qualified marine geologists. Azerbaijan, the key producer and supplier of hydrocarbons for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, is interested in access to additional oil and gas resources.
All the above, along with the prospect of participating in the European project Nabucco, is bringing Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan closer to each other.
President Berdymukhammedov recently agreed to sign the European Energy Charter, which envisages diversified supplies of Caspian oil to the Old World.
The vice president of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) Khoshbakht Yusifzade said it would not be difficult to implement the Nabucco project. A relevant infrastructure is already in place in the Caspian region, so all they've got to do is lay another 60 kilometers of pipeline to link the Turkmen coast of the Caspian with Azerbaijan.
Nokia to import directly to increase sales
Nokia, the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer, is beginning direct supplies to Russia. Such a move will enable Nokia to control deliveries and avoid shortages or oversupply at dealerships.
Market players think better logistics will help Nokia to increase sales in Russia by 10%.
"This is a standard business practice used by Nokia in many countries," Viktoria Yeremina, Nokia's public relations manager in CIS countries, said on Thursday.
She did not mention the costs involved.
"The costs will be small," said a source familiar with Nokia's plans, "and will mainly concern renting storage facilities somewhere in the Moscow Region. Space requirements are not going to exceed 1,000 square meters. Their rent will cost $120,000 a year."
Mobile Research Group (MRG) estimates that in the first nine months of 2007 Nokia supplied 10 million units to Russia. Their total retail price is just above 1 billion euros. Currently Nokia has 33% of Russia's mobile market.
Nokia is not the only phone supplier to go over to direct deliveries. Samsung and Alcatel began importing this year, while SonyEricsson and Motorola are planning to adopt the scheme by the year end.
The Federal Customs Service strongly recommends direct imports.
"A company can be more flexible in regulating the volumes of receivers supplied and prevent their shortages or overstocking," said Yevgeny Chichvarkin, chairman of Euroset.
Sergei Savin, an analyst with J'Son & Partners, said the new logistic arrangement could increase Nokia sales in Russia by 10%.
"But it will only be effective if the company closely monitors its outlets," the expert said. "For example, a small warehouse overstocked with unpopular models refused by dealers could cause a supply bottleneck," he said.
The value of human rights drops among Russians
Russians don't think human rights are very important. According to the Levada pollster, over the past year nearly all human rights have become less important in Russia.
In 2006, 64% of Russians said the right to life was one of the most important human rights, while the figure was only 46% this year. The importance of the right of privacy has plummeted by 12%.
All other rights entered in the annual Levada polls, such as freedom of speech, the right to private property, the right to move to another country and return to Russia, freedom of religion, the right to information and a job in one's profession, the right to elect bodies of power, the right to free education, health care, pension and disability allowances, dropped 4%-7%.
Russians still value the most the right to free education, health care, pension and disability allowances (67%), and to a good job (51%).
The people do not give up their rights voluntarily. They usually remember that they are entitled to them only when these rights need protecting. The dynamics of public priorities as registered by sociologists indicated that people now fear less for their lives and about subsistence levels, because their incomes are growing and the socio-economic situation has stabilized in the country. But education and social insurance, as well as a good job, remain high-risk factors.
Polls register a decline in protest activity not because of improving living standards, but because of the adverse experience and belief that protests cannot achieve anything (the same goes for political activity).
According to the poll conducted by the Public Opinion pollster in October, 23% of the respondents said they might take part in protest actions, 66% said they would never do this, and 11% had no ready answer. As people lose hope they can protect their rights, the value of these rights plummets.
One can say that the institute of human rights as an unconditional value has not taken root in Russia. In other words, Russians are not prepared to protect them when they have housing, a steady income and a favorable president, because they do not see a connection between the two.
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