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MOSCOW, January 18 (RIA Novosti) Britain recoils, says Russia lost conflict / Israel, Russia ease visa rules / Swiss firm Noga arrests VEB's 5% stake in EADS / Evraz Group further entrenches itself in America / Sociologists draw up ideal image of next president

Kommersant/Nezavisimaya Gazeta/Vremya Novostei

Britain recoils, says Russia lost conflict

Russia's Foreign Ministry has won the battle against the British Council offices in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. The British government knew better than keep protesting, and closed down the regional offices. However, London described Russia's claims as rather far-fetched and deemed Moscow the loser in the conflict.
The British Council's Executive Director Martin Davidson said Russian officials were wrong to peg their controversy with a humanitarian organization to a broader political conflict, adding that the Council's operation in Russia was fully compliant both with Russian and international law, under the Vienna conventions.
Britain's Foreign Office has never responded to the Russian ministry's warning that it would refuse visas to employees of British consular offices. In fact Britain said Russia would eventually be the overall loser in this situation. British Ambassador Antony Brenton pointed out to Kommersant that, besides being entirely legal, the work of the council, promoting British culture, was helpful to Russians and very popular among the Russian people. As for Britain, it equally benefitted from the presence of Russian cultural attaches, visiting Russians, and Russian people receiving British education. It is Russia who will lose in the end, he said.
"The format of the British Council's activities in Russia is not unique," said Yekaterina Kuznetsova, director for European programs at the Center for Postindustrial Society Studies, a Moscow think tank. "There is a French Cultural Center in Moscow and a French Institute in St. Petersburg, which are both cultural divisions of the French Embassy and are regulated by the French Foreign Ministry. What differs is the context for their operation. The French side has also acted in a more appropriate manner placing its cultural centers outside embassy buildings protected by diplomatic immunity. They are located at public premises, accessible to tax inspectors, registry officers and special services," she explained.
Both Russia and Britain are getting sick and tired of the political football they are playing, Kuznetsova went on to say. Because of the high-profile Alexander Litvinenko case, Britain has frozen the project to simplify entry visa regulations for Russians, who are in no way responsible for his death, while Russia is now closing the offices of the British Council, which is in fact Britain's shop window in Russia. Tensions keep mounting between the two countries.

Gazeta.ru

Israel, Russia ease visa rules

Russian-Israeli talks on visa-free travel have entered their final stage. Alex Goldman-Shaiman, press attache for the Israeli Embassy in Russia, said his country would stop issuing visas to tourists and private individuals staying for less than three months.
Goldman-Shaiman said Israel would annually receive up to 250,000 Russian tourists after the introduction of visa-free travel. According to experts, several thousand new jobs would also be created.
Under a bilateral agreement, Israelis will be able to travel to Russia without visas; and Russian citizens arriving in Israel will have their passports stamped. Those planning to stay for over 90 days will have to obtain visas in advance.
It now takes one to seven days to obtain an Israeli visa; and the consular fee is 550 rubles ($22.45). But it appears that too many applicants are being turned down.
The Israeli Ministry of Tourism said every 100,000 tourists crossing the border created 4,000 jobs and provided at least $100 million in additional revenues.
In 2003, Israel proposed visa-free travel to Russia because the conflict with Palestinian militants had scared away most tourists. More lenient regulations have been introduced since then. One-day visas, introduced in February 2007, have attracted nearly 23,000 Russian tourists to date.
Experts said both countries would benefit from visa-free travel. Irina Tyurina, spokesperson for the Russian Tourist Industry Union, said this would open up additional opportunities for tourists, businessmen, students, people undergoing treatment and those visiting their friends and relatives.
Thailand is so far the last country to conclude a visa-free travel agreement with the Russian Foreign Ministry; however, the number of Israelis wishing to visit Russia considerably exceeds that of Thai nationals.

Gazeta, RBC Daily

Swiss firm Noga arrests VEB's 5% stake in EADS

The list of Russian assets arrested at the request of Swiss company Noga has grown. Noga's lawyer, Antoine Korkmaz, said yesterday that the blocked accounts include 5% of EADS shares held by Vnesheconombank (VEB).
VEB has not confirmed the information, saying that the shares are deposited with Euroclear, which has not notified it of the alleged seizure.
Euroclear is the world's premier settlement system for domestic and international securities transactions, covering bonds, equities and investment funds. It incorporates the Euroclear Bank. In addition to its role as the leading International Central Securities Depositary (ICSD), the Euroclear group also acts as the Central Securities Depository (CSD) for Belgian, Dutch, French, Irish and U.K. securities.
Denis J. Peters, Corporate Communications Director at Euroclear, told the Gazeta daily that the center had not received any instructions from the Belgian authorities concerning the arrest of EADS accounts at the request of Noga.
Late last year VEB bought a 5% stake in the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) from another state-controlled Russian bank, VTB, for approximately $1.4 billion. The final owner of the stake should be the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), which plans to swap its shares for it.
A source quoted by RBC Daily said that Noga, which in the 1990s demanded $68 million from Russia, tried to arrest the 5% stake in EADS last December, but received the permit from the French court only recently.
The stake may be put up for sale if Noga lawyers prove that VEB represents Russia (the bank changed its legal status in the autumn of 2007 and is now a state corporation) and should therefore be accountable under claims to it, and if the arrest is not lifted.
Alexander Lebedev, a co-owner of the National Reserve Bank (NRB) and the Ilyushin Finance leasing company, which is incorporated in UAC, said NRB had similar problems in 2003, which were settled out of court.
Lebedev said the government should not have allowed the sale of the 5% stake in EADS to VEB.
"It was done to cover up the loss of 300 million euro," Lebedev said. "The shares, which were bought at 24 euros per share, now cost 18 euros. The officials decided to cover up the loss by transferring the stake to VEB and then on to UAC."
An UAC source said the possible arrest of the stake would not stop their transfer to the corporation, because the procedure would take at least six months, during which the conflict might be settled.

Business & Financial Markets/Vedomosti

Evraz Group further entrenches itself in America

Russia's Evraz Group has purchased its second American company since the beginning of last year. As well as Oregon Steel, it now has Claymont Steel. The tender offer was completed on Thursday. The total sum paid for both is $2.87 billion.
Evraz announced Thursday the completion of the tender offer for Claymont Steel Holdings, an American steel plate manufacturer, through its 100%-owned subsidiary Titan Acquisition Sub. Company shareholders offered Evraz to purchase 93.4% of their shares. The holding plans to oblige the remaining 6.6% held by minority shareholders to their shares.
The agreement to buy the American company was signed early in December 2007. Basing on the price of $23.5 per share, Evraz offered to pay $564.8 million for Claymont Steel (including debt). So the Russian company has bought the asset with a 19% premium on the weighted average three-month price for Claymont shares on the offer day.
On Thursday, Claymont traded at $23.4 on NASDAQ. Factoring out Claymont Steel's debt, which was $160 million at the moment of signing, the company will cost Evraz Group $400 million.
The holding paid $2.3 billion for Oregon Steel acquired early in 2007.
The two companies specialize in steel plate and Evraz is going to supply them with slabs from its Russian plants.
Uralsib analyst Dmitry Smolin said that Evraz, which has up to now exported slabs, is now becoming a producer of output with high added value.
He also said that following the purchase Claymont would be keyed up to full capacity, or 450,000 tons (its current production is 350,000 tons), and the holding could receive an operating synergy.
Trust analyst Alexander Yakubov said that Evraz Group, together with Oregon Steel it bought last year, will now have about 80% of the U.S. plate steel market.

Kommersant

Sociologists draw up ideal image of next president

A president should either be "the father of the nation" or "a modern manager." This is the idea most Russians have of an ideal head of state, according to a recent survey conducted by VTsIOM, Russia's public opinion center.
Although published earlier this week, the survey was in fact conducted in summer 2007, when most respondents were not really concerned about the next presidential elections or the possible successor to Vladimir Putin. Therefore, when people came up with certain features an ideal leader should have, they hardly had in mind any specific politician, said VTsIOM director Valery Fedorov.
The respondents for the most part drew conclusions from their own experience and were therefore split into two practically equal groups. One of them (42%) said what the country needed today was a "modern-style efficient manager." The other (48%) said he should be a "wise politician, a true father of the nation."
Those who positioned themselves as "well-off financially" were in favor of a manager-leader. Financially challenged respondents preferred a wise father.
However, Fedorov admitted that sociologists and political exports tended to exaggerate the role of financial factors in people's attitudes today. He did not see any distinct social-class-based discrepancy of opinion, according to his own statement. There are other reasons for difference in public sentiment, he added.
He said what is known as the "historic memory" had lost continuity in the past 15-20 years, and that different stereotypes formed in different age groups. Younger people, who began their adult lives in a market economy, are less attracted to "paternalism," but see the state as a service rather than as "a sacred super-personal structure," he said. That is why they see a manager as their leader.
Those who became "socialized" in Soviet times, tend to view the state as guide and protector, and a "father" president impersonates that protective force to them, Fedorov concluded.


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