What the Russian papers say


MOSCOW, March 31 (RIA Novosti) NATO split over Ukraine and Georgia / Brussels seeks no change in relations with Moscow / Russians do not believe in parliament as an institution of power - poll / Gazprom raises projected cost of Nord Stream pipeline to $11.7 billion / Ukraine poised to quarrel with Russian nuclear suppliers / Violations exposed at Sberbank

Vedomosti, Moskovsky Komsomolets

NATO split over Ukraine and Georgia

NATO has split ahead of its summit in Bucharest on April 2-4, as many of its members doubt that Ukraine and Georgia are fit for accession.
The United States supports their bid for admission, and 10 more bloc members, in particular Canada and East European countries, have sent a letter to the general secretary encouraging him to extend the Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Ukraine and Georgia.
Germany and France do not think this is a good idea, although a spokesperson at the German Foreign Ministry told the popular daily Vedomosti that no decision had yet been made on the issue. She said NATO membership is closely linked to modernization and the spread of democracy in the applicant countries, and that Germany needs time to monitor their progress.
France hopes that active cooperation with Ukraine will continue within the NATO-Ukraine commission similar to the NATO-Russia Council. A French representative said that NATO membership also entails certain obligations, such as the successful implementation of reforms.
Given the scale of the problem, the final decision will be made by the heads of state during the Bucharest meeting, said a source in Brussels.
Ukraine and Georgia do not satisfy the bloc's requirements regarding political and economic reforms. Spain, France, Germany, Italy and several other West European countries have hinted that they are against extending the MAP to Ukraine and Georgia, said Dmitry Danilov, head of the European security section at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's ambassador at NATO, said: "I don't think there is clarity regarding the issue. The bloc can admit Georgia without [the breakaway republics of] Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the politically unstable Ukraine, but in this event it will lose Russia for many years. However, some bloc members are like tractors driving across a freshly sown field."
Russia-NATO relations will undergo dramatic change if Ukraine and Georgia are included in the MAP, Rogozin said.
This "will destroy the mechanisms that have been created so painstakingly to coordinate our security policies," he said. "A provocation on the Abkhazian-Georgian border would force Russians and Americans to look at each other through their sights."

Nezavisimaya Gazeta

Brussels seeks no change in relations with Moscow

The North Atlantic Alliance has made yet another attempt to put the blame on Russia for the ineffective Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.
The NATO Headquarters made a statement on Friday night asking Russia to suspend its CFE moratorium. It in fact repeated the same terms and conditions it had insisted on for the past few years, when NATO member states were the only ones who benefited from CFE.
Naturally, Russia could not consent to that, according to President Vladimir Putin, who made the decision to suspend Russia's CFE membership. Neither will it consent to those conditions in the future. The Kremlin said Western nations should ratify the adapted version first, and then they will discuss Russia's lifting of the moratorium.
Brussels must be perfectly aware of Russia's position by now, so why make yet another pointless statement? The answer is quite simple - it is NATO's way of shifting the responsibility for a lack of confidence-building measures in Europe to Russia in the run-up to the Bucharest NATO summit and the NATO-Russia Council heads-of-state meeting. Brussels is trying to make it look as though NATO is going out of the way to propose to Moscow different models of cooperation, but that the Kremlin is being really inflexible and stubborn, refusing to make good on the commitments it undertook back in 1999 in Istanbul.
But Moscow is already tired of explaining that its Istanbul commitments have nothing to do with the adapted CFE ratification process. Those are two different documents, Moscow says, and the Western nations' attempts to establish a far-fetched link between them will hardly improve mutual understanding.
Brussels' new statement has shown that CFE is unlikely to be revived - either in Bucharest or in Sochi where President George Bush will soon meet with outgoing President Vladimir Putin.
As for president-elect Dmitry Medvedev, he will probably have to start building relations with Brussels and Washington from scratch after disentangling himself from the current mess of military and diplomatic stratagems.


Russians do not believe in parliament as an institution of power - poll

Most Russians still value Vladimir Putin highly and are quite pleased that he is to stay in office as prime minister. But they would not swap the presidential form of rule for a parliamentary one.
According to a recent polls conducted by the Levada Center, only 10% of those questioned consider it possible to hand over the reins of state to a prime minister - provided, of course, this post goes to Vladimir Putin.
More than two-thirds of those surveyed (67%) prefer "the current system of state government, which provides for strong presidential power." The explanation is not "the traditional love of the people for the tsar," but mistrust of the parliamentary system, or rather, of the Russian parliament.
Russians now elect their head of state directly, but with the transfer to a parliamentary system the state would be headed by a prime minister appointed by the party that wins the majority of seats in the State Duma. The reason why Russians do not want to hand down their rights to Duma delegates is that they do not believe in the ability of the party that has won the recent Duma elections to stand on its own feet.
United Russia, as seen by Russians, "has no legitimacy of its own, separate from Putin's." As many as 66% of the citizens interviewed by Levada pollsters are sure that United Russia won recent elections only because it "had the support of Vladimir Putin."
The second contributing factor to its success, 18% of Russians believe, was the administrative resource used by United Russia.
Only 10% credit the party with "an attractive election program" or 'Putin's Plan Means Russia's Victory.'
This opinion merely masks citizens' mistrust of the democratic nature of the past elections and, as a result, a mistrust of parliament of an institution of power.


Gazprom raises projected cost of Nord Stream pipeline to $11.7 billion

So far the Russian gas giant Gazprom has not presented the exact estimate of the Nord Stream gas pipeline project which will run from Russia to Germany via the Baltic seabed. It reported only a forecast of the cost of the project - "over 6 billion euro." Nord Stream AG, the operator of the construction project and the future owner of the pipeline, was even more cautious: it estimated the cost of the project at "over 5 billion euro." Gerhard Schroeder, Germany's ex-chancellor, now chairman of the Nord Stream shareholders council, was the first to raise the cost of the project to 8 billion euro.
Now Gazprom has also changed its assessment. The project will cost around 7.4 billion euro ($11.7 billion, according to the current exchange rate), Gazprom said in a memorandum on the forthcoming Eurobonds issue worth $2 billion (with its road show to be held in the first week of April). Whereas earlier the company's documents had a proviso that this was just a tentative estimate, now they do not.
All the shareholders must finance 30% of the project's cost (2.22 billion euro, or $3.5 billion), with the remaining 70% to be attracted as loans by the project's operator, Gazprom restated.
Until this time, neither Gazprom nor Nord Stream AG has made any additional comment. Experts, however, consider the cost estimate accurate. According to Mikhail Korchemkin, director of East European Gas Analysis, it can well come to about 7.5 billion euro: the first stage will cost about 4 billion euro, and the second one about 3.5 billion euro (in current prices).
The Nord Stream gas pipeline will be 1,200 km long. The project will be implemented in two stages, with the cost estimate to be indicated for the whole project.
The first line of the pipeline, with an annual capacity of 27.5 billion cubic meters of gas should be commissioned in 2010, and the first gas supplies are to be started in early 2011. However, the start of gas deliveries has already been postponed once. Construction has not been started yet and it has been postponed recently for six months (until the summer of 2009) because of protracted negotiations with the countries through the economic zones and territorial waters of which the pipeline will run.
The annual capacity of the second line will be the same - 27.5 billion cubic meters - and it should be commissioned in 2012-2013 (by the launching of the Shtokman gas condensate deposit in the Barents Sea).
Nord Stream AG was established in 2005. Gazprom is the company's main shareholder, with a 51% stake. The remaining 49% was divided between Germany's BASF and E.On, but Holland's Gasunie has bought 9% of their shares recently.

Vremya Novostei

Ukraine poised to quarrel with Russian nuclear suppliers

Ahead of tomorrow's visit by U.S. President George W. Bush, Ukraine has decided to strain its relations with the Russian nuclear industry. It is believed in Russia that Kiev is trying to secure better terms for the supply of Russian fuel to Ukrainian nuclear power plants.
Yesterday, Kiev signed a contract with American Westinghouse Electric Sweden AB for the delivery of fuel assemblies to three Ukrainian nuclear power plants (Yuzhno-Ukrainskaya, Rovenskaya and Khmelnitskaya) starting from 2011, i.e. upon the expiration of the contract with the Russian company TVEL.
Finland and the Czech Republic are known to have opted for Russian fuel assemblies over Westinghouse ones because of their inferior quality.
Yury Kovrizhkin, president of Ukrainian Energoatom, said yesterday, that his company intends to reduce the volume of spent nuclear fuel stored in Russia. An agreement was concluded yesterday with American company Holtec International to build three storage facilities at the three nuclear plants. Moreover, it was said at the signing ceremony that the contract did not mean the scuppering of plans to build a centralized storage at the Chernobyl NPP with the help of the same company.
Russia's Atomenergoprom yesterday said it was puzzled by Ukraine's plans and indicated that in addition to political dividends from demonstrating the contracts to Bush, Kiev was trying to secure better terms for the supply of Russian fuel after 2010.
"Currently talks are under way for the conditions of a new contract," said a source in the Russian state corporation. "TVEL will in any case supply fuel to some or other power facilities in Ukraine. At the height of discussion on the price of the contract with Russia, Kiev signs a contract with Westinghouse. It all looks like pressure on the negotiating process."
Under the agreement between Energoatom and Westinghouse, the assembly will contain Ukrainian uranium, enriched in Russia (by the International Uranium Enrichment Center in Angarsk), and produced in America. "The first two ingredients - uranium and enrichment - are costly," said a source in the Russian state corporation. "To drive the price down Ukraine must sell uranium to the Americans below world prices. But then Ukraine's uranium industry, which is subsidized anyway, will find itself the loser. Where is the economic sense? Does it mean diversification at any cost?"
Ukraine's energy strategy provides for no less than three nuclear fuel suppliers by 2030.


Violations exposed at Sberbank

Some branches of Sberbank, the largest state-controlled savings bank in Russia and Eastern Europe, issued more than 5 billion rubles ($212.6 million) under false documents. The bank's internal security service exposed the fact a year ago, when Andrei Kazmin chaired the Sberbank's board of directors.
The bulk of violations concern the provision of documents citing incomes that are higher than in reality, loans to businesses registered as mortgage loans to individual clients, and professional fraud.
The internal security service exposed and reported these crimes to the management, which subsequently fired the heads of branches that had permitted them. But German Gref, the new head of the bank, was dissatisfied with the solution and so asked Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev and Alexander Bastrykin, chairman of the investigation committee under the General Prosecutor's Office, to investigate the crimes.
The 5 billion rubles is slightly more than 0.1% of Sberbank's loan portfolio, which has recently exceeded 4 trillion rubles ($170.1 billion). This is not much. Why then has Gref appealed to the law enforcement agencies to deal with the problem?
Violation of internal regulations is a serious breach of the rules. Moreover, half a year ago the bank's shareholders told Gref that he had come to a company where everything worked like a clock without additional pressure. Now it turns out that there is one, but very important faulty element in that mechanism - the crime prevention system, which Sberbank should build from scratch or cancel the autonomy of its territorial and Moscow branches.

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