What the Russian papers say


MOSCOW, April 8 (RIA Novosti) Medvedev may retire before expiry of his term / Fighting NATO distracts Russians from real threats to security / No boycott threat for Beijing's Olympic Games / Dalai Lama seeks Gorbachev's help in Tibet issue / Latvia rejects Gazprom's investment / Growing gas prices in Europe to earn Gazprom over $100 billion


Medvedev may retire before expiry of his term

Boris Gryzlov, leader of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, yesterday said he would encourage President Vladimir Putin to join the party and become its leader at the party's congress on April 14-15.
President-elect Dmitry Medvedev will not be invited to join the party, and politicians and analysts say the third Russian president might retire before the end of his term.
Yevgeny Minchenko, director of the International Institute of Political Analysis, said Medvedev had not been invited to join the party "not because of tensions between the party and him, but because United Russia is not his instrument. Putin may soon need institutional instruments to influence the party."
An alliance with the party, which has a constitutional majority in parliament and controls the bulk of regional parliaments, will allow Putin to tackle any problem, in particular increase the distance between the parliamentary and presidential elections.
Putin made public his desire to do so at a meeting with the government on December 3, 2007. Gryzlov yesterday said it would be ideal if the period between the parliamentary and presidential elections were extended to two years.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, said one of the ways to do so would be "to prolong the parliamentary term from four to five years and the presidential term from four to seven years." He also thinks early presidential elections could be held in 2009.
"If United Russia does not want to amend the Constitution, it will most likely propose early presidential elections," he said. This amounts to early resignation for Dmitry Medvedev.
Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama information and research center, said Medvedev's early retirement was possible politically, but was unlikely to happen soon "unless there is a prior agreement to cut the presidential term."
Medvedev's "resignation will be possible if he tries to take over power," Pribylovsky said. "Some clans have taken steps disloyal to the FSB and hence to Putin, hoping to change the structure of power. This cannot please Putin, who may force events."

Novye Izvestia

Fighting NATO distracts Russians from real threats to security

Neither the recent NATO summit in Bucharest nor the meeting of the Russian and U.S. presidents in Sochi that followed came up with good solutions to the most difficult international problems - NATO's eastward expansion and the deployment of the U.S. anti-missile bases in Europe.
Experts, however, maintain that NATO's expansion in itself is no danger to Russia, while the high-profile discussions on the issue do nothing but distract the public from the real threats to the country's security.
Alexander Konovalov, head of the Moscow-based Institute for Strategic Assessment, said that NATO's expansion as a security problem made no sense at all. "The Baltic countries have already acceded to the alliance, which means NATO is as close to Russia' borders as it could be. So what? Did the sky collapse for that? And what about Norway? A long-standing NATO member, it also borders on Russia, and no one has ever cared. Who said that NATO is growing stronger with its expansion? On the contrary, by accepting such nations as Albania and Croatia, it will render itself a more unstable and ill-assorted organization," he said.
The political analyst also warned that the artificial pressure of the NATO expansion problem causes a distraction from really serious threats: "Our military officials should be much more worried by Russia's poor preparedness for any modern war. It is not just that the best Russian-made weapons get exported, and almost nothing is put on combat duty. And it is not just the absence of solid strategic planning either. The problem is that military people, who by definition should carry out orders, are trying to form Russia's foreign-political strategy," he added.
Vladimir Kulagin, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, said that fighting NATO was a propaganda campaign only good enough for TV viewers, and that the real situation was better reflected by the government's expenditure.
"The problem of our relations with NATO is outside the security sphere. To the Russian government, any major interstate alliance implementing a liberal project poses a threat. But, even with the obvious ideological difference, it is simply impossible to imagine a war with NATO. Russia accounts for 3% of the global GDP, while NATO, cumulatively, for 50%. With this distribution of forces, Russia is highly unlikely to ever attack NATO. The latter isn't planning a war with Russia, either, for political reasons. Everyone understands that, even Vladimir Putin, who is so far restraining the military lobby and keeping the country's military spending below 3%. Unlike that, the spending on the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service and Emergencies Ministry are skyrocketing, which perfectly reflects the real situation: the key threats to Russia's security are lurking inside the country," the expert concluded.


No boycott threat for Beijing's Olympic Games

Calls to boycott the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing over the manner of the suppression of disturbances in Tibet by the Chinese authorities will not result in a wave of refusals. The Olympic Games are already a big thriving business and traditional humanitarian principles do not apply here. But even big-time business needs a good spin story - the Olympic movement will have to adapt itself slowly.
The decision to award the 2008 Olympics to China was doubtless politically motivated. But it was not so much an attempt to make the Chinese authorities observe human rights as to encourage the observation of international rules in the economy. It was an acknowledgement of a strong player that has long been pressing for such an acknowledgement. Beijing-2008, unlike Berlin-1936 or Moscow-1980, is a softer option.
Of course, hopefully, such a forum as the Olympic Games could have a long-lasting cultural impact on Chinese society and partly fuel the growth of democratic sentiment. But there was no advance promise exacted before the Games were awarded, and the current protesters are vainly demanding their return, reportedly over the failure to meet certain conditions.
In a more general way, the protesters are trying to appeal to the traditional humanistic values of the Olympic movement. But these values run counter not only to the political but above all to the commercial aims of the present-day Olympic Games. They no long live up to one of the main principles invented by Pierre de Coubertin, "Participation, not victory, is what matters." "Victory at any cost" is a more fitting slogan for our times.
Victory at any cost is also sought by athletes, no longer amateurs praised by Coubertin, but hard-nosed pros who have no qualms about sacrificing their health to achieve results. It is also sought by organizers and sponsors. The Olympic Games have turned into costly business projects.
The Olympics-2004 in Athens cost more than $6 billion. The Olympics-2012 in London have gone up from $4.8 billion to $18 billion. Russia has planned to spend $12 billion on the Winter Olympics-2014 in Sochi, but will spend much more (no one yet knows how more).
Big-time sports (including the Olympic Games) have long become a global entertainment industry, a commodity consumers buy with a stadium ticket or by switching on their TV. Such consumers, and above all in developed countries, far outnumber those who take to the streets to support Tibetan monks.
But one should remember that consumers in developed countries like things to be legal. The consumers view their rights as part of wider human rights. So the present protests will not sink into the sand of time as far as the present or future Olympic Games are concerned.


Dalai Lama seeks Gorbachev's help in Tibet issue

The Dalai Lama has asked the ex-president of the former Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, to assist in the resolution of the Tibetan conflict. Gorbachev, the first and last president of the U.S.S.R., enjoys far greater political and moral authority in the world than at home.
It would be hard to imagine that anyone would ask Gorbachev to settle a domestic Russian conflict. Although his low popularity is not the main factor, the current state-power system does not involve public figures in resolving specific conflicts.
Charismatic personalities, including former dissident Andrei Sakharov and outspoken writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, have lost their influence both in Russia and all over the world.
Due to his nationalist-patriotic views and naive reform projects, Solzhenitsyn is no longer popular among pro-Western Russians. His popularity has also waned because top national leaders have repeatedly used him as an ideological cover-up for their policies.
After 20 years, the perestroika-era paradigm and the concept of moral authority are now history. This is why collective letters signed by prominent people in support of, say, disgraced oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky or the government, as well as those opposing them, no longer influence the public.
The problem is that well-known and even respected individuals now lack moral authority.
In fact, moral authority now gives way to official authority symbolized by the national leader Vladimir Putin and the country's religious leader Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia.
This rather unusual system provides clear guidelines for our affluent, bourgeois and apolitical society that no longer suffers from an all-out inferiority complex.
Members of society have to identify themselves and the nation with someone. Right now, most Russians are quite happy about the current choice of national-pride symbols.
Unprecedented electoral support for the Kremlin should not mislead anyone because it stems from indifference, rather a clear position. However, Russian society and the nation do not need any moral authority or political freedom today.


Latvia rejects Gazprom's investment

Russian gas giant Gazprom would like to obtain a blocking stake in a new gas-burning power plant with a projected capacity of 400MW, which is to be built in Riga, Latvia's capital.
State-controlled Latvenergo says it does not need such a partner. However, Gazprom can change the situation in its favor if a stake in the power plant is exchanged for gas supplies for it.
The power plant that will consume about 800 million cubic meters of gas a year is to be commissioned by 2015. The project will cost $500 million cubic meters to implement.
The Russian gas monopoly wants to get at least a 25% plus one share stake in the new facility in exchange for its investments.
"The project is of no interest to us without such a stake," said Kirill Seleznev, a board member of Gazprom and head of the board of the Latvian gas distribution company Latvijas gaze.
Seleznev excluded the scenario whereby Gazprom may refuse to supply gas for the future power plant. However, there is no final agreement on gas supplies yet. At the same time, Latvenergo says it can build the power plant itself. It has land and the infrastructure for the future energy distribution.
The company explains that the country's legislation is aimed at protecting the Latvian energy system from even partial privatization. The Latvian parliament is drafting amendments to the law on electricity trade whereby an investor for building new capacities will be selected by tender. However, the amendments say nothing about foreign investors' participation in such tenders.
Dmitry Skvortsov, an analyst at the Bank of Moscow, thinks that Gazprom "has more than enough opportunities for lobbying its interests." Even in Russia, power plants have gas supply problems every now and then, "so what can you to expect from the Baltic countries, which have never been loyal to Russia?" the expert says.
Vitaly Kryukov of the Kapital investment group also believes that Gazprom has a powerful lever of pressure on its Latvian partners: they cannot find any other gas supply source for their power plant. The analyst thinks the transaction could benefit both sides. In that case, Latvia would get an additional source of fuel supplies, while Gazprom could earn higher profits from gas supplies due to the added value from electricity sales.


Growing gas prices in Europe to earn Gazprom over $100 billion

Gas export prices will start going down after reaching their peak this year, according to Russia's Economic Development and Trade Ministry and Gazprom. Analysts say this will increase the gas monopoly's revenues by 15%-37% this year, to more than $100 billion.
Gazprom's European prices depend on the price of fuel oil and diesel fuel with a time lag of six to nine month. It earns 40% of its consolidated revenues from gas exports to Europe.
Gas prices in European contracts may exceed $400 per 1,000 cubic meters by mid-2008, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller has recently said. This is nearly double the 2005 price.
So far Gazprom has not made public the exact figures for the year, which had been included in a report by the Economic Development and Trade Ministry prepared for a recent meeting with President-elect Dmitry Medvedev.
Gazprom expects European gas prices to grow to $349 this year, compared with $265-$270 in 2007, while the Economic Development and Trade Ministry thinks they will reach $381. This will increase Gazprom's revenues by 15%-37% from an estimated $88 billion last year.
Denis Borisov, an analyst at the Solid investment financial company, said Gazprom's revenues would reach $104-$109 billion and profits $24-$25 billion this year.
Konstantin Batunin from Alfa Bank set its revenues at $117-$123 billion.
Pavel Sorokin from UniCredit Aton thinks Gazprom will net $115-$120 billion from gas sales and $35-$39 billion in profits, which puts its profitability at 32.5% compared with 26% in the first nine months of 2007.
Gazprom, state officials and experts expect gas prices to go down in 2009-2010, but think Gazprom's sales will grow nevertheless, including on the domestic market and to CIS countries.
In the next three years, Russia plans to index gas tariffs by 20%-27% a year, while the CIS will go over to the European pricing system.
Gazprom's revenues in 2010 will be at least $129 billion (Batunin) and at most $139 billion (Borisov), given the calculations made by the Economic Development and Trade Ministry and Gazprom.
Borisov does not expect the monopoly's profits to grow considerably, since operating expenses, spending on wages and other outlays will most likely grow faster than revenues.

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