Orthodox and Catholic churches become closer
Last December, the Western press once again wrote about the possibility of a personal meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Kirill, but the Russian Orthodox Church and secular analysts refused to make forecasts. The reconciliation of the two churches seemed unlikely then, but the situation has changed and a historical meeting may take place soon.
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has a positive view of the pontific, as evidenced by his recent interview with the Ukrainian media. Journalists asked the patriarch about dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church.
"We are optimistic about the position of Pope Benedict XVI," Patriarch Kirill told Ukrainian journalists. "Liberal theologians and the Western media may criticize him, but his stance coincides with the opinions of the Orthodox Church on many social and moral issues."
The staff of the Patriarchy is searching for venues of practical cooperation with western Christians. Just over a week ago, Hegumen Philipp (Ryabykh), deputy chairman of the Moscow Patriarchy's Department for External Church Relations, met with Rev. Adolfo Nicolas, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, to discuss the possibility of joint efforts to promote Christian values in Europe, including with the Jesuit experience in religious education.
One more opportunity for rapprochement between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican is the working group of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church established in Poland to prepare a document on the two churches' contribution to Russian-Polish reconciliation.
A new stage in relations between Polish Catholics and the Russian Orthodox Church began in April 2010, after the death of President Lech Kaczynski in an air crash near Smolensk. Patriarch Kirill said then that the memorial at Katyn is a place for a common prayer.
The Russian authorities, which are fighting the falsification of World War II history and the attempts to use Stalin's crimes to scale down Russia's influence in Europe, have proposed that the Russian Orthodox Church should lead the European movement for reconciliation and also provide an adequate assessment of the Soviet heritage to wring the weapon from the Polish, Ukrainian and other nationalists.
"Some fear that recognizing the sins of the Soviet past would affect the dignity of modern Russia," Hegumen Philipp said before the 70th commemoration of the tragedy at Katyn, where the NKVD secret police executed about 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals in 1940.
"But modern Russia is a different country; it made its choice in 1991 and changed the course of its history," Hegumen Phillip said. "It was an instance of historical repentance, when Russians denounced state atheism and monopoly on ideology."
Crisis sobers Russians up
Yesterday representatives of the financial sector attempted to establish what impact the crisis had on Russians' willingness to take out loans. They concluded that the crisis had a sobering effect on Russians, decreasing the number of borrowers. They also expressed the hope that overdue loans would stop growing and stabilize at 270 billion rubles. However, the experts were not unanimous. The banks' leveling down the requirements for borrowers may result in an increase of overdue loans.
According to the latest data from the Central Bank, overdue loans taken out by Russian citizens total about 270 billion rubles, or 7.5% of the overall amount of borrowings owed. There is currently an upswing in the loan market and Russian banks may provide a total of 4 trillion rubles by the end of this year, Alexander Morozov, president of Russia's National Association of Professional Collection Agencies, said yesterday. If this trend does not decline this and next year, the proportion of overdue loans taken out by physical entities will fall in relative terms. In absolute terms the amount of such loans is still on the rise and has multiplied since last year. However, Morozov is sure that the number of people who cannot meet their repayments is not at critical levels, since they currently make up only 15% of the total number of borrowers.
Meanwhile, Georgy Medvedev, head of the Interregional Center for Financial Literacy Campaigns, emphasized that the burden of these overdue loans falls on the remaining 85% of prompt re-payers. In dealing with loan defaults, banks have to spend significant sums of money on lawyers, the corresponding legal proceedings and stamp duties. This can sometimes be so costly that it might be easier for banks simply not to tackle these issues at all. And then it all results in a higher interest rate.
The main conclusion reached by these financial sector representatives is that the crisis was a serious shock for Russians and had a sobering effect on them. People now are more prudent in borrowing from banks and the number of those who take loans without taking due account of their own financial condition has decreased. We can see, if not a higher financial literacy, then at least a move towards financial prudence. This cautiousness provides another reason to hope that the amount of overdue loans will soon stabilize.
Finance Ministry cuts vacancies
By next April, there must be a 5% cut in the number of employees of central and territorial government. By 2013, their numbers will be down by 20%, says a government resolution drafted by the Finance Ministry.
Ministries and government departments have to prepare their proposals for how to achieve these cuts by September. Plans to reduce the number of bureaucratic personnel have been voiced by the president. According to Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, the budget can save 37 billion rubles through these cuts, with 50% of the money saved to be used in incentives for those who will stay on.
One million officials currently staff central and territorial bodies, says Pavel Kudyukin, an associate professor at the Higher School of Economics. About the same number is employed in regional and municipal agencies, but the draft resolution does not affect them. The tax authorities, the Treasury, and the Agency for Health and Consumer Rights (Rospotrebnadzor) are the heaviest staffed federal organizations. However, the cuts will initially affect unfilled vacancies. The draft resolution recommends focusing on vacancies, which Kudyukin estimates at 15%. More savings will be made by not hiring new staff to replace retirees. A high percentage of public officials are nearing retirement age.
But in budget terms these savings will be insignificant, Kudyukin says. Treasury costs this year are set at almost 10 trillion rubles. The ministries and government departments may be tempted to trim numbers by fusing district bodies into inter-district ones, creating inconveniences for ordinary people and businesses. Lines in offices will only grow.
Palestine receives 50 Russian personnel carriers free of charge
Russia has transferred 50 BTR-70 unarmed armored personnel carriers to the Palestinian National Authority. The official purpose of this gift is to strengthen the law enforcement capacity of Mahmoud Abbas's government.
The equipment was delivered in support of efforts by the international community to strengthen government institutions in the Palestinian National Authority, and more specifically, to fulfill the task set by the Quartet of helping build the capacity of law enforcement agencies in the PNA, the Russian Foreign Ministry's website says.
The Foreign Ministry adds that the personnel carriers are currently in Jordan, which has permitted their temporary storage on its territory. They will remain there until the Palestinian and Israeli sides agree when and how they can be transferred to the West Bank.
"It is important this happens without delay. We maintain that prompt action will ensure a significant contribution to strengthening the rule of law in the Palestinian territories by the Palestinians themselves," the Foreign Ministry says.
Palestinian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary in Russia Faed Mustafa has confirmed that Palestine has received the 50 unarmed armored vehicles that are intended as transport vehicles for soldiers and the police. The Palestinian National Authority does not intend to use these personnel carriers against any neighboring country or any other third party, the ambassador emphasized.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry said that even in an unarmed state the BTR-70 armored personnel carrier remains a dangerous weapon. This machine has proved itself as one of the world's best armored vehicles. It can survive and even continue moving after being hit by an anti-tank mine.
The vehicles were delivered under an agreement signed by Russia, Israel and Palestine, the spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Russia, Alex Goldman-Shayman, said. He emphasized that the Israeli side had demanded that the armored vehicles were unarmed since if they had carried weapons they could have been used against Israel. The spokesman said that Russia took Israel's requests properly into account, but he added, referring to the experience of the Gaza Strip, that the possibility remained that these armored vehicles might fall into the wrong hands.
These vehicles will not shift the Israeli-Palestinian or Israeli-Arab military balance, said President of the Institute for Israeli and Middle Eastern Studies Yevgeny Satanovsky.
Special economic zone becomes operational near St. Petersburg
Neudorf, the first special economic zone near St. Petersburg was commissioned on Tuesday. The symbolic keys to the zone were presented to its first residents - pharmaceutical companies and designers of information technology, communication systems, analytical equipment and energy technology.
The unveiling ceremony of Neudorf, located in Strelna in the southern suburbs of St. Petersburg, was attended by Governor Valentina Matviyenko, Economic Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina, heads of the zone resident companies, and representatives of foreign consulates.
Nabiullina said the main goal of the Neudorf zone is to stimulate the development of high-tech producers of innovative products and to help commercialize research achievements.
She expressed hope that the zone will focus on the sectors where St. Petersburg has competitive advantages such as instrument making, microelectronics, telecommunications and pharmaceuticals. "These sectors will mold the new Russian economy," the minister said.
Pharmaceutical companies were the first to become zone residents. The cluster includes Geropharm, Biocad, Samson-Med and Neon, with total investment of about 6.5 billion rubles ($213.75 million). They plan to start production in 2012.
The city legislature has recently approved amendments to the law on tax privileges, which should further cut the lease fee for special zone residents.
Nabiullina said 1.2 billion rubles ($39.5 million) had been allocated for Neudorf construction from the federal budget and 800 million rubles ($26.3 million) from the St. Petersburg budget.
The St. Petersburg special economic zone, which comprises Neudorf (18.9 hectares or 47 acres) and Novo-Orlovskoye (110.8 hectares or 274 acres), so far has only 36 residents. Apart from pharmaceutical companies, there are designers of information technology, communication systems, analytical and medical equipment, and energy technology.
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MOSCOW, July 21 (RIA Novosti)