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    January 20


    A representative US delegation from the Commission on America's National Interests and Russia led by Dmitri Simes, director of the Nixon Centre, has come to Moscow. According to Kommersant, the visit is an important event, and not only because it precedes the visit of Secretary of State Colin Powell. The thing is that the Simes commission is drafting a strategic report on the outlook for US-Russia relationship for the US presidential campaign.

    The delegation led by Simes has arrived in Moscow at a crucial time when US-Russia relationship has reached a crossroads, writes the newspaper. The euphoria engendered by the seemingly cloudless strategic partnership and joint fight against international terrorism has subsided; next on the agenda is a sober analysis of existing differences. This is why Moscow is seriously preparing for Powell's visit on January 26. The Russian leadership hopes the visit will be instrumental in analysing problems in bilateral relations, writes Kommersant.


    The crisis in the Union of the Right Force (SPS) is deepening, writes the newspaper. While the party is analysing the reasons for its defeat in the December parliamentary elections, individual members are fighting for power within it. The crisis has exposed quite a few scandalous details of the right-wing forces' election campaigns and will expose many more. A special working group has analysed the reasons of the SPS' election defeat, but its conclusions have engendered so many disputes that the party had to postpone the final discussion of the group's conclusions until Thursday.

    In this situation, the SPS is preparing for the January 24 congress, which will be the most complicated in its history. The conclusions of the working group, which will be presented to the delegates, are expected to be very harsh. The main conclusion is that the defeat of the SPS was predetermined not by the objective course of political development in Russia but by "subjective mistakes in the organisation of the campaign at the federal level." According to the group, party leaders and the hired political technologists did almost nothing to ensure victory.


    Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, who has returned from his visit to Saudi Arabia, made several sensational statements at his January 19 press conference in Moscow. First, he called for prolonging Putin's presidential term for life. "If I could, I would make him president for life," he said.

    Second, he raised the reward for the head of Russia's "terrorist number one," Shamil Basayev. Several years ago the Russian military promised $100,000 for assistance leading to the capture of the one-legged militant (the sum was subsequently raised to $1 million) and Kadyrov's son Ramzan spoke about $5 million barely a month ago. On January 19, Akhmad Kadyrov promised a reward of $50 million for his apprehension or elimination, which is twice the sum promised by the Americans for the head of Saddam Hussein.

    It may seem strange, but Aslan Maskhadov, ex-president of Chechnya, "costs" very little. "As for Maskhadov," said Kadyrov, "the reward for him is only $50,000 because he is nothing more than a shadow of Basayev." Kadyrov did not explain where he would get the money but he apparently hopes to take it from the state budget.


    Industrial production grew 7% last year, much faster than in 2002, thanks to high world prices of Russian raw materials, writes Vedomosti. Economists believe that raw materials will continue to propel Russia's economic growth in 2004.

    Economic Development Minister German Gref said industrial growth in 2003 reached 7%, which is considerably higher than in 2002 (3.8%) and more than the 6.8% forecast by the ministry. "The figure seems to be final; it will hardly be reviewed," said Gennady Kuranov, head of the macroeconomic analysis and forecasting department of the ministry.


    The euro's fall on the world markets sent the euro exchange rate in Russia down from 37.1 to 35.74 roubles last week, writes the newspaper. People are wondering if they should sell euros, just as they sold dollars a short while ago.

    Fluctuations on the world currency market have had a specific effect on Russia. In the world, the fall of the euro means the strengthening of the dollar, while in Russia both currencies are becoming cheaper. The thing is that only the exchange rate of the dollar is calculated by a relatively market-oriented method. The dollar is bound to fall owing to a large inflow of export revenues. But the value of other currencies is calculated on the basis of the value of the dollar.

    Experts believe that people in Russia are not dumping euros so far simply because they do not have that many euros. In expert opinion, the euro accounts only for 15% of transactions at exchange bureaux and 1% of cash savings in banks.


    The Yaroslavl Region (Volga) has set a grim record: it has become the leader (if this is the right word) among the regions of the Central Federal District in the number of hard drinkers and alcohol-related deaths, which is 140% higher than the average for Russia. Last year, 765 residents of the region died from the effects of drinking.

    It is difficult to say why people of the region drink so much, writes Trud. The regional economy has mostly stabilised, pensions and wages are paid on time, and there is enough entertainment. So, desperation and grim life as the traditional explanations no longer hold water. But facts are facts. The World Trade Organisation thinks the state must raise the alarm when per capita alcohol consumption equals 8 litres of ethanol. The figure for the Yaroslavl Region in the past 12 months was 18.5 litres.

    The newspaper cites the data of the Russian control agencies, according to which over 30% of households in Russia distil spirits and there are about 1,600 secret shops producing bootleg vodka and other spirits. The Health Ministry reports that alcoholism rate in Russia has grown by nearly 30% and the incidence of alcohol-induced psychoses, by more than 50% in the past two years.

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