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    January 27

    GAZETA

    Sixty years ago today the Leningrad siege was lifted. It was the only city in the history of WW2 that did not surrender to the enemy even after nearly three and a half years of fighting in complete encirclement. The blockade lasted 900 nights and days.

    Gazeta reminds its readers that on July 10, 1941 (Hitler's Germany attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941) the Nazi hordes began their advance on Leningrad. By August the Red Army was fighting bloody battles on the close approaches to the city. On August 30, Germans blockaded the railways that linked it with the rest of the country and blockaded it on land on September 8.

    According to Hitler's plan, writes the newspaper, Leningrad was to be erased from the face of earth. Unable to break through the Soviet defences inside the encirclement, Germans decided to win the city by attrition. The Red Army broke the siege only on January 27, 1944.

    It was a very costly victory: during the 900 days of the blockade, about 500,000 men and officers died defending Leningrad, whose 3.3 million pre-war population shrank to 560,000. According to official data, 700,000 Leningraders died of hunger, cold and from bombs. The unofficial figure is 1.5 million.

    The Germans lost 130,000 men and officers outside Leningrad from 1941 to 1944, writes Gazeta.

    VREMYA NOVOSTEI

    On Monday Secretary of State Colin Powell did his best in Moscow to convince Americans and Russians, as well as the rest of the world that the USA and Russia would never return to the Cold War era, writes the newspaper, and the Kremlin energetically played up to him. The two countries are clearly trying not to quarrel, though their relations have become notably cooler. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov pointed out that "the media predicted almost a storm at the talks. ...I am sorry to disappoint the authors of these forecasts but the storm did not break out."

    Powell said what the Kremlin wanted him to say: The USA has no plans to establish American bases in Georgia and the mission of military instructors in Georgia is ending. Likewise, the sides discussed the Iraqi problem in a highly civilised manner and did not stress the issues of democracy and freedom of the press in Russia.

    The talks in Moscow showed that there are problems in Russia-US relations but neither side want to stir them now, especially in view of the forthcoming presidential elections. President Vladimir Putin told Colin Powell that "the foundation of the Russia-US relationship" is so strong that it "allows us to overcome routine differences despite the tactic of upholding national interests." Colin Powell replied, no less politely: On the whole, US relations with Russia are very warm.

    NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA

    Mass layoffs have swept the Central Executive Committee of United Russia, writes the newspaper. The process began immediately after the victorious December 7 parliamentary elections and ended in mid-January. More than a hundred people, or nearly the entire election staff of the party, have been fired.

    "This is a purely technical matter," says Valery Bogomolov, secretary of the General Council of the party and vice-speaker of the State Duma. "We hired too many people during the elections and now we are cutting back staff."

    It is clear that the basic work to organise the election campaign of the current president will be done by the vertical executive structures: the presidential staff and regional administrations. It would have been logical for United Russia to do its best to develop the success attained during the Duma elections. Instead, the party is getting rid not only of the bulk of the team that worked on its promotion campaign, but also nearly the entire department that worked with the regions, writes Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

    KOMMERSANT

    Rosobornexport, the state agent for the export of weapons and military hardware, has summed up the results of its operation in 2003. It has set another record, exporting $5.1 billion worth of military items last year and experts think this export ceiling will be maintained for at least two or three years more, say experts.

    The newspaper recalls that Rosobornexport was set up by presidential decree of November 4, 2000 and is the only state agent in military-technical co-operation with foreign countries.

    Summing up the results of its operation at a collegiate meeting, Director General Andrei Belyaninov said Russia's basic strategic partners in the arms exports are India and China. But last year the companies expanded the geography of its export deliveries to 52 countries and stepped up co-operation with such promising South East Asian partners as Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

    IZVESTIA

    The recent meeting between President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine and the suspension of gas deliveries to Belarus boosted the creation of a management consortium for the Ukrainian gas transportation system, writes the newspaper. The leaders of the Ministry of Fuel and Energy of Ukraine officially told German Ambassador Dietmar Studemann that they welcomed the involvement of German Ruhrgas in the consortium. Before that, Kiev's attitude to the potential German partners was not as clearly friendly as it is now. Russia's Gazprom is preparing to launch the first joint gas project within the framework of the consortium.

    Ruhrgas badly wanted to join the consortium to get one more of a chance to control the Russo-European gas market - but it did not want to take great risks at the initial stage. As for Gazprom, it has always been loyal to the idea of having its long-standing German partner in consortium.

    The Ukrainian authorities may have been influenced by Gazprom's gas blockade in Belarus late last week. Gazprom's CEO Alexei Miller said the Moscow-Minsk talks would be continued today but "the romantic period" in Russia-Belarus gas relations is over.

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