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    WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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    February 13

    IZVESTIA

    As soon as the winter sun appeared above the Kremlin towers, six hundred journalists headed towards the Russian Foreign Ministry's information centre on Zubovsky Boulevard to witness the first and maybe, as they said, the last "candidate" event of the incumbent president: Vladimir Putin's speech in front of heads of regional campaign managers and election agents, Izvestia writes. For one and half hours, Putin performed the part of a candidate, said that he did not intend to advertise himself and then became President again.

    15 degrees below zero outside. The building of the Russian Information Agency Novosti, the well-known former Novosti agency. A caravan of buses that usually take people to work and children to summer camps. This time they were taking 650 regional journalists (who came to the capital at the expense of their editors specifically for the event), as well as their foreign and Moscow-based colleagues, to Vorobyovy Gory, where the President was to deliver his speech in the main building of Moscow State University.

    Putin's speech was brief and consisted of three parts, the newspaper points out. He described the state of the country 4 years ago, now and what it will be in the future if on March 14 citizens would vote for him. The speech lasted less than half an hour, and then Putin answered questions from his agents and campaign managers. The audience was very serious about the programme speech, they did not even applaud. But for his answers the candidate was cheered three times.

    The main question that troubles not only the campaigners was asked by a Tyumen representative, "Four years is not enough to accomplish everything you intend to". Putin, this time as a candidate, gave assurances once again that he was not going to change the Constitution for two reasons: it should be immune in principle and because during his first term he had developed his view concerning the best term length ("Seven years working at full throttle could drive you mad!" he exclaimed sincerely). There was a hint of doubt, however: 5 years are better than 4, yet Putin warned everyone from changing the Constitution for the sake of a round figure, "Once you begin, it will be difficult to stop".

    NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA

    Georgia's new leader, Mikhail Saakashvili, believes his first visit to Moscow was successful and productive, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. When summing up the results of the talks on Thursday evening, he said with satisfaction that he had managed to achieve full understanding with Russian leadership on most of the issues on the agenda.

    "In conclusion I can say that we believe that the key to our security, to the country's future economic prosperity lies in our good relations with Russia," Saakashvili told an NG correspondent. "This is clear not only to me, the President of Georgia, but also to any Georgian family and any Georgian citizen. International issues, such as Georgia's desire to integrate into European structures should be viewed in the same context. We intend to solve these problems not in defiance of Russia, but together with Russia. It is the main formula, the main principle. And we shall adhere to it."

    VREMYA NOVOSTEI

    Vladimir Putin added an unexpected nuance to Russo-German relations, as he received German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in the Kremlin, Vremya Novostei writes. The working visit by the German minister is timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the death of Immanuel Kant, and the Russian President greeted his guest with a quotation from a book by the great German philosopher: "The starry heaven over us and the inner world within us will always be of interest to humankind."

    President Putin, the paper goes on, called Germany "an important partner in establishing relations with the European Union" and stressed the "fairly positive" development of bilateral co-operation. As it is hard to maintain stable partnership solely by the stars in the sky, Putin noted "the very high level of trade turnover" (€24 billion) between the two countries and the total level of German investment in Russia's economy, which exceeds 10 billion euros.

    GAZETA

    All units of Russia's Airborne Force will be staffed by contract servicemen. No conscript servicemen will remain in this force. The first stage of the reform in the Airborne Force will start in spring with exercises featuring the most up-to-date arms and hardware will be tested, Airborne Force commander Lieutenant-General Alexander Kolmakov told the press in his first meeting with the media since his appointement to this position in September 2003.

    "A mobile component of the Armed Forces already exists - it is the Airborne Force," the general said. As for conscript servicemen, Kolmakov said virtually none would remain in the Airborne Force by 2008. All permanently combat ready units would be completely manned with professionals. So, the entire reform of the Airborne Force under the new command will be confined to changes in the approach to combat training and work by commanders, Gazeta writes.

    TRUD

    Aman Tuleyev, Governor of the Kemerovo Region in Siberia, has proposed ending the moratorium on the death penalty. "Another barbaric terrorist attack on February 6 in the Moscow metro gives Russia the right to struggle against bloody criminals with methods it considers appropriate," he said. Tuleyev regards capital punishment for those who order, finance and perform terrorist attacks as "the highest level of protecting the state and its population from madmen who disregard human norms and God's commandments," Trud writes.

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