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    WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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    February 19

    IZVESTIA

    "Russian is not experiencing a deficit of investment resources. There is a deficit of investment demand and investment ideas," was an unexpected confession from Russia's Trade and Economic Development Minister German Gref, the newspaper writes. The country's economy has accumulated too much money, it goes on. Russia is drowning in oil dollars and record-high levels of attracted investment. The investment, unfortunately, is not going to the real sector. Russian and foreign capital owners do not wish to develop the manufacturing industry and are mainly trying to profit from the strengthening rouble and growing prices of real estate. Today the financial and real estate markets are growing at a dangerous pace. The minister has outlined the problem, but has not even mentioned any ways to solve it, Izvestia emphasises.

    GAZETA

    Russians are losing faith in the dollar. In December 2003, the Central Bank registered a new record: individuals sold $2.8 billion to banks. This figure is a 100% increase on the previous high of six months before. Gazeta asked Sergei Moiseyev, director of the Economic Research Centre at the Moscow International Econometrics Institute, to comment on the situation.

    "Today Russia is witnessing an inflow of dollars due to the high prices for Russian exported goods. You could say, that excessive liquidity is being formed in the Russian financial system. As a result, the Central Bank has to emit roubles to purchase the foreign currency on the market. A danger appears that the rate of decreasing the inflation in the next few years will not what the government is expecting... In my opinion, the most attractive currency in today's Russia is the rouble. As to attempts to earn from the dollar-euro fluctuations, I can say that ordinary people should not do it. But if somebody wants to divide their foreign-currency savings, I would advise the following: save 50% in dollars and 50% in euros".

    NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA

    A delegation from Russia's state committee for control over drugs and psychotropic substances has spent almost a week in Afghanistan, where it attended an international anti-drug conference. In an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Alexander Frolov, head of the delegation and deputy chairman of the Committee, said the following:

    "The strategy of our action to create a safety belt around Afghanistan is correct and is supported by the international community. Afghan drugs pose a global threat. The opium and heroin produced in the country account for 76% of the drugs on the international market and for 90% in Russia. The growing links between the drug industry and international terrorism is particularly dangerous. At present, border guards manage to confiscate no more than 15% of the drugs smuggled out of Afghanistan".

    KOMMERSANT

    Russia has suspended gas supplies to Belarus. The move, Kommersant writes, goes far beyond a purely economic dispute between the two members of the Union State. It symbolises the beginning of Moscow's new, tougher policy towards its CIS allies that do not want to take into account its interests. Giving a speech to his campaign agents last week, President Vladimir Putin emphasised that the most important for Russia was "to stop being the milk-cow for everyone". "We meet our partners' demands and consider their interests and should be able to expect the same consideration of our interests from them," he said.

    In fact, Putin put into words Moscow's new approach to the CIS countries, first of all to its closest allies. In a simplified form it is as follows: either Russia's allies who call themselves its strategic partners take into account Russian interests and receive different dividends from it, or Moscow leaves them without any privileges and benefits. Or even punishes them. The new approach is already being brought into practice. Moreover, it is unlikely to be a coincidence that Belarus was the first one to experience the effects, Kommersant points out.

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