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    WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPER SAY

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    Moscow, February 27 /RIA Novosti/

    IZVESTIA

    No sooner had the Russian political elite assimilated the news of the cabinet's dismissal than it began to speculate about the future head of government. Moscow is rife with talk, all boiling down to saying that "Vladimir Putin will propose precisely this candidate to the Duma (lower house of parliament), and that is almost 100 per cent certain". Izvestia gives profiles of the personages mentioned in the conversations, noting that these are only rumours. Today the process of selecting a candidate for the premiership is kept under wraps, with a maximum of only 4 to 5 insiders let in, the closest to Putin. The president will make his final decision probably not earlier than Sunday evening.

    The key candidate, the paper notes, who is most often mentioned in the Duma, is Boris Gryzlov. His candidacy seems illogical only at first glance. Actually, the State Duma speaker quite suites the Kremlin, personally the president, and some of his close associates. Putin has known Gryzlov for a long time, and the head of state had no reason to be displeased with Gryzlov either when he headed the Interior Ministry or built up United Russia. Gryzlov's another good point is that he is not linked with financial and industrial groups and is totally independent of them.

    A second candidate is State Duma First Vice-Speaker Alexander Zhukov. He has far more pluses than anyone else to work as premier. Besides, his pluses are obvious and understandable to voters. Zhukov is communicative, democratic, and well versed in budget matters and taxes, things uppermost on the agenda. He is good at establishing contact with the Russian and foreign business elites (which is helped by his linguistic proficiency after having a training period at Harvard University).

    One more hopeful for the premiership - now the main rival of candidate Putin for president - is Sergei Glazyev. The economist, whose election slogan is "Redistribute natural resources rent", is said to have half a mind to fill a high post in the executive structures. Besides, with his appointment, two political issues go at once: he does not run in the presidential race and in the next few years ceases to be a player.

    NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA

    The paper carries the first interview with the Russian press by NATO Secretary-General and Russia-NATO Council chairman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, which runs in part:

    I view a long and effective partnership between Russia and NATO allies as one of my top priorities. Reasons are apparent. In the present security environment the challenges facing us have changed fundamentally. Cooperation is no longer a luxury. On the contrary, it is essential for counteracting today's threats which know of no national frontiers. What is more, in a rapidly changing world Russia and NATO allies are natural partners ... The first 20 months of work 'at twenty' have been a good start, setting high criteria for success. Russia and the NATO member-countries, acting as really equal partners, have aligned an effective partnership based on pragmatism and common interests ... Working together in the spirit of long-term partnership, we will cope with any sudden challenge.

    KOMMERSANT

    Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili has ended his visit to Washington by meeting President George W. Bush in the White House. Unlike his predecessor Eduard Shevardnadze, Kommersant notes, who exploited each of his comings to the US for invariable and sharp criticism of Russia, Saakashvili was emphatically correct and proper. He even acknowledged Russia's special interests in the Caucasus.

    Meeting with Georgian journalists, President Saakashvili summed up his negotiations with Bush as follows: "Georgia remains a strategic partner of the US, but at the same time we will cooperate in a friendly and constructive way with our great neighbour and historical friend - Russia. Russia has legitimate security interests in the South Caucasus, and we should respect the interests of one of the world superpowers."

    GAZETA

    If alternative fuels, other than oil and gas, appear in the world, the primary component of Russian exports may send the Russian economy crashing, Danilov-Danilyan, head of the presidential economic board, said, Gazeta reported. He said that "emphasis on developing primary branches of the economy leads absolutely nowhere in the modern world". Danilov-Danilyan remarked that in 2003 the share of Russian fuel, energy and metals exports reached 81 per cent, while in 2002 the figure was 61 per cent, and a further build-up of the primary component in exports may lead to negative consequences for the economy. The state, in the expert's judgement, should focus on supporting new import-substituting processes, because the capacity of this market, he noted, is today 75 billion dollars.

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