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    WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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    March 17

    VREMYA NOVOSTEI

    President Putin is ruling the cabinet more energetically, writes the newspaper. He has met several cabinet members barely a day after his re-election. His conversation with Vice-Premier Alexander Zhukov, viewed as the chief macroeconomist in the cabinet, was particularly important. In fact, the president did not hold a conversation with him but issued instructions.

    Knowing that Zhukov is directly responsible for the administrative reform, the president advised him "to keep up the pace," even though he will have to do many things simultaneously: formalise the cabinet reshuffle and draft the budget and new laws. Zhukov promised to comply with Putin's recommendations. Within two weeks, his colleagues and he will draft documents on the functions and the number of the new ministries, services and agencies.

    "We plan to approve these decisions with a document resolution within a month," said the vice-premier. "Within two months we will adopt regulations on ministries and departments."

    GAZETA

    Dmitri Simes, a leading US expert on Russia and president of the Nixon Centre in Washington, granted an interview to Gazeta.

    Q: What does the Bush administration expect Putin to do?

    A: Move towards strategic partnership, fight terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, maintain stability in Russia's periphery area, where Russia has vital interests and a serious presence and where the USA is acquiring interests and establishing a presence, too. It is important that these two presences do not provoke a conflict.

    Q: What would never suit the US administration in Putin's actions and plans?

    A: The US administration is assessing above all the role of the Russian government and President Putin in the struggle against terrorism and WMD proliferation. I think Putin has proved to be a difficult but reliable partner in relations with the US administration. Difficult, because he does not always agree, as in the case of Iraq, but reliable. As they say in the Bush administration, it is difficult to convince Putin, but if you do, he is all yours.

    IZVESTIA

    Russia's oldest party, the Communist Party (KPRF), may split by late March, writes the newspaper. The formal reason will be the analysis of the presidential race, in which KPRF candidate Nikolai Kharitonov finished second. This result will not save the party from any internal settlement of scores but will only aggravate the situation at the top. The split of the Communists will encourage the regrouping of all left-wing forces and could result in the creation of a new left-wing patriotic association.

    The main conclusion of the KPRF's participation in the presidential campaign is that it can do very well without Gennady Zyuganov, who has led the party for 11 years. More people voted for Nikolai Kharitonov, who was nominated almost accidentally, than for the party at the parliamentary elections (9.4 mln and 7.6 mln, respectively). It turned out after March 14 that a different person (one might even say ANY different person) can finish second in the presidential race. So, the main resource which the KPRF's leader still had - nationwide popularity and readiness to fight for power - was fully exhausted in 2004.

    NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA

    Sergei Abramov, member of the Russian Audit Chamber, has been appointed new premier of Chechnya by decree of the republic's President Akhmad Kadyrov.

    "The appointment of a Russian to the post will help bring back Russians who had fled from Chechnya," says Akhmar Zavgayev, deputy of the State Duma from Chechnya. "This is very important, as the republic is short of skilled specialists."

    "It is difficult to say whose decision it was, Kadyrov's or the Kremlin's. I would say it was a mutual decision," thinks Valery Khomyakov, head of the Agency of Applied and Regional Policy. "First, Abramov is not a new man in Chechnya [he previously served as finance minister]. And then, I do not think the Kremlin will give Kadyrov a free hand in personnel policy. There is good reason in the appointment of a Russian to the post of premier."

    KOMMERSANT

    The ultimatum of Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili to the leadership of Adzharia expired on Tuesday. The sides have not yet clashed openly but Adzharia has been fully blockaded, with foreign ships redirected from Batumi to Poti.

    Local observers note that economic sanctions against Adzharia will hardly ensure an immediate overthrow of the republic's leadership. But the redirection of cargoes and financial flows from Adzharia to other regions of Georgia is a fact. So, many observers think that, despite his militant statements, President Saakashvili really wanted not to launch a war with an unpredictable outcome, but to close "a black hole in the budget."

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