Today Vladimir Putin is going to meet German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and tomorrow - French leader Jacques Chirac. Kommersant writes that these meetings are more than just regular diplomatic events. Moscow seems to be seeking to form a Russian-German-French core of greater Europe. This is expected to help Moscow solve the numerous problems it is faced with in its relations with the EU and NATO.
The newspaper continues that Russia's relations with NATO are stumbling over one major problem - whether the seven NATO newcomers (including the three Baltic nations) who officially joined the alliance on Monday will sign up to the CFE Treaty. Russia insists that the new members join the treaty. Otherwise, nobody and nothing will prevent them from deploying as many troops and hardware on their territory as they wish, and then Russia would have to reply adequately running into extra expenditures. Nor can Moscow turn a blind eye to the reinforcements near its borders. The only solution is to persuade the new NATO members to join the CFE Treaty. This issue will be central to today's session of the Russia-NATO Council at the level of foreign ministers in Brussels. The meeting will be held in a new format, with not 19 but 26 NATO members attending.
It will hardly be easier for Russia to find a compromise with such a number of NATO partners. Therefore, the forthcoming meetings with the German and French leaders, who have huge influence in NATO, will be very useful, writes Kommersant.
In the next two weeks, the administrative reform will involve the government apparatus, then the power bloc that is directly accountable to Vladimir Putin, and finally the regions and municipalities, Izvestia reports. The reform will be continued, officials' wages raised, and the personnel of the central state staff cut by 20%. From now on, the main principles of latter are to be effectiveness and expediency.
Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, the newspaper continues, is to draw up proposals on the reform of officials' wages within the next five days; the head of the White House staff is to complete the regulations of the government operation, finalise the regulation on ministries (to be considered on April 8), and prepare the staff for the new principles of work of the executive branch.
Efficiency, transparency and responsibility are the three magic words that government officials are using most often today when talking about the current and future work of ministries and the cabinet as a whole, Izvestia says.
An initiative to unite three Russian business organisations (the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs [RSPP] - big business, Delovaya Rossia - medium business and OPORA Rosssii - small business) into one close-knit family is passing from big business to medium business, writes VN. The man behind this idea is Vladimir Potanin, member of the RSPP bureau, head of the Interros Holding. In January, Potanin's initiative was backed by all Russia's business associations. Today's meeting of the working group, set up for this purpose, will discuss the proposals of "Delovaya Rossia". There are proposals to create a joint public body under the name "The Russian Business Council", which would have 30 members, but would not be a legal entity. It will be guided by three co-chairmen, one from each organisation The council's functions will include "the elaboration of the position of the business community on micro- and especially, macro-economic issues, on the development of civil society ".
The beginning of April in Armenia is marked by renewed activity by the opposition, which is seeking the resignation of incumbent president Robert Kocharyan, writes NG. Several rallies have been held in major cities and from April 5 the opposition intends to hold protests in Yerevan. On April 5, the day of a general meeting (which will not have a time-limit) will be announced, Vagarshak Arutynyan, Armenia's ex defence minister and member of the political council of the Republic party, which is part of the opposition bloc Justice, told NG. The meeting "will end only when Kocharayn resigns", he said. Arutyunyan assured NG that the opposition not only intends to hold rallies till the end, but has also worked out the requisite security measures and solved the problem of the provision of the participants of the action with medical aid and food.
On Thursday, the Armenian prosecutor-general's office opened a criminal case against the opposition bloc Justice, which stands accused of holding unwarranted rallies, insulting representatives of the authorities in public, calling for the overthrow of state authority and a change in the constitutional system, and offering resistance to law enforcement agents.
Alexander Iskandaryan, prorector for science of the Caucasian Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States, told NG, "a compromise is out of the question".
The Easter festivities in Moscow (April 11) will pass under police protection: the participants in the religious procession will be checked with metal detectors, while the territories of Orthodox churches and cemeteries will be searched with sniffer dogs, Gazeta informs its readers. This is the first time that Easter will be marked in this way, the newspaper writes. Law enforcement agencies, just like the Church, agree that there is no way of knowing what terrorists could do. Six thousand policemen will ensure public order during the holiday.