Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said during a conference of cabinet members with President Vladimir Putin that inflation was 3.5% in the first quarter of the year. Vice-Premier Alexander Zhukov told journalists that prices grew by 0.8% in March. The authorities' attention to price growth, writes the newspaper, shows that halving the inflation rate is becoming another task of Putin's second term on a par with the doubling of GDP and halving of the number of the poor in Russia.
Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Maxim Medvedkov, chief of Russia's delegation at the WTO talks, said after the latest round of the accession talks that Russia would not become a WTO member in 2004.
Moreover, it is difficult to say when the talks will end. "In a conservative estimate, the talks will last until I take my pension, and it is impossible to make an optimistic forecast," said Medvedkov. "In 2003, we believed we would end the talks in 2004, just as in 1996 we thought the talks would end in 1997. Neither happened."
Alexei Mordashov, head of the working group of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (big business) on WTO accession, says, "It is not the deadline that matters but the conditions on which Russia will become a WTO member. And not only Russia but also the WTO members will benefit from Russia's accession to the organisation, which will guarantee them stable and transparent access to the Russian market."
At the US naval base in Norfolk, Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov explained to NATO delegates how to combat terrorism. "Any attempts to talk with them clash with the principles of democracy," the minister reminded participants in the conference on "The Role of the Military in Combating Terrorism". He called on his NATO colleagues not to fear anything and not to sit it out in "underground bunkers."
At the same time, Ivanov warned them against "recurring anti-terrorist hysterics that sometimes develop into hysteria, when military force is applied en masse to the threat of terrorist attacks. Preparations for the NATO Istanbul summit are proceeding in this manner, with extra security measures. If we go on in the same vein, members of the global anti-terrorist coalition will soon meet in underground bunkers surrounded by police and troops."
"Some Georgian men and officers from the elite units trained by the Americans are refusing to take part in the military operation against Adzharia." Anzor Abralava, a close associate of Adzharian leader Aslan Abashidze, sensationally stated in an interview with Izvestia.
The discontent that spread amongst the best units of the Georgian army in the past few days came as a surprise for the Tbilisi authorities, especially in view of the recent statements made by President Mikhail Saakashvili. At the height of the conflict with Abashidze, Saakashvili addressed the troops trained under the US Train and Equip programme at the Vaziani base of the 11th Brigade of the Defence Ministry: "I am tired of talking. You must be ready to drop into any part of Georgia contaminated by separatism."
But the troops disregarded his calls. According to this newspaper, the Americans had a hand in their reaction because they know that the participation of the elite troops they trained in an internal conflict would have a negative effect on Washington-Moscow relations.