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    WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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    MOSCOW, March 1 (RIA Novosti)

    Vedomosti

    Russia Will Not Grant American Inspectors Access To Nuclear Sites

    According to a joint statement made by the US and Russian presidents that was posted on the weekend on the latter's official Web site, www.kremlin.ru, Vladimir Putin agreed at the Bratislava summit to grant US inspectors access to Russian nuclear facilities. However, the text was immediately updated, with several phrases deleted from the penultimate paragraph, and the edited version says nothing of inspections, Vedomosti reports.

    A Kremlin source says, "at the summit, Mr. Bush raised the issue of granting Americans access to Russian nuclear sites, but the Russian side did not agree to these requests." He added that there were no secret agreements or supplements, and a draft statement had been posted by mistake.

    The US State Department reports there were no clauses about on-site inspections in Russia in the English-language statement.

    An informed source in Russia's Federal Agency for Nuclear Power (Rosatom) says there have been no agreements with the US on on-site inspections of Russian nuclear facilities. However, he said the Nunn-Lugar Program (named after Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar) had been launched in 1991, under which the US has been funding various nuclear-related activities in Russia, including the modernization of nuclear facilities' security systems. Since the early 1990s, American experts have been admitted to some key nuclear sites belonging to the Defense Ministry and Rosatom to assess security systems. However, the source said they had never been allowed inside, which "caused their discontent."

    The director of Rosatom's Strategic Stability Institute, Viktor Mikhailov, who was nuclear power minister from 1992 through 1998, says, "This kind of monitoring regime [on-site inspections] cannot be established, and has never been discussed."

    Boris Shmelyov, the head of the Center for Comparative Political Science at the Institute for International Economy and International Relations, says, "A joint statement is a declarative document to which no secret supplements can be signed." This means that Russia and the US are going to do exactly what is stated in the statement.

    Nezavisimaya Gazeta

    US Interested In Stable Russia-Europe Relations

    The meeting between the Russian and American presidents in Bratislava was purposefully chosen as part of George Bush's European tour, says Professor Alexei Bogaturov, the deputy director of the Institute for Problems of International Security in an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

    This was more of a message that America's worldview is both different from the European Union's and Russia's, rather than just a signal that Russia is part of Europe. The EU is seeking to draw in Eastern resources to become a single entity from the Atlantic to the Urals and, indeed, beyond. Russia, though, is not rushing to meet it halfway, and prefers to develop its own "integration nucleus", but is not strong enough to do so.

    The Americans' perspective of the European space differs entirely - and is much more compact. While previously European capitals were outposts in the battle against the Soviets, present-day Brussels, the EU capital, is an intermediate stop to the energy resources of mainland Eurasia. On their own, neither Russia nor the EU is of much interest to America. It needs a Greater Europe, one that is stable, but not exceptionally strong or too weak either, and, most importantly, open and pervious to American influence.

    A serious quarrel between the EU and Russia could split up this space, which would be bad for America, which wants to ensure that Russia and the EU neither have a close friendship nor an open conflict. Washington is probably happy with the status quo, especially due to uncertainties in the terms, conditions, and exact directions of NATO's movements toward Eurasia.

    However, the pre-summit surge in media reports on democracy in Russia and other CIS member states sent a warning to Central Asian leaders that they should hand over power. Probably the only - and the most important - issue Mr. Bush could have been interested in was whether President Putin was firmly committed to stepping down in 2008 without any tricks. The question is: Did he ask Mr. Putin that question?

    Gazeta

    Chirac Defends French Oil Sector's Interests

    The purchase of a share package in a Russian oil and gas company, NOVATEK, by France's Total has assumed a political coloring, as French President Jacques Chirac has asked Vladimir Putin to accelerate the deal, writes Gazeta.

    Total announced the purchase of a 25% stake in NOVATEK in September 2004. The French company intended to invest up to $1 billion into the Russian company and was expected to become a NOVATEK shareholder in late 2004.

    NOVATEK, which produces nearly 22 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year, does not have substantial market positions. In comparison, Gazprom produces more than 540 billion cubic meters a year. Nonetheless, the Federal Anti-Trust Service has delayed the examination of this issue.

    Igor Artemyev, the head of the service, explained that NOVATEK had to complete its own reorganization program before the company could sell its shares to Total.

    However, some experts think that the anti-trust agency is afraid of giving foreigners permission to operate on the domestic market without the top Russian leadership's permission.

    Total seems to have reached a similar conclusion. Paris has therefore decided to enlist the Russian leadership's support. President Chirac has sent a letter to his Russian counterpart asking him to accelerate the deal.

    Experts believe the Total-NOVATEK deal has now moved from the economic to the political realm, as now the decision rests with the Russian leader. Mr. Putin, who maintains friendly relations with Chirac, will most likely meet Paris halfway. However, he may ask the French president to reciprocate by supporting Russia in its efforts to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Moreover, Dmitry Orlov, the general director of the Political and Economic Communications Agency, believes Mr. Chirac could promise Mr. Putin that French officials will not hinder Russian corporate operations on the French market.

    Izvestia

    No Aggression Threatens Russia

    In an interview with Izvestia, General Yury Baluyevsky, the chief of the Russian Armed Forces' General Staff, says there is no direct threat of an aggression against Russia today.

    The general says that today, as Russia is moving toward a democratic society, as its main aim is to improve the population's prosperity, the Russian army has a unique opportunity to straighten its back. The state's economic potential makes this possible.

    Therefore, modernizing the army is a priority for the Armed Forces. "For the last five years we have aimed to create arms and hardware that is not simply of the next generation, but the generation after that," the general says. "And we have done so."

    General Baluyevsky is disappointed that intra-CIS military cooperation lacks the required algorithm, and that CIS countries have only established a joint air-defense system. In his opinion, such cooperation is absolutely essential and the CIS military should target specific threats that cannot be repelled by one country alone. However, the general believes the political conditions are not yet in place for such an alliance.

    For its own part, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (which comprises Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) has a military orientation. Therefore, the general believes that future military cooperation within its framework is more promising than intra-CIS military cooperation.

    When speaking about recent media speculation about Western control over Russia's strategic nuclear forces,General Baluyevsky said there was no reason for such apprehensions. He believes Russia will not allow any other country to exercise such control.

    Vremya Novostei

    Experts: India Eyes Yukos Assets

    India seems to be interested in Yukos assets other than a share in Yuganskneftegaz, which state-run Rosneft now owns, Vremya Novostei writes.

    After a US bankruptcy court refused on Friday to play a role in the conflict between Yukos and the Russian authorities, officials may get the chance to continue selling off the embattled company's assets. Experts believe that prize assets Tomskneftegaz and Samaraneftegaz could be put up for sale.

    When announcing a forthcoming visit to the region by India's ambassador in Russia, Kanwal Sibal, Tomsk Region Governor Viktor Kress said yesterday, "India has recently displayed interest in a whole number of large and promising oil projects in Russia." However, he did not specify which projects. Experts, though, do not doubt that Tomskneftegaz will be discussed. Although it still belongs to Yukos, it may soon be auctioned off to cover its parent company's tax arrears to the budget. Apart from that, experts believe that the Indian side is also interested in licenses that are still in the Tomsk Region's undistributed subsoil fund.

    Early last week, Shankar Aiyar, India's oil minister, visited Moscow with an official delegation. The minister announced that his country's was ready to invest up to $20 billion in the Russian oil sector.

    "Naturally, if the investor intends to invest such a sum, he wants to learn more about the assets he can acquire," says Maria Radina, an analyst with Finam, an investment company. She does not rule out that instead of a stake in Yuganskneftegaz, which China also wants to acquire, the Indian side has been promised a large portion of Tomskneft.

    However, China is also interested in the region's assets. A source in the Russian government said yesterday that China National Petroleum Corporation had applied to the Federal Anti-Trust Service of Russia with a request to purchase Tomskneft outright. However, Mr. Kress said that he was not intending to allow Chinese capital into his region's oil and gas sector.

    Vedomosti

    Asus Takes The Lead On Russian Laptop Market

    Last year saw a change of leader on the Russian laptop market. According to research conducted by Gartner Group and IDC, Russia's Rover Computer gave way to Taiwan's Asus, Vedomosti reports.

    In the past seven to eight years, Rover was always at least 5% ahead of the competition, with 30% of the market. However, Sergei Shunyayev, Rover Computer's president, says that demand for laptops in Russia grew by 50% last year, which galvanized both foreign and Russian brands.

    Mr. Shunyayev does not agree with the analysts that his company has lost its leading position and says the 2004 gap between Rover and all others was just a bit smaller than before. This year will show who is the top dog on the Russian laptop market, he says.

    IDC analyst Andrei Verkhovod says sales of Asus, Rover, and iRU laptops were running "neck and neck" last year, but competition will soon intensify with the emergence of aggressive newcomers such as Korea's Samsung and LG, and Taiwan's Acer.

    Alexei Voronkov, a marketing manager with Asustek Computer's Moscow office, says sales of Asus laptop computers in Russia were up 300% last year.

    Roman Mosin, an Acer PR manager, also says his company is happy about its performance on the Russian market, with its share growing six-fold and sales by 522% last year.

    The head of the PR service at iRU, Yelena Medvedeva, says laptops became ordinary consumer goods last year rather than a specialist piece of equipment for IT experts. She says iRU increased sales by 240%.

    IDC reports 240,000 laptops were sold in the fourth quarter of 2004 alone.

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