MOSCOW, July 19 (RIA Novosti)
Geopolitical struggle for Transdnestr enters final stage
President Vladimir Voronin of Moldova put forward a plan for settling the Transdnestr (the self-proclaimed Dnestr-Moldovan republic with a predominantly Russian-speaking population) conflict last week. According to an article in the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta by Alexei Makarkin, deputy general director of the Center for Political Technologies, Voronin's plan hinges on a Ukrainian concept that calls for ousting the Russian Federation from the region.
According to Makarkin, despite many similarities, the Russian and Ukrainian trouble-shooting plans pursue diametrically opposed geopolitical goals. However, there is still one important difference between them. The plan of Dmitry Kozak (who served as deputy head of the Russian presidential administration in 2003) formalizes a Russian regional military-political presence, whereas Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's plan aims to curtail such a presence. Makarkin also notes that Kozak's plan does not stipulate a compulsory democratization of the Transdnestr region. However, such democratization is a key provision of the Yushchenko plan.
Russia has found itself in a difficult situation. First of all, the Yushchenko plan matches European democratic standards. If Russia rejects the Ukrainian plan, then it may be interpreted as wanting to preserve its military presence in the region instead of resolving the conflict. This is why the Russian side positively assessed the Ukrainian proposals, albeit in a restrained manner. It is also difficult for Russia to publicly object to the democratization of Transdnestr.
Second, many representatives of the Transdnestr elite are tired of the uncertain "self-proclaimed republic" status and are, therefore, ready to compromise. They also want to avoid a conflict with Ukraine.
Russia will have to adopt principled decisions in the near future. Makarkin believes such decisions will be based on the main principles of Yushchenko's plan and possibly include compromises with Russian interests.
However, the preservation of Russia's substantial, rather than simply formal, military presence in the region is an extremely formidable objective.
New poll shows most Russians distrust election system
A new poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation found that 55% of respondents think election results in Russia do not reflect the opinion of the people and only 31% think elections are honest, the daily Vremya Novostei reported.
The poll also found that 51% are convinced that the 2007 parliamentary election will not be honest and 44% say the same about the 2008 presidential election. Only 23% and 41%, respectively, think that the votes will be counted correctly.
"The people distrust the institutes of power, with the exception of the president," said Iosif Diskin, co-chairman of the National Strategy Council.
Despite this, 64% plan to turn out for the 2007 Duma elections and 73% said they vote in the 2008 presidential elections.
"The public still thinks that it can influence the authorities, still hopes that something can change," said Ivan Klimov, a leading FOM researcher. "On the other hand, elections have become routine, like shopping. We usually go to the nearest shop, even if its range of commodities is insufficient and prices are not optimal."
Of those polled, 42% are convinced that distortion of election results could catalyze mass protests, but 39% do not think this is possible. Political scientist Diskin is convinced that the poll revealed a potential 5%-6% of the people who might walk out if distortions would radically change voting results.
Klimov believes that only 1%-4% take part in protest actions in Russia. "It is a fact that there are protest sentiments in society," he said. "Yet people do not want revolutionary change, they understand that revolutions slow down the development of the state." Protest sentiments are a good mechanism of social integration, he said.
Russian banks unhappy with American Express policy
Vneshtorgbank and Bank Moskvy, major players in the Russian retail banking market, have stated openly their discontent with a new Russian strategy of international credit card company American Express. American Express has granted exclusive rights to issue its banking cards in Russia to Russky Standart bank. All other banks will have to issue American Express cards as Russky Standart agents, the business daily Kommersant reported.
Until the American Express - Russky Standart April agreement, American Express had been the only card brand issued exclusively by the company and distributed between banks on an equal basis. Under the new agreement, however, Russky Standart will "provide full client service to American Express cardholders, including transactions and credit limitations."
American Express said those who already have American Express cards would still receive full service, but no more personal international-currency cards would be issued starting this fall. To offer American Express cards to their customers, Russian banks will have to seal agent agreements with Russky Standart, American Express said.
Banks were clearly unhappy over the news.
"In our letter to American Express, we informed the credit card company that working through Russky Standart is something we cannot possibly accept. We recommended either conserving the existing card distribution system or giving us the same authority as Russky Standart," Andrei Krasnov, vice president of Bank Moskvy, said Monday. "If we do not receive a positive answer, we will have to turn to other credit card companies to offer similar products to our VIP clients."
Vneshtorgbank, Russia's No 1 non-state-owned bank, also applied to American Express for similar preferences. Applications from many other major Russian players are expected soon.
"We would advise against trusting an outside bank with transactions on the cards of our VIP clients. In this case we are in no way insured against someone else tapping our customer base."
Auchan brings Atac to Russia
The French trading group Auchan is expanding its business in Russia to launch the first Atac chain supermarkets here in September, the influential business daily Vedomosti reported.
In 2002, the Moscow region administration worked out a project of the region's shopping quarters that was to include 50 shopping and entertainment centers, and Atac was expected to be among the leasers. Recently, however, the administration informed Vedomosti that cooperation with the chain had been frozen.
Market players expect that Atac, which for now intends to operate in the capital, will enter the market aggressively. As the chain's supermarkets will work with Auchan's suppliers, they will be able to sell goods cheaper than their Russian rivals, according to Svetlana Brusentsova of the PomidorProm canning holding.
Anton Bukanov, frozen goods producer Hortex's director for Russia, is positive that Atac will compete mainly with foreign chains like the Turkish supermarket Ramstore and Real, which will be opened by the German group Metro.
"Atac's coming to Russia will not be anything outstanding for the Russian market because it is not saturated yet," said Yulia Belova of Metro's Russia office.
Experts are split on the strategy Atac may choose to absorb the Russian market. The chain may develop by buying existing supermarkets, since redistribution of the retail market will continue for a long time, according to Anna Shiryayeva, general director of Magazin Magazinov.
Maksim Gasiyev, director of commercial property with Colliers International, predicts that Atac's supermarkets will be opened in shopping centers because it is no longer possible to find good premises in Moscow.
Auchan operates in 15 countries and manages 320 hypermarkets and 600 supermarkets. In Russia, it is represented by Auchan Russia, which manages six hypermarkets in Moscow and the Moscow region.
German and Swedish factories to rise in Moscow's suburbs
The German Deller GmBH company, which produces fruit fillers and concentrates and Sweden's Tetra Pak, one of the world's biggest producers of packaging materials, are planning to build new factories in the town of Lobnya, 12 km north of Moscow, with Deller GmBH investing about 5 million euros in the project, the Biznes daily reported.
Alex Hartmann, former director of the Russian office of the German food company Ehrmann, and his partners from the international consulting company Knight Frank plan to build a few more foreign enterprises in Lobnya.
At the end of last week, Moscow Regional Governor Boris Gromov and Prime Minister of the German Land Hessen Roland Koch signed an agreement on establishing industrial districts in the Moscow suburb, where businessmen from Hessen would be able to build their production facilities.
To carry out the project, Hartmann's developer company purchased 20 hectares of land from the Lobnya administration. The inputs are estimated at about $9 million. The administration has also given the company definite privileges, said Alexei Novikov, deputy chief of the industrial fixed assets department at Knight Frank. The developer plans to expand the industrial district to 85 hectares.
"To provide all necessary utilities (electricity, gas and water supply), the investor needs to spend about $1,000-1,200 per 100 square meters. And the construction of buildings for production facilities will cost $750 per square meter," said Dmitry Rayev, a realtor with the Russian company Swiss Realty.
The industrial district in Lobnya is the first project of its kind carried out in the Moscow region and a total of 60 industrial districts are to appear in the Moscow Region by 2010. Investors for four such districts have already been found - the Volokolamsk and Istra districts and the towns of Shcholkovo and Dubna, the region's Economics Minister Vyacheslav Krymov said.