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    MOSCOW, October 11 (RIA Novosti)



    U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has begun a tour of Central Asia yesterday in a bid to convince the leaders of Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan to create a regional organization without Russia, China and Iran.

    American analysts said Rice's tour was Washington's answer to last week's visit of four Central Asian leaders to Moscow for Vladimir Putin's birthday and the accession of the Central Asian Cooperation Organization to EurAsEC.

    Shortly before the visit, American diplomats said as one that they were not worried by the increasingly close relations between Moscow and the Central Asian republics and would not fight Russia for influence in the region. "We do not regard Central Asia as an object in a great game," said Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Dan Fried.

    He said the United States had interests in Central Asia comparable to those of Russia. He noted specifically the struggle against Islamic extremism and drug trafficking.

    The U.S. has long been nurturing an idea of creating a Central Asian organization without Russia, China and Iran. Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs Josette S. Shiner said during preparations for Rice's visit that her boss would discuss a regional trade agreement in all of the four countries, including Afghanistan. The idea is to gradually remove legal and tax barriers to all kinds of industrial deliveries in Central Asia.

    Josette Shiner noted specifically the importance of a free export of energy resources, which would benefit Kazakhstan that is the biggest oil exporter in Central Asia.

    But one of our sources in Washington said that the U.S. administration was trying to create an economic and political alternative to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO - Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) and the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC - Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan), because it does not intend to allow the regional countries to enter the zone of influence of Moscow and Beijing.



    In the past few years Russia has passed from the group of "partly free" to the group of such "non-free" states as Belarus and Turkmenistan. The conclusion was made by a group of democratically minded members of the Public Expertise organization, who summed up the statistical results of the work of the forth State Duma and published them on Monday.

    "Everyone knows that today we are consistently retreating from the principles of democracy and liberalism," Boris Reznik, a member of the United Russia faction and one of the most respected deputies in the State Duma, said at the presentation of "The Democratic Audit of Russia." He added, though, that it was his personal opinion and not the opinion of his party.

    According to Public Expertise, the situation in the Duma is fit for the Guinness Book of Records: a party that won 37.6% of the vote at the election (United Russia) holds 67.6% seats in parliament.

    "This is a violation of one of the basic principles of democracy (one man - one vote)," said Igor Yakovenko, director of Public Expertise and general secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists. "In fact, each member of United Russia has two votes. This is an infringement on the political rights of two-thirds of Russian citizens who did not vote for United Russia."

    Yakovenko said that the main types of modern Russian deputies were "officials, extras and ghosts." Since the election of parliament in December 2003, 110 of its 450 deputies have never asked the floor or suggested a draft law.

    The current Russian parliament is not working to ensure the influence of society on authorities but to ensure influence of the authorities on the people, said Sergei Mitrokhin, deputy chairman of Yabloko.

    In all, experts cite nine proven facts about the absence of democracy at work in the Russian parliament. The major one is the transformation of the State Duma into an executive agency rubberstamping the decisions of the Kremlin and the government.



    The numbers of foreigners in Russian trade annoys Dmitry Rogozin, leader of the Rodina (Homeland) party. His party has submitted a bill to the parliament seeking to ban foreigners from retail trade at food and clothes markets. The move is directly related to the forthcoming elections to the Moscow City Duma in December, experts say.

    In a letter of comment, the deputies write that "foreigners form national diasporas and drive out from the market Russian businessmen, who are not as well organized. At the same time, foreigners avoid paying taxes and use their dominance to sell products that are not only more expensive, but also of inferior quality and often unsafe for consumption."

    Experts, however, disagree. "This is pure xenophobia," says Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies. "The bill appeals to people's dislike of natives of the Caucasus. Rogozin understands that it has no chance [of being adopted], but he wants to stand out somehow in the run up to the Moscow City Duma election, which is very important for his party."

    Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy director general of the Levada Center sociological company, says that Rodina's move is very acute. "Our surveys show that xenophobic sentiments are very strong among Russians," he explains. "They are particularly hostile towards natives of the Caucasus, and the main complaint about them is that they have taken over the consumer markets."

    According to the statistics provided by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center, VTsIOM, in 2005, 23% of Russians felt dislike for people from the Caucasus, 8% for Chechens and 3% for Gypsies.

    "If Rodina provides good publicity for its initiative, it will have a chance to win additional votes in the Moscow election," maintains Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie Center.

    Mr. Makarkin says: "Slogans for ousting foreigners do not cause a stir in Russian society, while a significant part of real opposition to the authorities consists of outspoken xenophobes."



    Russia's Volna and Rokot launch vehicles recently blew up during lift-off. Consequently, space launch insurance will cost more in the future. At the same time, Moscow will have to reimburse its clients from future profits.

    The latest disasters will not affect Russia's leading positions in the commercial lightweight launch vehicle market, valued at $100 million a year. The West is still unable to offer any serious competition.

    "This disaster is not likely to tarnish our reputation because the previous ten Rokot launches were quite successful. No rocket is absolutely reliable," a source inside the aerospace sector noted.

    Alas, Russia will be earning less money because this disaster happened through its own fault. Insurance companies will charge higher premiums that may account for 20% of launch costs. "As a rule, we conduct several launches free of charge in order to restore our reputation," the source added.

    Volna and Rokot are converted ballistic missiles for launching commercial satellites. It costs about $1-2 million to launch one inexpensive Volna vehicle, while the older and more dependable Rokot costs $12-14 million per launch.

    Experts believe that Rokot is quite reliable. Alas, all Rokot launches will now be stopped pending an official investigation. However, the source believes that Rokot launch vehicles are going to lift off as planned because this would otherwise impair EADS profits. Marketing of space launches is done by the company Evrorokot, in which a 51% stake belongs to EADS, whereas another 49% belong to the Khrunichev state-run space vehicle production center.

    Nezavisimaya Gazeta


    Andrei Nechayev, president of the Russian Financial Corporation, former Russian economics minister:

    Stiff competition in the president's inner circle leads to inconsistencies in the economic policy and in some cases impedes economic growth.

    Tighter government control over key economic sectors has been a top priority of economic policy in recent years. The process of deprivatization of property and confiscation of private companies' assets, allegedly because of tax evasion, is gaining momentum. The pretext for these actions is raising the competitiveness of the leading sectors of Russian industry on the world market. Admittedly, neither world nor modern Russian experience has proved that public property management is more effective than private.

    However, the root of the problem lies elsewhere. Certain individuals manage property on behalf of the state and in the interests of the power elite that has entrusted them with the job. Access to management is gradually narrowing. The president's chiefs of staff, rather than ministers, head the boards of directors in many key companies.

    Government officials are actively involved in the redistribution of property in favor of structures they oversee. As a rule, this is done with the help of the judicial system.

    One often gets the impression that many decisions related to economic policy are designed to lay groundwork for bribery. There is no unity because everyone tries to snatch a piece for himself.

    It seems likely that the disagreements among the power elite will only grow. This means further inconsistency in decision-making and the postponement of reforms badly needed by the nation. If the opinion of using the Stabilization Fund money inside the country gains the upper hand, this will lead to higher inflation rates, and hence, growing social discontent and a further slowdown in economic growth. All this may lead to a crisis.

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