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    What the Russian papers say

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    MOSCOW, March 9 (RIA Novosti)
    Russia to benefit from Iran situation/ Algeria set to buy Russian weapons/ Business worried by Putin counterterrorism bill/ Russia and Ukraine's parliamentary election/ Domestic gas prices in Russia

    (RIA Novosti does not accept responsibility for the articles in the press)

    Novaya Gazeta

    Russia will benefit from any Iranian scenario

    Many senior figures in Russia's nuclear industry have said Iran wants to create nuclear weapons or have admitted the possibility. But experts with direct connections to the Iranian nuclear project or access to relevant documents say a nuclear Iran would not threaten Russia.
    Yury Vishnevsky, who headed the Federal Service for the Oversight of the Environment, Technology and Nuclear Management in 1991-2003, said Iran needed not fuel but technology to create nuclear weapons, so that it would join North Korea in protecting itself from international pressure, above all from America.
    Valery Bogdan, deputy nuclear energy minister in 1996-1998, said Iran could create nuclear weapons without Russian assistance. It has the intellectual base and technologies, though not modern ones, he said.
    A senior figure at the Federal Atomic Energy Service (Rosatom) who attended talks with Iran but preferred to remain anonymous said Iran's peaceful aspirations were a myth. Its purposes were certainly military, he said. Iran would hardly agree to create a joint uranium enrichment venture in Russia where Iranian specialists would not be allowed or trained. The Russian initiative will curtail Iran's access to dual technologies and is therefore of no interest to Iran.
    An analyst from the secret services who preferred to remain anonymous said the Untied States regarded Iran as a subject of potential pressure, probably also because it is the main energy base for China, India and Japan, which depend on Middle Eastern oil. If the international community approves sanctions or a military operation against Iran, the first to suffer will be China, which will lose a source of energy reserves.
    "It may sound cynical, but Russia will benefit from any scenario," the expert said. "The pressure is kept up by high oil prices, which will soar in case of sanctions or a conflict. In this case, China will have to buy energy reserves from Russia."


    Algerian army to receive new Russian weapons

    A $4-billion arms contract package, the most expensive in post-Soviet history, due to be finalized after President Vladimir Putin's forthcoming Algerian visit, would enable Russian defense enterprises to function for several years and would directly influence some military programs in the interests of the Defense Ministry.
    A source close to Rosoboronexport, Russia's main national arms exporter, said that contracts for the delivery of 40 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 SMT Fulcrum fighters, 20 Sukhoi Su-30 MK Flanker fighters, 16 Yakovlev-130 Mitten combat trainers, eight battalions of S-300 PMU surface-to-air missiles and 40 T-90 main battle tanks had already been initialed.
    The Algerian army has bought weapons from the Soviet Union, Russia, its legal successor, and other CIS member states since Algeria gained independence in 1962. It currently owes over 1.3 billion transferable rubles, a former Soviet currency unit for international settlements, or $2.2 billion.
    "It seems that Algeria, which bought $10 billion worth of Soviet weaponry from 1962 to 1991, will now implement a rearmament program with Russian assistance. However, Russian arms deliveries were under $500 million in the 1990s and totaled about $100 million per year after 2000," said Marat Kenzhetayev, an analyst with the Center for Arms Control in Moscow.
    "This contract will allow the MiG aircraft corporation to compete against the more powerful company Sukhoi Military Aircraft and will greatly increase the chances of the MiG-35 fighter at an Indian tender for the purchase of 126 fighters worth $9 billion," said Konstantin Makiyenko, an expert with the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.
    Makiyenko continued that Moscow might revise the results of a 2001 tender for the best fifth-generation fighter that was won by Sukhoi Military Aircraft and choose the lighter MiG-35 warplane instead.


    Business community worried by Putin's counterterrorism bill

    On February 28, President Vladimir Putin issued a regulation that seems to be shifting part of the financial burden of counterterrorism on to the national business community, according to Kommersant, a leading business daily.
    A source close to security services said the regulation stipulated "voluntary support from major Russian businesses" for the activities of the National Anti-terrorist Committee, to be coordinated by Vladimir Kozhin, head of the presidential administrative board.
    The document has not been officially published yet. Head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, the gathering of major Russian businessmen, Alexander Shokhin, said yesterday he knew "the document existed," though had not "seen it yet." The Union Board will discuss the regulation next week, he said.
    Dina Krylova, a board member and executive director of Opora Rossii, an association of small and medium businesses, said she did not know anything about the document.
    "We are small and medium business, it's not surprising we are in the dark," she said.
    Leaders of business associations insist that involvement in all privately funded counterterrorist facilities should be genuinely voluntary.
    "All legally induced non-voluntary payments are called taxes," Krylova said.
    "If the funding is extracted by way of 'soft coercion,' this is far from civilized [way]," said Anton Danilov-Danilian, chief expert of Delovaya Rossiya, another business association.
    Konstantin Babkin, president of Soyuzagromash, a gathering of agricultural machinery producers, said he hoped "this will be seen as an appeal rather than an order, and that there will be no repression."
    Alexander Khandruev, vice president of Reforma Foundation, said: "Some loyalist businessmen, whom we have in large numbers, might see it as 'give something to the government and get a free hand in doing your business'."
    Yury Kobaladze, managing director at Renaissance Capital brokerage, said: "The government will take if there is something people are ready to give up."


    Russian almost a priority in Ukrainian election campaign

    High emotion around the status of the Russian language has overwhelmed Ukraine on the eve of the country's parliamentary elections. Yesterday, Kharkov city council members made a decision to make Russian a regional [second official] language. A week earlier, the Crimean parliament declared its intention to hold a referendum on the same issue.
    "If referendums are held on the Constitution, NATO, the Common Economic Space, and the Russian language, someone will necessarily want to hold a referendum on the special status of a territory, and then the country may find itself split," said Vladimir Litvin, speaker of the Verkhovnaya Rada, the Ukrainian parliament.
    But the current public debate in Ukraine is a mere political game that could aggravate bilateral relations, especially in the light of clearly biased coverage of the problem by Russian TV channels.
    Unlike Ukraine, Russia does not pay too much attention to the problem of regional languages. In fact, the languages of Russia's minorities are discriminated against. Take last year's statements in Bashkortostan, when a Tatar nationalist movement demanded that Tatar be made a regional language. Tatars are the republic's No. 2 ethnic group after Russians, and yet Bashkortostan's leaders have so far rejected their demands.
    The Tatar situation is an illustration of how the federal government solves language issues. A few years ago a decision was made in Kazan to switch from the Cyrillic alphabet to Latin, as it was in the Soviet times. Moscow barked, and historical justice did not triumph in the end.


    Domestic gas prices will rise in Russia

    Analysts from the Swiss investment bank USB AG said Russia would have to raise domestic gas prices to $80 per 1,000 cubic meters by 2010. The price will be even higher for industrial users and this will affect the Russian economy, which uses cheap subsidized energy resources.
    These conclusions did not surprise the Swiss experts' Russian colleagues. "Gas prices will rise," said Igor Nikolayev, chief strategic analyst with the FBK consultancy. "It is becoming increasingly difficult for Gazprom to keep down gas prices, as it needs a growing amount of funds for additional investments. World gas prices do not depend on Gazprom, which therefore has to raise domestic prices. Apparently, this price growth will increase the prices of producers who use gas."
    The first to suffer will be basic users - energy and chemical enterprises. "Producers of mineral fertilizers will be among the first to feel the effects of higher gas prices," said Maxim Volkov, general director of the Fosagro AG, a producer of chemicals and fertilizers. He said that major producers of mineral fertilizers in Russia had been preparing for this by reducing gas consumption.
    "A big rise in [gas] prices will affect our operation," said Mikhail Zharkov, a leading PR expert at the chemical company Akron. "But we have no choice because we do not have gas suppliers alternative to Gazprom."
    Gazprom, which hopes the state would help it out, has not been alarmed by the forecast of UBS AG. "There is a price of the gas which RAO UES of Russia power stations receive under a special agreement with Gazprom at prices whose ceiling is set by the government," the gas holding's press service said. The electricity giant UES also buys gas on the market but in minor amounts.

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