MOSCOW, December 14 (RIA Novosti) German expert blames Western security services for Litvinenko's death/Russian parliament wants to end pipeline monopolies /Severstal recruiting Mittal Steel personnel in Kazakhstan/Russian companies may receive Mazeikiu nafta /Russian company to corner 20% of computerized dictionaries and translation market
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German expert blames Western security services for Litvinenko's death
There are many seemingly inexplicable features involved in the death of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko. Sebastian Pflugbeil, president of the German Society for Radiation Protection, said that many of those mysteries will never be solved.
But he also told the Berlin correspondent of the popular daily Vremya Novostei that the version of "Putin and FSB collusion" against the defector seems totally improbable to him.
He said he doubts that Russian services killed Litvinenko. It is impossible to imagine that there are no specialists in the FSB capable of working with polonium-210 professionally, the scientist said.
But in this case, traces of polonium and other trails apparently direct suspicion at Moscow. The FSB would not have done this, Pflugbeil said.
He said the prime goal of the operation in London was not to kill Litvinenko, but to provoke debate and raise tensions, and ultimately to harm Putin's image and compromise Russian security services.
The German expert recalled that Putin's schedule in the next few months includes important international meetings, and that the presidential election is fast approaching.
It would not be reasonable for Putin to choose this moment to revenge himself on his former colleague, and to do it so amateurishly, Pflugbeil said.
He said Western security services, which want to darken the image of Putin and the Russian security services, might be involved in the Litvinenko's murder.
A closer look at Litvinenko's "friends" shows that they are a non-transparent group, where anything can happen, including under the influence of personal ambitions.
The main version being discussed today - that Litvinenko was killed on the orders of the FSB or Putin - is totally unconvincing, Pflugbeil said.
Russian parliament wants to end pipeline monopolies
The Russian parliament will consider a bill that will end pipeline monopolies next week. Experts, however, doubt that private investors will flock to the sector, as independent companies will be allowed to build only local sections of major pipelines.
Currently, access to pipelines is not regulated by the law. Access-related issues are decided by instructions from the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service. The bill envisages equal access to major pipelines even for foreign companies.
It also introduces guarantees of investors' rights.
"Perhaps there will be a lower pumping tariff or preferential pipeline access," said Irakly Aslamazov, deputy head of staff of the parliament's Energy Committee.
The government will not give up control over the construction and operation of private pipelines. It is expected to have at least 50% plus one share in major gas pipelines, and at least 75% in oil and petrochemical pipelines.
Part of a pipeline owner's authorized capital held by the government cannot be sold, mortgaged, placed under management or alienated. State regulations will also remain in place for pumping tariffs.
"No one will make pipelines fully private," said Valery Nesterov of Troika Dialog. "At best, there can be a mixed ownership."
Dmitry Mangilev, an analyst with the Prospekt brokerage, said that few will want to use the opportunities offered by the new bill.
"It is unlikely that Transneft will sell its pipelines," he said. "Oil companies do not need to build new pipelines - there are plenty of them. Gas producers, however, will most probably avail themselves of the opportunity, because Gazprom does not allow independent companies to use its network due to limited capacity."
Severstal recruiting Mittal Steel personnel in Kazakhstan
Russian steel giant Severstal, which recently lost the fight for the Luxembourg-based steel company Arcelor to Mittal Steel, the world's largest steel company, has found an unusual way to deal with workforce shortages.
Severstal representatives recently visited a Mittal Steel subsidiary in Temirtau, Kazakhstan, and offered jobs at the Cherepovets Steel Works to local workers. In all, 500 people agreed to move to Cherepovets.
Mittal Steel Temirtau spokesman Nikolai Kubrakov said Severstal is interested in skilled company workers.
Temirtau, which has a population of 170,000, is famous for its Karaganda Metallurgical Institute, founded in the 1960s, and its training of blue-collar workers for the local steel mill.
Kubrakov said Cherepovets and other Russian cities lack skilled personnel. He said 500 Mittal Steel Temirtau workers have filled in Severstal questionnaires, but that only about 50 are expected to move to Cherepovets.
Severstal is offering more competitive wages than Mittal Steel. In 2005, the company's CEO Lakshmi N. Mittal decided to cut 45,000 jobs worldwide, mostly in Kazakhstan, Romania, Poland (15,000), the Czech Republic and South Africa.
Until recently, Mittal Steel Temirtau workers received 50,000 tenge, or about $390. But their wages have now been raised 20%, to reach $470, Kubrakov said.
Severstal pays 19,250 rubles ($730) to each worker and promises to provide housing in Cherepovets.
Kubrakov said that mainly ethnic Russians with Kazakh passports are interested in the Severstal offer, because many of them want to go home.
Officials have supported Severstal's efforts. Acting Cherepovets Mayor Oleg Kuvshinnikov said the measure will not create social tensions, because the city has a 0.7% unemployment rate, one of the lowest in Russia.
Moreover, the city is hard pressed for skilled workers.
Konstantin Poltoranin, spokesman for the Federal Migration Service, said six million CIS workers will be hired under the 2007 quota, and Severstal will have no problems in this regard.
Russian companies may receive Mazeikiu nafta
Russian oil companies have another shot at gaining control of Lithuanian oil holding Mazeikiu nafta (MN). The purchase and sale deal, due to be completed Thursday for Polish PKN Orlen to buy 53.7% in MN from Yukos International U.K., a subsidiary of bankrupt oil company Yukos, may be derailed.
Experts said if Lithuania and Poland fail to complete the deal, Russian oil companies will certainly make another attempt to gain control of MN.
The Polish company expects the share price to drop substantially, by at least a few hundred million Lithuanian litas (1 lita is equal to some $0.35), following a fire at Mazeikiu nafta in October.
Initially, PKN Orlen intended to pay Yukos International U.K. and the Lithuanian government almost $1.5 billion and $852 million, respectively, for the stake in MN.
Unless the parties agree to postpone the scheduled signing of the agreement, the deal may be canceled, and then MN shares may be put up for auction again, which will enable Russian companies to buy them.
When it became clear in April-May that Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft and the country's largest oil producer LUKoil would not be able to buy MN, the concern encountered serious problems.
In July, a failure occurred at the Druzhba oil pipeline, which transports Russian oil to the Lithuanian oil refinery. Despite Lithuanian protests, Transneft, Russia's monopoly pipeline operator, said the pipeline would not resume operations soon as maintenance bodies would have to complete checking it in March 2007.
More trouble emerged October 12, when a fire broke out at the Mazeikiu oil refinery, reducing its petrochemical output from 27,400 to 12,100 metric tons per day and almost suspending its diesel production.
Experts said private Russian companies might be the first to claim investor roles in the new list.
Alexander Razuvayev, chief analyst with the Megatrustoil brokerage, said Poland's new demands suggest that they have lost interest in the project. "Under the new circumstances, Russian companies will stand a better chance."
"Apart from a lucrative price, it will be necessary to ensure energy deliveries. And as to the political implications, the Lithuanian government is likely to prefer private companies involving Western capital, such as LUKoil and Russian-British oil venture TNK-BP, to state-controlled Rosneft," he said.
Russian company to corner 20% of computerized dictionaries and translation market
One of Russia's top software exporters intends to corner up to 20% of the computerized dictionaries and translation market by 2010. To do so, ABBYY hopes to cooperate with producers of smart-phones and PCs, and has already partnered up with Finland's Nokia on the CIS market.
Next year, the Russian software developer plans to sign contracts for exports outside the CIS. Experts, however, said they do not think the market for dictionaries and translators for mobile devices will live up to ABBYY's expectations.
The company has chosen a well-known route, promoting its product through the manufacturers of devices.
When presenting its Fine Reader, a document recognition program, on the global market in 1998, ABBYY reached agreements with leading scanner producers, such as Acer, Epson, Umax and Genius.
The results were good. "Now over half of all scanners in the world use Fine Reader," said Grigory Lipich, CEO of ABBYY Russia. "We sell over 14 million copies of the product annually."
This year, suppliers the world over will sell electronic dictionaries and translators worth about $300 million, ABBYY estimates. The figure will reach $1 billion by 2010. And the company is set to get at least 20% of the sum.
"ABBYY has a good chance of cashing in," said Vladislav Kochetkov of Finam. "In the eleven months of 2006 alone, it sold over 250,000 copies of its dictionary in Russia and Ukraine, up 55% against the previous year."
Yet not all experts believe that ABBYY's plans will be easy to carry out.
"The electronic dictionaries market in the West is controlled by companies with many years of experience in the sphere, and they are trusted," said Alexander Andreyev, director for marketing with Prompt. "It will be difficult for a young Russian company to achieve good results in that conservative and highly competitive market."
Some analysts are skeptical even about the outlook for electronic dictionaries in general.
"In the past, Siemens used to install dictionaries in its mobile phones, but surveys showed that only 1% of customers actually used them," said Eldar Murtazin of Mobile Research Group. "So ABBYY and its partners will have to explain to people how to use these programs, and why they need them at all."