MOSCOW, September 11 (RIA Novosti) U.S. government suspected of masterminding 9/11 attacks / Russia eyes tougher law on foreign investors / Politicians might take advantage of failed Russian IPOs - expert / Russian neighbors try to use market approach towards Russia / Lithuania threatens to raise tariffs for Russian gas transits
U.S. government suspected of masterminding 9/11 attacks
On September 10-11, the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, California, will host an event called "9/11: Blueprint for Truth & 9/11 Film Festival," marking the sixth anniversary of the horrendous terrorist attacks that toppled the World Trade Center (WTC) Twin Towers in New York and seriously damaged the Pentagon building in Washington D.C.
In all, 130 architects and engineers, led by Richard Gage, from the American Institute of Architecture, will examine evidence of the 9/11 disaster, debunk official theories and submit an online petition to the House of Representatives and the Senate demanding a truly independent investigation with subpoena power.
They said the towers could have been demolished by high explosives and thermite, used by the military to cut through steel, and not by the two hijacked airliners that crashed into the buildings.
The architects pointed to the fact that the airliners could only have caused partial destruction, whereas video footage shows that the sturdy towers folded up neatly.
Gage said the U.S. government could have orchestrated the outrage, and Russian experts have called the theory plausible.
Viktor Baranets, a former expert adviser to the chief of the Russian General Staff, said the plot to topple the Twin Towers could have involved U.S. secret services. He said the U.S. ruling elite needed a pretext to justify a new strategy to fight terrorism.
Washington accomplished other strategic objectives, including the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and boosting national patriotism, Baranets told the paper.
He said the combined operation could have involved airliners crewed by suicide pilots and high explosives planted inside the WTC.
Although it is officially claimed that it took six months to train Muslim pilots to approach and ram the skyscrapers, any pilot will tell you that this cannot be accomplished in less than 18 months, Baranets said.
According to him, it is impossible to believe that U.S. secret services were unable to spot numerous Muslim pilots among Boeing crews, because Washington was playing up the Islamist threat.
He said somebody had either turned a blind eye to the process or had orchestrated it.
Despite intensive training, there was no guarantee that the perpetrators would succeed - the airliner which was supposed to hit the Pentagon missed, and it was impossible to plant explosives inside the building, Baranets told the paper.
He said someone could have planted TNT or plastic explosives inside the Twin Towers, which were being constantly renovated, and to use a cell phone to detonate them.
Business & Financial Markets
Russia eyes tougher law on foreign investors
Russia will have to take steps to protect its interests in reply to a United States act on restricting foreign access to its economy, President Vladimir Putin warned on Monday. Experts said deputies will now have to reconsider an Energy and Industry Ministry bill on foreign access to strategic deposits.
"This is, of course, a step away from a liberal economy," the president said. Russia has, he added, "long held off adopting such laws." But now, the president made it clear, Russia has had its hand forced. "If things go on the way they do, we will have to make steps to protect our interests," he said.
Russia already has a bill along the lines of the American act, although it has not yet been passed. If it is, foreign businessmen will only be allowed to purchase more than 25% of stock in strategic companies with the permission of a government commission headed by the prime minister. Furthermore, in Russia, the secret services have a say in decisions to grant foreigners the right to buy companies. A deal to acquire an organization cleared to handle state secrets (nearly all strategic enterprises) must be approved by the Federal Security Service (FSB).
Now it appears these provisions are likely to be revised when the bill comes up for reworking in the Duma. "Nothing will prevent the deputies from clamping down on all sorts of restrictions: on the number of branches, or on management roles. Europe and the U.S. are also tightening up their requirements to foreign investors," said Igor Nikolayev, director of strategic analysis at FBK-Pravo.
"The bill's restrictions can be made tougher but within the limits set down in the bill," said Iosif Diskin, co-chairman of the National Strategy Council. "In the oil and gas sector, for example, they will first 'play' with field sizes and, in the defense sector, ban the purchase of controlling stakes."
Restricted access to Russia for American investors is possible only if the U.S. imposes limits on Russian investors, said Viktor Pleskachevsky, chairman of the Property Committee. "But American investors are interested in Russian companies and will make their deals through offshore companies," he said.
U.S. foreign direct investments in the Russian economy totaled $3.6 billion in the period ending June 2007. Russia had $706 million invested in the United States.
Politicians might take advantage of failed Russian IPOs - expert
Losses suffered by ordinary people in "popular" Russian IPOs accessible to small investors are becoming a political irritant. Experts are sure that as the elections draw nearer, authorities will try to dampen the ire of cheated shareholders - either by inflating share prices or abolishing commission fees.
A state-sponsored road show for the popular IPOs of Rosneft, Sberbank and Vneshtorgbank has drawn more than 250,000 individual buyers, who purchased some of the companies' newly-issued shares.
In the four months since the flotation, overall losses of participants have reached 14% of the invested funds. Sberbank's management is already preparing an official cancellation of some of the commission fees for the holders of "popular" shares in Rosneft and Sberbank. However, Sberbank and Rosneft investors, unlike Vneshtorgbank investors, are still on the plus side, if only slightly.
This charitable attitude on the part of the state bank is due to mass resentment felt by popular IPO investors, who have not only lost their money in a falling stock market, but also had to pay the state (in the person of Sberbank) for the right to remain "people's capitalists."
Alexander Potemkin, president of the Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange, advised the state as early as June last year against drawing ordinary people's money into risky market speculations. He said that "if state company stock begins to suddenly fall, the Russian mass shareholders will march on the Government House, not the stock exchange."
"Before the elections, some parties are sure to come forward to cash in on the failed popular IPOs," said Yury Danilov, senior adviser to the head of the Federal Service for Financial Markets.
The budget, he said, will not directly buy the falling shares of state-owned companies, but the Russian Bank of Development may well invest part of the funds to boost the market index.
However, "ratcheting it up by 20% to 30% is unlikely," said Danilov.
He is echoed by Finam analyst Olga Belenkaya, who thinks state institutions are an acceptable tool for breathing life into stock markets. "As early as this spring President Putin decided against using Stabilization Fund assets, but other government money can easily make its way into the market," she said.
Russian neighbors try to use market approach towards Russia
The Baikonur space center, Turkmen gas fields, the Black Sea Fleet's bases and other foreign locations which have importance to Russia have become the bargaining chips with CIS partners. But the possibility of bargaining has its limits.
After the recent crash of a Proton-M rocket carrying a Japanese JCSAT-11 commercial satellite near the town of Dzhezkazgan, where Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev was at the time of the crash, the Kazakh government banned the launch of all Proton rockets until the cause of the crash have been clarified. Later, Russia plans to coordinate measures "on providing security to the Kazakh president during launches from the Baikonur space center."
These statements are supposed to signal that the Kazakh government plan intends to lodge a serious complaint against Russia, which will have monetary value. Currently Russia rents the space center for $115 million a year. The Proton launch was insured for $300 million. Roskosmos, the Russian Space Agency, receives significant funding for commercial launches. The Kazakh government would therefore like to get its "fair" share of the money.
The Kazakh government has strict limits in trading with Russia concerning the issues of payments for Baikonur.
Baikonur unquestionably provides Russia with unique benefits not available at the Plesetsk or Svobodny space centers, mainly because of their distance from the equator. If Russia stops renting Baikonur, Kazakhstan will not be able to sell it to any other country. In the mid-1990s, the Kazakh government attempted to do so but failed. So the lease agreement, which was recently extended to 2050, will remain in effect and the payment will probably rise slightly.
The problem that Russia has with Baikonur is reminiscent in a some way of all the problems that Russia has had with its neighbors who use a market approach. For example, Ukraine is trying to alter the agreement on the Black Sea Fleet bases in Sevastopol (the current the agreement is valid until 2017), but in vain. Russia can apply pressure on Ukraine in various forms ranging from gas to political measures.
Turkmenistan wants to raise prices for gas which Gazprom, the state-controlled energy giant, buys, threatening to sell gas to China and Europe. But China is not ready to pay more than they are now paying to Gazprom. And Turkmenistan does not yet have gas pipelines to China and Europe. Kazakhstan also depends on Russian gas pipelines.
Lithuania threatens to raise tariffs for Russian gas transits
Lithuania is threatening to raise tariffs for the transit of Russian gas to Kaliningrad to compensate for its gas price rises. But even then it will only receive $7.9 million of $1.2 billion that it will probably spend on future gas purchases.
Liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is regarded by Lithuania as a fuel alternative to Russian gas from Gazprom, is even more expensive than the prices offered by the gas monopoly for natural gas.
Transit rates via Lithuania are unknown, but earlier it was reported that they were no higher than $1/1,000 cu m/100 km. Commercial talks on gas prices between Gazprom and Lithuanian gas companies Lietuvos dujos and Dujotekana should be completed this October. In the first half of this year, Gazprom supplied 1.95 billion cubic meters of gas at $190-$200 per 1,000 cubic meters. The country's Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas fears prices could rise to $312-$320 from January 1, 2008.
Valery Nesterov from the Troika Dialog investment bank says Lithuania's tactics are nothing new: Ukraine employed them in the past raising transit tariffs from $1.09 to $1.6/1,000 cu m/100 km. Ukraine transports over 100 billion cubic meters of gas [a year].
A year ago, Georgia also threatened to raise transit rates for Armenian supplies to $8 if gas prices for Georgia increased from $100 to $235 per 1,000 cubic meters, but whether this threat was carried out or not is not yet known.
"Transit rates have limits - they differ but not significantly in different countries," Nesterov said. "We predict a rise in gas prices in the EU next year to $300 per 1,000 cubic meters as a consequence of a rise in oil prices this year. Therefore, the analyst thinks, Lithuania should look for other arguments in talks with Gazprom.
The Lithuanian prime minister has found another angle, but it is rather costly for the country. He said that in the near future it would be necessary to make a decision on the construction of a terminal for LNG imports and storage in Lithuania as an "alternative way of meeting the country's gas requirements."
However, LNG is $50-$100 more expensive than natural gas, therefore it would be more expedient for Lithuania to deal with Gazprom even when it introduces its new prices.
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