MOSCOW, December 24 (RIA Novosti) Opposition group in Ingushetia doubts results of parliamentary election/ Russia's huge pipeline projects fall behind schedule/ Russia to supply weapons to Iran/ Uzbekistan offered gas to Gazprom at $180 per 1,000 cu m/ French Axa sets new record on Russian insurance market/ Every seventh Russian lives below poverty line/
Opposition group in Ingushetia doubts results of parliamentary election
In Ingushetia where, according to official data, the voter turnout at the State Duma elections exceeded 98%, the organizers of the "I have not voted" action group claim that 28% out of the 163,000 voters registered in the republic did not really vote.
Statement by voters confirming this are only accepted on paper, with their full passport data and signature, either delivered by hand or by mail. According to the organizers of the action, they have already collected 45,248 statements from the residents over 18 in the republic that they did not vote in the parliamentary elections held on December 2. After all the statements are collected they must be submitted to the Prosecutor General's Office of Russia for verification.
Musa Yevloyev, chairman of the Election Commission of Ingushetia, said it was just stupidity and nonsense. "There is no reason to doubt the election results," he said.
At the administrative office of Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov, the Gazeta was told that "two weeks ago they had about 4,000 statements and now 45,000 have suddenly appeared. We would not be surprised if this figure reaches 60,000 tomorrow and then one million. These are provocations by certain people who want to destabilize the situation."
Magomed Yevloyev, chief editor and owner of the Ingushetia.ru site, reckons that the organizers of the action could turn to the European Court of Human Rights if the Prosecutor General's Office ignores them. "Considering judicial practice, compensation [in such cases] can reach 100,000 euros. If every citizen of Ingushetia, for whom the authorities voted themselves, receives 100,000 euros, this would be a real help to them," Yevloyev said.
Russia's huge pipeline projects fall behind schedule
Russia's high-profile projects - Nord Stream gas pipeline and the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) oil pipeline - are falling behind schedule.
Nord Stream's management has not made any special announcement on a shift in deadlines: its website still says its consumers will receive gas in 2010. But the company's press release issued on Friday indicated that 2010 was the final year for the laying of the pipeline, while deliveries will not begin until 2011. Starting in 2010, Gazprom has pledged to supply at least 20.5 billion cubic meters of gas annually.
Back in November Matthias Warnig, Nord Stream managing director, warned that the construction start date would be delayed until the summer of 2009 because of unresolved issues, but the pipe would go on stream on time because the building pace would be speeded up.
"We still consider that we are running to schedule," said Irina Vasilyeva, a spokeswoman for Nord Stream. The new timeline was agreed with shareholders.
In 2010, Gazprom will supply gas through Ukrainian and Belarusian pipelines whose capacities allow it to do so, said a source close to the energy giant.
The real starting date for Nord Stream is September 2011, said Mikhail Korchemkin, general director of East European Gas Analysis. For the operator, he said, it means missed profits for Gazprom and the government, an indication that they should not overestimate Russia's administrative resources outside Russia.
The construction timeframe for the first stage of the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline will be discussed by the Transneft board of directors on Monday, said two sources close to the company.
The project, whose schedule was approved in 2005, may be three to four months late at first, Transneft president Nikolai Tokarev said in November.
Transneft will be asking for the timeline to be shifted from the fall of 2008 to the fall of 2009, said a source close to the board.
Its main arguments are: the altered route of the ESPO (to bypass Lake Baikal, as suggested by Putin, the line has been extended by 400 kilometers) and recent problems with contractors, said another source.
An Industry and Energy Ministry official said that the ESPO could be opened on time.
"The situation need not be overdramatized, everything is taking its normal course," a source close to the presidential administration said, commenting on the delays.
Russia to supply weapons to Iran
The Russian-Iranian intergovernmental commission on military technical cooperation met in Tehran late last week to discuss the license assembly of Russian helicopters in Iran and the delivery of Russian-made engines for Iranian fighter planes.
Iran wants to buy RD-33 aircraft engines "adapted for Iran's supersonic aircraft", said a source in the branch department.
He was probably referring to the multirole supersonic fighter, which Iran is creating to replace the U.S.-made F-5 fighter delivered in the 1970s and its Iranian modification, Azarakhsh, with unknown modifications and a mid wing.
The parties are also discussing the modification of the Ka-32 Helix-C helicopter for Iran. "Iran wants to buy a license for batch assembly of the helicopters and to establish a facility for capital repairs of helicopter engines," a source in the defense sector said.
The talks on the batch assembly of Ka-32, which began about two years ago but were suspended, may be resumed now that the United States' intelligence report says Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and it remains on hold.
The publication of the report indirectly indicates that Washington does not plan to begin a military operation against Iran in the near future.
Russia has apparently decided to use the situation to sell as many weapons to Iran as possible.
Mikhail Dmitriyev, director of the Federal Service for Military Technical Cooperation, said that Russian-Iranian military technical cooperation "is promoting stability in the region."
"The South Caucasus and Central Asia, which are located nearby, are unstable regions," he said. "We are discussing the supply of defensive weapons. Iran has never asked for, and Russia would never deliver to it offensive weapons that might encourage aggression against any country."
The partners may also use the talks to discuss the delivery of the S-300V army air defense systems and MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-30 Flanker C fighter planes. Negotiations on these deliveries were halted about a year ago.
Uzbekistan offered gas to Gazprom at $180 per 1,000 cu m
A week before New Year and Russia's gas giant Gazprom still hasn't got any guarantees regarding the transit of contracted Turkmen gas across Uzbekistan and hasn't reached an agreement with Uzbekistan on its gas. Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller returned from Tashkent late last week bringing no good news.
Agreements with Uzbekistan are extremely important for Gazprom, as 50 billion cu m of natural gas are intended for onward shipment to Ukraine to cover the latter's needs in 2008. After Gazprom agreed to an initial rise of 40% in the Turkmen gas price (from an average of $100 to $140 per 1,000 cu m), Tashkent was naturally expected to follow suit and hike prices. Also, the growth of Turkmen gas transit rates across Russia from $1.6 to $1.7 per 1,000 cu m per 100 kilometers will inevitably provoke bargaining on transit tariffs with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Still, the demands of our Uzbek partners seem exorbitant. There is unofficial data that President Islam Karimov has suggested buying Uzbek gas at $180 per 1,000 cu m. It is in fact the price he set last week for the neighboring Tajikistan, which used to buy the fuel for $100, just like Russia's Gazprom. As for the transit rates, Uzbekistan is planning a very radical rise from $1.1 to $1.8.
Last Thursday, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan signed an agreement in Moscow on building the Caspian Pipeline, which will enable Ashgabat to boost gas exports bypassing Uzbekistan. That was probably yet another factor supporting Mr Karimov's decision to raise prices as high as possible before the project is completed.
The presidents of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia signed a declaration on the modernization and development of the Central Asia - Center pipeline system currently used to deliver the Turkmen, Uzbek and Kazakh gas to Russia. Last week, when the Caspian pipeline agreement was signed, Uzbekistan's interests were somehow overlooked. Moreover, the Kremlin seems to have neglected - because of haste or possibly on purpose - to observe the diplomatic procedure for Tashkent, while remembering to call Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov before signing the agreement. President Vladimir Putin and President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan talked to him on the phone, as he failed to arrive in Moscow. This last circumstance has probably cost Mr. Miller an additional $40 to the Uzbek gas price for 2008.
Business & Financial Markets, Kommersant
French Axa sets new record on Russian insurance market
The French company Axa is buying a 36.7% stake in Reso-Garantia for 810 million euros. The French have estimated the Russian insurer at 2.2 billion euros, a record for the Russian market. Experts think the company's price tag is overpriced.
Europe's second largest insurer will also exercise two options on the remainder of the Russian company in 2010-2011. The deal will set up a joint venture for life insurance, while the Reso group will be granted a six-year loan of 1 billion euros.
Earlier, Reso-Garantia made plans for an IPO and applied for a listing on the RTS and the MICEX, but later the floatation was postponed and their shares taken off the quotation lists.
There also was talk of a possible strategic investor.
In April, Dresdner Bank applied to the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) to buy a controlling stake in Reso-Garantia. The bank estimated all of Reso-Garantia at 1.5 billion euros, with Axa raising the stakes to 2.2 billion euros.
A similar bid (2-2.4 billion euros) was earlier made by Deutsche UFG, one of the managers of Reso-Garantia's IPO. In that way, the deal with Axa could become the largest on the Russian insurance market.
Germany's Allianz, for example, paid $750 million for 49.2% in Rosno, while the Czech Republic's PPF Investment, $700 million for a 38.5% stake in Ingosstrakh.
But, according to Anzhela Dolgopolova, chief analyst at the Center for Economic Analysis, Reso-Garantia does not cost more than 1.9 billion euros.
"However, foreigners are prepared to enter our market at any price," she said.
Overseas insurers are so hyper-active in Russia that only a few federal-scale insurance companies will remain Russian by 2008.
Foreign companies need not have paid through the nose for the insurers now, but have waited for Russia to join the WTO.
The Russian market, however, is developing apace: in 2006 the companies posted 602.1 billion rubles in takings, 22.7% more than in 2005.
On developed markets a good indicator is a rise of a few percentage points. "What sense does it make for foreigners to wait for Russia to access to the WTO?" wondered Garry Delba, head of the former company NASTA, purchased by Switzerland's Zurich Group. "They will buy everything now."
Every seventh Russian lives below poverty line
According to state statistics, 22.3 million Russians (over 15% of the population) are currently living below the poverty line that is, earn less than 3,809 rubles.
Officially, the tendency towards a decrease in poverty has emerged in the past two years: their number has dropped by 1.9% from the 2005 figure. However, many experts say that any estimates of this sort are incorrect because they do not reflect the real situation.
The term "physiological sustenance level" was introduced in 1992. According to the authors of the idea, it should be applied only in a period of national economic crisis. However, the times of economic uncertainty in Russia are gone, and the country's GDP has reached 1991 levels, but statisticians are still using this term.
According to Yevgeny Gontmakher, research leader at the Center of Social Studies and Innovations, it would be more logical to use more objective parameters for minimum subsistence levels. The expert said that if estimates were based on this indicator, over one third of all Russians could call themselves poor.
Gontmakher also said that, unlike the situation in western countries, most low-income people in Russia (48%) are working. "In advanced countries a working person is never poor and can support not only himself, but also a wife and a child."
In Gontmakher's opinion, the reasons for mass poverty in Russia are in the structure of the country's economy and its development trends. "We cannot solve this problem by handing around money to the poor. We need a comprehensive restructuring of the economy and serious political solutions," the expert summed up.
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