MOSCOW, December 18 (RIA Novosti)
Uzbekistan could pull out again from CSTO/Russia, OPEC interested in each other - analyst/Small Russian oil companies on verge of bankruptcy/VIP depositors withdrew sack loads of cash from banks
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Vremya Novostei
Uzbekistan could pull out again from CSTO
U.S. diplomats have dismissed a statement by General Nikolai Makarov, chief of Russia's General Staff, who said the U.S. was planning to establish military bases in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Analysts have been surprised that the U.S. has responded so feebly and at such a low level to Russia's concern. Moreover, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have not denied the Russian general's statement.
It is clear, though, that General Makarov was not acting on rumors.
Political analyst Rafik Saifulin, a former adviser to the Uzbek president, said: "The U.S. wants to expand its presence in the region, and the chief of Russia's General Staff did not say anything new."
According to Saifulin, Barack Obama can only send 20,000 troops to Afghanistan across Russia or Uzbekistan, and "neither country is likely to reject Washington's request."
To be able to send troops by one of these routes, the Pentagon will need a new trans-shipment point, because the NATO base at Termez in southern Uzbekistan, where German troops are deployed, cannot take additional loads."
Saifulin said the establishment of a U.S. base in Uzbekistan was being discussed, but a decision is far from assured.
"It is difficult to say what the Uzbek authorities will decide even if the U.S. promises to pay more, because Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is expected in Tashkent in January," the analyst said.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov will be unable to discuss it with Medvedev before that, because he has refused to attend the informal summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Astana on December 19-20.
"Uzbekistan has not yet filed a request to withdraw from the CSTO or suspend its membership, but we are considering both possibilities," a source in the CSTO Secretariat told the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily.
Uzbekistan has recently limited its participation in the CSTO and has signed the bulk of its documents with reservations.
The CSTO is a security grouping comprising the former Soviet republics of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.
Russia, OPEC interested in each other - analyst
On December 17, 2008, the Conference of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) held its 151st extraordinary meeting in Oran, Algeria, and decided to slash daily oil output by a record 2 million barrels starting from January 1, 2009.
Although production cut is unlikely to boost global oil prices, oil exporters could support the possible creation of an OPEC-style gas group at a meeting of ministers of the world's leading gas producing countries, scheduled to be held December 23 in Moscow.
Reduced oil production could change global supply and demand in the long-term, Vyacheslav Bunkov, an analyst at the Aton investment company, told the paper.
"The real results of this decision will not be felt before the second quarter of 2009, because production cuts are a lengthy process and because the market will react to them by that time," Bunkov said.
Russia's accession to OPEC remains a key aspect. Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who heads the Russian delegation in Oran, said the granting of permanent observer status to Moscow would facilitate mutual coordination.
However, analysts doubt whether Russia will join the oil cartel in the near future.
"Low oil prices will be a major problem next year. When a barrel of oil costs less than $50, this concerns people. But if prices fall below $30 - that is frightening," Sobinbank analyst Alexander Razuvayev told the paper.
He said Russia's possible decision to join OPEC could help create a mechanism for overseeing oil production cuts. OPEC, which now accounts for 40% of the global oil output, could boost its share to 45% with Russia's assistance.
Market players say OPEC nations have agreed to support Russia on the creation of a "gas OPEC" only if Moscow joined the oil cartel, Razuvayev told the paper.
Russia has already invited OPEC members to attend the already mentioned December 23 forum in Moscow. Sechin said the sides knew what documents are due to be signed in the Russian capital, and that the work was similar to OPEC activities.
Small Russian oil companies on verge of bankruptcy
A 4% cut in oil production in Russia may occur without any government intervention or agreements with OPEC. Small oil companies, which have been operating at a loss for several months now, are in a pre-default state. By the end of the week, they will apply to the Finance Ministry and the Tax Service for mineral extraction tax, due for payment by December 25, to be deferred.
If these companies, which produce over 400,000 barrels of oil per day, get no support, they will cease oil production next year.
There are over 150 small and medium-sized oil and gas companies in Russia producing about 20 million metric tons of oil a year (401,000 barrels per day) and accounting for about 4% of the country's total.
OPEC has asked Russia to cut production by 200,000-300,000 barrels a day.
To quote Yelena Korzun, head of the Association of Small and Medium-Sized Oil and Gas Enterprises (Assoneft), the companies have been working at a loss for several months because of a fall in oil prices and the current tax system. They will have to pay about $105 million in tax for November.
It is impossible to attract loans today, Korzun says. For this reason, the oil companies have turned to the government for three-month unsecured loans to cover their cash shortages.
According to Assoneft, several companies in Orenburg, the Samara Region, the Republic of Tatarstan and the Komi Republic have already stopped production.
Denis Borisov, an analyst with the investment company Solid, agrees that small oil companies are the most vulnerable link in the sector during the crisis.
Mikhail Zanozin, an expert with Uralsib, thinks that tax agencies could give deferments on mineral extraction tax to smaller oil companies as a sort of emergency "rescue" measure.
However, these companies cannot count on the government's sizeable long-term support: only major oil companies paying significant funds to the budget will receive it, Zanozin says. At the same time, he believes that if small companies actually stop production, major oil companies may launch a consolidation process and buy some loss-making companies with a hope for the future.
VIP depositors withdrew sack loads of cash from banks
This fall Russian banks were bled dry not by crowds of depositors but by a few VIP customers, who withdrew their cash by the sack load, the Deposit Insurance Agency (DIA) reports.
Andrei Melnikov, DIA deputy head, said on Wednesday: "The main problems encountered by banks were not caused by average customers. It was mainly VIP clients who withdrew their deposits. There have been cases when such customers hired courier vehicles because they were physically incapable of carrying away their cash in bags. Panicking VIP clients have seriously harmed the banks."
Most bank officials interviewed by the paper confirmed this information.
According to the DIA, VIP clients withdrew money from banks because the funds were not guaranteed by the state insurance, even though the level had been increased to 700,000 rubles ($25,436).
Melnikov said most bankers complained about customers who had between 10 million and 200 million rubles deposited.
Alexei Buzdalin, chief expert at the Center for Economic Analysis, said: "The current system of deposit insurance is only a state pledge to support financially weak banks. However no one can guarantee that the insurance fund will be sufficient. To rescue their money, large account holders transferred cash to safe deposit boxes."
Many VIP customers withdrew their money for different reasons.
Pyotr Teryokhin, director for private clients at Promsvyazbank, said: "Unlike the panicking hoards of depositors, VIP customers withdrew the money to prop up their businesses or invest in falling securities."
Dmitry Yurtsvaig, a board member of Rus-Bank, said: "With no access to loans for development, small and medium business representatives are financing their businesses with their own money."
"This is a good time to invest, especially if you have money," Buzdalin said. "Current terms for deposit accounts offer hardly any risk cover, in particular ruble devaluation. The point at issue is not investment in securities, but the acquisition and takeover of businesses."
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