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    January 13


    Premier Mikhail Kasyanov is now in charge of not only the Government but also anti-corruption policy, as at the first meeting of the presidential Council on the Fight against Corruption he was appointed the chairman of this body.

    The Council, notes Izvestia will deal with upgrading legislation and "improving" the state apparatus. Vladimir Putin called on the Council's members to act promptly and, referring to previous experience in combating corruption, warned, "We do not need either empty talk or rushed work in this field".

    Izvestia cites the words of some experts in connection with the creation of the Council. "There were several attempts to pass an anti-corruption law in Russia, but all of them failed for one reason: the lack of a mechanism for its implementation," says Dmitry Olrov, deputy director of the Centre of Political Technologies. "As long as the administrative reform stalls, administrative rent exists and there are neither normal wages in the state sector nor normal judicial system, any struggle against corruption will bring no results".

    "Regrettably, corruption is a substitute for a mechanism of redistributing powers and resources that functions in Russia," believes Dmitry Oreshkin, head of the Mercator analytical group. "Unless a mechanism that could really replace corrupt ties is created, combating corruption means combating real life and the real economy. This is why it is hopeless".

    "According to the results of our research, more and more businessmen are coming to the conclusion that corruption is a boon for Russia and that without corruption is it impossible to work efficiently in our economy," Vladimir Rimsky, vice-president of the Indem foundation, told Izvestia. "There is even a metaphor: corruption is kind of grease between businessmen and bureaucrats. Nothing will work without this grease. As long as we have such metaphors and businessmen treat corruption like this, nothing will change".


    Defence minister Sergei Ivanov has started a three-day working trip to Siberia. As distinct from ordinary inspection trips made by the minister, the newspaper notes, this trip is of a clearly expressed social-political nature: Ivanov will meet veterans, heads of the regional media and hold a conference with the participation of all the governors of the Siberian federal district.

    This trip is in no way connected with Vladimir Putin's election campaign. At the same time, the defence ministry admits that the new format of the ministerial visit clearly goes beyond the limits of a departmental event and has a certain political implication. Asked whether this is due to Ivanov's potential promotion after the presidential elections (for example, to the level of vice-premier or the head of government), his staff answered evasively that time will show.

    Kommersant recalls that during the minister's press-conference last Friday, a journalist, hinting that Sergei Ivanov is considered a potential successor to Vladimir Putin in 2008, said that a certain fortune-teller had recently predicted that a man by the name of Ivanov would become the Russian president, to which the defence minister noted philosophically "Well, according to the theory of probability, this will happen some day."


    An official visit to Mongolia has become this year's first foreign trip for Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Trud insists that in the 1990s these two neighbouring nations seemed to no longer understand each other. Last year, Russian investors contributed over $100 million to the Mongolian economy. However, Russia is not the leading investor in Mongolia and trails China, South Korea and Japan.

    According to the local press, Trud continues, the Mongolians are going to follow US instructions to counteract terrorism. Indeed, Ulan Bator has already sent dozens of soldiers to Iraq at the Pentagon's request.

    A local Ulan Bator newspaper, however, has tried to remind the Mongolians of old grievances. It is no secret that Soviet army subdivisions were stationed on Mongolian territory. Then the Mongolian authorities demanded that Moscow pay for the damage that Russian tanks inflicted on the unique environment, Trud writes. Prime Minister Nambaryn Enkhbayar told the newspaper: "The problem remains unsolved. And we are not avoiding discussing it. But believe me, this is not the most interesting question for us. It is far more important for the Mongolians to promote our merchandise - meat, goat wool and cashmere products - on the Russian market."


    The United Russia faction now has the constitutional majority in the State Duma (lower house of parliament). With former competitor Gennady Raikov and his People's Party joining the faction, United Russia now has over 310 seats. First of all, the faction intends to take control over all the Duma committees today, Gazeta notes. The Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) and Homeland have not been invited even to discuss the committees' line-up. And this is an unprecedented move in the history of new Russia, Gazeta stresses.

    According to the newspaper, even the party's apparatus has failed to cite the exact number of the United Russia faction members. United Russia grew in number after independent candidates and other parties' members joined the faction.

    United Russia's ambition to take all the portfolios is leading to mounting indignation among outsiders. Dmitry Rogozin, Vice Speaker from Homeland, has come up with the following bitter remark: "The girl has turned out to be so big that she wants to sit on all the seats at once. This is dangerous for her health."


    The US currency is rapidly losing its value. The slump of the dollar seems to be a likely prospect and can hardly be averted in the near future. According to NG, such predictable developments will rather come as a surprise, and a very unpleasant one, for Russia. Nearly all of Russia's reserves are in dollars or US state debt instruments. However, despite the many months' long fall of the dollar, Russian financial managers are continuing to accumulate funds, NG writes. Hence, the Central Bank's gold and currency reserves have reached $77 billion as of the beginning of 2004. The bulk of these reserves (about 70%) have been transferred into the US currency. Even if the Central Bank does not increase its reserves, thereby further consolidating the ruble, and does not purchase excessive dollars, Russia will anyway sustain heavy financial losses due to the dollar's fall on the international market.

    Nonetheless, NG continues, the Central Bank is not going to change drastically the structure of gold and currency reserves. And this, NG continues, is quite typical for the current government, which is very reluctant to make decisive moves and sticks to a housewife's policy of spending funds if they are insignificant, and saving them if they are substantial.

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