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    WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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    January 29

    VREMYA NOVOSTEI

    When commenting on the completion by the Central Election Commission (CEC) of the acceptance of documents and canvassing lists from presidential candidates, the newspaper reports that on the last day the members of Irina Khakamada's pressure group delivered to the commission 2,411,000 voters' signatures, with the requisite number being 2 million. Sergei Glazyev's supporters handed lists with 2,225,000 signatures over to the commission. The Homeland leader indignantly refuted rumours that some signatures collected in his support were false. In order to avoid any misunderstanding, Glazyev's associates even took the trouble of making copies of all the canvassing lists - just in case.

    "It is very difficult to collect two million authentic signatures because some of them will be "defective" all the same ", Maxim Dianov, director of the Institute of Regional Problems, explained to Vremya Novostei. "However, one may take a tough or a mild approach to the latter kind of signatures. This is why everything depends the CEC head, and hence, on the presidential administration." The composition of ballot papers will be established by February 8, CEC head Alexander Veshnyakov said after accepting signatures. He promised that the issue of registration would be decided fairly, "We observe the law and do not threaten anyone, nor do we want to deliberately strike someone off the list of candidates".

    Noting that there are seven candidates for the presidency in Russia, Vremya Novostei considers that only a low turnout can prevent Vladimir Putin, for whom 79% of Russians are prepared to vote now, from winning. The electorate may not express its will considering that the outcome of elections is decided all the same.

    KOMMERSANT

    German Gref, Russia's economic development and trade minister, and the Norwegian oil and power minister, Einar Steensnaes, signed in Moscow an agreement on co-operation in the rational use of natural resources and environmental protection. Norwegian companies are prepared to take part in the development of the shelf deposits of Sakhalin and the Barents Sea, Kommersant notes. The priority project for Norway is the Shtokman gas condensate deposit, while for Russia it is the construction of a plant to produce liquefied gas for subsequent sale to the USA and other countries.

    The Shtokman deposit is situated in the central part of the Barents Sea at a depth of 280-360 m, 550 km northeast of the Kola Peninsula. The surveyed extractable gas reserves are 3 trillion cu m. The total volume of investment is estimated at $18.2 billion, of which $7.4 billion will be needed at the initial stage. Work on the deposit is to start in 2010.

    IZVESTIA

    The administrative reform may cost Russian consumers a lot, writes Izvestia, pointing out that Russian officials are preparing alternative areas in an attempt to transfer there superfluous functions of their departments and even to create new ones. For example, the Economic Development Ministry has started coordinating the concept to develop Russia's alcohol market, which provides for the introduction of a state monopoly on spirit turnover controlled by a specially set-up institution. The ministry's initiative is supported by the Audit Chamber. The move is expected to increase alcohol excises received by the budget and to cut the volume of illegal products on the market. In fact, this means the creation of a mediator that will purchase spirit from plants and sell it to liquor producers.

    However, the state monopoly is unlikely to achieve the desired results, the newspaper believes. Market agents say that the concept does not envisage a monopoly on spirit production and shifts excise taxes from vodka to spirit. Prices on the latter will grow, liquor producers will purchase spirit from the projected state institution "for statistics" and the rest will be bought secretly from spirit producers. Evidently, this will only increase illegal turnover.

    "Moreover, the institution will decide who may purchase spirit and who may not," a representative of a liquor producer told Izvestia. "This partial approach creates great opportunities for corruption".

    VEDOMOSTI

    The incomes of the rich in Russia will continue growing faster than incomes of the poor, the newspaper writes. According to the State Statistics Committee, the gap between the country's population in the successful 2003 was even higher than in 2002. Experts believe that despite all the declarations to combat against poverty, the situation will not change in the next ten years. Last year, the incomes of the 10% of Russia's richest citizens were 14.3 times higher than of the poorest 10%.

    The real situation is even worse than that described in official statistics, vice president for social policy of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Businessmen Yevgeny Gontmakher told Vedomosti. "I estimate that incomes of the rich exceed incomes of the poor not by 14.3, but by 30 times", he says. "As long as we have the comprador-colonial type of economy, the gap will become no narrower," he concludes.

    GAZETA

    Experts are positive that the issue of raising the retirement age in Russia will be broached very soon, Gazeta writes. The federal budget will only have a surplus while oil prices remain the same. As soon as the budget loses these excessive profits, the government will not be able to close holes in the pension fund's budget.

    "Raising of the retirement age is inevitable," says expert of the Federal banking committee Igor Nikolayev. "I believe the issue will be broached after the presidential elections, because it is the best moment to make unpopular decisions".

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