The February 6 terrorist attack in the Moscow metro was fresh proof of growing tension before the March 14 presidential elections. And it does not matter who organised the explosion or brought the bomb to the second carriage of the train, for it is both hypothetically and practically impossible to stop the elections. The public has grown accustomed to terrorist attacks, which have been happening in Russia with frightening regularity since 1999. The Friday tragedy did not provoke hysteria in society or the media.
"I think the terrorist attack was connected with the elections," says Sergei Markov, head of the Institute of Political Studies. "Terrorists have taken aim at the Russian political system, trying to force the authorities to talk with them from positions of weakness, to beg [for mercy] and fulfil their demands. But I think the people are psychologically ready for the terrorist challenges, viewing them as a bitter reality and knowing that there are no simple answers to these challenges. Vivid proof of this was the lack of panic among the passengers of the exploded train. Despite the sheer horror, there were no hysterics. The people probably see that they must not yield to the terrorists."
The number of presidential candidates seemed to be set - seven. But Ivan Rybkin, registered as No. 5 candidate, has vanished. Rybkin had been the first speaker of the State Duma (Lower House), a secretary of the Russian Security Council and an active ally of Boris Berezovsky. He never made a secret of his friendship with Berezovsky and planned his presidential campaign as stark opposition to the incumbent president. The other day he published a letter in which he explained to the electorate why Putin had no right to rule the country. This did not prevent the Central Election Commission from registering Rybkin as a presidential candidate on February 6. Xenia Ponomareva, head of Rybkin's election staff, says: "Theoretically, Ivan Rybkin can turn up tomorrow or some other day. But I cannot say how it would look in practice." In her words, the staff plans to take part in today's casting of lots for free airtime.
Last weekend the finance ministers of the leading economic powers discussed the future of the dollar and the euro. G7 countries tired to force the USA to monitor the rapidly falling dollar. As a result, they agreed that the exchange rates (of the dollar, the euro and the yen) would reflect genuine market indicators. This means that it would remain difficult to control the exchange rates of the main world's currencies.
The results of the G7 meeting will hardly convince Russians, who have grown accustomed to keeping their savings in dollars and euros. The exchange rate of the dollar with regard to the euro and ruble will keep changing. Vice Prime Minister and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who attended the meeting, said the dollar and euro rates were difficult to forecast and the situation would most probably remain unstable.
On the other hand, the dollar/euro fluctuations can have only a positive influence on the Russian economy. "On the one hand, the competitiveness of Russian exports to Europe, which is the main trade partner of Russia, has grown because the ruble/euro rate has fallen," says Kudrin. "And the weakening of the dollar with regard to the ruble will augment the possibility of Russian enterprises acquiring new technologies and equipment in the USA."
On Tuesday OPEC will discuss ways of stopping the fall of oil prices; the cost of one barrel of oil has dropped from $35 to $32 since January. Experts believe that the cartel will maintain the production quota now but will promise to reduce it if oil prices continue to fall. Russia will be happy with either decision, because "the Russian budget is based on the pessimistic oil prices of 22 dpb, which is why we will profit even if oil prices fall," says a source in one of the five top Russian oil companies.
The prices of shares of most Russian firms did not change dramatically last week. The only exception was Yukos securities, whose value rose by over 12%. The volume of trade went up considerably: Yukos shares regained the fame of the most liquid Russian security on Western exchanges and were closely following RAO UES on Russian exchanges.
Market operators believe that the company's low evaluation promoted speculation, the more so that there was a suitable pretext. In the middle of last week, the main shareholders of Yukos and Sibneft decided to launch the divorce proceedings and Sibneft's obligation to return $3 billion to Yukos is cited by analysts as one of the reasons for the growing cost of Yukos securities. On the other hand, this cannot be viewed as full restoration of the Yukos's standing. On the contrary, the complaints of the authorities to the firm, its affiliates, staff and shareholders are growing in scale. So, Yukos shares will not grow as dramatically as they did last year.