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    WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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    February 17

    VREMYA NOVOSTEI

    Russia is striving to create a new integration group on the territory of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), writes the newspaper. On Monday, President Putin submitted to the State Duma (the lower house of the parliament) an agreement for ratification on forming a Common Economic Space, signed by the Russian, Ukrainian, Belarussian and Kazakh presidents in Yalta on September 19, 2003. However, despite the grand scale of the undertaking, notes Vremya Novostei, the mini-version of the European Union may remain a stillborn bureaucratic structure in the next few years. Although the main positions on how the CES will function have been defined in the framework agreement signed in Yalta, no one knows yet how the concept will be applied from the economic point of view.

    The point is that the fulfilment of specific obligations by the members of the new Four will be specified in the CES action plan, writes Vremya Novostei. The plan is designed for at least five years, so any country will have more than enough time for bargaining.

    In Europe, where the unification of countries under the flag of the European Union has been going on for more than 50 years, the process of bringing the legislative bases of neighbouring countries into line with each other is still continuing and this is when all the involved countries understand the importance of unification and want to achieve it.

    KOMMERSANT

    Presidential candidate Sergei Mironov, who is also the speaker of the Federation Council (the upper house of parliament) and leader of the Russian Party of Life, has published his election programme. The eight-page booklet offers a concept for irreversibly consolidating Russia's statehood, which is personified by President Vladimir Putin.

    The recipe for the revival of the nation's economy is, apparently, addressed to Vladimir Putin, whom Mr Mironov has continuously promised to support as president. Mr Mironov suggests consolidating Russian statehood by, above all, eliminating poverty in Russia.

    When speaking at a press conference, Mr Mironov admitted that the presidential contenders were not enjoying equal conditions in the current race. He described the president's 30-minute meeting with his authorised representatives, which was aired on the Rossia TV channel, as "direct campaigning in favour of one candidate." However, he believes the blame lies with the media, rather than with the President.

    GAZETA

    Romania has introduced visas for Russian nationals, writes the paper. The move is due to the country's upcoming accession to the European Union. Russian travellers may have to start obtaining visas to Romania as early as this March. Romania promises visa privileges for certain groups of Russian residents.

    Romania was the last of the former socialist countries to introduce visa restrictions for Russians. Poland introduced visas in 1998, the Czech Republic in 2000, while Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria followed suit in 2001.

    However, the EU plans to simplify visa regulations for Russians. Russian students, businessmen, people in the arts and athletes enjoy simplified visa procedures when entering Germany. Italy and France are soon to follow this example. These countries have already signed the relevant agreements with Russia.

    TRUD

    Sergei Shoigu is the most popular minister in Russia, which is no surprise, because he heads the Emergencies Ministry. His unexpected appearance on the TV news makes people's hearts sink as it means that a plane has crashed somewhere, an explosion has happened, or an earthquake, flood or something similar has struck a particular area. Disasters of this kind occur across the world, but they are particularly frequent in Russia.

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