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    WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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    February 24

    NOVYE IZVESTIA

    The Russian President's economic adviser, Andrei Illarionov, has held another round of "denunciation", the newspaper writes. This time the target of his criticism was official information about GDP growth and the activities of the Russian government. According to the adviser, the nation's economy could be growing much faster than the official statistics show. The only necessary condition is that Mikhail Kasyanov's cabinet should make the most of the high oil prices. Mr Illarionov has long been known as a Kremlin truth-lover, whose favourite pastime is to criticise the government sharply. He did not fail to live up to his billing, when he said that "Mikhail Kasyanov and Co." had not done all they could and that the government's reports about the 7-8% annual GDP growth could cause nothing but a sad smile. "The potential rate of GDP growth in the last four years is estimated in two-digit numbers," Illarionov believes. The figure must be at least 11.5%, he maintains.

    It is worth noting, Novye Izvestia continues, that Illarionov's critical remarks about the Russian economic authorities came right after a sensational statement from Christof Ruehl, chief economist of the World Bank's Moscow office. The latter refuted statements from government officials that Russia no longer depended on international oil price dynamics and simultaneously questioned a statement from the State Statistics Committee that the manufacturing industry is responsible for Russia's 2003 GDP growth. To all appearances, Illarionov seemed to like these ideas. He also alluded that so far there had been no talk about Russia's independence from its "oil addiction". On the other hand, it is necessary to make use of the advantages presented by the favourable international economic situation. And if oil prices exceed $30 per barrel in the course of a year, it is necessary to ensure GDP growth of at least 10%.

    RUSSKY KURYER

    Presidential candidate Sergei Glazyev is apparently becoming increasingly entangled in forming a party, the newspaper believes. He recently founded a regional Moscow organisation of the People's Patriotic Union Rodina-2 (NPSR-2) and announced at the founding conference that he was going to create a new patriotic party on its basis. He proposed to fix the date for the new party's constituent assembly at the NPSR-2 congress on March 6. Most probably, the new party's name will do without the proud word Rodina (Motherland).

    It is very likely that Glazyev will announce the establishment of his own party a week before the presidential elections, the newspaper writes. He has set his party colleagues the implausible task of increasing the number of the organisation's members to 200,000 people by the middle of March. He, however, admitted, "everything will depend on consultations with the parties of the Rodina election bloc". Yet here Glazyev is unlikely to succeed, as the election bloc that brought Rodina to the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, has all but disintegrated, Russky Kuryer points out.

    KOMMERSANT

    For the first time in 20 years, the US Agriculture Department has officially recognised that a case of 'bird flu' has been discovered in the country. So far the disease has been found only at one farm in Texas, however, the story of how it has spread in south-east Asia gives one grounds to consider the most pessimistic scenario of developments, i.e. a complete ban on US poultry imports, Kommersant believes.

    The spread of the virus in the USA will have more than negative consequences for Russia, the newspaper writes. Annual poultry consumption in the country exceeds 2 million tonnes, and half of this volume (1.05 million tonnes) is imported. Moreover, the "Bush legs", as US chicken legs are called in Russia, account for 74% of this figure, or over 700,000 tonnes. Russian poultry factories cannot make up the shortfall. It is equally impossible to purchase such a large volume from the other big supplier, Brazil. Brazilian poultry is already arriving on European markets instead of Asian supplies. Moreover, it should be taken into account that "Bush legs" have traditionally been the cheapest product on the market and, even if there is no poultry shortage, it will still become more expensive, the newspaper argues.

    VREMYA NOVOSTEI

    The newspaper interviews one of the most influential US experts on Russia, president of the Nixon Centre in Washington, Dimitry Simes.

    Q.: Could you give a two-word description of the US-Russian relations?

    A.: No, not that brief. Our relations are developing on at least three levels. I will start from where they are worst, from the level of emotions among the writing and speaking public, including legislators. In Moscow, you can hear that the Americans do not respect us, do whatever they want, even on Russia's borders. Washington has also caught a whiff of the Cold War. Talk about Russia's neo-imperialism and authoritarianism has been heard.

    The second level is long-term trends. Here the situation with Russia is still not stable. Russia has a complicated past and an unclear future. Fear may be neutralised only by a predictable and transparent policy, by the presence of democratic institutions of restraint inside the country.

    The third level is the present. Fortunately, it is defined not by emotions, but by relations between the two presidents and governments. There relations are good, if we do not go into bureaucratic clashes that have always been and will remain. George Bush, Vladimir Putin and their aides understand that we are all in one boat and this boat is under fire. Our interests coincide in the fight against terrorism, Islamic extremism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

    Q.: Could the USA's temporary bases in Middle Asia become permanent, as Russia fears?

    A.: The USA does not have such plans, or even such resources. The temporary deployment of a small American contingent in Middle Asia is related to Afghanistan and Islamic fundamentalism, not a desire to surround Russia.

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