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    WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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    MOSCOW, March 18

    KOMMERSANT

    President Vladimir Putin has held a working meeting with Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. A casual observer, the paper notes, might have thought they discussed routine business, but actually it concerned bitter infighting over final appointments, power-sharing, and planning the first major coup by Mikhail Fradkov's cabinet. News agencies highlighted the meeting by quoting the president as asking the premier "How are things going?" and the latter replying: "They are going fine, any day now we will have top executives in all the services and agencies". They also cite the premier as saying that function sharing between ministries and government departments is going to be completed very shortly.

    Today, Kommersant says, all 14 ministries should submit to the government office tentative lists of their functions. In keeping with the laws of bureaucratic survival, the ministries had wanted to claim for themselves as many key functions as possible, but their efforts were frustrated by a decision of the inter-departmental commission under vice-premier Alexander Zhukov on the structure of the executive branch. According to this decision, the ministries have no right to claim functions earlier found to be redundant. The reference is to 1,500 functions out of a total of 5,500 specified.

    At the meeting Fradkov also told the president that the Finance Ministry and Economic Development and Trade Ministry would hold a joint board meeting on Friday. Kommersant writes that the outcome of the meeting will largely determine the future of the Fradkov cabinet. This is because the reorganisation and realignment of functions had been conceived to speed up a number of reforms, tax reform included. And if the government slips up from the very start, it will look rather strange, the paper remarks.

    VREMYA NOVOSTEI

    The first head of state to meet Vladimir Putin after his re-election for a second term was the president of Ukraine. Leonid Kuchma said he thought he needed to take a closer look at the structure of the new Russian cabinet. Putin, confirming that the Russian cabinet reshuffle did not mean a shake-up of relations with Ukraine, said, "We are now heading towards ratifying some key documents. We are prepared to do this and, as agreed, we need to synchronise this process".

    NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA

    "Foreign policy objectives have been approved by President Vladimir Putin, and the Foreign Ministry is expected to translate them into reality," this was how, NG says, the new Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov defined the role of his department in the country's state system at his first news conference in Moscow.

    The minister, the paper notes, does not see any need to update the approved foreign policy concept of Russia. At the same time, he is counting on the coordinating role of the Security Council with its new secretary Igor Ivanov in formulating strategic dimensions of the country's foreign policy. According to Lavrov, there is already public consensus on the country's national interests: "Russia should strengthen itself as a nation, its economy should develop, and its people live better".

    IZVESTIA

    The confrontation between Tbilisi and Batumi has taken on the form of a cold war, says Izvestia. Politicians pay "courtesy visits" to neighbouring territories, while leaders trade routine threats. There is still the risk of an armed conflict between Adzharia and Georgia breaking out.

    Formally, the paper notes, Russia supports Georgia's integrity. Moscow, which is perfectly aware of everything, finds the present state of things even partly favourable for itself. "As new routes for exporting hydrocarbon raw materials from the Caspian are created, Georgia's role will grow (the reference is to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline). It means Russia is interested in keeping a certain measure of control over the situation in the neighbouring region. Russia cannot 'deliver up' Adzharia," believes Konstantin Simonov, director-general of the Centre for Political Studies. At the same time, he believes Russian servicemen stationed in Adzharia will hardly be able to interfere directly in the conflict.

    GAZETA

    The Russian stock market has set a fresh record: at the close on Wednesday the Russian trading system index stood at 698.7 points. On balance, it had grown by 2.68 per cent and was only 1.3 points short of reaching the psychologically important level of 700 points. Analysts believe this will happen this week, remarks Gazeta.

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