French President Jacques Chirac was the first foreign guest in the closed town Krasnoznamensk. This invitation was seen in diplomatic circles as a sign of particular trust, NG reports. To the surprise of Messrs Schroeder, Berlusconi and Blair, Vladimir Putin positioned Mr Chirac as a privileged partner and showed Russia's military-space power to him (and the entire world). The French president saw the latest developments in the area of strategic nuclear weapons. This gesture was appreciated by Mr Chirac, who is good at praising Russia (when he is here), and French observers - both the ones who generally criticise the Kremlin's policy and those who support it. The United States did not remain indifferent either: Russia has not only demonstrated transparency in security issues but also an alternative option to the cuts in strategic offensive potentials.
Analysts believe that Russia has thus invited France to co-operate in the development of the European anti-ballistic missile defence.
Russian military experts in Krasnoznamensk control the orbital group of spacecraft, including over a hundred military and dual-purpose spacecraft. The latter account for 25% of the group, and are expected to make up to 50% in 2006-2010. Throughout its entire history, the space control centre in Krasnoznamensk has carried out over seven million communications link-ups, NG reports.
The head of the Energiya rocket and space corporation, Yuri Semyonov, has invited experts from the European Space Agency (ESA) to participate in a project to create a Russian reusable spacecraft, the Klipper, Gazeta reports. He emphasised that "Europe today has everything necessary to carry out flights to the Moon and Mars." According to Mr Semyonov, the problem is financing. When it is settled, experts will decide on the carrier of the spacecraft. It will either be a European Arian carrier rocket or a Russian modified Onega rocket. The Klipper is being developed by Energiya specialists and will replace the manned Soyuz spacecraft. The experience of the Soyuz and Buran spacecraft is being used during its development. The new Energiya rocket will orbit the ship. "The carrier and the spacecraft will be launched from Plesetsk (Arkhangelsk region in northern Russia). But we are also considering the use of other launching sites, including the Kourou space centre (French Guiana)," said Mr Semyonov.
The spacecraft is designed for about 25 launches. It will be capable of delivering up to 700 kg of cargo to the orbit and returning about 500 kg, Gazeta writes.
VN reports that the fears of deteriorating relations between Russia and Nato in the wake of Nato's enlargement are groundless. This became clear on Sunday, the 55th anniversary of Nato, after surprising and even sensational statements made by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov. On his way to the United States, he stopped over in the Norwegian capital where he laid out his views on Russia's relationship with Nato. He expressed the hope that Russia and Nato would sign an agreement on the status of forces this year. The agreement will provide for mutual deployment of forces and military hardware on each other's territory. "The document will allow Nato units with military equipment to be on our territory, and our units with military hardware - to be on the territory of Nato countries," he said. Quite possibly, these friendly gestures from the Russian defence minister came after Nato made the politically binding statements that Baltic countries and Slovenia would join the CFE adjusted Treaty that is seen as "the cornerstone of European security."
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan is visiting Russia. The Russian leadership believes the upcoming talks will promote the development of "a constructive, genuine dialogue" with the UN. Moscow continues to insist that the UN should regain a central role in international affairs, while urging that the global community should, above all, step up its efforts to achieve settlements in Kosovo, Iraq and the Middle East. According to the paper, Russian officials are expected to be restrained with regard to the US-advanced Greater Middle East initiative, which envisages democratic reforms in the region in line with American scenario and the use of all possible means to attain this goal. Moscow has warned about the danger of enforcing alien civil-legal and democratic principles without heeding the specific features of the region on the whole and of individual countries.
The scope of work for the Russian Economic Development and Trade Ministry will be cut considerably as it is losing its status of "the ministry of reforms." The premier will be responsible for raising the Russian economy's competitiveness, while the industrial branch planning and reform concepts will be the responsibility of the relevant ministries.
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov has held an informal meeting with reporters who cover government-related issues. Off-the-record, genuine tea-meetings between government officials and the press, with the possibility of citing selected statements, are common practice. Mr Fradkov wanted to comment on every aspect of the government's activity so that society did not form any inaccurate impressions.
Mr Fradkov is, apparently, taking personal responsibility for everything which is going on in the executive branch of power. He is, therefore, set to intervene in and control all areas of the government's activity.