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    WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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    MOSCOW, April 14 (RIA Novosti)

    KOMMERSANT

    Reform of the budget process was the centrepiece of President Vladimir Putin's meeting with Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin. The reform seeks to drastically change the system of managing state finances, Kommersant points out.

    Its essence is as follows: the budget should abandon the current principle of cost estimates (from the results), and be orientated towards specific results that agencies want to achieve at taxpayers' expense. This should increase the quality of budget services and save, in experts' estimates, up to 30% of the budget funds. Kudrin, however, gave a more modest estimate to Putin, 10-12%.

    Achieving this will not be easy, Kommersant writes. During the reform, all budget recipients will have to learn how to plan their expenditures answering such simple questions as what they want to get for taxpayers' money, why, how and how much it will cost.

    The president understands that the budget reform is one of the most complicated, the newspaper comments. Thus, he did not demand that the Finance Ministry should speed up its work, but asked the minister "not to forget two major goals. Firstly, these activities should contribute actively to the economic growth and should be streamlined to do this. Secondly, all reforms should be carried out alongside absolute fulfilment of social liabilities to the population. The reform is not an end in itself, the main task is to improve the quality of services rendered to people".

    IZVESTIA

    Today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will discuss with EU representatives in Dublin how the Agreement on Partnership and Co-operation is being applied to the new EU member states. The parties have come to terms on almost all of Russia's economic "concerns caused by the EU enlargement", except for cargo transit and the situation with the Russian-speaking population in the Baltic states, Izvestia writes.

    When asked by the newspaper whether the process of coordinating these issues, which are by no means new in Russian-EU relations, was too long, Lavrov said, "You cannot say that the transit issue is not getting anywhere; there are reasons to believe that by May 1 it will be settled in compliance with previous statements. As it is cargo transit via the EU, not Lithuania, the involvement of a huge number of agencies is necessary. Believe me, European bureaucracy is far from easy".

    VREMYA NOVOSTEI

    Iraq's hunt for foreigners has now affected Russia, the newspaper writes. On Monday evening a group of armed people in Baghdad took hostages employees of Russia's Interenergoservis. The situation, however, was resolved soon enough. On Tuesday afternoon, the perpetrators released all their Slavic captives, three Russian and five Ukrainian citizens. There was no ransom, threats or abuse. There was nothing to demand, Vremya Novostei writes, as in spring 2003 Moscow did not bring its troops to Iraq. Moreover, it strongly opposed the US plans of a punitive expedition against Saddam's regime.

    Hostages in Iraq are taken and released in whole batches, which escalates the feeling of chaos and terror, the newspaper goes on. The five Ukrainians were lucky: had there not been Russians with them, they would have been kept in an airless basement until Ukrainian troops were withdrawn from Iraq. After Ukraine's fifth serviceman was killed in Iraq on Tuesday and the hostage taking, parliamentary opposition in Kiev intends to demand that President Leonid Kuchma withdraw Ukraine's 1,600 servicemen from Iraq, Vremya Novostei reports.

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