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    Morning re-cap of main news, December 20

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    * President Vladimir Putin:

    - signed the 2007 federal draft budget law

    - submitted an EU-Russian agreement reciprocally easing visa regulations to parliament for ratification

    - appointed Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov as his special envoy for the Middle East

    - said the socio-economic isolation of the Far East region near China and its failure to effectively exploit its natural resources are a threat to national security

    * Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said:

    - Russia is set to begin talks on a new partnership agreement with the European Union, and is only waiting for EU negotiators to receive their own mandate

    - Moscow is concerned by provocations against peacekeepers in Georgia's breakaway republics, and Georgia's refusal to withdraw its forces from Abkhazia's Kodori Gorge

    - The ongoing international arms race is pushing some countries to acquire nuclear technology

    - The situation surrounding the death of Russian security service defector Alexander Litvinenko demonstrated the biased attitude of Western media toward Russia

    - Russia expects an agreement reached with the EU on visa facilitation and readmission to come into effect in early 2007

    - The EU should do more to ensure ethnic minority rights in Baltic States

    - A UN resolution on Iran's nuclear problem could be finalized soon, provided the Iran-6 accords are observed

    - All Middle East nations, including Iran and Syria, must be involved in regional peace talks rather than isolated from the process

    * Russian energy giant Gazprom has set the price of natural gas for Georgia at $235 per 1,000 cubic meters, the company spokesman said

    * Gazprom will pay cash for a stake in the international Sakhalin II oil and gas project in Russia's Far East, a Russian deputy industry and energy minister said

    * The price for Russian natural gas traded on the gas exchange in 2007 will be 30% higher than the price set by the government, a Gazprom official said

    * Gazprom expects to produce 550.2 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 2006, an official of Russia's gas monopoly said

    * Gazprom signed a memorandum on mutual understanding with Serbia, expressing the sides' interest in the construction of a new natural gas pipeline through the Balkan country's territory

    * A source in the Russian Prosecutor General's Office said Russian prosecutors resumed their suspended investigation into the case of exiled Chechen emissary Akhmed Zakayev

    * Russia's lower house, the State Duma, passed a bill in the third and final reading on setting up four gambling zones in the country

    * St. Petersburg's legislative assembly approved Valentina Matviyenko as governor, following her nomination for a second term by President Putin

    * Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich asked President Vladimir Putin to relieve him of his post as Chukotka governor, a presidential aide said

    * Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov said Russia's GDP could grow 7% in 2006

    * Aton Capital Group said it has signed an agreement to sell 100% of the shares of its institutional business to Bank Austria Creditanstalt for $424 million

    * Russia and the European Union will sign a memorandum of understanding on meat exports from the EU to Russia January 18, 2007 in Berlin, a spokesman for the European Commission said

    * Merab Antadze, Georgia's state minister for conflict resolution, said all armed formations in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia are illegal and Georgia insists on their disbandment

    * A representative of the St Pancras Coroner's Court said the results of the post mortem of Russian security service defector Alexander Litvinenko would not be publicized until the coroner's inquest had been completed

    * A painting believed to have been stolen from St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum five years ago was presented to the leader of Russia's Communist Party Gennady Zyuganov; experts confirmed it as authentic

    * A Moscow Region court has dismissed the jury in the case of an attempt on the life of Anatoly Chubais, the head of Russia's electricity monopoly

    * Golden Telecom has signed a binding term sheet to buy 51% in telecoms operator Corbina Telecom Group, the Russian Internet and telecommunications service provider said

    * Moscow's District Military Court ruled that the Russian prosecutor general must apologize to Konstantin Mirzayants, acquitted in the case of murdered investigative journalist Dmitry Kholodov

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