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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

McCain Rails at Russia Over TNK-BP

29 July 2008 - The Moscow Times - U.S. Senator John McCain accused Russia of forcing out BP and said Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was taking his country down an autocratic path. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee repeated his call for Russia to be expelled from the Group of Eight. Russian leaders need to "improve their behavior," he said during a taped television appearance Sunday. "In the last week or so, look at Russia's actions," McCain said. "They cut back on their oil supplies to the Czechs, because the Czechs made an agreement with us. They have now thrown out the -- or forced out BP out of Russia." Russia earlier this month cut oil supplies to the Czech Republic after it agreed to host a radar station for a U.S. missile-defense system opposed by Moscow. Robert Dudley, CEO of BP's Russian joint venture, TNK-BP, left the country Thursday. "Now Prime Minister Putin has taken his country down a path that I think is very harmful," McCain said.

Russia appoints new ambassador to U.S.

Sergei Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the United StatesMOSCOW, July 29 (RIA Novosti) - President Dmitry Medvedev has named Sergei Kislyak, a deputy foreign minister and Moscow's representative in Iranian nuclear talks, as Russia's new ambassador to the United States. Kislyak, 57, who leads the Russian delegation at the six-party denuclearization talks with Iran, will replace Yury Ushakov as ambassador to the U.S. according to a presidential decree published on the Foreign Ministry's website on Tuesday. The new ambassador is a career diplomat who has been in the Foreign Ministry since 1977. He also served as the Soviet envoy to the United Nations and the U.S. He headed the ministry's security and disarmament department from 1995-1998, and served as ambassador to Belgium and NATO from 1998-2003. Iran's controversial nuclear program and Washington's missile defense plans for Central Europe have been major points of contention of late between Russia and the U.S., former Cold War ideological enemies. Ushakov, who held the post for almost nine years, quit as Russia's ambassador to the U.S. in early June and joined the government staff under new Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Washington appointed a new ambassador to Russia, career diplomat John Beyrle, 54, in early July.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Nearly Half of Russia Favors the U.S.

July 28, 2008 - Kommersant - Forty seven percent of the Russians favor the United States in general, signaled the poll of All-Russia’s Center for Public Opinion Studies. But only 2 percent of the polled manifest very good attitude to that country. The attitude of 23 percent of the polled was bad and another 6 percent said they were extremely negative about the United States. Some 22 percent had no answer to that query. The youth tends to favor the United States more than older generation. In the age group of 18 years to 24 years, 4 percent of respondents were friendly towards the United States and 55 percent were more or less positive about it. But the figures shed to zero and 34 percent respectively amid those, who are older than 60. The results were quite the opposite for negative feelings towards the United States. Thirty eight percent of senior age group didn’t like that country and only 29 percent of the youth manifested negative attitude to it. All-Russia’s Center for Public Opinion Studies held the poll June 14 and 15, covering 1,600 in 153 settlements of 46 regions, districts and republics of Russia. The statistic error doesn’t exceed 3.4 percent.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Khodorkovsky Petitioned for Parole

Khodorkovsky Petitioned for ParoleJuly 16, 2008 - Kommersant - Ex-chief of former oil giant Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky has petitioned for the grant of parole, Interfax reported with reference to Khodorkovsky’s lawyer Yuri Shmidt. The businessman is serving the eight-year sentence for financial fraud. In May of 2005, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and MFO MENATEP CEO Platon Lebedev were sentenced to nine years of the general-regime colony. The term was shorted to eight years in September. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were found guilty in the fraud, tax evasion and non-execution of binding sentences. Khodorkovsky, who was detained October 25, 2003, has spent more than 4.5 years under arrest and, therefore, may petition for parole. The tricky point is that the parole is granted provided the convict has repented having committed the crimes and his behavior has been model in time of imprisonment. Khodorkovsky, however, hasn’t admitted guilt and has received a few disciplinary penalties, the better part of which appealed by his lawyers. Meanwhile, a bill was submitted to the State Duma in June of 2008 to amend the Criminal Code in part of equaling a day in detention facilities spent prior to the trial to a day and a half in the general-regime colony. If the amendments are passed, the sentence of Khodorkovsky will end in 2009 under the first case. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were moved from the colony to Chita detention facilities in December of 2006 to face new charges in February of 2007. Nowadays, they are also accused of the theft of Vostochnaya Neftyanaya Co. stocks and nearly 350 billion tons of oil and of laundering revenues worth more than 850 billion ruble. The figures are absurd, Khodorkovsky, Lebedev and their lawyers insist, but if the convicts are brought in guilty, their sentence may extend by another 22 years.

Sechin says Russia no 'energy threat'

Friday, 11 July, 2008 - Upstream OnLine - Influential Russian vice-premier Igor Sechin said today that the country poses no threat to global energy security as its oil companies are every bit as involved in world markets as international competitors. Sechin, who is also chairman of state-controlled oil giant Rosneft, said he did not understand why the West perceived Russia as posing an "energy threat" and that the country's oil majors were honouring all contractual obligations, wrote Rueters. "I don't understand why Russian companies generate such anxiety," he told reporters on an aeroplane descending toward the northwestern Russian city of Arkhangelsk. "Russian oil companies are these same global companies," he said, adding the country's oil producers floated shares and operated abroad and were fulfilling all the terms of their international contracts. Oil companies from Russia, the world's largest exporter after Saudi Arabia, have been seeking to expand abroad in recent years.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Fresh Khodorkovsky charges from Kremlin

Tuesday, 01 July, 2008 – Upstream OnLine – Russian prosecutors confirmed today that they had brought new money laundering and embezzlement charges against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a jailed oil tycoon who supporters say is the victim of a Kremlin plot. Many observers view the next steps in the case as a test of new President Dmitry Medvedev's commitment to boosting investor confidence after a legal onslaught on Khodorkovsky and his Yukos oil company that alarmed the business community, wrote Reuters. Khodorkovsky's legal team says prosecutors are uncertain about how to proceed and filed the new charges - which are very similar to a 2006 indictment on which the businessman is awaiting trial - to play for time. "Prosecutors accuse Khodorkovsky and (business associate Platon) Lebedev of embezzling nearly 350 million tonnes of oil and also laundering 487 billion roubles ($20.81 billion) and $7 billion," the investigation committee of the Prosecutor-General's office said in a statement, according to Reuters. It said the two men were being charged with "theft through embezzlement and the legalisation of money acquired as a result of large-scale crime." Both Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are halfway through serving eight-year prison sentences for fraud and tax evasion. Khodorkovsky, 45, has always maintained his innocence and said the case against him was fabricated as punishment for challenging the Kremlin. Russian officials say he is a criminal who received a fair trial. Khodorkovsky's defence team said yesterday that the new charges were a recycled version of the 2006 indictment, with only a few minor changes. "It is the same collection of absurd and unproven allegations," his lawyers said in a statement.

Who benefits from the shower of petrodollars in Russia?

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Maxim Krans) - The 12th annual World Wealth Report, published the other day by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini, points to a sustained growth in the number and wealth of high-net-worth-individuals (HNWIs) in Russia. "Russia was also home to one of the world's 10 fastest-growing HNWI populations, despite growth decelerating from 15.5% in 2006 to 14.4% in 2007," the report says. The world's average growth was 6%. In 2007, the number of wealthy Russians grew by 17,000 to 136,000, or 10% of Russia's population, largely due to skyrocketing energy prices. Does this mean the living standards of the rest of the people have improved too? To believe the Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat), the average Russian's monthly wage was $303 in 2005, $391 in 2006 and $529 in 2007. "Average" is the key word here. Declared incomes in Russia totaled 5.27 trillion rubles ($224.6 billion) in the first quarter of 2008, or nearly 1 trillion rubles more year-on-year. But nearly 30% of this amount was pocketed by the 10% of the super-rich. The Gini coefficient, which measures inequality of income (or wealth) distribution, shows that 10% of Russia's richest people earn 16.8 more than 10% of the country's poor. The figure for Moscow, where nearly 100,000 millionaires and 74 billionaires live, is over 50, and the gap keeps growing. The rich and the poor have always been divided, even in Soviet times. The country of equal opportunities has never had actual equality. The salaries of the Soviet elite were not much bigger, but they had access to special stores where they bought at half-price the foods the rest of the people could only dream about. The same is true about better flats, foreign trips, company cars and health care services provided by the Kremlyovka, a special Fourth Directorate in the Health Ministry. These benefits look ridiculously modest compared with the wealth accumulated in the 1990s by the former "red directors," Soviet Communist party and Komsomol functionaries, covert operators, smart stock clerks and the mafia, which became the new ruling class of the post-Soviet Russia. The current gap between the living standards and way of life of the class of owners and the majority of Russians, especially the poor sections, is gaping. According to Rosstat, 22 million Russians live below the poverty line, but experts say the figure is at least twice as large. To begin with, there are more than 38 million pensioners. The Institute of Social Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences reports that the number of the poor in the 56-65 age group has grown by 150% in the last decade. Inflation and growing food prices eat up the bulk of modest state increases in the wages and allowances of senior citizens, the public sector staff, servicemen, new mothers and disabled persons. In February 2006, the then President Vladimir Putin said one of the state's priorities was to "close the gap between the highly paid groups of population and Russian citizens with modest means." Recent polls conducted by the Levada Center show that only 13% of the respondents think the gap has shrunk during Putin's presidency, while 80% say it has grown or not changed. Judging by the first decisions of President Dmitry Medvedev, he intends to solve the problem by developing small and medium-sized businesses. He said in Berlin in June, "The quality of life can be improved only by attracting people to business, by giving them an opportunity to start up a business of their own." If he makes this possible, and businessmen are liberated from excessive taxes and unbearable bureaucratic "patronage," Russia may still attain the goal set for 2020, when the middle class should make up 50%-70% of society. Another way out is to increase wages and salaries, because a substantial number of working Russians are living from hand to mouth. The wage to prime cost ratio is 20%-25% in Russia, according to Mikhail Shmakov, head of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions. Yevgeny Yasin, research director of the Russian Higher School of Economics, who was Russia's minister for economy from 1993 to the end of 1997, says it is only 10%-15%, which seems closer to the truth. The figure for industrialized countries such as Germany and France is 58%-75%. The wage to cost ratio is only 13.8% at AvtoVAZ, Russia's largest car producer, and 65% at General Motors. Only the state can help senior citizens, children and the disabled, and it has the opportunity to do this because the current Russian government earns $1 billion daily from hydrocarbons exports. As you can imagine, the overwhelming majority of Russians get very little, if anything, from this shower of petrodollars.

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