What the Russian papers say


MOSCOW, July 22 (RIA Novosti)

Nezavisimaya Gazeta

Putin's rating falls below 25% - first time in 5 years

For the first time since his election five years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin's confidence rating dropped to 24%, according to the Public Opinion Foundation, which surveyed ratings of Russian politicians, the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported.

The poll, which surveyed 3,000 people in 63 regions of Russia, asked respondents to name a few current politicians whom they had confidence in or a positive attitude toward. Those who said they trusted Vladimir Putin amounted to less than one fourth. The ratings of the other politicians were as follows: 8% trust leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovsky, 6% Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, 5% leader of the Communist Party Gennady Zyuganov, 3% leader of the left-wing patriotic party Rodina Dmitry Rogozin, and 3% leader of Nash Vybor (Our Choice) Irina Khakamada.

The results imply that the president's ratings are now comparable to the aggregate ratings of the five politicians that follow him in the chart, which means Putin no longer enjoys unmatched popularity.

Political polls usually give two ratings for a politician, an electoral rating and a confidence rating. In spring, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported a historical low in the president's electoral rating (43%). Perhaps, the current fall in Putin's confidence rating is due to the summer lull and his low information rating (only 7% of respondents said they had seen him in the media the previous week).

On the other hand, the political arena is always calm in summer, but the president's confidence rating has never been so low.


CEC chairman prepares for "orange revolution"

Alexander Veshnyakov, head of the Central Elections Commission (CEC), said certain forces have unleashed a campaign to discredit the initiatives coming from election authorities, the Internet edition Gazeta.ru reported Friday.

The fear of an approaching "orange revolution" is gripping increasing numbers of high-ranking Russian officials. Although real prerequisites for such an event in the country do not seem to exist, statements about dangerous developments similar to those in Ukraine or Kyrgyzstan are being made with regularity.

Following deputy presidential chief of staff Vladislav Surkov's warning of the danger of an external administration being introduced in the country in 2008, Veshnyakov also spoke Thursday of a possible unlawful change of power. The formal pretext was this week's expected presidential signing of a package of amendments, which is to culminate the election reform set in motion by the Kremlin and the CEC.

"Even before the final text of the law is made public, a campaign has been launched to discredit this law," Veshnyakov told a special Internet conference. "Its norms are being misrepresented, the law itself is mythologized, and the idea is being inculcated among the voters that the changes are deliberately aimed at falsifying the citizens' will in future elections."

The CEC head did not mention who wants to discredit the documents of his department. It may be assumed that the reference was to leaders of both the right and the left opposition, starting with right-wing leaders (SPS and Yabloko) and ending with left-wing leaders (Rodina and KPRF). All of them, lately, have made statements about the danger of falsifying parliamentary elections.

Veshnyakov explained why the CEC is being discredited: "Such a campaign is aimed not only at justifying their political failures in the past and, perhaps, in the future, but above all at discrediting elections and, accordingly, switching over to other ways of forming bodies of authority, at departing from democracy."


Novatek enters European market

Novatek's IPO was well received by investors, who paid a premium for the company's shares, the daily Biznes reported.

Novatek's, Russia's major independent natural gas producer, IPO on the London Stock Exchange was placed at the value of $1,675 per share, with demand exceeding supply.

In the course of the offering, Novatek shareholder SWGI Growth Fund (Cyprus) Limited sold 17.3% of the authorized capital, at an overall sum of $878.5 million. Another 1.7% of the capital can be additionally bought out by IPO organizers as part of the offering, within 30 days. In this case, Novatek shareholders will clear $966.3 million in total.

"An excellent final selling price," was how Dmitry Tsaregorodtsev, an analyst with investment company Rye, Man & Gore Sec., defined Novatek's IPO.

Dmitry Mangilev, an analyst with investment company Prospekt, believes, on the contrary, that Novatek sold itself cheap, considering the company's independent status and its sufficiently extensive resources compared with principal gas and oil producers.

The public offering means the total abandonment of a sale of a part of Novatek's shares to France's Total. "Novatek had two options in attracting funds - to hold an IPO or sell itself to a strategic investor," Tsaregorodtsev said. "Both are nearly equal, but the former provides a better balance between ownership and outside capital." Now Novatek will be able to simply buy Total technology, without getting under the company's thumb, and invite all kinds of investors to work its deposits.

The investors, who bought out the company's shares at more than their real value, firstly paid for the right to gain access to the rather closed Russian market. However, in order to live up to investors' expectations, Novatek will have to implement its plans for an annual 30%-rise in production, Mangilev said. Later on, the company will be able profitably to offer the remaining 10% of its stock authorized by the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service.


Illegal drug market in Russia exceeds $9 billion

The annual volume of the illegal drug market in Russia exceeds 250 billion rubles ($8.74 billion), the daily Trud reported Friday.

Part of this money is used to bribe officials and finance terrorism.

Yesterday the Russian government unanimously approved the Federal Target Program to Counter Drug Abuse and Illegal Drug Circulation (2005-2009).

The paper reported that poppy straw and marijuana used to be the most common illegal drugs in Russia, but that they are being rapidly ousted by opium, heroin and cocaine. Meanwhile, public health bodies reported that in 2004 there were 493,000 people in Russia with mental and behavioral disorders caused by drug use. And individual sociological surveys show that the real number of people using drugs is eight to ten times higher. The Federal Service for Control of Drugs Circulation confirms that almost 6 million people are addicted to drugs.

The federal program envisages increasing the role of the law-enforcement agencies in combating this "21st century plague," creating a "safety belt" around Afghanistan, introducing measures to prevent drug addiction, introducing new treatment methods and medical rehabilitation of drug addicts. The goal is to reduce drug use by 16-20% by 2010. Budget funding for the program will be 3.6 billion rubles, and it is planned to obtain an additional 30 million rubles from extra-budgetary sources. This is 100% more than the sum spent in 2002-2004.

Last year the police detected over 150,000 drug trafficking crimes, two-thirds of which were serious or very serious crimes. The drug police say they have sufficient authority and resources to combat the drug mafia. They are just waiting for the State Duma to finally add a provision to the Criminal Code that would allow the confiscation of the property of drug barons. Unless this happens, the economic foundation of drug dealing cannot be broken.


Children of prominent Russian reformers want to go into politics

Politically famous names will appear on the ballot slips for the December election to the Moscow City Duma, an influential business daily Vedomosti reported Friday.

Maria Gaidar, 24, was asked to head the list of the Union of Rightist Forces, while Zhanna Nemtsova, 21, is standing for election in a single-member constituency. However, experts warn that it will be hard for them to make political careers with such surnames.

"It will be more difficult for the children to earn a reputation as independent and serious politicians as they bear the legacy of their fathers' successes and failures," political scientist Sergei Kurginyan said. "If they want to go into politics in earnest, they will have to prove they have their own political stance. So far the campaign of the daughters [Gaidar's and Nemtsov's] has been comical."

The daughters say their fathers did not interfere with their choices. Yegor Gaidar was Boris Yeltsin's deputy in the Russian government and is considered the man behind the shock reform of the early 1990s. Boris Nemtsov governed a large Russian region, and in 1997-1998 was deputy to the former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. They headed pro-reformist political parties, which are no longer represented in parliament. Their current ratings are extremely low.

"It became fashionable for politicians' children to go into politics after Brezhnev. In tsarist and postwar Russia [children of the political elite] went into the military," says political expert Vyacheslav Nikonov, grandchild of Vyacheslav Molotov, people's commissar for foreign affairs under Stalin. "Today it is the quickest route to fame."

In modern Russia this is a fairly common phenomenon. For example, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky and his son Igor Lebedev are both State Duma deputies. Liberal Democratic Party member Alexei Mitrofanov believes the father will leave the party to his son. Vitaly Margelov, former deputy director of the Foreign Intelligence Service, is now a deputy for United Russia (the ruling party), while his son Mikhail is a member of the parliament's upper chamber.

Another path taken by prominent politicians' children is to go into business. Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov's son Pyotr is deputy director of the Far East Shipping Company. A number have become vice-presidents in banks: Ilya Voloshin, son of former chief of the presidential administration Alexander Voloshin, works for Konversbank; Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's son Sergei works for Gazprombank; St. Petersburg governor Valentina Matviyenko's son Sergei is at Vneshtorgbank. Arkady Kulik, son of Agrarian Party deputy Gennady Kulik, is deputy chairman of the Rosselkhozbank board.

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