MOSCOW, March 13 (RIA Novosti) Russia makes final attempt to save Iran/Kremlin satisfied with regional elections/Microsoft launches production in Russia/New holding company to fulfill defense contracts/Authorities push down Yukos price ahead of bankruptcy auction
Russia makes final attempt to save Iran
On March 12, Russia warned Iran that it must accede to the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), or else Moscow would withdraw its support.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Russian Nuclear Power Agency (Rosatom) announced that the Bushehr nuclear power plant, the core of Iran's nuclear power program, would not be put into operation on schedule, and Kremlin sources have said that Russia would not "play anti-American games with Tehran."
Apparently, this was Moscow's final attempt to save Iran from tougher sanctions and possible military action by the United States.
The Kremlin warning was made by "an informed source in Moscow," whose opinion was nearly simultaneously made public by all leading Russian news agencies yesterday.
Taking into account recent international practices, it may mean that the warning came directly from the Kremlin.
The source said: "Iranians are abusing Russia's constructive attitude and have not done anything to help it convince its colleagues of the consistency of Tehran's actions."
"You cannot keep playing on our good relations," the source said. "If Iran refuses to answer the IAEA's questions, it should be prepared to fend for itself. Iran with a nuclear bomb or the ability to acquire one is not acceptable to Russia. We will not play anti-American games with it."
It was probably the harshest tone Moscow has used so far in its relations with Tehran.
Problems with Iran have undeniably affected Russia. It has not been properly compensated for its attempts to save Iran from sanctions, which were fraught with the risk of further complicating relations with the U.S.
"Russia is sustaining foreign policy and image losses, while they [Iranians] persist in their behavior," the Moscow source said.
Moscow has decided to issue an open, not a diplomatic, warning to Tehran in order to prevent more than just tougher sanctions.
The Kremlin knows that unless Iran makes reasonable concessions, the Bush administration may opt for a military strike against it. That would be even worse for Moscow than playing against the U.S. by Iran's scenario.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Kommersant, Gazeta.ru
Kremlin satisfied with regional elections
As expected, the pro-Kremlin party United Russia won the March 11 elections in 14 Russian regions.
That dress rehearsal for the December 2007 parliamentary elections demonstrated that the list of parties that can hope to receive seats in the next parliament has been compiled.
Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the Kremlin administration, said the following about the regional elections' influence on the party system: "That four parliamentary parties lead the elections means that the [Russian] political landscape has been laid out."
Therefore, the parties that have seats in the current parliament - United Russia, Just Russia, the Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party - are almost assured seats in the next parliament.
On March 11, they divided the leading places among themselves and posted results promising them an easy victory in the December elections.
Replying to a question about the rightwing Union of Right Forces (SPS) party, a Kremlin source said that it was playing on the left wing this time. Its future results will largely depend on the choice between carrying on that policy and choosing a different one, the source said.
Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies, said: "The SPS has demonstrated vigor, but it is precariously balanced. If a serious game is played against it, and if a spoiler is set up to win over its votes, the party may lose."
Dmitry Badovsky, deputy director of the Research Institute of Social Systems, said: "The results scored by the SPS will spur discussions in the Kremlin on the issue of a liberal faction in the lower house. A five-party house is almost impossible, because such a structure would undermine the stable majority system.
"We are also witnessing the rise of the Civil Force (formerly Free Russia). Both parties may take part in the parliamentary elections; they will be rivals, and neither will win seats in parliament."
A Kremlin source said Russia should maintain its current development trajectory for some time. To do so, United Russia must have a certain advantage in the parliament. If the party fails to ensure it, that would lead to the appearance of "a shaky coalition."
"There will be a sea of democracy," the source said. "But will that benefit Russia? I am not sure. Should the future president have a weak parliament?"
Microsoft launches production in Russia
Microsoft is bringing disk production to Russia with pre-setup versions of Windows and MS Office. Equipment manufacturers, for which they are meant, said the company was forced to do so because of the growing strictness of the Russian customs service.
More than 2 million computers with Windows XP were sold in Russia in the previous financial year, according to Microsoft.
The retail price of the OEM versions (versions for original equipment manufacturers) of the new operating system MS Windows Vista is $220, but large manufacturers get if for $50-$60, a source in one such companies said. That means Microsoft sells at least $120 million worth of the software in Russia a year.
Russian manufacturers approve of Microsoft's decision. Depo Computers, a leading Russian computer manufacturer, has long been waiting for the opportunity to buy software in Russia, said its CEO Sergei Eskin.
"Long logistics" in the case of software is absurd, he said, because it is the right to use, not the medium that is being sold.
Abulferz Abachev, executive vice president of another Russian manufacturer, Formoza, said the company planned to start buying Russian OEM versions in August 2007.
If they do not have to be cleared through customs, delivery time will drop from the current two to three weeks to a few days, he said.
Market players believe that the move to bring production to Russia was forced on the company by the growing vigilance of the Russian customs authorities.
In the past, almost all discs with software could be cleared at a reasonable cost (i.e. about $5), while the price of the software itself could reach several thousand dollars, a source in a computer company said.
Now, however, the customs service has changed its approach and toughened inspections of imported software.
A logistics expert with a software company confirmed that the St. Petersburg customs service was now checking software documents more thoroughly.
Pavel Cherkashin, head of the Russian and CIS office of Adobe Systems, a leading producer of software for graphic design, said they also encountered difficulties with customs clearance.
As a result, the company plans to offer Russian users versions of its software that are downloadable from the Internet. In the future, Adobe might also move part of its production to Russia, Cherkashin said.
New holding company to fulfill defense contracts
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the government to promptly draft a decree on establishing the United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC), which will consolidate the industry's assets.
The Industry and Energy Ministry said the new corporation will be patterned after the United Aircraft Corporation (UABC), established in 2006.
Unlike the aircraft industry, which mostly exports its products, the shipbuilding company will focus on the domestic market. Moreover, all shipyards will be merged quickly, without any prior talks with private companies.
On Monday, Yury Koptev, the director of the Industry and Energy Ministry's defense industry department, said the projected merger only concerns state-controlled assets.
"Private companies will take part only if they and the state are interested in joint shipbuilding projects," he said.
The United Shipbuilding Corporation will have three regional subsidiaries.
The West Shipbuilding Center in St. Petersburg will produce diesel-powered submarines, warships and civilian vessels.
The Arkhangelsk-based North Shipbuilding Center will, as before, turn out nuclear-powered submarines, and will master production of vessels and floating platforms for oil-and-gas deposits on the continental shelf.
And the East Shipbuilding Center in Vladivostok and Nakhodka will repair warships of the Russian Navy's Pacific Fleet, and will help develop oil and gas deposits on the regional shelf.
In early February, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, a likely presidential candidate, said that at least three shipbuilding companies would be established.
However, the Kremlin ultimately opted for a centralized and state-controlled industry that will mostly fulfill federal contracts.
The Industry and Energy Ministry said the shipbuilding industry is to expand production by 120% by 2015. Civilian vessels will account for just 34% of its output, with the rest being Russian and foreign defense orders.
Authorities push down Yukos price ahead of bankruptcy auction
Yesterday, Russian authorities launched their final inspection of fields owned by the beleaguered oil company Yukos and its subsidiary, East Siberian Oil and Gas Company (also known as VSNK).
The fields in question are Tersko-Kamovskoye, Ayavinskoye, Dzhelindukonskoye, Oskobinskoye and Yurubcheno-Tokhomskoye.
The license for the latter, which is the largest one, with oil reserves exceeding 580 million metric tons of crude, is held by VSNK.
The new inspection of the Federal Service for Monitoring of Subsoil Use may take a week.
If it finds once again that the exploration required by law is not ongoing and the output of the fields is insufficient, Yukos and its subsidiary may lose their licenses even without receiving any preliminary notices from the agency.
It is no coincidence that the inspection has been launched now, experts told the paper.
For example, a preliminary decision on Yurubcheno-Tokhomskoye was made in September 2006. The company was then given three months to correct the violations.
That means that the final check could have been conducted in January, and the license could have been revoked in February. But it did not happen. The authorities have addressed VSNK only in the run-up to the auction of Yukos' assets.
Sevastyan Leibe, a project manager with the independent consulting group 2K Audit - Business Consulting, said that the Service was unlikely to revoke the license at least until the auctions are over.
That risk is meant to scare away potential buyers, which will increase the chances of Rosneft, the state-owned oil major, to acquire the asset, perhaps even at a significant discount.
"Rosneft may need free cash to buy the 9.44% of its own shares held by Yukos," he said. "It may have to fight for that asset, so it wants to get the others without much effort."
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