What the Russian papers say


MOSCOW, August 28 (RIA Novosti) Politkovskaya's murderer tracked abroad/ Moscow ready to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus/ Russia to supply medium-range missiles to Syria/ Russia's strategic bombers fly milk runs/ TNK-BP's interim dividends disappoint investors

Vremya Novostei, Vedomosti, Moskovsky Komsomolets

Politkovskaya's murderer tracked abroad

Russia's prosecutor general said yesterday those responsible for the murder of Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya wanted to destabilize the situation in Russia and return to the order when "money and oligarchs decided everything."

Politkovskaya was killed in the elevator of her apartment block on October 7, 2006 in Moscow, at the age of 48.

Prosecutor General Yury Chaika said ten people, including those directly involved: organizers, accomplices and perpetrators of the crime, had been arrested in the case. According to him, the organizer of the crime lives abroad.

Any one of those persons on the Russian prosecution's wanted list could fit the bill, including Boris Berezovsky, Khozh-Akhmed Nukhayev, and possibly Akhmed Zakayev.

Berezovsky, who lives as a political refugee in London, has spoken openly about his plans to topple "the Putin regime" for years, the last time in an article in The Sunday Times August 26. The prosecution has opened several sedition cases against him.

Another possible candidate is Khozh-Akhmed Nukhayev, the leader of a Chechen organized crime group in Moscow in the early 1990s. The prosecutors say he organized the murder of Paul Klebnikov, editor of Forbes Russia, in July 2004.

Nukhayev could presumably have ordered the murder of Politkovskaya on the instructions of Berezovsky, who allegedly acted through Zakayev, with whom he has close ties.

Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, said conclusions by law enforcement officers and his newspaper's independent investigation coincided. However, he is worried by the possible interpretation of these facts.

"We are concerned the blame will be placed on individuals chosen by the prosecutors," he said. "We cannot guarantee that the names of those who organized the murder and those who are eventually accused will coincide. The investigators cannot be held responsible for any discrepancy; they have done a brilliant job."

Ilya Politkovsky, son of Anna, said: "I fully agree with the conclusions of the investigators. They worked carefully, painstakingly and courageously. However, I fear that when the time comes to name the culprits, the case will topple like a house of cards in court."


Moscow ready to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus

Russia's response to U.S. missile defense plans for Eastern Europe came as a shock to the public. Russian Ambassador to Minsk Alexander Surikov said Russia could deploy in Belarus some facilities "connected with nuclear weapons." Experts, however, are viewing the diplomat's statement as a tentative check of public opinion and are doubtful about any redeployment of Russia's strategic forces to Belarus.

Russia's Foreign Ministry preferred not to comment on Surikov's statement, but a representative of the ministry's press office let slip that "if an ambassador says something, he always voices the official position of the ministry."

Moscow has never mentioned the possibility of placing nuclear weapons on its western neighbor's soil. Even [President of Belarus] Alexander Lukashenko, with his usual knack for blunt statements, has so far been very cautious over the issue. He admitted nearly a year ago, during the joint Russia-Belarus military exercise that the Union State's armed forces could use tactical nuclear weapons against a potential adversary in the case of aggression against Belarus. He was also quick to add that he did not think the immediate deployment of nuclear warheads in Belarus expedient. Russia refrained from commenting then.

Experts insist Surikov's statement is by all means an attempt to sound out the public response in Belarus and the West. Russia has no real plans of moving part of its nuclear forces to Belarus now. "We've discussed placing Iskander missile systems there, in response to NATO's refusal to ratify the adjusted CFE Treaty. Iskanders can also carry nuclear warheads," said Vladimir Yevseyev, senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations. Still the expert said it was highly unlikely that Iskanders or Topol-M mobile systems would be deployed in Belarus right now. What the statement probably meant was that some airports with refuellers for strategic air forces may be built in Belarus, he added.


Russia to supply medium-range missiles to Syria

Russia has started fulfilling a large contract for the supply of Buk surface-to-air medium-range missile systems to Syria.

The media has long been reporting Syria's interest in buying the latest air defense weapons, as well as the MiG-31 Foxhound fighter which has a long range and powerful radar. But two different defense industry sources told Vedomosti at virtually the same time that no contracts on the sale of S-300s, S-400s, and MiG-31s had been or were likely to be signed with Syria. However, early this year a contract for the delivery of Buk-M2 systems worth no less than $200 million came into force.

Rosoboronexport declined to comment on the reports. The new Buk-M2 version which has a new radar was showcased at the recent MAKS-2007 air show.

Since 2004, when Russia resumed active negotiations with Syria on military- technical cooperation, it has contracted to deliver Syria a limited number of short-range anti-aircraft systems (Strelets and Pantsyr) and medium-range systems (Buk), said Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. This indicates that Moscow is not only refusing to supply Syria with strike systems such as the Iskander missiles (President Putin personally vetoed their deliveries in 2005), but is also downgrading exports of purely defensive systems to low-powered weapons incapable of reducing Israel's security, Pukhov said.

Still Russia has commercial interests in the region, and Syria is one of Moscow's few partners in the Arab world, and so Russia is unable to stop delivering it arms altogether, the expert said.

Russia's leadership has long said it is unwilling to fill the region with arms capable of destabilizing the situation, said Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Institute for Middle East Studies. So the Syrians and their allies in Iran have no fewer, if not more, grudges against Moscow than Israel. The Syrians are unhappy with the weapon mix on offer to them, while Israel is in general dissatisfied that any weapons at all are sold to Syria and Iran, Satanovsky said.

One of the latest versions of the surface-to-air system - the Buk M1-2 - has a range of up to 45 km (28 miles) and a peak target hitting altitude of up to 25 km (16 miles). Contracts are currently being served out with the armed forces of Egypt and Iran to replace their Soviet-era AD Kub systems with Buk missiles.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta

Russia's strategic bombers fly milk runs

Now it is clear why the Pentagon is unconcerned about the resumed regular flights by Russia's strategic bombers. It appears Tu-95MS Bear-H and Tu-160 Blackjack bombers are flying over the neutral Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic waters without nuclear weapons onboard and generally without any combat weapons at all.

"We do not fly with nuclear arms," Commander of the 37th Air Army of the Strategic Command Major-General Pavel Androsov told the paper. "They are not present onboard. And generally all combat weapons are absent."

"We go on duty with dummy weapons, we perform all necessary maneuvers, and practice all required operations in a training mode, but we do not carry out any live launches", the general said.

According to Androsov, Russian strategic pilots are not doing anything that "our opposite numbers from the U.S.," do not do. Americans, for example, make regular round-the-world flights, and 20% to 25% of the U.S. strategic bombers are constantly outside national boundaries - at forward-based airfields in Kuwait, at Al Udeid in Qatar, on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, or at Anderson base on Guam.

"There are no conflicts between us," Androsov said. "Although it occasionally occurs that some of them come within unacceptable distances of Russian planes."

"I do not understand why all this fuss in the world press about the resumption of routine flights by Russian strategic aviation," the general said. "Our pilots must perfect their skills. There was a time when we dropped behind in practice, and our flying hours were lower. Now we are going back to routine norms - each crew has 70 to 80 hours to their credit, though the year is still not over," he said.


TNK-BP's interim dividends disappoint investors

At a shareholders meeting on September 28, Russian-British joint venture TNK-BP proposed approving the payment of interim dividends of about 22 billion rubles (some $854 million), according to some sources. Analysts, who expected greater generosity, are not ruling out that the company has decided to change its strategy and finance its development from its profits, not from loans.

Experts differ on the amount of dividends to be paid by TNK-BP Holding. According to UBS's forecast, its dividends (according to the results of the first quarter of 2007) will amount to $0.08 (2.06 rubles) per share, while Uralsib's dividends will equal $0.1 (2.57 rubles) and Renaissance Capital's ones to $0.05 (1.288 rubles). However, the holding may not be as generous to its shareholders as most of the market players expect it to be. According to a source close to the company's shareholders, the range of [dividend] payments "will be closer to its lower mark." Therefore, the shareholders may be paid much less than the company earned according to BP's forecasts.

"On the whole, the market did not expect dividends comparable to last year's results," said Konstantin Cherepanov, an analyst with the KIT-Finance brokerage. "At that time, their size was largely due to the transaction for the sale of Udmurtneft, a TNK-BP subsidiary. Later, there have not been any comparable deals," he noted. The expert also reminded that TNK-BP had said more than once that it intended to increase its capital investments.

According to Timur Khairullin, an analyst with the Atlanta Capital investment company, until recently TNK-BP had given nearly all its net profit as dividends to its shareholders and borrowed loans to ensure its operational activity. So far, TNK-BP Holding has not disclosed its net profit (according to Russian accounting standards) and it is not yet clear which part of the company's earnings will be distributed among shareholders and which will stay in the company.

"It is quite possible that the shareholders have already returned their investments. On the other hand, the company also needs capital investment," said Vladimir Vedeneyev, an analyst with the Bank of Moscow. He expects the company may borrow less on the market and develop at the expense of its own funds.

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