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Lavrov says govt. to stay out of Telenor-VimpelCom dispute

Russia's foreign minister said on Tuesday a dispute over Norwegian telecoms giant Telenor's stake in Russia's VimpelCom should be settled by the companies.
MOSCOW, March 24 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's foreign minister said on Tuesday a dispute over Norwegian telecoms giant Telenor's stake in Russia's VimpelCom should be settled by the companies.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere expressed concern ahead of his visit to Moscow on Tuesday over the seizure of Telenor's 30% stake in VimpelCom after a Russian court ruled the Norwegian firm pay $1.7 billion to VimpelCom. On Tuesday, a court rejected the firm's appeal against the ruling.

"We believe such disputes should be resolved at a corporate level," Sergei Lavrov told a news conference after talks with Stoere, adding that VimpelCom was a private company, although Telenor was controlled by the Norwegian government.

"It is difficult for us to influence the situation. We are not happy about what is happening," Lavrov said.

Telenor is a core shareholder in VimpelCom, which operates cell phone networks in Russia and other former Soviet republics under the Beeline brand.

The ruling followed a lawsuit filed by a VimpelCom minority shareholder, which accused the Norwegian company of delaying a deal to purchase a cell phone operator in Ukraine. In 2004-2005, Telenor resisted VimpelCom's attempt to enter the Ukrainian market as it put VimpelCom in direct competition with the Norwegian firm's other interests in Ukraine.

The Norwegian foreign minister said in turn Russia should provide equal conditions for Russian and foreign companies, and urged stability, predictability and accountability for cell phone players.

This is the responsibility for companies that form joint ventures, and the governments that follow the process and provide conditions for their successful functioning, Stoere said.

Talking about other issues discussed at the talks, Stoere said Norway was open to discussion on the European security pact proposed by President Dmitry Medvedev in June 2008, but it would "act cautiously" not to damage the current security arrangements.

"We should base it on existing institutions and continue dialogue with the OSCE and NATO," he said, urging for a new treaty to cut long-range nuclear weapons.

The 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-I) expires in December. The Russian and U.S. president are set to resume talks on a follow-up to the treaty. Moscow has linked it to U.S. missile shield plans for Europe, which it opposes.

Speaking about repeated fishing disputes between Russia and Norway, Lavrov said the two countries were set to draft proposals "to bring down seizures of Russian and Norwegian vessels on suspicion of poaching to a minimum" by the fall.

The two countries' dispute focuses on the controversial Arctic Ocean archipelago of Spitsbergen, which belongs to Norway, although Russia does not recognize Norway's exclusive right to the 200-mile economic zone.

Stoere said Norwegian Premier Jens Stoltenberg would visit Russia on May 19 to continue the negotiations.

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