MOSCOW, June 30 (RIA Novosti) Putin's future in United Russia?/ Putin's possible return in 2012/ Gazprom fighting on two fronts/ UAE to receive Russian air-defense systems/ Rosneft to start shipments to Asia
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Moskovsky Komsomolets, Vedomosti
Party of power again offers its services to Putin
"I will set up an opposition party and sit at home, twiddling thumbs," President Vladimir Putin has told the journalists who asked him what he would do when his tenure expired in 2008.
Some members of the Kremlin team have a different view of Putin's future. Vladislav Surkov, the eminence grise of Russian politics, hinted that Putin would join United Russia soon, and lower house speaker Boris Gryzlov elaborated on this statement yesterday. But not everyone in the Kremlin is happy with the party's amenability.
United Russia has always wanted Putin to become a member. In 2002, Alexander Bespalov, then secretary general of the party, said the president had agreed to join the party and would soon announce the news, which Putin has not done to this day.
The party of power is trying to hurry history, a source in the Kremlin said. A partisan president is something for the distant future.
"Russia's biggest party has made an offer to the most probable presidential candidate," said a member of the presidential administration. But to entice him to take it, the party will have to prove its ability to support such a candidate. It could do this by "winning all of the fall 2006 and spring 2007 elections to regional parliaments," he said.
This statement could be a Kremlin feeler put out to probe public opinion. The presidential administration is analyzing different scenarios for the next election cycle and for the period after 2008. Some of them stipulate membership of United Russia for Putin or his heir apparent.
Gennady Gudkov, a State Duma deputy from United Russia, said the nomination procedure would become clear when the scenario for the 2007 parliamentary elections is chosen. He said this might happen in October.
Putin may return in 2012 - expert
The proactive attempts of the ruling pro-Kremlin party, United Russia, to have the president join it have received different assessments from experts. Some say that it will help Vladimir Putin preserve political control over the country and return to the Kremlin in 2012. Others recall a famous maxim of former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who once said, "No matter what we build, we get the Communist Party."
Alexei Makarkin, deputy director general of the Center for Political Technologies, said: "The party may be necessary for Vladimir Putin as a site to promote his successor in the public. If the incumbent president or his successor is a party member, its authority increases. At the same time, membership can be beneficial for Putin as well. After all, one of the aspects of the 2008 problem [when his term expires] is what role he will play then. If he becomes the party leader, he will be able to control his successor (who in this case will also be a member), parliament via the party faction, and governors, as most of them have already joined United Russia."
"Does this mean that United Russia is becoming an analogue of the Communist Party [of the Soviet Union]? This would be a premature conclusion. The Communist Party was not just a ruling party, it was the center of the entire power system. As soon as a general secretary no longer suited the party staff, he found himself politically isolated. This happened to Nikita Khrushchev in 1964 and to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. United Russia, however, will most probably be a Putin party, i.e. Vladimir Putin's party resource, as he has not ruled out that he may return to presidency in 2012, which the Constitution does not prohibit."
Alexei Volin, president of the Rodionov publishing house, former deputy head of the government staff in the 1990s, said: "The president's strength is in his attempts to be president of all Russians and kind of an arbiter between different party movements."
"If we assume that we will have a single national ideology and, consequently, a party that expresses it and even a partisan president, that it will be a Communist Party of the late Soviet era. In the 1970s-1980s, the Communist Party did not have any ideology apart from preserving its dominance in the system."
Gazprom prepared to fight on two fronts
On Thursday, Gazprom broke off talks with Turkmenistan. The monopoly may have decided to teach Turkmenbashi, the country's autocratic leader, a lesson and started preparations for a natural gas war.
Ashgabat had warned that a contract to supply 30 billion cubic meters of gas to Gazprom would be fulfilled by early September and "all the following deliveries to Russia will stop". This will cost Turkmenistan between $400 million and $600 million a month. These losses may force Niyazov to lower the price and move away from the psychological barrier of $100.
But no sooner had the airliner of Alexei Miller, Gazprom chief executive, departed from Ashgabat than a Ukrainian delegation departed for Turkmenistan. On Friday Ukraine's Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov will try to negotiate the purchase of Turkmen gas direct from Niyazov, or over Gazprom's head.
It is, of course, impossible to transport Turkmen gas to Ukraine bypassing Russia. But a direct Ukrainian-Turkmen contract, if signed, will strengthen Kiev's hand at talks with Gazprom. But Kiev is unlikely to pay more for Turkmen gas than Russia, especially since Turkmenistan says Ukraine is almost $60 million in arrears. And the Turkmen gas Ukraine is consuming this year is all on credit. So another Ukrainian expedition for Turkmen gas is most likely to end like a damp squib.
Gazprom, on the other hand, will benefit from Ukrainian-Turkmen negotiations whatever their outcome. And even if Kiev agrees to pay Turkmenistan more than Russia, the new Yuliya Tymoshenko government will have to face long talks with Gazprom before ditching gas price agreements reached in January.
Gazprom's capability to wage war not only on the western, but also on the Asian front is backed not just by a favorable price situation but also by the Kremlin's support. After the state gained a controlling stake in Gazprom, even shareholders' meetings are now a mere formality.
UAE to receive latest Russian air defense weapons
The United Arab Emirates is to receive the first Pantsir S1 gun-missile air defense systems, which have not yet been adopted by the Russian Armed Forces, by the time President Vladimir Putin visits the country in September. Completion of the $734-million contract between Abu Dhabi and the Tula-based Instrument Design Bureau, as well as the sale of weapons to Syria, indicate that Moscow wants to deepen links with the Islamic world.
Fulfillment of the Pantsir contract was delayed until 2006-2009 because Abu Dhabi requested a new radar for tracking aerial and ground targets from Russia. The UAE also said it was looking to ink another contract for 28 Pantsir systems in 2009-2010. Moscow has also undertaken to supply 36 Pantsir systems to Damascus under a bilateral contract.
Moscow has recently upped its weapons exports to the Islamic world. Contracts for sales of other weapons that the Russian Armed Forces do not have have been signed with several Muslim countries. Rosoboronexport, Russia's state arms exporter, and Malaysia have inked a contract for the sale of 18 Sukhoi Su-30 MKM Flanker air superiority fighters with vectored-thrust engines, while Algeria is to receive 28 Su-30 MKA Flanker warplanes.
Algeria, which has signed arms contracts worth $7.5 billion with Moscow in the last twelve months, is the third largest importer of Russian weaponry after China and India. Rosoboronexport is negotiating the sale of BrahMos supersonic anti-ship missiles to Malaysia, and Russian-Moroccan military-technical cooperation has also expanded in the last 12 months. Russia plans to supply 29 Tor M1 surface-to-air missile systems to Iran, which faces a possible arms embargo.
Increased arms exports provide Russia with political and military dividends because its armed forces receive new weapons whose development is financed by foreign customers.
Rosneft ready to start oil shipments to Asia
Rosneft has taken sole control of Nakhodka, the largest oil port in Russia's Far East. Analysts believe that the state-owned oil major is getting ready to launch sea shipments to Asia, first of all to China, after the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) oil pipeline is completed and production gets underway in East Siberia.
By purchasing the port, which includes oil storage and loading infrastructure, Rosneft has completed the creation of a technologically integrated industrial complex.
Natalia Yanakayeva of the TsentrInvest group said the move was quite logical, as Rosneft is working for the future. "At present, Rosneft does not produce oil in East Siberia, but it will start to around 2010," she said. "By that time, the first line of the ESPO pipeline will be able to pump that oil directly from fields to the port, where it will be loaded onto tankers and sent to Asia, first of all, to China."
Dmitry Mangilev, analyst with the Prospekt brokerage, said the port could be used to export petrochemicals.
Anatoly Khodorovsky, director of analysis with the Region group, said Rosneft's potential projects were located in East Siberia, and that Nakhodka will increase the profitability of oil shipments. "At present oil is loaded in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region," he said. "Even if the pipeline is built only to Skovorodino, it will still be several thousand kilometers eastward."
Rosneft has not elaborated on how it intends to develop the port. "Ahead of the IPO on the London Stock Exchange we will not comment on specific industrial plans," it said. It added, however, that "the oil port's efficiency will grow substantially."
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The main event of the third day of the 11th meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi was the closing session with President Vladimir Putin. The atmosphere was calm and open, despite the current political tensions and the Russia-West confrontation. The Russian president said that it corresponded to the spirit of the Valdai Club.