MOSCOW, December 25 (RIA Novosti) Tehran to continue splitting Moscow and Washington/Russia, West rival in search of new leader for Turkmenistan/Yukos auditor faces charges/The Kremlin needs bargaining chips to deal with Europe - experts /The Kremlin needs bargaining chips to deal with Europe - experts
(RIA Novosti does not accept responsibility for articles in the press)
Tehran to continue splitting Moscow and Washington
Even after the unanimous vote in favor of sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council, Tehran will continue setting Moscow and Washington against each other. Sooner or later, Russian-U.S. relations will once again stumble on Russia's military-technical cooperation with Iran.
The Security Council's resolution is the best outcome of the discussion on the Iranian nuclear program for Moscow. Russian diplomats claim credit for the fact that sanctions do not affect contracts with Iran, both in the nuclear sphere and in weapons supply.
Anatoly Tsyganok, head of the Military Forecasting Center at the Institute for Political and Military Analysis, said that Russia will continue military cooperation with Iran.
"It will supply defense weapons," he said, adding that "earlier, these sales were intended for the defense of the nuclear power plant at Bushehr [small-range air defense with a radius of 40-60 km]."
For Washington, however, the sanctions are just the first "decisive signal" for Iran. They will inevitably be followed by tougher, and perhaps more radical steps, because Tehran is certain to ignore the sanctions.
That is a clue for interpreting America's call on Russia to take "more active efforts" against Iran and the suspiciously well-timed leak to the press about the U.S. Congress request to the Bush administration to prepare a report on different scenarios and consequences of a military attack on Iran.
According to the report, an efficient strike against Iran can be delivered only from air. It should attack targets whose destruction will throw Tehran's nuclear program back to the start.
According to unofficial sources, targets have already been chosen. There are five of them, and one is in Tehran.
That information, combined with Iranian plans to modernize its air defense using Russian surface-to-air missile systems, represents an acute problem in Russian-U.S. relations.
Russia, West rival in search of new leader for Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan will not be allowed to choose its own leader.
Paralyzed by fear and mistrust of each other, the former lieutenants of the deceased Turkmen leader will seek the assistance of Russia, the United States and the European Union rather than resist attempts by the global powers to participate in the selection of the successor in the Central Asian republic.
The slogans justifying interference in Ashgabat's affairs may differ, but the root cause is gas. Turkmenistan annually produces 63 billion cubic meters of natural gas, or 10% of Russia's total output.
Under the latest agreement, the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom should receive 150 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan at $100 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2007-2009.
By reselling Turkmen gas to Europe at an average price of $235 per 1,000 cubic meters, the Russian concern may receive up to $22 billion in profits (without transportation expenses).
RosUkrEnergo, a Swiss-registered provider of gas to Ukraine that belongs to Gazprom and friendly businessmen, controls the remaining Turkmen gas.
Taken together, this forms a powerful lever of influence. Most importantly, Russia will be unable to fulfill its gas obligations to Europe without Turkmen gas, and therefore Russia will do its best to ensure that Saparmurat Niyazov's successor will not look for alternative gas export routes.
The first possible alternative is the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline, which is still under construction and is controlled by Gazprom. Another alternative is the Nabucco project, which should link gas deposits on the Caspian Sea with Europe by 2011.
Europe, which is becoming increasingly wary of gas dependence on Gazprom, would gladly support anyone who promises to redirect Turkmen gas to Nabucco.
But there is one catch: the project will strengthen the positions of Muslim countries (Iran and Azerbaijan) as it is. Therefore, the U.S. will try to prevent the flow of Turkmen gas to the Nabucco pipeline.
On the other hand, the West could use the possibility of diversion to Nabucco to scare Russia, just as Niyazov did in his time.
Over a period of 18 months, the Turkmen president forced Gazprom to increase the purchasing price from $47 to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters.
Yukos auditor faces charges
The Russian tax authorities have accused PricewaterhouseCoopers Audit, a subsidiary of PricewaterhouseCoopers, of assisting Yukos to evade taxes. Now, the license of the company, whose clients include Gazprom and the Central Bank, may be annulled and its employees hit with criminal charges, lawyers told the paper.
So far, however, the authorities just want to get the $145,000 PWC received for providing auditing services to Yukos.
"The claim is insignificant and does not correspond to the seriousness of the alleged violations," said Vadim Vinogradov of the Russian Law Academy under the Justice Ministry.
At the same time, the claim cites Article 11 of the law on audit activities, under which a company may lose its license for a false audit report. PWC Audit is also accused of not reporting the violations to the Financial Monitoring Service, as required by money laundering and terrorism financing laws.
"The suit may just be the first step, to be followed by more serious state actions," Vinogradov said. "If it is upheld, the company's license may be annulled and its auditors could face criminal charges, for example, for abuse of office."
Experts are trying to understand why the tax authorities have decided to return to the Yukos case.
Yevgeny Saburov, former member of the Yukos board of directors, said: "The economy depends on the will of a person in power and on his mood. So these moves are unpredictable."
Yuri Kobaladze, managing director with Renaissance Capital, said: "The authorities have already acknowledged that the Yukos case did not help to improve Russia's prestige. Why would they want to go back to it?"
Mark Garber, senior partner with Fleming & Family Partners, said: "They need to eliminate the remaining gaps before Yukos' complaint is heard by the EU Court. But even if the Russian tax authorities are defeated there, the situation will not change, because Russia abides by its domestic laws."
Grigory Tomchin, president of the All-Russian Association of Privatized and Private Companies, said: "There has been no order to stop. Officials continue working and each of them wants to make a contribution."
The Kremlin needs bargaining chips to deal with Europe - experts
The pro-presidential majority in the State Duma has taken an unprecedented step by ignoring the recommendations of the Foreign Ministry and Vladimir Putin and demonstrably refusing to ratify Protocol 14 to the Council of Europe's Human Rights Convention.
The protocol gives more rights to the European Court. What is behind the move by the until-now obliging pro-government party?
Andrei Ryabov, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center, said: "Russian society has a fairly negative view of European structures which focus on human rights issues. United Russia deputies, sensing upcoming elections, have tried to play on these sentiments. Also, the Russian leadership is engaged in a wide-ranging and intricate game with the European Union. And it keenly needs additional political arguments to bargain with. Above all, this concerns the agreement on partnership and cooperation, strategic partnership, and disputes surrounding the Energy Charter.
Deputies have let Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov down. But now he can say that Russia wants to ratify the convention, but cannot help taking into account society's views, as expressed by the Duma majority."
Sergei Markov, member of the Public Chamber, said: "The reason is anti-Western feelings sweeping most of Russian society. United Russia deputies are no exception. They see no scope for constructive dialogue with the West."
Alexei Mitrofanov, deputy chairman of the State Duma's legislation committee, said: "It was a direct order from the Kremlin. The face-off was played out badly: at a time when the Kremlin-controlled majority dominates the Duma, any mention that it has taken the decision itself will persuade no one. It is also a mystery what we can achieve by all this? We should simply have explained our grievances to the West."
Sergei Reshulsky, KPRF faction coordinator: "It was a big political game on the Kremlin's part. I know there was a direct command not to support ratification."
Foreign investors eyeing Russian forest industry
Finnish concern Ruukki Group is set to build a sewing mill and a pulp plant worth some 500 million euros in European Russia. Experts said foreign timber conversion companies have been taking a lively interest in Russia since it adopted the Forestry Code, which allows for long-term leasing of forests.
Antti Kivimaa, managing director with the Finnish holding, said that in line with the project, 2.5 to 3.1 million cubic meters of forests could be felled within 49 years.
Ruukki plans to build a sewing mill with a capacity of 300,000 cubic meters a year by 2008, and to launch a pulp plant with a capacity of 300,000-500,000 metric tons a year by 2009-2010, Kivimaa said.
He estimated investment in both projects at 500 million euros. Both plants will export their products, the manager said. Now Ruukki is negotiating the participation in the project with international financial institutions.
Ruukki is eyeing the Kostroma Region, which has an underdeveloped timber conversion infrastructure, said Dmitry Chuiko, director for relations with government bodies at Ilim Pulp.
He said the volume of timber production announced by Ruukki will not be enough to produce 500,000 metric tons of pulp a year, for which 5-6 million cubic meters of forests should be cut down annually.
Ruukki is not the first Finnish company seeking to establish a pulp plant in Russia. Stora Enso has been looking for a site to build a plant worth some 1 billion euros since 2005. Metsa Botnia has also recently announced its intention to invest 1 billion euros in a pulp plant in the Vologda Region.
The new Forestry Code, which will come into effect January 1, will allow for long-term leasing of forests, and investors were fast to seize the opportunity, said Yury Lakhtikov, chief analyst with Bumprom.
So far, Russia has had enough accessible forests, said Anniki Rintala, vice president of Metsa Botnia. She said investors are thinking seriously about the prospects of building timber conversion plants in the country.
Metsa Botnia has already built a 60 million euro sewing mill with a capacity of 200,000 cubic meters in the Leningrad Region, and is eying the construction of a pulp plant in Russia.
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