MOSCOW, May 8 (RIA Novosti) Inauguration without change of power / Ex-president to strip lawyers of immunity / Russia will not have envoy for relations with the EU / Gazprom may have new rival in Europe / ONGC, Rosneft to rival Gazprom in Sakhalin-3 project / EU to receive more gas from neighboring countries
Inauguration without change of power
The swearing in of presidents becomes a meaningless ritual when there is no competition between political ideas and leaders. The inauguration-enthronement of Dmitry Medvedev was the epitome of Putin's policy.
Any inauguration ceremony is a ritual, the triumph of form over meaning. Without such rituals, the state as the supreme structure of society is unthinkable.
However, when the ritual crowns a change of power in a democratic country, it has at least one meaningful element. It signifies the victory of one politician, and one set of values and ideals, over others.
But in Russia a man who was not the winner was sworn in because there was no battle. Medvedev's set of values and ideas is obscure, just like Vladimir Putin's when he was appointed to succeed Boris Yeltsin. The Russian political elite, let alone ordinary people, does not know what will happen next, what methods the new president will use and which values he will uphold.
The new ruler's inauguration address was not convincing, just like Putin's first address, because we cannot discern his personal views in it, or the position of a party he could but does not represent.
The tsar has handed down his powers to his successor but has remained close to the court, with a vast number of powers as the tsar's first minister and a vertical system of power he has developed to suit his purposes.
In a way, there will be a change of power in Russia only when one member of the Putin-Medvedev tandem leaves the political scene.
Ex-president to strip lawyers of immunity
Former President Vladimir Putin made a decision before leaving office which came as an unpleasant surprise for the legal community. He initiated a bill, now submitted to parliament for consideration, allowing government officials to file suits regarding the stripping of attorneys of their status, and to interrogate a defense attorney about any issues pertaining to his/her client's interests. Lawyers say that, if adopted, the law will thwart the very concept of "advocate confidentiality" and the legal community's self-regulating principle.
"It is an attempt to establish government control over the bar," said Pyotr Dombrovitsky from the Moscow bar association Nikolayev and Partners. He said government officials would use it to pressure attorneys on any legal case. "Many lawyers will try to avoid high-profile cases for fear that their attorney status will be terminated," Dombrovitsky went on.
Well-known and successful legal professionals, especially those opposed to government officials, will be hit the hardest, said lawyer Leonid Olshansky.
The legal community will certainly comply with the ex-president's decision, but will try and cooperate with lawmakers to agree on milder demands. "The government is interfering with the internal corporate regulation of professional activity," said Alexander Krokhmalyuk, spokesman for the Federal Chamber of Lawyers. "There have been no signs that the corporation was ineffective," he added.
Political analysts, in turn, believe that the bill is part of the general trend to establish government control over all spheres. Even its timing wasn't accidental. "Putin did it as a gift to his successor, President Dmitry Medvedev, who is an official supporter of the legal community's interests," said Rostislav Turovsky, head of regional studies department at the Political Technologies Center think tank.
Russia will not have envoy for relations with the EU
Sergei Yastrzhembsky is leaving the post of presidential envoy for relations with the European Union. The post itself can be liquidated, which does not surprise political analysts.
The Kremlin officials directly subordinate to Vladimir Putin have been suspended, but Yastrzhembsky is leaving his post, according to sources close to the Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin administration.
"The structure of the new administration will be changed and Yastrzhembsky's post will be removed from it," said a source in the administration.
"His dismissal is probably connected with the future redistribution of powers between the president and the prime minister," said a source close to the Foreign Ministry.
Yastrzhembsky, previously responsible for the information department, was appointed presidential envoy for relations with the EU in March 2004. He was put in charge of preparing Russia-EU summits and coordinated Russia's policy in relations with the EU. He was also the mouthpiece for Moscow's policy regarding Europe.
An experienced diplomat, Yastrzhembsky sometimes made sharp statements. In late 2006, he said when commenting on the assassination of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya and former FSB officer Alexander Litivnenko that it was a well-orchestrated campaign or a consistent plan for discrediting Russia and its leader.
His departure will not affect the next Russia-EU summit, to be held in West Siberia's Khanty-Mansiysk on June 26-27, because he had always worked jointly with the Foreign Ministry, the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, the Transportation Ministry, the Finance Ministry and all related departments responsible for relations with the EU, said a source on Yastrzhembsky's team.
Leonid Slutsky, first deputy chairman of the international affairs committee in the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, said: "The post of special envoy for relations with the EU must be preserved."
Cooperation with the EU is not proceeding to Russia's liking in many cases. "In this situation, we need an experienced politician for that post," Slutsky said.
Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the Moscow-based magazine Russia in Global Affairs, said: "The post was set up at the beginning of the 21st century, when we hoped for a breakthrough in Russian-EU relations. The expected breakthrough has not happened, and the form of relations between Moscow and Brussels that developed in the early 1990s has become obsolete. The sides have no new ideas about ways to develop their relations. In this situation, the post held by Yastrzhembsky has become useless."
Gazprom may have new rival in Europe
Exxon Mobil, MOL and Falcon Oil&Gas have announced plans to produce about 10 billion cu m of gas from the newly discovered Mako Trough deposit in Hungary and export it to Austria and Serbia. Europe regards these resources as a possible alternative to Russian gas supplies, but experts say that the deposit is not so big as to affect Gazprom's position on the European market.
The companies are planning to start commercial gas production from the Mako field in 2012. According to Marc A. Bruner, director general of Falcon Oil&Gas, gas export will only be possible if Exxon Mobil, MOL and Falcon Oil&Gas create a new production chain. He believes this is a very profitable project for EU countries.
According to various estimates, the Mako Trough field in south-eastern Hungary may hold from 340 to 510 billion cu m of gas. Over 30% of this gas can be produced while gas prices remain at their current level.
MOL and Exxon own 40.4% of the Mako Trough area each, with the remaining 19.2% being assigned to Falcon. Hungary annually requires 13 billion cu m of gas and exports 78% of this amount. In 2007, Gazprom sold 7.5 billion cu m of gas to Hungary.
According to Valery Nesterov of Troika Dialog, what is really meant is the discovery of a new large field with potential gas production of 10 billion cu m a year. According to the expert, Hungary, which now fully depends on gas supplies from Gazprom, Gaz de France and E.On, will get a greater freedom of maneuver in its energy policy when using its new gas resources.
Meanwhile, Robert Rethy, an analyst with UniCredit SpA in Budapest, says that this gas is hard to extract, therefore it will take the companies several years to find out whether these deposits can provide enough gas for export. Drilling operations may cost as much as $24 billion as about 2,000 wells worth from $8 to $12 million each will be needed.
The Russian office of Exxon Mobil could not say anything about the Mako Trough project. MOL did not answer the phone yesterday.
Sergei Kupriyanov, press secretary of Gazprom's head, said that he knew nothing about the Mako Trough project.
Valery Nesterov thinks that the Hungarian project cannot seriously impair Gazprom's interests in Europe. As he said, Mako Trough is not the first field of regional importance in Europe; such fields were discovered in Denmark and other countries. The project cannot substantially affect the geography and structure of Gazprom's gas supplies to Europe.
ONGC, Rosneft to rival Gazprom in Sakhalin-3 project
India's Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) could join the Sakhalin-3 energy project in the Russian Far East together with Rosneft, Russia's largest oil company, and Sinopec of China.
Rosneft would therefore receive additional trump cards in its longtime rivalry with energy giant Gazprom. Analysts said the deal's future now depended on President Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin.
ONGC is ready to pay $300 million for a 23% stake in the Veninsky block of fields, from which Rosneft would retain 51.9%. However, analysts said the price was too low.
Natalia Yanakayeva, an analyst with CenterInvest Group, a Russian securities and consultant company, said the Veninsky block was worth at least $600 million, but that Rosneft would receive Indian refineries and petroleum-sale assets in exchange for $300 million.
Sobinbank analyst Mikhail Zanozin said Rosneft wanted to acquire a stake in the Mangalore refinery receiving oil from the Sakhalin-1 project, but that the Veninsky block would cost more during the deal's final stage.
Yanakayeva said ONGC had a good chance of joining the Sakhalin-3 project, and that the company was ready to make concessions in order to buy the 23% stake in the Veninsky block.
She said Rosneft preferred the Indian company, which was ready to offer money and technology for developing shelf deposits.
However, the Rosneft-Gazprom rivalry is the main problem. On May 6, the Russian government allotted the Kirin block of fields, part of undistributed mineral deposits, to Gazprom without a tender.
Rosneft also wanted to acquire the Kirinsky block, giving as motivation for this the fact that it was already operating the Veninsky block. However, Gazprom has also set its sights on the remaining East Odoptu and Ayashsky blocks.
"By attracting Indian partners, Rosneft will receive additional opportunities to consolidate its positions in Sakhalin projects," Alexei Makarkin, deputy general director of the Moscow-based Center of Political Technologies, told the paper.
He said the outcome of its longtime rivalry with Gazprom would depend on the line-up of forces in the Kremlin because all decisions would now be made by two men, namely, Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin.
EU to receive more gas from neighboring countries
The European Union wants to maintain friendly relations with neighboring countries that will supply it with more fuel and energy. Brussels will implement its good-neighbor policy through a special foundation providing investment to neighboring nations.
In 2008-2013, the EU's neighbors will receive 700 million euros for infrastructure projects in the sphere of energy, transportation and environmental protection.
Leading European nations have already transferred 100 million euros through the foundation.
Brussels' new policy will be directed at Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Georgia, Jordan, Lebanon, Moldova, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia and Ukraine. However, many of these countries can hardly be called the EU's neighbors.
Although Russia borders on Finland and the Baltics and its Kaliningrad Region is located in central Europe, it is not mentioned in the list because the European Commission's good-neighbor policy aims to defend Brussels' own energy interests.
The list of neighboring countries includes Azerbaijan, which has no common borders with the EU. However, Brussels wants to pump the country's gas to Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria via the projected Nabucco pipeline.
The list also mentions Ukraine because Europe gets most Russian gas via its pipelines.
Dmitry Vydrin, director of the Kiev-based European Institute for Integration and Development, said the EU initiative was aimed at maintaining stable energy transits.
"European nations are worried that Ukrainian political rivalries could affect the stability of gas transits," Vydrin told the paper.
Yevgeny Minchenko, general director of the International Institute of Political Analysis, said Europe was concerned about stable energy supplies, and that Ukrainian leaders were the main source of this problem.
"Europe is telling Ukraine to start working normally in exchange for grants and cheap loans," Vydrin told the paper.
Minchenko said billions of euros were needed to overhaul the Ukrainian gas-transport network, but that Europe could share its technology with Kiev.
"In the next few years, Ukraine will focus on energy-saving technologies after the introduction of European gas prices," Minchenko told the paper.
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