State Duma in no hurry to abolish death penalty/ Portraits of Josef Stalin not to be part of Victory Day celebrations/ Ukraine seeks cheap Russian gas/ TNK-BP forced to sell controlling stake in Kovykta
State Duma in no hurry to abolish death penalty
On Tuesday, Boris Gryzlov, Speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, said Moscow had refrained from ratifying protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights that covers the abolition of the death penalty.
Gryzlov made the statement at a meeting with Andreas Gross and Gyorgy Frunda, rapporteurs on the PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) monitoring committee.
Analysts say Gryzlov's statements are part of an intricate official domestic and foreign policy game.
In December 2009, the Russian Constitutional Court banned the death penalty nationwide after the moratorium expired on January 1, 2010.
"The ratification of the Convention is the sole prerogative of a supreme institution of state authority, such as the State Duma and the Federation Council," Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin said in December.
Commenting on this decision, Gryzlov said the death-penalty moratorium would be extended, but that protocol 6 was unlikely to be ratified in December. It now appears that this will not happen in the foreseeable future.
"Rather than increasing, the terrorist threat seems to be showing signs of abating in Central Russia at least," Gennady Gudkov, chairman of the State Duma's committee on security, told the paper.
"The Speaker's statement is primarily image-related. People who are now discontented, who have a lot of problems, blame them on the ruling party. United Russia understands that popular sentiment favors the death penalty and fears being accused of toeing the European line," Gudkov said.
Alexei Malashenko, a member of the Carnegie Moscow Center's Research Council, called this a "populist move."
"The possible abolition of the death penalty would be very unpopular here. United Russia stands to gain from the current uncertainty on the signing of the protocol. On the one hand, the death penalty moratorium shields Moscow from European criticism. On the other hand, United Russia seems to agree with public opinion. I think this stance was coordinated with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin," Malashenko said.
However, "it would be interesting to see how President Dmitry Medvedev reacts to Gryzlov's statement," Malashenko said.
"While answering questions abroad, he will have to maneuver and explain that such is the essence of Russian democracy, that this implies the ruling party, and that the President is not its member," Malashenko told the paper.
Dmitry Furman, a professor of history and senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of European Studies, said this was Gryzlov's second controversial statement of late.
"For instance, Gryzlov recently discussed the START agreement. This may be some extremely complicated system. On the one hand, he is trying to show how powerful his party is. On the other hand, they may be using him. The latter aspect seems to be far more important. They are telling the west that a parliamentary opposition has emerged here, and that top leaders are not all-powerful," Furman said.
Portraits of Josef Stalin not to be part of Victory Day celebrations
The organizing committee for the May 9 celebrations of the 65th anniversary of the victory over the Nazi Germany is not planning to use any images, videos or other promotional material involving Josef Stalin.
"This never happened, not even in the Soviet era," a committee source said. This year, the organizers have also asked the regional authorities to refrain from carrying Stalin's portraits. This primarily concerns Moscow, where his portraits would have been posted along with other Victory emblems and symbols.
"I welcome the decision to drop this crazy idea. But what provoked this decision is also important," said Arseny Roginsky, head of the international human rights group, Memorial. According to Roginsky, it is highly improbable that Moscow's authorities have simply heeded public opinion. It is more likely that some important federal official or a senior United Russia party member played the decisive role. "Their statements have been made for a reason and in particular [Duma speaker Boris] Gryzlov's statement that Stalin was to blame for millions of deaths, must have been sanctioned by Russia's top officials," he added.
However, the human rights activist continued, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov continued to insist on what he called "restoration of historic justice" with regard to Stalin even after Gryzlov asked for Stalin's portraits not to be hung all over Moscow. "So if in the end they don't go ahead with it, that means that the decision was made at the top," he added.
"The idea's opponents are united on one side and its supporters are grouped on the other. But the Russian government does not like it when people show unity and consolidation. Although formally the anti-Stalin activists were dissatisfied with the city mayor, their criticism was eventually targeted at the federal authorities," Roginsky concluded.
Some World War II veterans were not happy when city hall dropped the idea to use Stalin's portraits. Zinaida Ivanova, a member of the city council of St Petersburg Siege victims, said: "For me, victory in World War II will always be associated with Stalin's name. That is why I am disappointed that the Moscow government no longer plans to decorate the city streets with his portraits. But if this is their decision, they must have had their reasons. I am not going to complain."
Governor of Kirov region Nikita Belykh wrote in his blog that unfortunately the government does not have any formal reason to ban the use of Stalin's portraits on the Victory Day. "What is happening is the result of a lack of position in society and government," he said.
Ukraine seeks cheap Russian gas
Kiev expects Russian gas monopoly Gazprom to considerably reduce its gas price. In exchange Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko and head of Ukraine's state energy company Naftogaz, Evgeny Bakulin, who are in Moscow for gas talks, are offering Russia a gas transportation consortium and a role in the direct supply of Russian gas to the domestic Ukrainian market.
Ukraine, which in the first quarter of 2010 paid $305 per 1,000 cu m for gas (from April the price will grow to $320) is not hiding the fact that it wants Belarus-style privileges. Minsk now pays $168 per 1,000 cu m, and in future will pay $180.
With prices set to fall by one-third and deliveries remaining at 2009 levels, or 30 billion cu m, Gazprom faces a profit shortfall of $2.5 to $2.9 billion. By way of compensation Kiev is proposing a gas transportation consortium.
"Ukraine will run a tremendous risk if we fail to establish a consortium," says Ukraine's First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Klyuev. "Over the past five years, the European Union and Russia have realized that Ukraine is an unreliable partner in oil and gas transit and have decided to build gas pipelines bypassing Ukraine. There is a danger that we will find ourselves in a situation where in five to seven years time all gas piped from Russia or Asia to Europe will be giving Ukraine a wide birth."
Moscow and Kiev both have a range of arguments in hand in case of difficulties. A source close to Russian negotiators said: "If things start moving in the wrong direction, Naftogaz might face penalties for defaulting on payments in 2006-2008 to the tune of $2.1 billion." Ukraine's Fuel and Energy Ministry in turn said yesterday that it intended to discuss with potential customers the option of a regasification terminal in Ukraine to handle liquefied natural gas from Qatar and other countries.
Vitaly Gromadin of Arbat Capital believes Ukraine's proposal is reasonable if the South Stream project is abandoned. "As much as 33% of Ukraine's gas transportation capacity is comparable with 50% of South Stream's estimated throughput, or 63 billion cu m., " the analyst said. "With the EU gas market now oversaturated, and Ukraine planning to increase transit to 200 billion cu m, a degree of mutual accommodation seems wise."
At the same time, he says that Gazprom has signed construction contracts for South Stream with practically all interested countries and is not in a position to back out of the project. In his view, Ukraine could expect a price cut of 15-20%, but not 45%, as was the case with Belarus, which is a Customs Union member.
TNK-BP forced to sell controlling stake in Kovykta
Russian-British oil venture TNK-BP has decided to sell its controlling stake in the giant Kovykta gas condensate field in East Siberia before Russia's mineral regulator Rosprirodnadzor revokes its license.
The stake will be sold to Rosneftegaz, a state holding company and the largest shareholder of the Rosneft giant, by the end of 2010. Analysts do not know who will take over the license.
Billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, one of the largest TNK-BP shareholders, said the preliminary transaction value was worth $700-$900 million.
The trouble with Kovykta began several years ago, when the Natural Resources Ministry claimed that TNK-BP was not honoring its license agreement and threatened to revoke its license ahead of schedule.
Under the license, TNK-BP is to produce 9 billion cubic meters (317.7 billion cu f) of gas annually. However, it has no customers for this kind of volume since the Irkutsk Region annually consumes only about 2.5 billion cubic meters of gas. TNK-BP is prohibited from selling gas abroad because, according to Russian law, only Gazprom has the right to export natural gas.
"In fact, the authorities have forced TNK-BP to sell this asset to clear up the situation at a strategic field," said Alexander Razuvayev, chief analyst with the investment company Galleon Capital.
Analysts consider the transaction price adequate.
"The TNK-BP investment in Kovykta could be assessed at about $700-$900 million," said Vitaly Kryukov from the investment financial company, Kapital. "Rosneftegaz is likely to pay the price; the terms of the deal have already been worked out."
According to Kryukov, Kovykta will be turned over to Gazprom.
"However, further development will begin only when a need for Kovykta gas is determined," he said. "China is to receive natural gas from the Chayanda gas fields in Yakutia and so the gas export monopoly will be unable to supply China with Kovykta gas."
Kryukov said that Kovykta gas could eventually be sold on the Russian market, which is currently saturated. "For now, the new owner will invest just enough capital in the field to maintain it," he said.
However, Razuvayev believes that the Kovykta field will be given to Rosneft, 75% owned by Rosneftegaz, which owns a minor stake of 10.74% in Gazprom.
Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who had said Kovykta would not be expropriated, is board chairman of Rosneft and is therefore lobbying for its interests.
"Rosneft will most likely export gas to China, although this means Russia's export legislation will have to be reviewed," Razuvayev said.
Located 450 km (280 miles) north of Irkutsk, the Kovykta field is estimated to hold some 2 trillion cubic meters of gas and over 83 million metric tons of gas condensate.
RIA Novosti is not responsible for the content of outside sources.
MOSCOW, March 24 (RIA Novosti)
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