RUSSIAN NEWS DIGEST
PRESIDENTIAL RACE IN UKRAINE MAY BE OVER, BUT POLITICAL CRISIS IS YET TO BE RESOLVED-RUSSIAN MP
MOSCOW, December 27 (RIA Novosti) - The presidential race in Ukraine is over, argues Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the State Duma, or Russia's lower house of parliament. As the Russian MP said in a RIA interview Monday, the acknowledgment by international observers that the rerun was closer to international standards than the first two rounds, as well as the wide enough margin between the candidates make unlikely the prospect of the polls' legitimacy being called into question. There were some irregularities this time around, as well, Mr. Kosachev said, adding that the loser, incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, was planning to contest the outcome of the rerun. Yet, in his view, the presidential campaign is over now. The political crisis, however, has not yet been fully resolved, and its settlement will depend on the new government's policies. "If [President elect Viktor] Yushchenko fails to overcome the inertia of the election campaign, when he came out with radical statements about not accepting the Ukrainian government, when he spoke against the implementation of projects for rapprochement with Russia, Ukraine is in for a grave split," the Russian lawmaker warned. But if Yushchenko rises above the election passions and proves able to develop a presidential program mindful of the interests of the entire nation rather than just the western Ukrainians, whose support he enjoys, Ukraine will have a chance to get out of the crisis, our interviewee pointed out. Mr. Kosachev highlighted a number of positive aspects to Yushchenko's public statements, specifically his plan to have Russia as the destination of his first foreign visit in the presidential capacity. Yushchenko's declared intention to withdraw Ukrainian troops from Iraq attests to his readiness to pursue a foreign policy oriented toward Ukraine's national interests rather than those of European countries and the United States, arguesthe legislator. "These indications are good ones unless they are a mere declaration," Mr. Kosachev said. If he substantiates his pronouncements with some concrete actions, Yushchenko is the right man for the job, he concluded. On the downside, Yushchenko is unwilling to have Russian as Ukraine's second national language, and believes that the project of economic reintegration with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan will run counter to Ukraine's plans to join the European Union and the World Trade Organization, Mr. Kosachev said. Which of Yushchenko's statements are mere rhetoric and which of them actually express his political ambitions is what will define Ukraine's future, our interviewee said in conclusion.
TOP RUSSIAN ELECTORAL OFFICIAL DOES NOT QUESTION UKRAINIAN VOTE
MOSCOW. Dec 27 (Interfax) - Russian Central Elections Commission chairman Alexander Veshnyakov hopes that the Ukrainian presidential election "saga" is over and is confident that a repeat of Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" in Russia is impossible. "Although observers, including those from Russia, have noted that the elections there were not entirely faultless and were accompanied by violations, I think that these remarks have not yet called into question the general outcome [of the vote]," Veshnyakov told a news conference in Moscow on Monday. All events that took place in Ukraine after the presidential run-off election and were named "the Orange Revolution" are impossible in Russia, he said. "There are no opportunities or political prerequisites for them here [in Russia]. Moreover, our legal and technical conditions for elections are much better," Veshnyakov said. He expressed hope that the December 26 repeat presidential run-off "has brought this process to an end, which will help Ukraine pull itself out of its political crisis." Veshnyakov hails Ukraine's efforts to prevent the political crisis from "evolving into a mutiny."
RUSSIA SHOULD NOT BE TRANSFORMED INTO UNITARY COUNTRY - PUTIN
MOSCOW. Dec 23 (Interfax) - President Vladimir Putin said he is opposed to Russia being transformed into a unitary country. "I do not think that we should transform into a unitary country, in particular of the Soviet kind. That would not be beneficial for the economic development and would limit the possibilities of public control for the authorities. That would be excessive," Putin told a press conference in the Kremlin on Thursday.
PUTIN: NEW PROCEDURE OF DUMA ELECTIONS TO LIMIT PRESIDENT'S OPPORTUNITIES
MOSCOW, December 23 (RIA Novosti) - Vladimir Putin believes that transition to elections to the State Duma according to party lists will limit the president's opportunities to influence election returns through the heads of regions. Speaking at a press-conference in the Kremlin, the Russian president drew the conferees' attention to the circumstance, which, in his words, was not discussed in society before and which is connected with transition to another system of appointing and forming the bodies of executive authority in the regions. "If the president has more influence on the formation of a regional body of executive authority, then I consider (I want to draw your attention to the circumstance about which we did not talk before) changes in the procedure of forming the Duma according to party lists to be grounded. It is connected with the desire to balance the political system in the country, ensure a full-fledged development of the autonomy of the executive and representative branches of authority," Mr. Putin noted. In his words, it is an open secret that in Russia people may not be elected from single-mandate constituencies without the support of economic clans or governors. "This is true, everybody knows this," Mr. Putin said. "However, if the president has more influence on the appointment of governors, then the president's opportunities to influence the formation of 50% of the national parliament through governors must be limited. All this will ensure the elements of balancing the political system," Mr. Putin said.
TEXAS COURT'S RULING ON YUGANSKNEFTEGAZ LEGALLY UNSOUND - PUTIN
MOSCOW. Dec 23 (Interfax) - A ruling by a Texas court to freeze the Yuganskneftegaz auction is legally unsound under international law, President Vladimir Putin said. One fundamental legal rule is that nobody can pass judgment on one's equal, he said on Thursday at a news conference in response to criticism of the auction. The ruling failed to be courteous as required by international law, Putin said.
PUTIN SATISFIED WITH RUSSIAN-US RELATIONS
MOSCOW, December 23 (RIA Novosti) - Russian President Vladimir Putin is, on the whole, satisfied with the way the Russian-US relations are evolving. "The US is a priority partner. We have been cooperating economically on a very large scale," the Russian president said during his press conference at the Kremlin. According to President Putin, Russia and the United States are, no doubt, partners in resolving today's most urgent problems related to the joint combating of international terrorism. "In this field, our relations are those between allies, rather than just between partners," Mr. Putin remarked. The president emphasised that Russia and the United States were the major nuclear powers and, hence, were responsible for arms control and WMD non-proliferation. "Therefore, despite routine, small-time, high-profile developments, I would like the fundamentals of the relations between Russia and the United States not to be overlooked. It is these fundamentals that [my] relations with George Bush rest upon as an embodiment of our national interests. Mr. Bush is a decent and consistent man. Our opinions do not always coincide but I fully trust him as a partner. I know that if we come to agreement, the [US] president does his utmost to stick to the agreement," the head of the Russian state said. At the same time, Russia, according to the president, has reasons to criticise the United States. "We are not too happy with what has been going on in the US, either. Do you think the US electoral system is flawless? Shall I remind someone how the elections - both these and previous ones - were conducted?" Mr. Putin asked in response to a question about the flak given to Russian domestic policies by the US administration and public. The Russian leader reminded of the OSCE monitors of the Ukrainian and US elections, using virtually the same phraseology. "They spoke of failure to allow all voters to the polling stations, even of intimidating them, of unequal access the presidential candidates had to the media," noted Mr. Putin. According to him, a politician holding an office always has an edge since he is always in the spotlight. "When US criticisms are constructive, we have always paid attention, with criticisms falling on deaf ear every time we believe our partner is muddying the proverbial waters," Mr. Putin added.
RUSSIA CONCERNED BY REVOLUTIONS ON POST-SOVIET TERRITORIES - PUTIN
MOSCOW. Dec 23 (Interfax) - Russia is concerned about attempts to settle political problems in post-Soviet territories using illegal methods, including revolutions, President Vladimir Putin told a Thursday press conference in the Kremlin. "A system of permanent revolutions, rose revolutions or some others, is the most dangerous. We must learn to live according to the law, which is my greatest concern, and not by political expediency that is considered somewhere else for one people or another," Putin said.
TOKYO CLAIMS FOR FOUR SOUTHERN KURIL ISLANDS ILLEGAL - PUTIN
MOSCOW. Dec 23 (Interfax) - President Vladimir Putin has said that Tokyo's claims of ownership over the four Southern Kuril Islands are illegal. Both the Soviet Union and Japan ratified the 1956 declaration which provides for the possible transfer of two of those islands to Tokyo, Putin said at a Thursday press conference in the Kremlin. "Japan ratified the declaration, so why is it asking for four islands now?" Putin said.
RUSSIA TO CONTINUE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM - PUTIN
MOSCOW. Dec 23 (Interfax) - The Russian administration will devote much attention to the fight against terrorism, the strengthening of law enforcement departments and the perfection of the Russian political system, President Vladimir Putin told an annual press conference in the Kremlin on Thursday. "We will continue focusing on anti-terrorist efforts inside this country and on the international scene as well as the strengthening of law enforcement departments and the political system," Putin said.
Business & Finance
RUSSIA HAS RECORD AMOUNT OF GOLD, FOREIGN CURRENCY RESERVES - PUTIN
MOSCOW. Dec 23 (Interfax) - This year Russia has a record amount of gold and foreign currency reserves, almost $120 billion, and it has turned into a net creditor nation, President Vladimir Putin told a press conference in the Kremlin on Thursday. "The national gold and foreign currency reserves have grown nearly 70% close to $120 billion. This is a record index for the entire history of the Russian Federation and the Soviet Union," Putin said. "It must be mentioned that the amount of gold and foreign currency reserves has for the first time ever exceeded the national foreign debt, which means that Russia has for the first time become a net creditor nation," Putin said.
RUSSIA'S STATE DEBT DOWN BY ONE-THIRD SINCE 1999 - PUTIN
MOSCOW. Dec 23 (Interfax) - Russia's state debt is currently about two-thirds of what it was in 1999, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a press conference on Thursday. "Its share in GDP has been reduced to 20% from 60%," Putin said. Russia's budget has been implemented with a surplus for the fifth year in a row, and the stabilization fund has topped $20 billion, he said.
RUSSIAN GDP TO GROW 6.8% IN 2004 - PUTIN
MOSCOW. Dec 23 (Interfax) - Russia's GDP will grow 6.8% in 2004, President Vladimir Putin told a Thursday press conference in Moscow. "We are expecting 6.8% growth," the president said, adding that this corresponds to average yearly economic growth indices of the past five years. Putin said that pensions grew 5% and salaries grew 10-12% in 2004.