Russian press review, 19.12.06

Russian press analyses the Beijing talks about North Korea, covers Syrian president’s visit to Moscow and analyses the current popularity of Iran’s President Ahmadinejad among the Iranian political establishment.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes about the continuation of the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear issue in Beijing. According to the daily, this second meeting of the fifth round differs from the previous talks. Firstly, because on October 9 North Korea tested a nuclear bomb. And secondly, because the UN Security Council has imposed harmful sanctions on North Korea. Moreover, China has changed its stance and is now active in the discussions. According to experts, it might press on North Korea or even start thinking about replacing Kim Chong Il with a more compromising leader.

Kommersant daily focuses on Syrian president Bashar Assad’s visit to Moscow. The newspaper says the parties are expected to talk over the Middle East settlement and the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Lebanon is interested to bring Syria into account through an international tribunal. Kommersant quotes experts who say that Russia might be able to make Syria and Lebanon reconcile their differences. According to the paper, this would promote Russia’s image of a successful mediator into the world arena.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily analyses the current popularity of Iran’s President Ahmadinejad among the Iranian political establishment. The paper says the radical president is giving way to moderate conservatives, which, according to analysts, shows that the balance in the country is being gradually restored. However, one shouldn’t expect changes in Iran’s foreign policy. According to the daily, the population is dissatisfied with Iran’s leader because his team failed to solve vital social issues. At the same time, the paper says, problems with Iran’s uranium issue may affect the situation in the country.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper covers the transportation of enriched uranium wastes from Germany to Russia under Russia’s Research Reactor Fuel Return programme. The paper says the amount transported is enough to make several dirty nuclear bombs if terrorists get hold of it. According to Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Germany pays for the transportation and this is only the beginning. There are some 4.5 tons of uranium which is to be returned to Russia from former East Germany.

Vremya Novostey daily writes about state support of Non-Governmental Organisations. The paper wonders why it took a whole year for the government to decide which NGOs promote civil society and so can enjoy state support. According to the daily, many respected NGOs did not get on the list while others – run by members of the Public Chamber under the Russian president – did. Nonetheless, experts say the step is unprecedented since the state has never before earmarked any money for NGOs.

Making headlines in many major newspapers today is President Putin's insistence that Sberbank shares be offered on the market in 2007 at prices affordable to ordinary Russian citizens.

Kommersant reports the idea for Sberbank's IPO came from the presidential administration. Sources in Russia's Central Bank told the paper they had previously seen no point in issuing additional Sberbank shares which will end up diluting their value. The price of a single Sberbank share reached $ 3,080 yesterday. At a meeting with Cabinet members Monday, President Putin said the placement of Rosneft shares provided ample evidence that the general public would eagerly buy shares of domestic companies if they were affordable.

Vedomosti writes that the creators of MDM Bank have decided to split up. After six years of partnership, Andrei Malnichenko and Sergey Popov plan to exchange assets. Under the agreement, Popov will take over MDM bank, while his partner will get Russia's largest fertilizer maker Evrokhim. Analysts say the exchanged shares are worth $ 3 BLN. The reasons for the split have not been revealed.