REGIONAL LEADERS TO LOSE CONTROL OVER NATURAL RESOURCES

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REGIONAL LEADERS TO LOSE CONTROL OVER NATURAL RESOURCES

Izvestia, October 11, 2002, p. 2 EV

Yesterday’s Cabinet meeting gave preliminary approval to a proposal from the Natural Resources Ministry to replace the “two keys” principle for issuing mining licenses with “one key”. The Cabinet also agreed to simplify procedures for revoking the licenses of dishonest operators. However, some other Natural Resources Ministry proposals were turned down by the Cabinet.

We can now say that the regions have lost their battle for natural resources. The Cabinet has supported the idea of ending the “two keys” principle, under which mining licenses required two seals of approval: from the Natural Resources Ministry and the regional leader of the region where a deposit is located. The revised legislation will be based on “coordination”. However, regional leaders fear that in practice, the Natural Resources Ministry won’t coordinate anything with them at all, and “regional interests will suffer once again”.

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov agreed with the Natural Resources Ministry’s argument that the existing legislation on the use of mineral deposits has become obsolete and needs to be improved. However, the mineral deposits code drafted by the Natural Resources Ministry was not accepted as the basis for new legislation, nor was it even discussed at the Cabinet meeting. The Natural Resources Ministry and other relevant bodies have been instructed to present a new policy paper to the Cabinet by November 1; work on the legislation itself will be completed in the first quarter of 2003.

Some regional representatives who attended the Cabinet meeting expressed their outrage about the practice of companies using “internal” oil prices between themselves and their subsidiaries. Cabinet ministers could only shrug in reply – the government cannot set oil prices.

PUTIN HOLDS TALKS WITH VIETNAMESE COMRADE

Izvestia, October 11, 2002, p. 3 EV

Yesterday morning, in the Green Reception Room of the Great Kremlin Palace, President Vladimir Putin received some high-level visitors from Vietnam. The delegation headed by Nong Duc Man, general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party’s central committee, was making a reciprocal visit; President Putin had visited Hanoi eighteen months ago.

Putin opened the talks by listing achievements. “There has been a positive trend in our trade relations over the past year,” he said, citing some specific figures: over the past eight months alone, trade turnover between Russia and Vietnam has risen by 40% compared to the same period of last year.

Russia is now the ninth-largest investor in Vietnam’s economy, having invested a total of around $1.5 billion. This figure does not include Vietsovpetro, the largest joint venture in Vietnam, which makes $3 billion a year. The main fields of cooperation are oil extraction, natural gas, electrical energy, agriculture, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, the food industry, transport, and communications.

And according to the Vietnamese delegation, there are “many unused resources” in the area of trade.

On the eve of the visit to Moscow, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan said: “It can’t be normal for trade turnover with Russia to be around $500 million a year, while trade turnover with the United States is up to $1.5 billion, and trade with China amounts to $3 billion a year. There has been much talk of creating a free trade zone. We would like to see this matter settled, finally.”

The fate of Cam Ranh Bay was also discussed in Moscow yesterday. The Vietnamese delegation said that Vietnam does not intend to lease the military base there “to any other foreign country” after Russian troops leave.

Nong Duc Man may visit Russia again soon; President Putin invited him to take part in a forum for Vietnamese graduates of Russian tertiary institutions, to be held in 2003.

CHEMICAL WEAPONS

Trud, October 11, 2002, EV

A conference of the Chemical Weapons Ban Organization is winding up in The Hague today. Russia, which had once promised to get rid of all its toxic weaponry by 2007, has officially requested the international community to extend the time allocated for destroying the world’s largest chemical weapons stockpiles for another five years, to 2012.

Whatever the conference might decide, Russia will be unable to complete the task any earlier. This is only a matter of the enforced adjustment of Russia’s commitments being given legal recognition. However, if the request should be refused, Moscow intended to walk out and slam the door. Major-General Nikolai Bezborodov, Duma member and deputy chairman of the State Commission on Chemical Disarmament, said that if its request was rejected, Russia might pull out of the convention on prohibiting the development, accumulation, and use of chemical weapons, and on their destruction.

When Russia ratified the Chemical Weapons Ban Convention, it said it was prepared to accept international monitoring of its chemical weapons stockpiles – which had reached 40,000 tons during the Cold War – and the process of destroying them. The estimated cost was $3 billion. It was agreed that Russia would provide 70% of that amount, and other nations would supply the rest.

By 2000, when Russia was due to report to the rest of the world on destroying the first installment of its chemical stockpiles, none had yet been destroyed. The United States, which had already provided Russia with $286.5 million of the $800 million promised under the international agreement, was outraged by this result, and suspended aid.

The Russian government had to make some significant changes to its federal targeted program for destroying chemical weapons. In the federal budget for 2001, funding allocated to the chemical weapons destruction program was increased six-fold. This year, it has been increased almost ten-fold. Russia did not manage to complete construction of its chemical weapons disposal plants on schedule: at Kambark (Udmurtia), Gornyi (Saratov region), and Shchuchie (Kurgan region). The first full-scale plant, at Gornyi, has only just been completed. The plants at Kambark and Shchuchie are due to start operation in 2005.

However, despite Russia’s evident progress, the United States is in no hurry to resume aid. Even if it does agree to continue funding, it will try to bargain and add some extra conditions.

Sergei Kirienko, presidential envoy for the Trans-Volga federal district and chairman of the State Commission on Chemical Disarmament, says: “Russia will not trade aid in destroying its chemical weapons for anything else. That is a fundamental position.”

Participants in the conference in The Hague refused Russia’s request for the deadline for destroying its chemical weapons to be extended to 2012. Thus far, the United States has also refused to unfreeze the promised money required to build facilities for disposing of chemical weapons.

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