Digest of headline news as of 7:00 p.m. Moscow time on December 7:
BUSINESS & FINANCE
*** RUSSIAN INTERNATIONAL RESERVES UP $0.4 BLN IN WEEK
Russia's international reserves grew $0.4 billion to $430.6 billion in the week to December 1, the Central Bank said on Thursday.
The reserves stood at $430.2 billion on November 24.
*** PUTIN SIGNS 2018-2020 BUDGET BILL INTO LAW
President Vladimir Putin has signed into law the federal budget bill for 2018 and the 2019-2020 planning period, which is now posted on the official legal information website.
The State Duma approved the budget bill on November 24 and the Federation Council followed suit on November 29.
The budget targets the deficit at 1.3% of GDP (1.271 trillion rubles) in 2018, 0.8% (819.1 billion rubles) in 2019 and 0.8% (869.8 billion rubles) in 2020.
*** RUSSIAN FEDERAL BUDGET DEFICIT 0.3% OF GDP IN 9M - MEDVEDEV
The Russian federal budget deficit was around 220 billion rubles or 0.3% of GDP in January-September 2017, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said at a Cabinet meeting.
"The budget deficit had been lowered markedly, it is now around 220 billion rubles or 0.3% of GDP. At the end of Q3 last year it was 2.4% of GDP. This is of course a positive trend; the most important thing is to maintain it and not squander the achievement that we have reached together through extremely hard work," the prime minister said.
*** RUSSIAN BUDGET SPENDING TOTALING 350 BLN RUBLES TO BE TRANSFERRED FROM 2017 TO 2018 - SILUANOV
Federal budget spending in 2017 may be executed at 350 billion rubles lower than planned; the funds will be moved to next year, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said at a Cabinet meeting.
*** RUSSIAN GOVT ABLE TO MANEUVER ON EXTERNAL DEBT IF NEW U.S. SANCTIONS ENACTED - MINFIN
The Russian government has various sources for financing the nation's budget available should a new round of sanctions affect Russian sovereign obligations, deputy head of the Finance Ministry's sovereign debt and financial assets department Pyotr Kazakevich said during the 15th Russian Bond Congress in St. Petersburg on Thursday.
"As for the response to potential sanctions: the government has the ability to maneuver, to use various sources to finance the federal budget," he said.
*** MINISTER SEES RUBLE AS CLOSE TO FUNDAMENTAL VALUE, NO PROBLEM OF OVERVALUATION OR RISK OF STEEP DROP
The ruble's exchange rate is currently close to its fundamental value, and the problem of excessive strengthening that was seen in the spring of 2017 has faded, Economic Development Minister Maxim Oreshkin said.
"I remember the forecast that we gave in April. At the time I made public statements that the ruble is overvalued. If we compare the current point with the April point, we see that the ruble has depreciated by 15% against the euro, and the real effective exchange rate has dropped by about 7%. The ruble [has fallen] against the yuan by about 10%. Against the dollar, yes, it hasn't fallen as much as we expected. But this was in large part due to our underestimation of the dollar's weakness on the world market," Oreshkin said in an online interview with Gazeta.ru.
*** BASHNEFT, ROSNEFT SUE SISTEMA FOR 131.6 BLN RUBLES
Bashneft and Rosneft filed a lawsuit in Bashkortostan arbitration court seeking 131.639 billion rubles in damages from Sistema and a subsidiary, Sistema-Invest, Rosneft said in a press release.
"The amount of the lawsuit is the sum of dividends that the defendants withdrew from Bashneft from 2009 through 2014, less taxes paid," Rosneft said.
"The court of first instance established that AFK Sistema, in unlawful possession of assets, in the period preceding the return of the company to the state according to a court ruling, and aided by various schemes, including the unlawful payment of unprecedented dividends in its favor, consistently removed from Bashneft the resources necessary to ensure the company's normal, undisrupted and technically safe operations," Rosneft said.
*** SISTEMA WELCOMES EFFORTS TO SETTLE DISPUTE, NEW LAWSUITS DON'T HELP REACH COMPROMISE - SISTEMA
Sistema has welcomed efforts to settle a dispute with Rosneft and Bashneft, but the new lawsuits do not make it easier to reach a compromise, Sistema Chairman Vladimir Yevtushenkov said.
He commented on two news items which came up at the same time on Thursday, the first being the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) receiving authorization from Bashneft in the 131.6 billion ruble lawsuit to join negotiations with Sistema to reach a settlement.
Sistema considers the charges themselves to be "groundless and unlawful," according to a statement published by the holding on the London Exchange's website.
*** FAS DECIDES TO INCREASE TRANSNEFT TARIFFS BY 4% IN 2018
Russia's Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) has decided to increase tariffs for Transneft services by 4%, rejecting the monopoly's proposal to have tariffs increased by 21%.
"The FAS has decided on indexation of Transneft tariffs at 4%, of which 0.1% indexation will be for the 'Kazakhstan loop'," Dmitry Makhonin, the head of fuel and energy sector regulation at the FAS, told Interfax.
*** ROSENERGOATOM BEGINS REACTOR START-UP AT FOURTH UNIT OF ROSTOV NPP
Rosenergoatom, Russia's state nuclear power company, has begun the process of the reactor start-up at the new fourth generating unit of the Rostov Nuclear Power Plant, the company said.
The first fuel assemblies have been loaded into the reactor. This process has essentially also begun preparations for the power start-up and the start of electricity generation. This stage is expected to take 25 days with the reactor being brought up to minimum controllable power level, the company said.
*** GV GOLD AGREES TO BUY ZOLOTO KAMCHATKI FOR OVER $500 MLN WITH DEBT - REPORTS
GV Gold (PJSC Vysochaishy) has agreed to buy Zoloto Kamchatki (Kamchatka Gold), the gold mining division of Viktor Vekselberg's Renova Group, for more than $500 million including debt, RBC reported, citing sources.
*** SHIPMENTS OF RUSSIAN PASSENGER CARS TO EGYPT MIGHT INCREASE TO 1,300 - TMH
Shipments of Russian passenger cars to Egypt under a contract that is in the works could be increased from 700 to 1,300.
"If we reach an agreement on this, we will be talking about replacing virtually all of Egypt's fleet," the CEO of Russian train manufacturer Transmashholding (TMH), Kirill Lipa told Interfax on the sidelines of the Transport Russia forum on Thursday.
*** ABOUT 9% OF PARTICIPANTS IN RUSSIAN NANO-INDUSTRY READY TO LEAVE INNOVATIVE SEGMENT
About 9% of participants in Russia's nano-industry say they are prepared to leave the innovative segment of the economy and focus on other business areas, according to an interactive vote conducted among participants in the congress of nano-industry enterprises.
"Engaging in the innovative business in Russia is considered a twofold crime," Rusnano chief Anatoly Chubais said at the congress. "We who work in the area are aware of this, what a tough environment we have to work in. This needs to be heard [at the highest level]. Nine percent is a wakeup call," he said.
*** DAIRY CLUSTER COSTING 44 BLN RUBLES PLANNED FOR TAMBOV REGION IN COLLABORATION WITH ISRAEL
The implementation of a joint Russian-Israeli project to establish a dairy farm and processing plant in Tambov Region is scheduled to start in 2018, the regional government said in a statement.
Investment in the project will total 43.7 billion rubles. The Russian partner is Bondarsky Cheese Factory.
POLITICS & SOCIETY
*** PUTIN TO PAY WORKING VISIT TO EGYPT ON DEC 11 - KREMLIN PRESS OFFICE
Russian President Vladimir Putin will pay a working visit to Egypt on December 11, his press office said on Thursday.
"Talks with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi will focus on developing the Russian-Egyptian relations in the political, trade and economic, energy and humanitarian spheres," a statement obtained by Interfax said.
"The parties will also exchange views on key aspects of the international agenda, primarily the problem of providing stability and security in the Middle East and North Africa," the press office said.
*** KREMLIN WORRIED BY TRUMP'S DECISION ON JERUSALEM, SAYS IT IS NOT CONDUCIVE TO MIDEAST PEACE PROCESS
U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to move the U.S. embassy to Israel to Jerusalem has caused tension in the region, and this worries Moscow, Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov said.
"Indeed, the tensions that have appeared in the region after Mr. Trump's announcement are worrying. We believe this decision is at least not conducive now to the promotion of the Middle East peace process; on the contrary, as we see, it primarily causes a split in the international community," Peskov told journalists on Thursday.
*** MEDVEDEV ADMITS DOPING PROBLEMS IN RUSSIAN SPORTS, SAYS A LOT BEING DONE TO ERADICATE VIOLATIONS
The Russian sports world has had doping problems, and the effort to eradicate those violations is continuing, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said at a government meeting on Thursday.
"No doubt, this decision [the International Olympic Committee's decision to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee and to prohibit Russian athletes from performing under the Russian flag] has both factual and legal dimensions. Obviously, there were doping problems in Russian sports, we openly acknowledged their existence and energetically started eradicating those violations, an independent anti-doping commission was set up, and a national anti-doping plan was adopted for Russian sports. We have been doing a lot," Medvedev said.
*** MEDVEDEV DOUBTS FAIRNESS OF IOC COMMISSION'S RUSSIA DOPING INVESTIGATION
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has questioned the fairness of the Samuel Schmid Commission's investigation into doping use by Russian athletes, saying that the findings are mostly based on testimony by a man having psychopathic manifestations and signs of mental instability.
"Our athletes and our country as a whole have faced an unprecedented instance of unproven accusations against a whole state, which, as is well known, are based on testimony by just one person, who, let's say openly, is psychically instable, is a person having obvious psychopathic problems, who committed criminal deeds," Medvedev said at a government meeting on Thursday, apparently referring to former chief of the Moscow Anti-Doping Lab Grigory Rodchenkov.
*** LAVROV REPROACHES OSCE FOR SILENCE OVER WEST'S HARASSMENT OF RUSSIAN MEDIA
Moscow is concerned about the rights of Russian media outlets in the West and sees the OSCE as holding double standards in this area, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at the OSCE Ministerial Council in Vienna on Thursday.
"We are deeply concerned about the human rights situation [...] The vicious practice of dividing media outlets into free and propagandist is being put into life," Lavrov said.
*** ATTEMPTS TO STALL DISCUSSION OF RUSSIAN DRAFT OF UNSC RESOLUTION ON PEACEKEEPERS IN DONBAS WORRISOME - LAVROV
Moscow is worried about the attempts to stall the discussion of Russia's draft of the UN Security Council resolution on the deployment of a peacekeeping mission to Donbas and the proposed scenarios of solving the Ukrainian conflict by force, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
"We are deeply concerned about the attempts to stall a substantive discussion of the Russian draft of the UN Security Council resolution on the establishment of a UN mission to assist and protect SMM monitors in strict compliance with their mandate," Lavrov said at the OSCE Ministerial Council in Vienna.
*** PYONGYANG NOT INTERESTED IN CONFLICT ESCALATION BUT DOESN'T FEAR WAR - KOSACHYOV
Pyongyang is not interested in the escalation of the conflict over the Korean Peninsula, but it does not fear a war, Russian Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee head Konstantin Kosachyov said to Interfax following a meeting with the North Korean ambassador to Russia on Thursday.
"We've exchanged positions on the current situation on the Korean Peninsula. The DPRK reaffirmed that the DPRK is not interested in the conflict's escalation, not to mention in the start of military actions, but it does not fear a war, as was formulated in the Foreign Ministry statement yesterday," Kosachyov said.
*** WARPLANES CARRIED OUT 100 AND MORE MISSIONS DAILY AT FINAL STAGE OF OPERATION IN SYRIA - RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY
Warplanes carried out 100 and more missions and delivered up to 250 airstrikes daily to support the advancing ground forces at the final stage of the operation in Syria, Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi, chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, said at a news briefing on Thursday.
"Russian Aerospace Forces planes destroyed militants' positions, ammunition and weapons depots, armored hardware, and pick-up trucks with heavy weapons. Long-range aircraft were employed on a massive scale," Rudskoi said.
*** TALKS WITH SAUDI ARABIA ON DELIVERY OF S-400 SYSTEMS UNDER WAY, NO FINAL CONTRACT YET - CHEMEZOV
Negotiations with Saudi Arabia on the delivery of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems are ongoing, but there is no final contract yet, Russian corporation Rostec head Sergei Chemezov said on Thursday.
"Negotiations are under way. But there is no contract, no final contract, to be more precise, yet," Chemezov said when responding to a question from Interfax.
*** ULYUKAYEV PLEADS NOT GUILTY IN HIS FINAL STATEMENT
Former Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev, who has been charged with taking a $2-million bribe from Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, has made his final statement at Moscow's Zamoskvoretsky District Court on Thursday.
"I have already said that I plead not guilty to the charges, and I confirm this in my final statement," Ulyukayev said.
*** PESSIMISTIC SCENARIOS OF SURKOV-VOLKER TALKS MORE LIKELY FOR NOW - CHESNAKOV
Moscow is considering four scenarios of how the Surkov-Volker negotiations may develop in 2018, the Director of the Center for Current Politics, Alexei Chesnakov, told reporters.
"We are considering four scenarios. The first scenario is the failure of the negotiations. The second is never-ending negotiations and a stalemate. These two scenarios are equally possible, the choice will probably be between them," Chesnakov said.
"The third scenario is the approval of Russia's draft resolution on the UN protection mission in Donbas, and the fourth scenario is the adoption of another draft resolution. We know that several countries, among them Sweden, are working on their own drafts," Chesnakov said.
*** NEXT ROUND OF TALKS ON BELARUS' JOINING WTO DUE IN MARCH - FOREIGN MINISTRY
The next round of talks on Belarus' accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been tentatively scheduled for March 2018, Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dmitry Mironchik said at a press briefing in Minsk on Thursday.
"A Belarusian delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Yevdochenko will attend a WTO ministerial conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 10-13 [...] Our country sees this event as an important element of the WTO negotiating process and preparations for the next round of multilateral talks. They are tentatively scheduled for March of next year," Mironchik said.
*** KYIV COURT DECIDES TO QUESTION POROSHENKO IN YANUKOVYCH HIGH TREASON CASE
The Obolonsky District Court in Kyiv has decided to summon President Petro Poroshenko for being questioned as a witness in the case in which ex-President Viktor Yanukovych is accused of high treason.
The court made the decision granting the prosecution's motion on Thursday, an Interfax correspondent reported.
*** MOLDOVAN GOVT TO PRESENT TRANSDNIESTRIAN SETTLEMENT PLAN BY YEAREND - REINTEGRATION BUREAU
A Transdniestrian settlement document drafted by the Moldovan government will be presented by the end of the year, a spokesperson for the government's Reintegration Bureau told Interfax.
The spokesperson said the bureau wants to present the document to the OSCE Ministerial Council, which convened a meeting in Vienna on Thursday.
"The document we have called 'The Vision' has already been drafted, but we have decided that additional consultations will be necessary and that they should involve a broad range of experts and community leaders. We have decided it is better not to rush, but to deliver a quality document," the spokesperson said.
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