Digest of headline news from January 15 to 11:30 a.m. Moscow time on January 16:
BUSINESS & FINANCE
*** MIXED START FOR RUSSIAN STOCKS
Russian equities trading got off to a mixed start on Wednesday, reflecting the situation in the international markets.
The MICEX stock index was up 0.01% to 1515.44 and the RTS was off 0.01% in the first minute of trading.
Benchmark stocks rose up to 0.5% on the Moscow Exchange.
*** DOLLAR, EURO VIRTUALLY UNCHANGED AGAINST RUBLE
The dollar are euro are virtually unchanged against the ruble in early trading on the Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange (MICEX) Wednesday.
The dollar traded at 30.35 rubles/$1 after the first minute, level with yesterday's closing and 9 kopecks above today's official rate.
The euro began the day at 40.33 rubles/EUR1, which was 3 kopecks above yesterday's closing and 7 below the official rate.
The bi-currency basket ($0.55 and EUR0.45) started the day at 34.84 rubles, or 1 kopecks above yesterday's closing value.
*** RUSSIA TO LEND BANGLADESH $500 MLN FOR ROOPPUR NUCLEAR PLANT
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed a number of intergovernmental documents on Tuesday, among them an agreement on a $500 million Russian credit to Bangladesh for the building of the Rooppur nuclear power plant.
Also signed was an agreement on the creation in Bangladesh of a nuclear power information center.
*** RUSSIAN TRADE SURPLUS GROWS 5.9% TO $15.4 BLN IN NOV - CBR
Russia's foreign trade surplus, as determined by balance of payments methodology, increased 5.9% to $15.356 billion last November from $14.499 billion in October, the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) reported on its website.
*** MEDVEDEV PARTICIPATES IN FULL LAUNCH OF ZAPOLYARNOYE FIELD IN YAMAL
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev came to Yamal on Tuesday, where he participated in a ceremony launching the Zapolyarnoye field to its full capacity of 130 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas a year.
With the start-up of a new comprehensive gas treatment unit, annual production from the field's Valanginian deposits will total 6.5 bcm of gas and 1.3 million tonnes of gas condensate.
According to Gazprom (RTS: GAZP), "there are plans to increase gas production from these deposits to 15 bcm a year." Therefore, total production at Zapolyarnoye will reach 130 bcm of gas a year in the future.
*** GAZPROM TO BUILD 620-BLN-RUBLE GAS PROCESSING COMPLEX IN AMUR REGION
Gazprom (RTS: GAZP) intends to build a gas processing and gas chemicals complex in the Amur region, the regional government said in a press release.
Governor of the Amur region Oleg Kozhemyako and representatives of Gazprom subsidiary LLC Gazprom Pererabotka discussed issues related to the construction of the complex in Blagoveshchensk on Tuesday.
Gazprom and Gazprom Pererabotka are tentatively set to spend over 620 billion rubles on the complex, which includes the launch of all of its facilities.
*** GAZPROM GAS EXPORTS TO WESTERN EUROPE AT AROUND 138 BCM IN 2012 - MILLER
Gazprom (RTS: GAZP) exported an estimated 138 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas to Western Europe last year, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller told the press.
"According to the preliminary figures, it was 138 billion cubic meters," Miller said. Gazprom exported 150 bcm of gas to Western Europe in 2011.
Miller gave no forecast for 2013. "As much as the market needs, that much we'll provide," he said.
The company produced 488 bcm of gas last year, he said.
*** GAZPROM COULD SOON GET 17 OFFSHORE LICENSES - DVORKOVICH
Gazprom (RTS: GAZP) could soon receive licenses to 17 offshore sections, Deputy Russian Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich told reporters.
"All requests are being dealt with at government agencies and we don't see any major problems here. There's a strong likelihood these licenses will be issued in the foreseeable future," he said.
*** GOVT LIKELY TO ISSUE ROSNEFT 12 SHELF LICENSES
The Russian government will most likely issue state oil major Rosneft (RTS: ROSN) twelve licenses to the country's continental shelf, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich told the press.
Rosneft has sent the government a letter with upward adjustments to the amount of geological survey work to be done on sections the company is seeking, Dvorkovich said. This will allow it to reach the level of seismology established by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry. These figures will be reviewed, and if no questions crop up the licenses will be issued, he said.
*** LUKOIL INTERESTED IN NEW PROJECTS OFFSHORE WEST AFRICA, BRAZIL
Lukoil (RTS: LKOH) is considering new projects offshore West Africa and Brazil, the company's president, Vagit Alekperov, told reporters.
"We're looking at new initiatives in West Africa and on the Brazilian shelf," he said.
Alekperov said he would probably visit Brazil in February.
*** LUKOIL PLANS TO PROLONG CONTRACT FOR WEST QURNA 2 IN IRAQ BY 5 YRS
Lukoil (RTS: LKOH) plans to prolong its contract for West Qurna 2 in Iraq by five years, the company's President Vagit Alekperov told journalists.
"I plan to be in Iraq on January 17. We have come to an understanding with the Iraq Oil Ministry on the matter of changing production volumes at West Qurna 2, but they haven't been secured yet," he said.
*** LUKOIL INTERESTED IN CHINESE PARTNER FOR WEST QURNA 2
Russian oil major Lukoil (RTS: LKOH) is interested in bringing a Chinese partner on board the West Qurna 2 project in Iraq, company CEO Vagit Alekperov has told the press.
China is a country with growing needs for oil, and West Qurna-2 holds a lot of it that needs to be sold, Alekperov said, adding that Lukoil has definitively rejected buying a stake in the West Qurna 1 project.
*** TVEL TRANSFERS 51% OF CHEMICAL & METALLURGICAL PLANT TO NOVOSIBIRSK UNIT
Russian nuclear fuel company OJSC TVEL has transferred its 51% stake in OJSC Chemical & Metallurgical Plant (KhMZ) (RTS: HMTZ) to the balance sheet of subsidiary LLC Lithium Cathode Materials in Novosibirsk, KhMZ materials show.
A total of 536,258 shares have been transferred. The transaction took place on January 14.
KhMZ, founded in Krasnoyarsk in 1956, produces lithium hydroxide and metallic lithium, and recovers rare alkali elements such as cesium, rubidium and gallium. The plant also produces cement.
*** EX POWER MACHINES CHIEF YEVGENY YAKOVLEV MIGHT BECOME 1ST DEPUTY HEAD OF NORILSK NICKEL
Yevgeny Yakovlev, the ex-chief of OJSC Power Machines (RTS: SILM), might become the first deputy head of MMC Norilsk Nickel (RTS: GMKN), a source close to the latter company's shareholders told Interfax.
Yakovlev headed Power Machines prior to the deal with Siemens, when the company's largest shareholder was Vladimir Potanin's Interros. He had worked together with Potanin since the mid-1990s. At the end of last December, Potanin took up the post of Norilsk Nickel general director. At that same time, the position of first deputy chief (originally for foreign economic activities) was vacated by Oleg Pivovarchuk, who left Norilsk Nickel.
*** MTS MIGHT FILE FOR BANKRUPTCY OF SUBSIDIARY IN UZBEKISTAN
Russia's Mobile TeleSystems (MTS) (RTS: MTSS) might file for the bankruptcy of LLC Uzdunrobita, its subsidiary in Uzbekistan, a source at Uzdunrobita told Interfax.
MTS is considering bankruptcy as a possible way to stop the payment of penalties imposed on Uzdunrobita and play for time in negotiations.
The situation around Uzdunrobita remains unclear. Many company employees received dismissal notices on Monday. Anywhere from 200 to 400 people have been let go, mostly at the head office in Tashkent, according unconfirmed reports.
However, the company is retaining some technical personnel to maintain equipment in working condition.
*** BPC SIGNS POTASH SUPPLY CONTRACTS WITH CHINA FOR $400/TONNE - URALKALI
CJSC Belarus Potash Company (BPC), the trader for Uralkali (RTS: URKA) and Belaruskali on export markets, has signed potash supply contracts for the first half of 2013 at $400 per tonne (CFR) with Chinese's largest importers of mineral fertilizers, Sinochem and CNAMPGC, Uralkali said in a statement.
The contracted quantity of potash will be 700,000 tonnes. There is also an option for 300,000 tonnes.
*** MECHEL PAYS FOR STATE STAKE IN VANINO PORT, CLOSES DEAL
Russian steel and coal group Mechel (RTS: MTLR) has acquired a 55% stake (77.3% of common shares) in OJSC Vanino Commercial Sea Port, the company announced.
Mechel has paid for the stake, for which it bid 15.5 billion rubles in a December auction, the company told Interfax, without disclosing any details or the sources of the financing.
The stake was purchased by LLC Mechel Trans, which won the auction for the stake in December by offering ten times the starting price.
Mechel said later that it bid in the auction as part of a consortium of Russian and foreign investors and had agreed with them to fund the deal on a debt-free basis provided Mechel would run the port. Mechel has not yet named its partners.
*** RUSSIAN CENTRAL BANK KEEPS REFINANCING RATE AT 8.25%, LEAVES ALL INTEREST RATES UNCHANGED
The Central Bank of Russia's (CBR) board of directors decided on January 15 to leave the refinancing rate and interest rates on operations unchanged, the bank's PR department reported.
The board based its decision on an assessment of inflationary risks and economic growth prospects.
At present, the refinancing rate is 8.25% per annum.
*** SBERBANK UPS RAS NET PROFIT 7% TO 344.4 BLN RUBLES IN 2012
Sberbank of Russia (RTS: SBER) increased its net profit to Russian Accounting Standards (RAS) excluding events after the reporting period by 7% to 344.4 billion rubles in 2012, the bank reported.
Accounting for events occurring after the reporting period, Sberbank generated 310.5 billion rubles in net profit in 2011. In comparison with its financial result for 2012 excluding events after the reporting period, net profit grew 10.9%.
*** BELARUSIAN GDP GROWS 1.5% IN 2012
Belarusian real GDP grew 1.5% in 2012, the National Statistics Committee (Belstat) reported.
Nominal GDP measured Br527.385 trillion ($63.27 billion based on average official rate for 2012). The GDP deflator was 174.9%.
The government's social and economic development forecast had projected growth of 5-5.5%.
Belstat in January made a second estimate of GDP in January-September, according to which nominal GDP measured Br390.3 trillion in the period, not the Br367.2 trillion reported earlier. The second estimate factors in a number of methodological changes. The GDP deflator for the nine months was revised down to 198.8% from 199.9%, while year-on-year GDP growth for the period was raised to 3.2% from the previously reported 2.5%.
POLITICS & SOCIETY
*** RUSSIA TO EXTEND $1 BLN LOAN TO BANGLADESH TO BUY RUSSIAN ARMS - PUTIN
Russia will extend a $1 billion loan to Bangladesh to buy Russian weapons.
"Our countries intend to expand military-technological cooperation. Russia will provide Bangladesh with a loan amounting to $1 billion, which will be spent on buying Russian weapons and military hardware," Russian President Vladimir Putin said following a meeting with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Moscow on Tuesday.
*** RUSSIA, BANGLADESH TO BRING TRADE TO $1 BLN - PUTIN
Trade between Russia and Bangladesh hit $700 million in 2012 and is to be brought to $1 billion in the future, said Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"Trade grew more than 20% last year, reaching about $700 million," he said after talks with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sekh Hasina on Tuesday.
"This is not the limit. We have set ourselves a quite realistic task to bring annual trade to $1 billion in the near future," Putin said.
Russia and Bangladesh have been implementing major projects, including in the nuclear energy sector, he said, adding that Russia will extend a $500 million loan to Bangladesh to build a nuclear power plant.
*** MOSCOW SEES AS COUNTERPRODUCTIVE IDEA TO PASS SYRIAN FILE TO INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT
The Russian Foreign Ministry sees the idea of a number of countries to pass a Syrian file to the International Criminal Court as counterproductive.
"Switzerland sent a collective address to the UN Security Council on behalf of 56 countries on January 14, asking for forwarding a Syrian file to the International Criminal Court," the ministry said in a commentary on Tuesday.
"We consider this initiative untimely and counterproductive for immediately stopping bloodshed in Syria, which is the priority goal at the moment," it said.
*** RUSSIA SUSPENDS CONSULATE GENERAL'S OPERATIONS IN ALEPPO
Russia has suspended the operations of its Consulate General in the second largest Syrian city of Aleppo (Halab).
"The operations of the Russian Federation's Consulate General in Aleppo, the Syrian Arab Republic, have been suspended. The Consulate Department of the Russian Embassy in Damascus should be contacted for any questions for the time being," the ministry said in a statement published on its website on Tuesday.
*** THREE MILITARY SATELLITES SUCCESSFULLY PUT INTO ORBIT
A Rockot launch vehicle that lifted off from the Plesetsk space center in the Arkhangelsk region earlier on Tuesday has successfully placed three military satellites into orbit, Col. Alexei Zolotukhin, a spokesman for the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces, told Interfax-AVN.
"The military satellite successfully separated from Rockot's Briz-KM upper stage at 10:09 p.m., and ground automated control systems have taken control of them," he said.
"After the satellites reached their orbit, they the names Cosmos-2482, Cosmos-2483, and Cosmos-2484 were assigned to them," Zolotukhin said.
The Rockot's launch was originally scheduled for December 2012, but was postponed after a defect had been revealed in the upper stage's command instrument.
*** DAGESTANI SUPREME COURT JUDGE KILLED IN MAKHACHKALA
Magomed Magomedov, a member of the Dagestani Supreme Court presidium, was killed in Makhachkala on Tuesday evening, the Investigative Committee department for Dagestan told Interfax.
"Magomedov was presumably killed with a handgun. A team of investigators is working at the scene," the chief of the Investigative Committee department for Dagestan said.
The Dagestani Interior Ministry confirmed this information.
*** BELARUS LOOKING FOR $1 BLN TO PAY FOREIGN DEBT - LUKASHENKO
Belarus needs to raise $1 billion to have enough money for foreign debt payments in 2013, the country's "peak" year for repaying foreign debt, President Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday.
"This year we need a bit more than $3 billion. We've got this money. We just need to find $1 billion for this year," Lukashenko told a news conference in Minsk. "I think we will find it."
Lukashenko added that creditors might put their repayment deadlines back if Belarus finds itself in a fix.
*** LUKASHENKO: BELARUS COULD SERVE AS SPRINGBOARD FOR CHINA IN ECONOMIC EXPANSION TO EUROPE
Belarus could make its territory available to China for economic expansion to the Europe Union, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said at a news conference in Minks on Tuesday.
"You must have complete confidence that you have a reliable ally in central Europe. You may fully rely on us if you want to broaden cooperation (unbanned, economic cooperation) with foreign countries, including the European Union, via Belarus," Lukashenko told a Chinese reporter when asked about prospects of Belarusian-Chinese relations.
On present-day China and its role in global politics, he said, "It is a leading power today. In fact, it is the second largest state in terms of economy and first in terms of population. In my opinion, this century will be marked by China's growing might."
*** INTL COMMUNITY SHOULD RECOGNIZE NAGORNO-KARABAKH - ARMENIAN PRESIDENT
Armenia's victory in its war against Azerbaijan for Nagorno-Karabakh should be legally consolidated, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan said.
"Our foreign policy's main goal is a definitive legal consolidation of the victory in the war unleashed by Azerbaijan against Nagorno-Karabakh," Sargsyan said at an expanded session at the Armenian Defense Ministry attended by top-ranking officials from the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.
"The international community should recognize Nagorno-Karabakh, because there is no logical explanation why the nation that lawfully exercised its right to self-determination and then defended it in an uphill battle should be part of Azerbaijan," he said.
*** AZERI PRESIDENT WARNS ARMENIA AGAINST CONTINUING CONFLICT OVER KARABAKH
Armenia should withdraw its troops from Azeri territory, or otherwise the continuation of the conflict will do it no good, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said.
"I am sure that the forces in Armenia approaching the problem from a realistic standpoint perfectly understand that this conflict and rivalry with Azerbaijan doesn't promise any good to them but, on the contrary, they are losing this fight more and more," Aliyev said at a government session dealing with the country's socioeconomic development in 2012 and prospects for 2013.
Negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh have stalled because of Armenia's unconstructive position, Aliyev said. "However, there are principles from which we won't step back by an inch. This issue should be settled only based on Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, and the occupation forces must leave Azeri territory," he said.
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ICAO should analyze Ukraine's firing exercises to rule out such situations in future - Russian transport minister
Progress cargo spacecraft crash could have been caused by its own problems, not launch vehicle's - source
New U.S. proposals on Aleppo consistent with Moscow's opinion - Lavrov
Russia ready to send experts, diplomats to Geneva to discuss joint steps on Aleppo with U.S. - Lavrov
Lavrov: Peace treaty primary precondition for settling Russian-Japan territorial dispute
Lavrov warns against too high expectations of progress in peace treaty conclusion with Japan
Russian mine disposal experts to start working in eastern Aleppo soon - Defense Ministry
Russia interested in resolving peace treaty problem with Japan, but bringing positions closer together is not easy - Lavrov
RUSSIA INSISTS ON COORDINATING CONCRETE TIMEFRAMES WITH U.S. FOR IMPLEMENTING STEPS TOWARD NORMALIZING SITUATION IN EASTERN ALEPPO - LAVROV
MOSCOW READY TO IMMEDIATELY SEND MILITARY EXPERTS, DIPLOMATS TO GENEVA TO COORDINATE JOINT STEPS WITH U.S. FOR MILITANTS TO LEAVE EASTERN ALEPPO - LAVROV
LAVROV SAYS KERRY MADE PROPOSALS IN ROME THAT ARE CONSISTENT WITH RUSSIAN UNDERSTANDING OF HOW ALEPPO PROBLEM SHOULD BE RESOLVED
SPEARHEAD UNIT OF RUSSIAN MINE-DISPOSAL EXPERTS ARRIVES IN SYRIA, TO START WORKING IN ALEPPO SOON - RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY