Digest of headline news as of 3:30 p.m. Moscow time on March 13:
BUSINESS & FINANCE
*** RUSSIAN TRADE SURPLUS DROPS TO $17.742 BLN IN JANUARY - CBR
Russia had a January foreign trade surplus of $17.742 billion, as calculated to the balance of payments method, which was a 13.0% drop from the previous January's $20.385 billion, the Central Bank of Russia said.
*** GAZPROM, CNPC DISCUSS PIPELINE GAS, LNG DELIVERIES FROM EASTERN RUSSIA
Gazprom (RTS: GAZP) CEO Alexei Miller and CNPC Chairman Jiang Jiemin discussed a broad range of gas cooperation issues in Beijing, the Russian gas giant reported.
Much attention was paid to the main commercial and technical parameters for deliveries of pipeline gas to the Chinese market, particularly on the Power of Siberia gas pipeline.
*** GAZPROM PLACING 7-, 12-YR EURO-DENOMINATED NOTES, GUIDANCE 230 BPS, 265 BPS AGAINST SWAPS - SOURCE
Gazprom (RTS: GAZP) is placing seven- and 12-year euro-denominated notes with yield guidance of 230 bps and 265 bps against swaps, a financial market source told Interfax.
Average seven-year euro swaps are currently 1.298 and 22-year swaps are 1.973%, so the seven-year bonds could yield 3.598% and the 12-year notes - 4.623% pa.
*** ROSNEFT ARGUMENTS FOR GAINING SHELF SECTIONS OF INTEREST TO GAZPROM NOT OBJECTIVE - MINISTRY
Russia's Natural Resources Ministry considers nonobjective oil major Rosneft's (RTS: ROSN) position as to its securing shelf sections that gas giant OJSC Gazprom (RTS: GAZP) has bid for, Natural Resources Minister Sergei Donskoi told the press.
"The government will consider this question, but in my view the arguments Rosneft is making are not entirely objective," Donskoi said.
*** RUSSIA TO SEND BELARUS 5.75 MLN TONNES OF OIL IN Q2
Russian and Belarus have agreed that the volume of crude oil and oil product deliveries for the second quarter of this year will amount to 5.75 million tonnes, the press secretary to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, Aliya Samigullina, has told the press.
*** SEVERSTAL PLACES $600 MLN WORTH OF 5-YR DOLLAR-DENOMINATED EUROBONDS
Steel major OJSC Severstal (RTS: CHMF) has placed $600 million worth of five-year dollar-denominated Eurobonds with a coupon rate of 4.45%.
The lead managers for the placement are Citigroup, JPMorgan, and Sberbank CIB.
*** MECHEL MINING 2012 RAS NET PROFITS ALMOST DOUBLE TO 47 BLN RUBLES
OJSC Mechel Mining made some 46.9 billion rubles in net profits to Russian Accounting Standards (RAS) last year, 80% more than the year before, the company reported.
The main factors driving this increase, the company said, were the payment of 29.39 billion rubles in dividends to subsidiary organizations, as well as income from the revaluation of the convertible stock in OJSC Southern Kuzbass Coal Company (RTS: UKUZ) and OJSC Korshunov Mining Plant (RTS: KOGK) - 19.4 billion rubles in all.
*** POLYMETAL BOOSTS MINERAL RESOURCE 35% TO 18.7 MLN OZ OF GOLD EQUIVALENT
Polymetal International plc, which controls leading Russian silver producer Polymetal (RTS: PMTL), boosted the mineral resource 35% to 18.7 million oz of gold equivalent as of the end of 2012, the company said on Wednesday.
Estimated ore reserves rose 6% to 15.1 million oz of gold equivalent.
*** YANDEX SHAREHOLDERS SELLING 7.4% OF SHARES, TO RAISE $552 MLN
A number of shareholders in Russian Internet company Yandex are selling about 7.4% of the company's shares at $22.75 a share and will raise $552 million with the SPO in total, the company said in a statement.
The selling shareholders are BC&B Holdings, controlled by Baring Vostok, Belka Holdings Limited, affiliated with Yandex founder and CEO Arkady Volozh, Emerald Trust and Ilya Segalovich.
*** X5 AIMS TO ACCELERATE SALES GROWTH IN 2013, BUT OFF TO SLOW START
Russia's X5 Retail Group, which had a disappointing 2012, expects to accelerate revenue growth in 2013 and is continuing to "work on mistakes" under the leadership of a new CEO.
Last year was difficult and the company is not happy with its results, CEO Stephan DuCharme said in a conference call on Tuesday.
*** GEORGIAN MINERAL WATER BANNED IN RUSSIA COMES THROUGH BELARUS - ONISHCHENKO
Head of the Russian consumer rights watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, Gennady Onishchenko, said he was not happy with the fact that Georgian mineral water Borjomi, which is banned in Russia, was still reaching the country via Belarus.
Onishchenko said that Borjomi was available in some Moscow markets ever since the ban was introduced.
*** AZERBAIJAN SEES FOREIGN DEBT CLIMB TO 8.3% OF GDP IN 2012
Azerbaijan had direct and guaranteed foreign debt of 8.3% of GDP on January 1 2013, compared to 7.6% of GDP on the same date in 2012, the government said in a report on 2012.
Foreign debt reached $5.71 billion in 2012, an increase of 18.5%.
POLITICS & SOCIETY
*** RUSSIAN FOREIGN, DEFENSE MINISTERS TO TAKE PART IN RUSSIAN-UK STRATEGIC DIALOGUE MEETING IN LONDON
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu will take part in the first meeting of the Russian-UK Strategic Dialogue in London on Wednesday.
"The Strategic Dialogue is intended to become an important mechanism of political dialogue and practical interaction between Russia and the United Kingdom on foreign policy and defense issues aimed at facilitating trusting discussions and agreeing upon positions on the most relevant aspects of the international agenda and bilateral military-political cooperation," the Russian Foreign Ministry said earlier.
The upcoming meeting is expected to deal with problems of European security, including prospects of the development of equitable interaction on the European missile defense architecture and the current situation in the Middle East and in the Arab world on the whole, the ministry said. "We expect that a substantive conversation will take place on Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear program and the situation on the Korean Peninsula," it said.
*** PALESTINIAN LEADER ABBAS COMING TO MOSCOW FOR OFFICIAL VISIT
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to come to Moscow on Wednesday for an official visit.
The Kremlin press service said earlier that President Vladimir Putin would hold talks with Abbas on March 14. "The leaders are supposed to discuss key aspects of bilateral interaction. In exchanging opinions on international and regional problems, they will focus, as usual, on the current situation in the Middle East and North Africa and prospects for resuming the Palestinian-Israeli negotiating process," it said.
*** RUSSIAN GOVT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION TO DISCUSS ENERGY, TRADE, VISAS
Representatives from the Russian government and the European Commission will meet in Moscow on March 21-22 to discuss bilateral cooperation in the energy, industry and trade sectors and liberalization of visa regulations.
"During a Russia-European Commission plenary meeting, its participants will conduct a comprehensive review of Russia-EU relations, with an emphasis placed on cooperation in the energy, trade, industry, transport, science and education sectors," the Russian government press service said in a statement on Wednesday.
*** U.S., RUSSIAN ANTI-DRUG AGENCIES TO CO-HOST DRUG ENFORCEMENT CONFERENCE IN MOSCOW
The Russian Federal Drug Control Service and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration will co-host the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Moscow in 2013.
"The two agencies worked in close coordination throughout 2012 in developing themes and objectives for the conference," the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report for 2013 released by the U.S. State Department on Wednesday said.
"Russia and the United States share a commitment to continuing bilateral and multilateral cooperation in counter-narcotics," the report said.
*** ONISHCHENKO SEES NO GROUNDS TO CANCEL BAN ON U.S. MEAT IMPORT IN SHORT-TERM
Gennady Onishchenko, head of the Russian consumer rights watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, told Interfax on Wednesday that he saw no grounds to cancel the ban on import of the U.S. meat with ractopamine, a leanness-enhancing feed additive.
Onishchenko said that the restrictions could be long-term.
"There are no [grounds]," Onishchenko said when asked whether there were grounds to re-consider Russia's stance on the U.S. meat import.
*** ELECTIONS COMMISSION CHIEF SLAMS REPORT CLAIMING 2011 DUMA ELECTIONS WERE RIGGED
Russian Central Elections Commission (CEC) Chairman Vladimir Churov has criticized a report issued by a think-tank claiming that the 2011 elections to the State Duma were rigged and that the Communist Party actually garnered more votes in them than the United Russia party.
A number of media outlets on Wednesday published conclusions from a report titled 'Electoral System and State Success' drawn up by the Center of Problem Analysis and Governance Planning, which analyzes the outcomes of the 2011 State Duma elections and concludes that they were rigged in favor of United Russia.
"I will ask my secretariat to publish the addresses of the Kashchenko Hospital [a well-known psychiatric hospital in Moscow] and the Serbsky [Psychiatry] Research Institute. It's better to address them for comments on these reports," Churov said sarcastically at a CEC session on Wednesday.
*** RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH'S POSITION ON POSSIBLE PATRIARCH-POPE MEETING UNCHANGED
In light of the ongoing elections in the Vatican, the Moscow Patriarchate says that its position regarding a possible meeting between the patriarch and the pope remains unchanged.
"As concerns a meeting with the pope, our position is simple and unchanged: such a meeting cannot be held just for the sake of it. It should result in serious steps and important decisions. As soon as we are prepared for such decisions on both sides, then such a meeting will take place immediately," Vladimir Legoida, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate's Synodal Information Department, said in an interview published in the Wednesday issue of Argumenty i Fakty.
*** JOURNALIST EARLIER ABDUCTED IN SYRIA HANDED OVER TO UKRAINIAN EMBASSY IN DAMASCUS
The Syrian Foreign Ministry handed over Ukrainian journalist Ankhar Kochneva, who spent some time in captivity after she was abducted by insurgents, to the Ukrainian Embassy in Damascus on March 12.
"The Ukrainian citizen's health status is fair. Nothing threatens her life," the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry told Interfax.
Kochneva has been provided with material support and communication means to contact her relatives, it said.
The Ukrainian Embassy to Syria is working to furnish Kochneva with the necessary documents to be able to travel home.
*** IVANISHVILI CUTS SALARIES OF GEORGIAN MINISTERS, CANCELS MONTHLY BONUS
Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili has cut the salaries of ministers by 12%, the prime minister's press service reported on Wednesday.
From now on, the salaries will be smaller and absolutely transparent, the report said.
Monthly bonuses are cancelled. Instead, there will be yearly bonuses paid at the prime minister's decision.
Local U.S. authorities reluctant to share info on Russian adopted children with Russia - Ryabkov
Iran sanctions may be relieved if it stops 20% uranium enrichment - Lavrov (Part 2)
Merkel, Putin to have negotiations in St. Petersburg on Friday - Kremlin press service
Treaty on Eurasian Economic Union will take into account best OECD practices - Shuvalov (Part 2)
Atambayev may approve denunciation of agreement with U.S. on air base next week
Chief military prosecutor says Oboronservice structures owe billions of rubles for unexecuted contracts