Digest of headline news from February 4 to 11:30 a.m. Moscow time on February 5:
BUSINESS & FINANCE
*** DOLLAR, EURO SLIGHTLY HIGHER AGAINST RUBLE IN EARLY TRADING
The dollar and euro were slightly higher against the ruble in early trading on the Moscow Exchange on Wednesday.
The dollar was averaging 35.035 rubles/$1 after the first minute, 3.5 kopecks above the close on Tuesday, but 41.42 kopecks below the official exchange rate.
The euro began the day at 47.34 rubles/EUR1, about 4 kopecks above the close on Tuesday and 61 kopecks below the official exchange rate.
The bi-currency basket ($0.55 and EUR0.45) opened at 40.57 rubles, 3-4 kopecks above yesterday's closing value.
*** RUSSIAN STOCK INDEXES GAIN 0.2%-0.5% AT OPEN ON WEDNESDAY
Russian stock indexes opened 0.2%-0.5% higher on Wednesday amid a global correction upward.
The MICEX index was up 0.2% to 1,443.97 points and the RTS index was up 0.5% to 1,297.78 as of 10:01 a.m. Moscow time.
The blue chips posted gains of as much as 0.6%.
*** RUSSIAN RESERVE FUND UP 211 BLN RUBLES, WELFARE FUND 179 BLN RUBLES IN JAN - MINFIN
Russia's sovereign Reserve Fund contained just under 3.071 trillion rubles ($87.13 billion) and the National Welfare Fund (NWF) just under 3.08 trillion rubles ($87.39 billion) on February 1, down from 2.86 trillion rubles ($87.38 billion) and 2.9 trillion rubles ($88.63 billion), respectively, on January 1, the Finance Ministry said.
In other words, the Reserve Fund grew 211.02 billion rubles and the NWF rose 179.3 billion rubles during January.
*** ROSNEFT READY FOR PRIVATIZATION AT ANY TIME - SECHIN
Russian oil major Rosneft (MOEX: ROSN) is ready for the privatization of the state's stake in the company at any time, but no such government instructions have yet been issued, Rosneft President Igor Sechin told the press.
"The company is ready for anything. Whatever instruction they give us we will fulfill, and do it effectively," Sechin said. "What kind of goal the government sets is another matter. So far, we've not received such a task," he said.
*** ROSNEFT BEGAN SUPPLYING OIL TO CZECH REPUBLIC UNDER PKN ORLEN CONTRACT IN Q3 2013
Rosneft began supplying oil to the Czech Republic under a $7-billion contract with PKN Orlen in the third quarter of 2013, Rosneft said in its IFRS earnings report.
The maximum volume of deliveries under the contract, which runs to June 30, 2016, is 8.3 million tonnes.
*** ROSNEFT TO USE CHINESE PREPAYMENT FOR STRATEGIC PROJECTS, NOT LOAN REPAYMENT
Rosneft (MOEX: ROSN) will use funds it receives from China in prepayment for oil deliveries to finance strategic projects and not to repay loans, Igor Sechin, the oil company's president, told reporters.
"We will be trying to reduce our external debt, and will be doing so not with these funds [Chinese advance payment for oil deliveries] but with savings. We'll be spending [the Chinese funds] on strategic projects: the shelf, Eastern Petrochemicals Complex," Sechin said.
*** SWITZERLAND'S AXPO SWITCHES RUSSIAN URANIUM SUPPLIERS
The board of directors of Switzerland's Axpo Holding AG has decided to stop using uranium from Mayak Production Association, a division of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, for production of fuel elements for its reactors in Beznau, the energy utility said in a press release.
*** ROSTELECOM TO BORROW 20 BLN RUBLES FROM GAZPROMBANK AT 15%
Rostelecom, Russia's national telecom provider, will sign a contract with Gazprombank for a credit line of 20 billion rubles, company materials show.
The company will pay 15% annual interest for using the five-year credit facility.
Gazprombank was the only lender to submit a bid in Rostelecom public invitation for quotes.
*** PHOSAGRO TO SPEND UP TO 6.3 BLN RUBLES ON PHOSAGRO-CHEREPOVETS BUYOUT
The management board at PhosAgro has sanctioned a voluntary offer to minority shareholders in the fertilizer producer's subsidiary, PhosAgro-Cherepovets, to buy them out for 40.9 rubles a share, PhosAgro said in a statement.
The company received a banking guarantee of up to 10.1 billion rubles from VTB (MOEX: VTBR) for the buyout.
*** B&N BANK ACQUIRED 6.22% VEROPHARM STAKE IN REPO DEAL
B&N Bank (MOEX: BBIN) acquired a stake in drug manufacturer OJSC Veropharm (MOEX: VRPH) in a repo deal on December 27, 2013, the bank told Interfax.
It was reported yesterday that B&N Bank acquired a 6.22% stake (622,471 shares) in Veropharm on December 27.
Veropharm shares closed at 945 rubles per share on the Moscow Exchange (MOEX: MOEX) on December 26, meaning the bank may have paid around 588 million rubles for the stake.
*** SISTEMA BOARD APPROVES PURCHASE OF STAKE IN OZON - SOURCE
The board of directors of Sistema JSFC voted on February 1 to approve the acquisition of a stake in Internet company Ozon, a source familiar with the situation told Interfax.
He did not specify the size of the stake in Ozon that the Russian conglomerate plans to buy, but said Sistema would be a minority shareholder.
The company's press service said it does not disclose board decisions. A representative of Ozon confirmed that Sistema is "one of the potential investors," but declined further comment.
*** ARMENIA'S CENTRAL DEPOSITORY CONCLUDES DEPO AGREEMENT WITH RUSSIA'S NSD
Russia's National Settlement Depository (NSD) and Central Depository of Armenia (CDA) have concluded a Central Securities Depository (CSD) foreign nominee account agreement, NSD said in a press release.
"Pursuant to the agreement, NSD will maintain records for securities held by clients of the foreign nominees, maintain CSD foreign nominee accounts, conduct operations on such accounts and render other services related to the execution of rights for securities," the press release says.
*** PRESIDENT BERDIMUHAMEDOW OFFERS UKRAINIAN COMPANY TO BUILD METRO IN ASHGABAT
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow has offered the Ukrainian company Interbudmontazh to consider the construction of a metro in Ashgabat, a booming city with a growing population.
Turkmen television said Berdimuhamedow made the proposition to Interbudmontazh CEO V. Petruk during his visit to the site of the construction of sewage facilities in the northeastern sector of an engineering tunnel in Ashgabat.
*** KAZAKHSTAN TO SPEND $1 BLN ON GEOLOGICAL EXPLORATION PROGRAMS IN 2015-2019
Kazakhstan will spend 161 billion tenge ($1.035 billion) in budgeted funds on geological exploration programs in 2015-2019, said Bazarbai Nurbayev, the chairman of the Committee for Geology and Mineral Resources Management at the Kazakh Ministry of Industry and New Technologies.
"Our exploration expenditures are growing each year. As much as 161 billion tenge will be earmarked for exploration activities in 2015-2019," he told journalists in Astana on Tuesday.
POLITICS & SOCIETY
*** LAVROV LAUDS SYRIAN OPPOSITION'S ATTENDANCE OF GENEVA II AS CHOICE FOR PEACE PROCESS
Russia views the decision of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces to come to Geneva II as a confirmation of the coalition's choice for a peace settlement of the Syrian conflict, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
"We regard the fact that the National Coalition delegation arrived in Montreux to attend the launch of an international peace conference for Syria and the first round of the negotiations as their choice for a peace settlement of the armed conflict," the minister said in his opening remarks at a meeting with National Coalition Chairman Ahmad Jarba.
*** MOSCOW IS CERTAIN SYRIA'S GOVT DELEGATION WILL COME TO GENEVA II 2ND ROUND - RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT
Moscow is convinced that the Syrian government's delegation will attend the next round of the Geneva II inter-Syrian conference, scheduled to begin on February 10, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said.
"We hope that the government's delegation will take part in the second round of the inter-Syrian negotiations in Geneva," he told reporters on Tuesday.
"We have no doubt that Damascus will issue an instruction to the government's delegation to continue the talks in Geneva," the diplomat said.
*** NATIONAL COALITION TAKES PART IN GENEVA II DESPITE PRESSURE FROM DAMASCUS - JARBA
The Syrian authorities tried to stop the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF) delegation from coming to Geneva for negotiations, the NCSROF said.
"We came despite those bombings, despite those killings that were happening in Aleppo, in Homs, in other parts of Syria. The regime is doing all it can to put pressure on us, to prevent us from traveling," the Syrian National Coalition chief, Ahmad Jarba, told a press conference at the Interfax head office.
*** SYRIAN AUTHORITIES ENCOURAGE EXTREMISM - JARBA
Leader of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF) Ahmad Jarba has accused the Syrian authorities of supporting a terrorist organization called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
"The regime supports the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, helping its development," he told a press conference at the Interfax head office on Tuesday.
"The regime strives to promote extremist sentiments by supporting this organization," he said.
*** U.S. DIPLOMAT SUMMONED TO RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER OVER REFUSAL TO HAND OVER YAROSHENKO TO MOSCOW
The Minister Counselor of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Howard Solomon, was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry, which told him that it was troubled by the U.S. authorities' refusal to allow Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko to return to Russia.
"Minister Counselor of the U.S. Embassy in Russia H. Solomon was invited to the Russian Foreign Ministry on February 3. The Russian Foreign Ministry's envoy for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, Konstantin Dolgov, told him that there were concerns over the American side's decision not to hand Yaroshenko, who was convicted by a New York court, over to Russia under the 1983 Council of Europe Convention," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
*** MCFAUL: RUSSIAN, US PRESIDENTS MAY MEET IN THE HAGUE IN MARCH
The United States does not rule out a meeting of Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin in March on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague in March, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said.
Yes, maybe. You know, I am not certain that Pres. Putin has decided on his travel plans, but if both Presidents will be there, then most certainly I would expect that there would be a meeting," he said in an interview with Interfax.
The full text of the interview will be posted on the website www.interfax.ru, and the English transcript on the website www.interfax.com.
*** MCFAUL: MOSCOW, WASHINGTON DISCUSSING LAUNCH OF MEDVEDEV-BIDEN COMMISSION
The U.S. and Russia are considering the launch of a specialized (Medvedev-Biden) commission to deal with economic issues, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said.
"We have not forgotten about it, and it is a dimension of these negotiations that we were just talking about," he said in an interview with Interfax.
McFaul said it could be restarted "with the appropriate content to justify it, but within our government it is something that we continue to discuss."
*** MCFAUL: WASHINGTON EYEING RUSSIA-US SUMMIT IN SOCHI THIS SUMMER
Washington is preparing to hold a Russia-U.S. summit in Sochi this summer on the G8 sidelines, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said.
"We're working very hard to make the agenda rich enough to justify a summit with an eye toward the G-8 Summit in Sochi in the summer," he said in an interview with Interfax.
The United States explained the cancellation of the Russia-U.S. summit scheduled for September saying that the agenda was not rich enough. McFaul was asked whether the situation had changed now. "I believe we have new lines of cooperation. Most certainly Iran, most certainly Syria, with particular respect to their removal and destruction of chemical weapons. Those were pieces that were not as well developed last summer," he replied.
*** NAZARBAYEV RECOMMENDS EURASIAN ECONOMIC UNION PROJECT BE STUDIED
Kazakhstan supports the Russian president's idea of the prospective formation of a free trade zone between the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said.
"Members of the future Eurasian Economic Union do not shut out the world; they carry on their active cooperation with all partners. In this respect we support the Russian president and the prospective formation of a free trade zone between the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union," he told diplomats accredited in Kazakhstan in Astana on Wednesday.
*** AZERBAIJAN SET TO CONTINUE NEGOTIATIONS WITH ARMENIA - FM
Armenia is responsible for ceasefire violations in the Karabakh conflict zone, which have grown frequent in the recent days, and Azerbaijan only retaliates against the provocations, Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said.
"Every time the negotiations make progress, clashes between Azeri and Armenian forces occur along the contact line," Mammadyarov said at a joint press conference with Dutch Foreign Minister Franciscus Timmermans on Tuesday.
"The sooner we start working on a comprehensive peace agreement, the quicker Armenia will benefit from that," the minister emphasized.
*** DPRK FOR RESUMPTION OF SIX-NATION TALKS BUT HOPE FADING AWAY - AMBASSADOR
Pyongyang stands for the resumption of six-nation negotiations on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and urges the United States to abandon its hostile policy, North Korean Ambassador to Russia Kim Yong Jae said at a press conference in Moscow on Tuesday.
"We are not opposed to the launch of negotiations and a genuine discussion of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the region," Kim said.
"Yet we are concerned that the hope for a resumption of the six-nation negotiations is fading away because of the invariably hostile U.S. policy towards our country; they are holding a policy of sanctions, thrusting unilateral dismantlement of the nuclear program on us and setting unfounded preconditions," the ambassador underscored.
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ALEPPO MILITANTS PUBLICLY EXECUTE 14 MEMBERS OF EASTERN ALEPPO AUTHORITIES FOR CALLS TO LEAVE CITY - RUSSIAN CENTER FOR RECONCILIATION
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