Digest of headline news as of 7:40 p.m. Moscow time on April 4:
BUSINESS & FINANCE
*** RUSSIAN INFLATION ACCELERATES TO 1% IN MARCH - ROSSTAT
Russian inflation accelerated to 1% in March from 0.7% in February and 0.6% in January, the Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat) said.
Inflation was 6.9% in annual terms at the end of March, up from 6.2% in February and 6.1% in January.
*** RUSSIAN MONETARY BASE DOWN 97.7 BLN RUBLES
The narrow monetary base in Russia stood at 7979.8 bln rubles on March 28, down from 8077.5 bln rubles on March 21, the Central Bank reported on Friday.
*** MINFIN TO PEG FX PURCHASES ON MARKET TO BI-CURRENCY CORRIDOR
The Russian Finance Ministry's foreign currency purchases on the market will be pegged to the bi-currency corridor, Deputy Finance Minister Alexei Moiseyev told reporters.
"There won't be a rate, it'll be pegged to the corridor," Moiseyev said.
The said the ministry's schedule of action on the currency market ought to be ready by Monday.
*** GERMANY BOOSTS Q1 RUSSIAN GAS IMPORTS 15%, TURKEY 4%, ITALY 6%
Germany, the main buyer of Russian gas, boosted these imports 15% year-on-year in Q1 2014 to 10.4 billion cubic meters, Russian gas giant Gazprom (MOEX: GAZP) said.
Exports to Turkey grew 4% to 7.76 bcm and to Italy - 6% to 7.32 bcm.
"Britain showed the biggest growth: sales to this market exceeded 4.4 bcm in Q1 and were 30% above the same period last year," Gazprom said.
*** GAZPROM GAS BOURSE, E-TRADING GURU RETIRES
Alexander Petrov, the leading developer of the technology for spot and organized trading in gas in Russia, has retired as head of the department for electronic gas trading at LLC Gazprom Mezhregiongaz.
The department itself will be disbanded. Petrov told Interfax there was an "objective need for this as the prospects for regulatory acts being adopted for organized gas trading on terms that guarantee the effectiveness of that trading are murky."
"Given the surplus of gas on the market and existing regulations for its functioning, these programs and not sufficiently relevant," he said.
*** YAMAL LNG TO SHIP LNG VIA ZEEBRUGGE
Yamal LNG and Fluxys have signed an agreement to trans-ship liquefied gas via the Belgian company's terminal at the port of Zeebrugge.
Yamal LNG said ice tankers would ship the LNG to the terminal, where it would be loaded onto conventional tankers.
Zeebrugge is Europe's most liquid LNG terminal, but it is fully utilized. A source with knowledge of the situation has told Interfax that a 180,000 cu m storage facility might have to be built there.
*** EXPORT DUTIES ON PURE LPG MIGHT BE RAISED TO LEVEL OF MIX BY 2022
Export duties on highly purified liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) will be raised over eight years from zero to the level of duties for propane-butane mix by 2022, Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov told Interfax.
"A compromise option has been agreed on - raising duties by 10% per year for six years and then by 20% annually over two years. Thus, in 2020 duties on pure fractions will be 60% of the level of duties on mix, by 2022 they will make up the remaining 40%," Shatalov said, commenting on the relevant decision of the sub-commission for customs tariff, nontariff regulation and protective trade measures of the government commission for economic development and integration.
*** NEFTISA EYES PURCHASE OF NINE OTHER OIL PRODUCERS IN RUSSIA
Neftisa, an oil company founded by Russian billionaire Mikhail Gutseriyev, has filed with the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) for clearance to purchase nine smaller oil production companies that operate in Volga region, Komi and Siberia.
The filing is for acquisition of controlling stakes in CJSC Samararostopprom (90% of voting shares), OJSC Novosibirskneftegaz (MOEX: NSNG) (100%), OJSC Severneftegaz (94.47%), OJSC Komnedra (90%) and CJSC Chedty Neft (100%), the FAS said.
*** ROSNEFTEGAZ TO RECEIVE MORE THAN 3% OF RUSHYDRO, PLACE ON BOARD FOLLOWING ISSUE OF SHARES
OJSC Rosneftegaz will receive more than 3% in Russian power generating company OJSC RusHydro following an additional issue of shares and the purchase of treasury stock, RusHydro said in materials for Investors' Day.
Additionally, Rosneftegaz will receive a place on RusHydro's board of directors.
RusHydro's Deputy Chairman George Rizhinashvili said in March that Rosneftegaz could receive a package of treasury stock and take part in an additional issue of company shares.
*** RUSHYDRO TO SELL NON-CORE ASSETS, REFRAIN FROM M&A
RusHydro plans to sell all non-core assets and refrain from any mergers and acquisitions, CEO Yevgeny Dod said at a meeting with investors.
"We will strive to withdraw from all the non-core assets, no M&A deals," Dod said.
The company is focused entirely on production issues and on operations at RAO Energy System of East, and on construction projects in that region, he said.
*** EVRAZ IS SELLING VITKOVICE STEEL FOR $89 MLN INCLUDING DEBT
Russian steel major Evraz plc has reached an agreement for the sale of its Czech plant Evraz Vitkovice Steel (EVS) to a group of private investors, each of which will receive 20% of the asset's capital, the holding said.
These investors include Martinley Holdings Limited, Nabara Holdings Limited, Vitect Services Limited, Hayston Investments Limited and Dawnaly Investments Limited.
The deal is valued at $89 million excluding the normalization of the company's working capital and including debt of $198 million, of which $128 million is internal group debt to Evraz.
*** SOLLERS, ISUZU JV BEGINS FULL-CYCLE PRODUCTION OF COMMERCIAL VEHICLES AT UAZ FACILITY
The joint venture between Russian Sollers (MOEX: SVAV) and Japanese Isuzu, Sollers-Isuzu, launched full-cycle production on Friday of Isuzu commercial vehicles at a facility belonging to Sollers subsidiary UAZ, an Interfax correspondent reported from the launch ceremony.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev took part in the ceremony.
The production line includes welding, assembly and paint rooms. It has capacity to produce 5,000 vehicles a year.
*** FAS APPROVES MAIL.RU GROUP TO GAIN CONTROL OVER VKONTAKTE
Russia's Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) said it has approved the application of Mail.ru Group Ltd. to gain control of the business activity of social networking LLC VKontakte, the FAS said.
FAS has also approved Mail.ru's acquisition of similar rights over VKontakte subsidiaries LLC Professional Contacts and LLC VKadre.
*** OMSK'S MOSTOVIK FILES FOR BANKRUPTCY - CEO
Omsk-based LLC NPO Mostovik has filed for bankruptcy following Sberbank's lawsuit to collect 18.9 billion rubles from the company, Mostovik's CEO and sole beneficiary, Oleg Shishov, said at a press conference in Omsk on Friday.
*** WESTERN SANCTIONS HAVE NO EFFECT ON SIBUR'S EXPORT CONTRACTS - COMPANY
Western sanctions imposed on a number of Russian businessmen, including a majority shareholder of Russian petrochemicals company Sibur, Gennady Timchenko, have not affected the company's export contracts, LLC Sibur Managing Director Vasily Nomokonov told journalists.
"None of the sanctions imposed have any relation to Sibur. We have explained this to all [of our] partners who worried about this," he said.
*** STATE SUPPORT FOR AGRICULTURAL COOPERATIVES TO GROW THIS YEAR - DVORKOVICH
The Russian government is planning to broaden state support for agricultural cooperatives this year, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich told journalists in St. Petersburg on Friday.
"We will do this [broaden state support] this year, and cooperatives will gain access to all forms of government support," he said.
*** AFK SISTEMA SIGNS BINDING AGREEMENT TO PURCHASE INVESTLESPROM ASSETS
AFK Sistema (MOEX: AFKS) has signed a binding agreement with the Bank of Moscow (MOEX: MMBM) to purchase assets of Investlesprom, Sistema said in a statement.
"Sistema JSFC ("Sistema") (LSE: SSA), the largest publicly-traded diversified holding company in Russia and the CIS, today announces that its subsidiary LLC LesInvest has signed legally binding agreements with the Bank of Moscow to acquire 100% of OJSC Segezha Pulp and Paper Mill and 100% of LLC Derevoobrabotka-Proekt [DOP] together with all debt obligations to the Bank of Moscow on debt free cash free basis. The closing of this transaction is contingent upon the approvals of relevant anti-monopoly authorities. The transaction is expected to be completed by the end of the third quarter of 2014," the company said in a statement.
*** ARKADY ROTENBERG ACQUIRES CONTROLLING STAKE IN RED SQUARE GROUP
Well-known Russian businessman, Arkady Rotenberg, who is a member of the SportAccord International Sports Federations, has purchased 51% of the Red Square group, Russia's largest producer of television content, Red Square told Interfax.
"Rotenberg and Larisa Sinelschikova, the founder, general producer and until recently sole owner or Russia's largest producer of television content, Red Square, have finalized the conditions of a deal to purchase 51% stake in the charter capital of LLC Red Square, LLC Mandarin, LLC Granat and LLC Izyum," Red Square said.
*** RUSSIAN BANKS COULD WITHSTAND CLOSURE OF EXTERNAL MARKETS - CB
Stress tests have demonstrated that the Russian banking system would be generally resilient to the closure of external markets, Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Alexei Simanovsky told reporters.
"Preliminarily, the banking sector will generally be able to withstand an extreme scenario," Simanovsky said.
He said the stress tests reflected the state of Russian banks as of January 1, 2014, but that scenario already included the possible closure of the external capital markets and freeing of accounts.
POLITICS & SOCIETY
*** RUSSIAN DELEGATION READY TO EXPLAIN RUSSIA'S STANCE ON UKRAINE, CRIMEA AT PACE SESSION
The Russian delegation intends to explain Russia's stance regarding the situation in Ukraine and Crimea at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) session, Federation Council Deputy Speaker Ilyas Umakhanov overseeing international parliamentary activities said.
"We will participate in PACE and meet all committees and all political groups. We intend to hold complex consistent work on explaining the real state of affairs, the sequence of events and, most importantly, Russia's stance regarding the situation in Ukraine and Crimea," Umakhanov told reporters on Friday.
*** MOSCOW DISAPPOINTED WITH BUCHAREST'S STANCE ON UKRAINE
Moscow is disappointed with statements by Romanian authorities regarding the events in Ukraine and they are not in line with the interests of either Moscow or Bucharest, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.
"Moscow has noted a series of more anti-Russian statements by Romanian President Traian Basescu amid the events in Ukraine and Crimea. In particular, during the events recently held in Bucharest over the 10th anniversary of Romania joining NATO. The Romanian leader accused Russia of aggression against Ukraine, violation of the Budapest memorandum of 1994 and so on. Romanian Foreign Minister [Titus] Corlatean also engaged in condemning Russia not far behind Basescu," Lukashevich said in a statement posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry's website.
*** STATE DUMA URGES KYIV TO STOP POLITICALLY MOTIVATED PURSUITS
Russia's State Duma has unanimously passed a statement On Political Repressions in Ukraine, in which it expressed concerns about violations of pro-Russian citizens in the country.
"While leaning on extremist forces and involving the law enforcement agencies, the self-proclaimed authorities use methods which violate peoples' rights regarding their political opponents and resort to repressions and physical violence in order to pursue citizens over political motives," the statement said.
Political repressions rule out the possibility of a civilized resolution of the political crisis in Ukraine, Russian deputies said.
*** DUMA PASSES BILL ON FAST TRACK TO RUSSIAN CITIZENSHIP
The State Duma passed a bill making it easier for Russian native speakers to acquire Russian citizenship.
The relevant amendments are being made to the federal law "On Russian citizenship" and certain statutory acts at the government's initiative.
Russian native speakers, whose lineal ascendants resided in Russia or a territory that was part of the Russian Empire or the USSR - "within the limits of the Russian national border" - can acquire Russian citizenship in a fast-track procedure, provided they relocate to Russia permanently and renounce their foreign citizenship.
*** TRADITIONAL FACTORS OF ECONOMIC GROWTH EXHAUSTED TO CONSIDERABLE DEGREE - MEDVEDEV
Traditional factors of economic growth have been almost exhausted and it is necessary to enhance work in order to develop business, including via decreasing administrative barriers, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said.
"Everyone has recently concluded that traditional factors of economic growth have been exhausted to a considerable degree, the external economic business activity is difficult, due to the Crimean factor and other events," Medvedev said at a meeting with members of the expert council under the Russian government.
*** REFUSAL OF SUPPLY TO RUSSIAN INDUSTRY WILL HURT UKRAINE - ROGOZIN
Ukraine's refusal of defense contracts with Russia will ruin the Ukrainian industry, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said.
"For them, supplies from Zaporizhia, from Dnipropetrovsk, from Mykolaiv, from Kyiv, as far as engine-making, aircraft building, and space are concerns - mean tens of thousands of jobs, this is absolutely the only budget they can accumulate now," Rogozin said at a meeting with university students in Novosibirsk on Friday.
Ukraine's claims about Russian military hardware being used against them are baseless, he said.
"If they mean the vote in Crimea, which defense company was it made by?" Rogozin asked.
*** ROGOZIN OPPOSED TO INDUSTRIAL ASSEMBLY POLICY IN DEFENSE SECTOR
The defense sector can boost the Russian economic growth amid the global economic turmoil, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said.
"In fact, only the defense sector and affiliated industries give a serious reason for optimism against the backdrop of a profound global economic crisis," Rogozin said at a conference dedicated to the defense sector's development and state defense orders in Novosibirsk on Friday.
For example, the defense sector can spur the growth of the entire machine building industry, he said. "Russia cannot acquire a new image without industrialization," Rogozin pointed out.
*** NATO DOES NOT VIOLATE ANY DECLARATIONS - RASMUSSEN
NATO apparently has no near-term plans to deploy large forces in Eastern Europe on a permanent basis in response to the Ukrainian events.
"In the Founding Act, NATO promised to carry out our collective defense through reinforcement rather than additional permanent stationing of substantive combat forces. And that is exactly what we are doing," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference when asked to comment on Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's statement that NATO has plans to build-up military presence in Eastern Europe.
Russia is expecting explanations from NATO regarding the consistency of its mounting activity in East European countries with Russia-NATO legal documents, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier on Thursday.
*** UKRAINE PULLS OUT ABOUT 550 PEOPLE FROM CRIMEA IN NAVY REDEPLOYMENT - MINISTRY
About 550 Ukrainian servicemen and family members left Sevastopol on Friday.
"The personnel from the Ukrainian Navy staff, ships and units of the Sevastopol Garrison are traveling in one of the convoys," Ukraine's Defense Ministry said in a statement.
"Furthermore, the 101 servicemen of the Southern Naval Base of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, including 17 members of their families, are ready for to leave Novoozerny, north of Crimea," it said.
*** UKRAINE DIDN'T GET OFFICIAL INFO ON UKRAINIAN CITIZENS' DETENTION FROM MOSCOW
Ukraine has no official information on the detention in Russia of its 25 citizens on suspicion of preparing subversive activities, Ukraine's First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema said
"We have no official information on this matter," Yarema told reporters in Kyiv on Friday, adding that Right Sector has denied the information on the detention of its activists in Russia.
NTV television reported on April 3, citing information obtained from the special services, that 25 citizens of Ukraine, including three Right Sector activists, had been detained on suspicion of preparing subversive activities in Russia. NTV also aired a video of the detained Ukrainians.
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Price Ukraine pays for gas from Europe, Russia falls 12.5% to $315 per 1,000 cu m in Q1
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