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What the Russian papers say

Japan's hopes of regaining Kurils revived

We have agreed to "address the territorial problem in a non-standard way based on new approaches", and "to speed up the negotiations on this basis," Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso was quoted as saying after his talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on Wednesday. According to Aso, Medvedev had issued instructions to work on the problem in accordance with the new approach, Akira Imamura, head of the information department at the Japanese Embassy in Moscow, said referring to the Prime Minister's statement after the talks in Sakhalin. The diplomat said Japan now expected practical proposals from Russia. However, a source on the Russian delegation said the president had only instructed them to continue talks with Japan in order to find a mutually acceptable solution to the territorial problem. A source on the Japanese delegation said it proceeded from what Medvedev said in Sakhalin that Russia had no new practical proposals since December last year, adding that the Russian president had spoken in the same spirit in Peru. Medvedev told Aso in Lima, Peru, on November 23, 2008: "Mr. Prime Minister, there are no unsolvable problems. Look at our delegations, let them work, let them do something good." Sergei Naryshkin, chief of the President's Executive Office, who was in Japan in December, said the sides "should search for new approaches and non-standard solutions to the issue of the peace treaty with Japan." However, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday: "Our president did not and could not make any non-standard promises." The two countries' parliaments are now searching for non-standard solutions. Ex-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who now represents Japan's Liberal Democratic Party in parliament, said at a news conference in Moscow that he liked an idea by ex-governor Valery Zubov, now a deputy of Russia's lower house. Zubov proposed marking the border across each of the disputed islands, so that Russia and Japan would each own half of each island. Russia and Japan have yet to sign a formal peace treaty due to their territorial dispute over the South Kuril Islands, a former Japanese territory annexed by the Soviet Union after World War II. Vedomosti

Russian LNG goes global

Yesterday, Sakhalin Energy opened Russia's first liquefied natural gas plant. The next one will not appear for another five years. Construction began in 2003 and total investment amounted to $3.9 billion. The commissioning was postponed several times. The plant will reach its design capacity of 9.6 million metric tons in 2010, said Ian Craig, Sakhalin Energy's CEO. This is 7% of Japanese imports, he said (Japan is one of the biggest LNG customers in the world). The capacity can be boosted. Sakhalin Energy shareholders are discussing a third stage of the plant (which will increase its capacity to 14.4 million metric tons), but no decisions are yet forthcoming, said a source close to the company. The plant will have no marketing problems. Craig said most of its output is already committed for the next 20 and more years. The last contract for Sakhalin LNG was signed in February 2007 when Shell was Sakhalin's majority shareholder, and Gazprom was only preparing to buy control of the project for $7.45 billion (the deal was closed in April 2007). All in all, 65% of the gas will go under long-term contracts to Japan, and the rest to Korea and North America. No export duties are charged on LNG. Experts cannot say when the plant will recoup itself: to begin with, it is necessary to know the exact costs of Sakhalin-II project, which are not being disclosed (although estimates put them at $22 billion). Mikhail Korchemkin, of East European Gas Analysis, believes the plant's earnings, when it is keyed up to design capacity, will be $2.4-3 billion (with oil priced at $45 per barrel and Gazprom's average European prices at $200 per 1,000 cubic meters). Russia's new liquefying plant makes it the 11th largest LNG exporter, Korchemkin said. The next project could be implemented in 2014, in the Murmansk Region. It is expected to process gas from the Shtokman deposit. Gazprom is carrying out the project with Total and StatoilHydro. Sakhalin Energy is the operator of Sakhalin-II's production sharing agreement. Its shareholders are: Gazprom (50% plus one share). Royal Dutch Shell (27.5% minus one share), and Japan's Mitsui (12.5%) and Mitsubishi (10%). Gazeta.ru

Oil companies want more government favors

Oil professionals estimate that Russia could earn an additional $50 billion by refining the entire amount of oil extracted. Analysts claim that oil companies are thus trying to squeeze out more favors from the government. Russia is losing billions of dollars by exporting crude, Rosneft President Sergei Bogdanchikov said on Wednesday. Developed countries refine the entire stock of oil produced, and Russia should try to do the same, he added. This would fetch the country an additional $36 billion annually. If we raise the degree of oil conversion to 95%, the annual trade returns will grow by $12 billion, he said. "Rosneft is trying to 'sell' its Tuapse refinery modernization project to the government. They have begun the upgrade and are now expecting to get some government financing for it," said Dmitry Abzalov, an analyst at the Center for Political Studies. Less than a week since the government meeting in Kirishi that produced more decisions easing oil producers' financial burden, they are soliciting still more favors. "The funds freed due to tax breaks will be mainly invested in oilfield development to boost production, as the government instructed," said Vyacheslav Bunkov, an analyst with the Aton investment company. "But the government is unlikely to grant more privileges to oil companies now." "On the other hand, they could change the excise tax rates, raising them for low-quality fuel and cutting the rates for high-octane products," he added. This would make upgrading refineries economically efficient and encourage oil producers to do it. Upgrade costs are high, but selling high-octane fuels will earn the investment back," the analyst said. "The government is no longer keen on granting oil producers' wishes. Only East Siberia got the preferential treatment, and that was the limit of the government's favors. Also, the producers' complaints are for the most part exaggerated. They can afford to finance their projects themselves," Abzalov concluded. RBC Daily

Chery trying to enter Russian auto market via Belarus

Chinese automaker Chery Automobile Co, which last year cancelled a car-assembly contract with Avtotor Co. in Kaliningrad, Russia's Baltic exclave, still hopes to enter the Russian and CIS auto markets. This February, corporate top managers visited the Minsk Automotive Plant (MAZ) to discuss possible cooperation. Chery and MAZ are to prepare a business plan for manufacturing passenger cars in Minsk by April. The Chinese company could launch commercial car production at the Belarusian automotive giant. Although both sides did not negotiate investment and production volumes and forms of cooperation, Sergei Varivoda, CEO of Chinese Cars Co., a Belarusian distributor of Chery vehicles, said China was ready to finance construction of a full-fledged automotive plant. In December 2008, China Eximbank issued a $1.5 billion export-project expansion loan to Chery which could invest in MAZ, Varivoda told the paper. Chinese doubts over the project's profitability could thwart cooperation plans. "Their previous Russian projects have failed. Used cars offer tough competition to new vehicles on the local Belarusian market," Varivoda said. Consequently, the Belarusian Science and Industry Association advocates higher import duties for reducing the influx of used cars. Varivoda said the country must export more new vehicles to Russia. Last year, Chery accounted for 10% of 1,300 Chinese car sales in Belarus, Chinese Cars Co. said. Chery has lost its positions on the Russian market. The European Business Association said 290 Chery cars were sold here in January, an 83% slump. The Chinese company cut sales after Avtotor stopped assembling its cars. The Taganrog Automobile Plant (TagAZ), another Russian partner of Chery, is also having trouble making ends meet. This January, two other Chinese automotive giants, Geely Automobile and Lifan, sold just 215 and 235 vehicles, respectively, in Russia. Chery's Russian office said the company had spent a lot of time looking for a local construction site, but that specific project parameters remained unclear. RIA Novosti is not responsible for the content of outside sources.

http://en.rian.ru/


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