The Putin Show And The Kremlin Shuffle

The Power Vertical

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks to journalists after a televised questions and answers session in Moscow on December 15.

The great post-election shuffle continues. Where it will end nobody knows.

Kremlin Chief of Staff Sergei Naryshkin resigned today to take a seat in the State Duma, where he is widely expected to be elected speaker. Naryshkin will likely replace outgoing speaker Boris Gryzlov, who announced on Wednesday that he will not be returning to the lower house. (Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov has also been mentioned as a possible successor to Gryzlov.)

Stepping in to replace Naryshkin — at least temporarily — will be Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s deputy chief of staff, grey cardinal, and the regime’s unofficial ideologist. The promotion will put Surkov in an unusual spot. He has served in the Kremlin of every post-Soviet president, albeit he always exerted his considerable influence in the shadows as a deputy chief of staff whose actual influence exceeded his official title. Now he’s coming into the light, sort of.

Other than that, it’s unclear what this Kremlin/Duma re-shuffle is supposed to accomplish.

After United Russia’s disappointing showing in the disputed December 4 elections, Gryzlov — the highest ranking party official after Vladimir Putin — probably had to fall on his sword. And the loyal and competent Naryshkin is a logical replacement.

But what we essentially are seeing here is a game of musical chairs among Putin loyalists, and this actually illustrates the regime’s dilemma perfectly. They clearly prefer to continue on with the status quo, which an increasingly restive society considers unacceptable.

In the post-December 4 environment, Russia’s Team Putin has found itself in a bind.

They can crack down and try to shut down the growing protest movement in its infancy — and risk greater instability, capital flight, and an even angrier public. This crew can be ruthless, but they probably don’t have the stomach for that. It’s also not at all clear that they have the resources or the consensus among the elite to pull it off.

Or they can take a stab at political reform. But they know very well that this can easily slip out of their control (see Gorbachev, Mikhail). Actually following through with a true political liberalization would eventually spell the end of the current regime.

So what they are left with are cosmetic changes around the margins that will satisfy nobody. This was on vivid display during Putin’s televised live call-in program today.

The annual ritual took on an added significance this year and was supposed to showcase the new Putin, the one who understands he is in a new political environment. What it was, instead, was a tirade of contradictions and half-measures.

He praised the protestors, saying he was “pleased” to see “young, active people formulating their opinions” and even tried to take credit for the newfound civic activism. “If this is the result of the Putin regime, then that’s good!” he said. (Actually, as I have blogged here and here, it is — but probably not in the way Putin meant.)

But he couldn’t just leave it at that. He also couldn’t resist ridiculing and mocking the demonstrators, saying the white ribbons they wear resemble condoms and suggesting they were being paid to take to the streets.

In an animated answer about alleged electoral fraud, Putin insisted the election results reflected the will of the voters and suggested placing webcams in polling places.

He also proposed a convoluted “reform” of the selecting governors that would involve the party controlling regional legislatures nominating candidates for the president’s approval. The approved candidate would then face voters in a popular referendum.

And so the drama continues and next week promises to be just as interesting as the past two. Anti-corruption blogger Aleksei Navalny and Solidarity leader Ilya Yashin get out of jail on December 20 after serving their 15-day sentences. The new Duma convenes on December 21. President Dmitry Medvedev makes his state-of-the-nation speech on December 22. And mass protests are planned for Moscow and other cities December 24.

So hold onto your hats. This promises to be a wild ride.   

— Brian Whitmore


Vladimir Putin

Boris Gryzlov

Vladislav Surkov

Sergei Naryshkin

2012 Presidential elections

Main News of November 24



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Over 1 trillion rubles ($30 billion) will be spent on the provision of arms and military equipment to the Russian Armed Forces next year, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said

Russian military spending to top $30 bln in 2012

Over 1 trillion rubles ($30 billion) will be spent on the provision of arms and military equipment to the Russian Armed Forces next year, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said on Thursday.

That is 17% up on the previous year, he said.

A total of 4 trillion rubles will be earmarked for these purposes over the next three years, Ivanov said.

Some 60% of the funding under government defense contracts will be spent on the procurement of advanced weaponry.

Such funding levels are quite significant, Ivanov said, adding that “it is inappropriate” to suggest that funding for defense and security programs is “insufficient.”

It is of paramount importance now to ensure that these funds are put “to good use,” Ivanov said.


Justice Ministry tables party registration reforms

The Russian Ministry of Justice has prepared a package of legislation amendments that will transfer the powers to register various organizations, including NGOs and political parties to the Federal Tax Service.

The Russian Ministry of Justice has prepared a package of legislation amendments that will transfer the powers to register various organizations, including NGOs and political parties to the Federal Tax Service under supervision of the Prosecutor’s Office.

Kommersant, the Russian daily and the affiliated internet newspaper reported on Friday that they received the draft of the package and described it on their pages.

The document reads that the Justice Ministry would no longer execute the functions related to registration, coordination and liquidation on non-commercial organizations, public alliances, religious organizations and political parties. The ministry would also cease to maintain a list of extremist materials.

It suggests that the powers of registration will be transferred to the Federal Tax Service and made much easier; for some organizations, like trade unions, the registration must be performed on a declaratory basis. The coordination and liquidation functions will be transferred to the Prosecutor General’s Office.

According to the draft, the authorities must register new organizations within five days after receiving a request together with the necessary documents.

The letter enclosed with the document reads that the draft was prepared by the order of first deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov and is aimed at unification of registration procedures for commercial and non-commercial organizations.

As politicians expressed surprise over the news, some experts said that the move could hurt the NGOs who could simply not survive the bureaucratic re-registration procedure.

At the same time, the chairperson of the “Lawyers for Civil Society” NGO and a member of the Russian Public Chamber, Darya Miloslavskaya warned that the law on the NGOs is still imperfect and the changes could cause confusion.

Miloslavkaya said Tax Service officials are not qualified to handle NGOs that seek registration. And given that many public activists lack professional training in law this could lead to many mistakes and potential closings for such organizations.

Other experts noted that the law still provides no protection if regional or federal officials give the unwritten instructions not to register some organizations.

The head of the law service of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation said that the move was strange as it replaced experienced professionals from the Justice Ministry with economists from the tax service and this means total changes in the whole working system.

Vadim Solovyov suggested that the amendments were only beneficial for the Justice Ministry, which will lose a lot of paper work if the package of drafts is passed into law.

Employees at Shipyard Cancel Planned Strike

Employees at Shipyard Cancel Planned Strike

Published: October 11, 2011 (Issue # 1678)

Employees at Baltiisky Zavod, one of the city’s biggest shipyards, dropped their plans to hold a preventive strike planned for Wednesday after their demands were met Tuesday.

“Today, after a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, the trade union committee took the decision that all the questions that we had disagreed on were solved, and that there was no longer any need for a strike,” Vyacheslav Firyulin, head of the shipyard’s trade union, was quoted by Interfax as saying Tuesday.

Baltiisky Zavod was also given a new acting general director and came under the control of United Shipbuilding Corporation (OSK) on Tuesday.

New director Valery Venkov, vice president of OSK, was awarded the position under an agreement with the management of OSK, Kozak told workers at the meeting, Fontanka reported.

The former head of the shipyard, Andrei Fomichyov, resigned, while retaining the position of general director of Severnaya Verf, another local shipyard, Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily reported.

Baltiisky Zavod also signed two contracts Tuesday.

The first was for the renewal of financing for the construction of a floating nuclear power station under guarantees from OSK. The first tranche of 1.5 billion rubles ($47 million) is to be paid as early as Wednesday, Kozak said.

Under the second contract, the shipyard has received an order for the construction of a large ice-breaker for Gazprom. Work on the order is scheduled to start next week, Rossiiskaya Gazeta said.

Kozak also promised to pay off wage arrears before the end of the week, Rosbalt news agency reported.

“The shipyard is currently in a complicated situation, so the government had to take tough and non-standard measures,” Kozak said.

“At the moment, the shipyard’s shares worth 32 billion rubles are under the management of the Central Bank. The Central Bank has taken the shipyard under its management and appointed a new director,” Kozak said.

Kozak arrived at Baltiisky Zavod to find a solution to the shipyard’s problems. The enterprise’s trade union reportedly hoped that the official would help to solve their problems.

Vyacheslav Filyurin, head of the trade union, said members had hoped that Kozak would make the decision to hand over the company to OSK, as they believe it will result in the shipyard finally getting new orders, enabling it to pay off its debts and wage arrears. Consequently, no protest action is now needed, Filyurin was cited by Fontanka as saying.

On Wednesday, workers had been due to stop work for an hour in order to take part in a protest meeting.

The employees’ main demand was to have their wage arrears paid. Currently, the shipyard owes its workers about 40 billion rubles.

The company has fallen on hard times due to a lack of commissions, and dozens of workers were quitting every day, Fontanka reported.

Baltiisky Zavod is in debt to creditors as well as its employees. The city’s Arbitration Court is considering up to 20 cases brought against the shipyard by suppliers, partners and banks, including Khanty-Mansiisky Bank and Gazprom Mezhregiongaz St. Petersburg. Baltiisky Zavod owes about half a billion rubles, and the enterprise does not have that money, Fontanka reported.

The shipyard reportedly began having problems two years ago, when it was passed over for several big orders in favor of other contractors. The shipbuilder’s trade unions said that clients were choosing other shipyards because they lacked trust in Baltiisky Zavod’s former owner, head of United Industrial Corporation Sergei Pugachyov, Fontanka reported.

Three months before leaving office, former St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko appealed to the presidential administration, calling for the shipyard to get a direct order for the construction of an ice-breaker. The shipyard did not get any orders at that time, however.

Kudrin to lose all government posts

Alexei Kudrin, former Russian deputy prime minister and finance minister, will lose all the seats on bodies and organizations he held in his capacity as a Russian government official, presidential aide Arkady Dvorkovich said on Tuesday.

“Alexei Kudrin will leave the Council on Financial Markets and the National Banking Council, as well as other structures, including international structures, where he represented Russian interests,” Dvorkovich said.

“These positions are to be filled by government officials currently in service.”

Kudrin, who had headed Russia’s Finance Ministry since 2000, was dismissed on September 26 after a public standoff with President Dmitry Medvedev.

Kudrin was also dismissed from the government commission on budget projects, regional development and high technologies and innovations, as well as working groups on modernization and development of the military-industrial complex.


On September 25, Kudrin said that he would not serve in a new government under Medvedev, who is expected to be appointed prime minister after presidential elections in 2012. The Russian president told Kudrin he should resign if he did not agree with presidential policy.


Kudrin said that before taking a decision, he would consult Putin. Later, it was announced that the president had issued a decree dismissing him as deputy prime minister and finance minister.


Putin appoints replacements for Kudrin

First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov will oversee financial issues in the Russian cabinet while Anton Siluanov will become acting finance minister following the dismissal of Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday.

He stressed that both appointments had been approved by Medvedev.

“This is our joint decision. I hope there will be no setbacks,” Putin said.

Kudrin was ousted on Monday after invoking Medvedev’s wrath by saying he would decline a job in a future Russian government that Medvedev is likely to head. Kudrin cited disagreements with the president on economic policies, in particular, on considerable defense expenditures, as the reason.

Resumption Of Talks On Moldova’s Trandniester Conflict Is Only A Small First Step

The announcement that official talks are to resume in the so-called 5+2 format aimed at resolving Moldova’s long-standing conflict with the breakaway Transdniester region has been hailed as a small but important bit of progress.

The official talks have been suspended since early 2006, although unofficial contacts have been kept alive under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The announcement was made on September 22 during a meeting in Moscow, which came hard on the heels of talks between Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat and Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov in Bavaria on September 9. Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration Eugen Carpov, who headed Moldova’s delegation in Moscow, hailed the agreement to resume talks as “a substantial step forward.”

However, the sides did not agree to an agenda for the upcoming talks or even on a date when they would resume. However, the OSCE’s ambassador for the protracted conflict, Giedrius Cekuolis, announced that he had been asked to chair the resumed talks in Lithuania. This seems to indicate his intention that they begin before Lithuania’s presidency of the OSCE concludes at the end of December.

‘A Process Has Begun’

Journalist Grigory Volovoi, who is based in the Transdniestrian capital of Tiraspol and who has covered the dispute for years, notes that the Moscow announcement is only one step in a long process that still lies ahead.

“Tiraspol’s position has not changed and neither has the position of Chisinau,” Volovoi says. “Therefore, I think it is still too early to talk about the resumption of full-scale, constructive talks. A process has begun, as one witty phrase has it, in which they have agreed that they need to reach an agreement.

“So, in my opinion, the negotiating process still has not reached the phase where it can constructively settle one or another problem. Tiraspol continues to insist on total independence, while Moldova continues to insist on a unitary state. And neither of these facts suggests any concrete solution to the Transdniester problem.”

Carpov also noted in comments to RFE/RL’s Moldovan Service that the area of agreement between the two sides is small.

“Tirasapol’s position corresponds to Chisinau’s in that both agree on the necessity of resuming official negotiations,” Carpov says. “But no other elements were agreed — precisely in order to avoid questions that could provoke disagreement. No preconditions were accepted for the resumption of the talks.”

Fundamental Conundrum

Chisinau-based political analyst Igor Botan explains the fundamental conundrum that the renewed talks will eventually have to confront.

“Chisinau believes the 5+2 talks need to be about the status of Transdniester, while for the Transdniester side, the problem is completely different — that is, there is no common starting point,” Botan says. “They think Transdniester can’t pronounce its independence while also holding talks about its status. Talks with Moldova can only be about recognizing Transdniester and about normalizing relations between Moldova and Transdniester.”

The official 5+2 talks are structured around the two conflicting sides — the government of Moldova and the representatives of the Transdniester region — as well as the mediating powers Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE, and the observers, the United States and the European Union. They were suspended on March 3, 2006.

Regional players such as Russia, Ukraine, and Romania have, in many ways, the greatest influence on the possible resolution of the Transdniester conflict. Berlin-based political analyst Anneli Ute Gabanyi says she does not believe the situation has changed much since the talks broke down. She tells RFE/RL that Russia continues to base its position on the so-called Kozak Memorandum, a proposal presented in 2003 that envisions a very broad autonomy for Transdniester and the continued presence of Russian troops in the region for at least 20 more years.

“All the signals which have emerged from Moscow in the meantime are clearly pointing in the same direction — a very large status of autonomy for Transdniester which would allow it to continue as a veto power and, on the other hand, Russia is trying by all means [as we can] see in the example of Sevastopol in Crimea [Ukraine], where Russia succeeded to keep its troops and its port there,” Gabanyi says. “The same is Russia’s objective in Moldova.”

‘Rather Strange’

Gabanyi describes Russia as “the main power in the 5+2 game” and says Moscow views the Transdniester situation in the context of its larger strategic goal of restructuring the security architecture of Europe and reducing the influence of NATO. In addition, she notes a paradox in Russia’s offer to serve as guarantor for such a broad autonomy for Transdniester, one which under Moscow’s proposal would include the region’s right to veto the country’s foreign policy or to secede from the federated state altogether.

“I read a very interesting comment by a Moldovan analyst who said, ‘OK, if Russia and Ukraine are the guarantors of such a federalization project, then obviously it would be impossible to grant Transdniester more rights inside a future greater Moldovan federation, of which Transdniester would be part, than the autonomous entities are granted in Russia or in Ukraine.’ And obviously the status of autonomous regions in Russia does not allow for leaving the Russian Federation,” Gabanyi says.

“So it would be rather strange for Russia to guarantee a solution which would grant Transdniester greater autonomy rights than Russia itself grants its autonomous entities.”

Igor Dodon is a deputy with the Moldovan Communist Party, which remains the single largest political force in the country, although a West-leaning coalition called the Alliance for European Integration (AEI) has controlled the government since July 2009. He tells RFE/RL that the AEI government cannot negotiate a settlement to the Transdniester dispute because some elements within it espouse “unionist ideas,” meaning that they advocate the unification of Moldova and Romania.

“I am convinced that in this situation it will be very hard to find a compromise that would lead to a solution of this very important problem,” Dodon says. “I think that when a government is achieved in Moldova that advocates sovereignty — with all the elements of that government — when a clear statement will be made regarding Moldova’s neutrality, then it will be possible to solve the Transdniester problem.”

Presence Of Russian Forces

Looking forward, Gabanyi says the best hope for progress in the renewed 5+2 talks will be if the observer participants — the European Union and the United States — understand Moscow’s goals and insist on a resolution of the question of the presence of Russian forces in Moldova.

“The problem is really to what degree the West is ready to insist on positions that Russia has agreed upon in the past — and, obviously, this is the agreement that was reached in Istanbul in 1999, where Russia under President [Boris] Yeltsin, then, agreed to withdraw its troops from the territory of Moldova,” Gabanyi says. “And obviously we know they are stationed in Transdniester, but everyone agrees that Transdniester is an integral part of Moldova, so — from Moldova.”

As long as that question remains unsettled, Gabanyi adds, Moldova’s sovereignty will be compromised and Chisinau will be unable to hammer out any compromise that could form the basis of a permanent settlement.

RFE/RL Moldovan Service correspondents Valentina Ursu and Diana Railean contributed to this story from Chisinau. RFE/RL’s Russian Service contributed to this report from Moscow

Rebellious Russian Finance Minister Resigns

MOSCOW — Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin has resigned from his post just hours after a heated public exchange with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who ordered him to do so.

Kudrin, who was also deputy prime minister, confirmed to Russian news agencies that he had stepped down. Kremlin spokesperson Natalia Timakova said Medvedev had accepted his resignation.

The news capped a dramatic day in the upper echelons of Russian power that saw Medvedev demanding Kudrin’s resignation for saying publicly that he could not serve in any future cabinet headed by Medvedev.

At a meeting of senior officials in Dimitrovgrad on September 26, Medvedev told Kudrin that “nobody has revoked discipline and subordination.”

He said that if the finance minister disagreed with his policies, he had “only one option, and you know it: to resign.”

Medvedev added that, “anyone who doubts the policy of the president or the government, anyone who has other life plans, is free to submit their resignation to me … I’m going to be making all the necessary decisions up until May 7 next year.”

A surprisingly defiant Kudrin said that he would consult with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin before taking any action, but Medvedev ordered Kudrin to make his decision by the end of the day.

“You know what?” he told Kudrin. “You can consult with whomever you want — with the prime minister — but as long as I am the president, I make such decisions myself.”

Putin made no public comment about the row between Medvedev and Kudrin, who is said to be a leading member of his inner circle. But for the resignation to reach Medvedev’s desk, he would have had to sign off on it.

Medvedev’s clash with Kudrin erupted after the finance minister told journalists on September 24 that he would not continue serving in a new government headed by Medvedev if Putin wins the 2012 presidential election and returns to the Kremlin.

Earlier that day, Medvedev had endorsed Putin as the ruling United Russia party candidate in that election, and Putin suggested that he would name Medvedev as his prime minister.

“I do not see myself in the new government, and it is not just that I have not been offered the job,” Kudrin told journalists. He added that “differences of opinion” would prevent him from joining such a government even if an offer were forthcoming.

Kudrin, the longest-serving finance minister in the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries, has earned respect in the West as a principled, fiscal conservative who was particularly successful in guiding the country’s economy during the boom years of Putin’s two terms as president, from 2000 to 2008.

His immediate and public refusal to serve in a Medvedev cabinet comes amid wide speculation by political observers that Kudrin was expected to be tapped to head the government if Putin decided to run for president again.

Differences Over Military Spending

Moscow-based analyst Vladimir Pribylovsky told RFE/RL’s Russian Service that many relative liberals in the Russian political elite had placed their hopes in Kudrin in recent months as it seemed Medvedev’s star might be fading.

“Over the past year, the clans and groups that had been pushing for a continuation of Medvedev’s presidency grew weaker and part of them reoriented themselves toward Kudrin and the idea that the main organizer of possible reforms and changes and the easing out of conservative groups would be Kudrin,” he said.

“And the idea looked like this: Putin as president, Kudrin as prime minister, and Medvedev would be out, say, as head of the Constitutional Court. That version is still possible, but only in a much longer-term perspective.”

Many in Russua were surprised at the Putin-Medvedev announcements even though both men had apparently made the decision together “several years ago.”

Among the policy issues that are believed to divide Kudrin and Medvedev is the president’s decision to boost military spending by $65 billion over the next three years.

Kudrin, by contrast, recently warned that with global energy prices expected to decline in the coming years, Russia would likely have to raise taxes and tighten its belt after the current election season. Kudrin also criticized the government’s plan to reduce business insurance contributions and raise pensions.

Kudrin Responsible For ‘More Than Half’ Of Russian Economic Success

Economist Yevgeny Yasin credits Kudrin with much of Russia’s economic achievement in the Putin-Medvedev years.

“I think that more than half of the success that we have had in the last 10 years is due to Kudrin,” he said. “His stubbornness, his lack of posturing or a desire to win popularity, his ability to make responsible financial decisions always won high marks from me.”

“But now events have developed like this. Maybe he wants to prevent some turn of events or maybe it is just emotion and they will talk to him, calm him down, give him a medal and he will keep working. Perhaps in a different role.”

Many observers agree with Yasin that Kudrin’s announcement — given his close relations with Putin — does not mean that he is leaving the ruling elite.

Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who is now a leader of the Party of People’s Freedom opposition movement (known by its Russian acronym PARNAC), believes it is still unclear whether Kudrin really wants to leave the government or whether he is pushing Putin for more power.

Unwavering Personal Loyalty To Putin

“He has already served as finance minister for 11 years; he is tired of it,” he said. “He wanted either to leave or to get a new job, a promotion. And naturally, he wants to be prime minister.”

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“I think that that would not be a bad option for Putin…With his announcement that he does not want to work for Medvedev, Kudrin is expanding and laying out for Putin his terms for further work.

“The main thing is that he won’t serve under Medvedev, who has no authority for him. Although another possibility, I think, is that he could move to the side and head the Central Bank, which is formally a relatively independent organization.”

Other observers argue that the case for Kudrin to be made prime minister is so strong — including his long and unwavering personal loyalty to Putin — that such a move still cannot be ruled out. Kasyanov told RFE/RL that he certainly does not expect to see Kudrin in the ranks of the political opposition.

Pribylovsky is also skeptical that Medvedev will actually be named premier. “It really isn’t obvious that Medvedev will become prime minister, and if he does, for how long?” he said. “Everything is in the hands of God, that is, the hands of Vladimir Putin.”

Kudrin’s reaction to the Putin-Medvedev announcements is one indication that even leading figures in the country’s ruling elite were not aware of this decision, which Putin said he and Medvedev had made together “several years ago.”

Presidential economics adviser Arkady Dvorkovich posted on his Twitter account that the developments were “no cause for joy.”

Written by RFE/RL correspondents Robert Coalson and Richard Solash based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Russian Service

Putin Announces Acting Finance Minister

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has named Deputy Finance Minister Anton Siluanov as acting finance minister, replacing Aleksey Kudrin, who was ousted a day earlier.

Putin also said that First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov would take over Kudrin’s duties as deputy prime minister, overseeing financial issues in the government.

Putin told a cabinet meeting that “both these [decisions] have naturally been agreed with President Dmitry Medvedev. It is our joint decision.”

Kudrin rebelled after a weekend party congress at which former two-term president Putin and Medvedev announced their plans effectively to swap posts over the course of parliamentary elections in December and a presidential election in March.

The move by Putin, who is generally regarded as Russia’s most powerful politician, could leave him unrivaled atop Russian politics for two six-year terms. He left the presidency in 2008 because of a constitutional limit of two consecutive terms.

compiled from agency reports

IMF says to carry on cooperating with Russia after Kudrin’s resignation

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said it would follow its commitments with Russian authorities despite Moscow’s decision to sack its finance leader Alexei Kudrin.

The IMF said in a statement said that it has strong relations with Russia and intends to carry on with them in the future.

Alexei Kudrin resigned on Monday as Russia’s finance minister and deputy prime minister after a dispute with President Dmitry Medvedev.

Kudrin, 50, served as finance minister since 2000. During this time the Russian government paid off most of its substantial foreign debt and created oil wealth funds to soften the blow of the global slump.

OSCE Welcomes Announced Resumption Of Transdniester Talks After Five Years

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has welcomed the announced resumption of internationally-mediated talks on the Transdniester dispute.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis, the current holder of the OSCE’s rotating presidency, speaking from the United Nations in New York, said the decision to resume the ‘5+ 2’ negotiations “is a key step for progress in the Transdniestrian settlement process.”

The move was announced on September 2 at an OSCE-chaired meeting in Moscow. Ambassador Giedrius Cekuolis who headed the Moscow talks, welcomed the move and said the meeting would be held in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius.

The 5+2 format consists of Moldova, Transdniester, as well as mediators and observers representing the OSCE, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union. Official negotiations broke off in 2006, but informal talks have continued under the OSCE’s aegis.

Moldova’s deputy prime minister Eugen Carpov, who led his country’s delegation at an OSCE-run informal meeting in Moscow, told RFE/RL that the agreement is a “substantial step forward” and that he expected the first official talks to be held before the end of this year.

Moscow-backed Transdniester broke away from Moldova in 1990, when it declared independence from the Romanian-speaking country.

The two sides fought a short war in 1992.

Transdniester’s independence has not been recognized by any state.

with agency reports

Russia, China can agree on oil price out of court-Sechin

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said on Friday that an oil supply dispute between Moscow and Beijng could be solved out of court.

A source close to the situation has said China’s CNPC had underpaid $40.5 billion to Russia’s Transneft oil pipeline monopoly. Russia’s top crude producer Rosneft has also complained it had not received enough money from China because of differences over tariffs. The companies said they were ready to go to court.

“I see no problems that cannot be solved. The companies have a right to file a suit but I think they should agree on the market, not all opportunities have been exhausted,” Sechin, who is in charge of energy, told reporters.

Transneft and Rosneft borrowed $25 billion from China in 2009 to finish building Russia’s first pipeline link to China as part of a broader deal to supply Beijing with 300 million tons of crude over 20 years.