Russian Press

Footballer forced to flee
A scandal is brewing in Russian football. Kommersant has got hold of a letter from Nikola Nikezic, a Montenegrin footballer signed to the Kuban Football Club in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar, to heads of FIFA and UEFA calling for the imposition of strict sanctions on his football club.
In the letter, he explains that he signed his contract with the football club in March 2010 and since then has proved his worth: scoring four goals and three assists. But when the team headed to Turkey for a training session he was left behind in Krasnodar and told he should terminate his contract. The footballer refused. His training program was reduced to two two-hour jogs a day.

The team’s management continued to insist that Nikezic terminate his contract. The footballer says he would have agreed to leave provided the team found him a new place in a different club. But the management did not even let Nikezic visit other teams for trials. The standoff continued. Nikezic was called in for a meeting with FC Kuban coach Nikolai Khlystunov who again suggested the footballer should agree to terminate his contract.
After Nikezic refused, the coach left and “two well-built men” entered the room. One shoved documents into the footballer’s face and demanded he sign them. When Nikezic refused, he was punched in the liver. The demand was repeated. The two men continued beating and strangling him for about 20 minutes, the footballer wrote, after which, frightened and exhausted, he finally signed. As they left, the two men warned Nikezic against going public or seeking help. They threatened to track him and his family down in Montenegro.

The footballer told a Kommersant correspondent that he was deeply shocked by the events. “I don’t think the Russian Football Union will investigate this case properly, that is why I decided to go directly to FIFA and UEFA. I can’t let them get away with it. I demand sanctions are imposed on the football club,” Nikezic said.

The letter came as a surprise for FC Kuban. The club’s spokesman Vyacheslav Ivanov said the footballer’s story was “incredible.” FC Kuban Director General Suren Mkrtchyan was unavailable for comment. Vladimir Prigoda, spokesperson for Krasnodar Territory Governor and FC Kuban president Alexander Tkachyov, said he “did not know anything” about the incident.

It is unclear what will happen next. There is nothing in FIFA, UEFA or Russian Football Union regulations that directly applies to incidents of this nature. However, Nikolai Grammatikov, a prominent sports lawyer and general secretary of the Russian Union of Football Players and Coaches, said: “The sanctions imposed could be extremely tough.” “I believe that this will be a good test case for the Russian Football Union to see if it is abiding by the recently introduced Code of Conduct or if that code is no more than an empty promise,” the expert added.

Moscow tightens auto protest laws
The Moscow legislature on Monday approved Mayor Sobyanin’s proposed amendments a law on street rallies, tightening rules for automotive protests.
Any such protests will now have to be agreed with the road police in advance, specifying the length of the planned route and the estimated average speed of traffic along that route. Car protests will only be allowed on broad streets with a median strip, such as Kutuzovsky or Leninsky Prospekt.
“The new rules will provide the authorities with a formal reason to restrict or ban motor rallies,” said auto activist Pyotr Shkumatov. His primary concern is that the requirement to agree protest plans with the police could give them the opportunity to decline the request arbitrarily.

Over the past five or six years, car owners have become one of the most highly organized social groups to hold regular protests against current government policy. The first automotive movement was jump-started in May 2005 by the government-proposed ban on importing right hand drive vehicles, a move that would have stymied the import of cheap used cars from Japan. The car rally they organized saw hundreds of drivers take to the Moscow streets. Despite police resistance they drove all the way to the Government House. The Federation of Russian Car Owners, or FAR, emerged in 2006 and has continued to show remarkable stamina. In 2009, they organized protests against a spike in import duties on foreign cars, especially in the Far East.

In 2010, the Blue Buckets movement started in Moscow. Protesters taped blue buckets to their car roofs in protest against the blue sirens that legally allow bureaucrats and businessmen to violate traffic rules.
Until recently, there was no legislation that applied specifically to auto rallies as protests. To date, all such rallies have been dispersed by the police, except those that were part of sporting or entertainment events such as retro car shows.

Mayor Sergei Sobyanin proposed introducing city rules for protests involving vehicles, something any region is perfectly entitled to do by the federal law on street meetings and rallies. However, essentially, the new law boils down to a list of excuses the authorities can use to ban car rallies. For example, the organizers’ request may be declined if the specified location and planned route of travelling do not “comply with the transport security requirements.” Any violation of these new rules will result in a fine of about $90.

Rally applications can also be declined during road construction or a storm threat. The events will be limited to several broad streets.
“The authorities are simply trying to contain car owners’ expression of discontent, because people have seen that the appointment of a new mayor has not eliminated traffic jams or improved the roads,” Shkumatov, from Blue Buckets, said.
“People will find loopholes and hold their rallies anyway,” FAR activist Andrei Filin said.

Foreign investors to manage electricity grids
The Energy Ministry has given up the hope of resolving the problems with grid companies and growing electricity costs and proposed placing the worst-performing companies under foreign investor management.

The final decision must be made on the future of electricity distribution grids, which are largely responsible for rising electricity costs, President Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday. The state energy reform has not affected the grids: high-voltage grids were placed under the Federal Grid Company and low-voltage grids (14 companies) under the IDGC Holding, a company which manages interregional distribution grid companies. The state was expected to keep its stake (53%) in them until 2011.

Medvedev believes the time has come for the grids to be put under outside management or privatized. Economic Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina has suggested that at least some of the companies should be put under private management.

Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko supports this proposal. He believes it would be pointless to privatize distribution companies, which have too many problems that greatly reduce their value. Among them Shmatko named cross-subsidies, non-payments, the need for large-scale investment, particularly to renew basic assets (which are 69% worn), and “the lack of economic incentives to ensure reliable performance.”

But since something must be done with the grids, Shmatko suggested that they be placed under the management of private investors, and at least one of them, under a foreign investor. The branch is suffering from a shortage of qualified Russian investors, Shmatko says, and the sector “urgently needs to set efficiency standards” and attract “advanced global expertise.” Only a strategic foreign investor can achieve this, Shmatko believes. 
The minister did not give any names, but said the IDGC Holding is already in talks with Italy’s Enel and France’s ERDF.

Not all companies need private management, only those operating in the Northwest, South, Siberia and the North Caucasus, as well as the Tomsk company, Shmatko believes. They are operating in regions with few strategic businesses and call for major renovation, their financials being the “most complicated.”

These companies are difficult to run because they are based in remote regions, says a former official from one of the companies. These regions are beset with problems, agrees Mikhail Rasstrigin, an analyst with VTB Kapital. He says all these companies have problems making the transition to RAB-regulation (Regulatory Asset Base), which reduces their attractiveness to investors. Other problems include cross subsidies and tariff spikes due to the low initial benchmark.

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