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MOSCOW, April 29 (RIA Novosti)


Turkmenistan will decide the future of Russian, EU gas projects / China launches new stage of expansion into CIS / Aeroflot may review its Airbus acquisition program / Economic downturn adjusts Russians' wage ambitions

Vremya Novostei, Gazeta.ru

Turkmenistan will decide the future of Russian, EU gas projects

Russian energy giant Gazprom and Bulgarian gas utility Bulgargaz have initialed a cooperation agreement on a feasibility study for the South Stream gas pipeline project to bring Central Asian and Russian gas to the Balkans and other European countries.

Analysts say it will not be the project's participants, but the gas supplier who will tilt the balance in the competition between the Russian gas pipeline and Nabucco, planned by the EU and the United States to deliver natural gas from the Caspian fields to Austria across Turkey.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the agreement would be signed in two weeks' time. Gazprom said more cautiously that it expected it to be signed soon.

The Bulgarian authorities want to formalize the South Stream agreements before the political situation in the country becomes tense ahead of parliamentary elections in early July. At the same time, they cannot sign them before the next summit on the rival pipeline, Nabucco, to be held in Prague on May 8.

In any event, the role of the two projects will be decided by the country that supplies gas for them.

Nabucco's problem has always been Iran. No other country has agreed to provide gas for it, but the EU and the United States have a highly negative attitude to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad because of his irreconcilable stand on Israel.

Analysts unanimously said that Nabucco was a stillborn project because Turkmenistan's gas, which could have resuscitated it, had been contracted by Gazprom. But Turkmenistan has recently been leaning towards Nabucco, which could seriously undermine the Russian project, South Stream.

Dmitry Aleksandrov, an analyst at the Financial Bridge investment company, said: "It would be unprofitable to supply gas to South Stream from Russia's northern deposits, and gas from the Russian sector of the Caspian shelf would not be enough."

Turkmenistan has not fully terminated its gas relations with Russia; its moves look rather like bargaining for better terms. Aleksandrov said that Ashgabat would haggle heavily to raise the price of its participation.

"Turkmenistan will work with whoever offers the highest price," the analyst said.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta

China launches new stage of expansion into CIS

A China-Kazakhstan joint venture commissioned a uranium mine, Irkol, in southern Kazakhstan on Tuesday, providing China with a foothold in the former Soviet uranium province, which was once closed to foreign contacts.

Kazakhstan has once again underlined its willingness to develop international nuclear cooperation with no heed for Moscow's monopoly interests.

Irkol is a pilot project within a strategic partnership agreement between state owned Kazatomprom and China Guandong Nuclear Power Company (CGNPC), signed in October 2008.

The companies plan to produce 500 metric tons of natural uranium before the mine reaches its intended capacity of 750 tons a year in 2010. The agreement, signed for 25 years, stipulates exporting all the uranium mined to China to be used by that country's nuclear industry.

Kazakhstan's known uranium reserves are estimated at 622,000 tons. Commercial production is underway at nine of the 19 known deposits, including Zarechnoye with 19,000 tons, operated by a Russian-Kazakh joint venture for the past two years.

Kazakh uranium supplies are crucial for Rosatom, Russia's state nuclear corporation, because the uranium mined in Russia covers a mere 20% of the industry's needs. So far, the deficit has been compensated by reserves accumulated during the Soviet era. However, experts estimate that these won't last for more than 10-15 years.

In the past few years, leaders of Russia's nuclear industry have been sparing no efforts to ensure sufficient supplies by negotiating contracts all over the world from Australia to South Africa. They also tried to restore old contacts with Russia's closest CIS neighbors, which would cut shipment costs considerably.

Before the recent financial meltdown, the plan was to boost uranium imports from the CIS to 2,500 tons in 2010 and 3,500-4,000 tons in 2020.

However, Moscow failed to ensure supplies from all uranium deposits in Kazakhstan. In addition to Russia, Kazakhstan has chosen several other nuclear partners, including China, France and Canada, all of them leading players on the global nuclear energy market.


Aeroflot may review its Airbus acquisition program

Russia's largest state-controlled airline, Aeroflot, may cut its Airbus acquisition program in 2009 because of a decline in passenger turnover.

The company's management has been instructed to impute the number of passengers it could carry in 2009, company spokesman Lev Koshlyakov said. Its board will discuss the results on May 5.

In 2009, Aeroflot planned to receive 18 A320 and six A330 planes. It has already received six A320s and signed the contracts and made advance payments for the remaining aircraft, Koshlyakov said.

Vadim Vlasov, head of Airbus's Russian division, refused to comment.

Aeroflot has a pool of 97 planes, including 57 Airbuses, and plans to buy Sukhoi Superjet 100 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner. However, Superjet 100 is a short-haul plane, and the first Dreamliner will not be delivered before 2014.

The company, which intends to scrap its 26 obsolete Tu-154 planes, may still buy the planned number of Airbuses, an Aeroflot employee said.

However, if it terminates the contract with Airbus, it will lose considerable funds even though some of the advance payments will be reimbursed. Neither can it postpone deliveries, because the planes are already being assembled, which means that Aeroflot will be fined for changing the contractual terms.

The reason for its problems is a general decline in the number of passengers worldwide. In January-March 2009, Aeroflot carried 13.4% fewer passengers (a total of 1.8 million) than in the first quarter of 2008. The fall is accelerating, with passenger turnover plunging 16.5% in March year on year.

The air transportation market is shrinking at a high rate, by 21.4% in the first quarter, according to Russia's Transportation Clearing Chamber.

Oleg Panteleyev, head of the Aviaport news agency, said it would be logical to postpone deliveries, but this entails fines.

Aeroflot should compare its potential losses from buying surplus planes and the volume of fines for postponing their delivery before making a decision. At the same time, it should not forget about its plans to increase its share of the market, Panteleyev said.

RBC Daily

Economic downturn adjusts Russians' wage ambitions

The economic downturn has forced Russians to check their ambitions when negotiating salaries. Before the crisis, even recent college graduates expected to make at least $2,000 a month. Today, people's ambitions are more proportionate to the state of the economy, headhunters say.

The Rosgosstrakh Center of Strategic Studies established that most Russians need 42,000 rubles ($1,250) a month to satisfy their needs. November statistics said they needed 47,000 rubles ($1,400) "to be happy."

The study by Rosgosstrakh, Russia's largest state-controlled insurance provider, also confirmed that people's needs and ambitions widely vary across regions. In Moscow and St Petersburg, the desired monthly income is 68,000 rubles ($2,030) and 53,000 rubles ($1,580), respectively. Residents of Ulyanovsk, Volgograd, Kostroma and Izhevsk said 25,000 rubles ($745) was enough.

Out of the 5,000 respondents surveyed by the Superjob research center, 32% said an ideal salary would be between 30,000 rubles ($894) and 60,000 rubles ($1.790); 11% said their ideal monthly income should exceed 200,000 rubles ($5,960). There was a group that said 15,000 rubles ($450) a month was enough. It was not a big group - a mere 1% of respondents, with individuals under 19 prevailing (6%).

Analysts say the crisis has sobered Russians up. "A year ago, even young job-seekers, college graduates, demanded no less than $2,000 a month, said Yekaterina Litvinova, PR director at the HeadHunter Group. "Now their demands are in the $600-$900 range."

"Representatives of professions most hit by the crisis have revised their income expectations, too," she added. "Financial managers who insisted on making at least 60,000 rubles a month before the downturn now agree to 45,000 rubles ($1.340). An average accountant's appetite has been reduced to 35,000 rubles ($1.040) from 40,000 rubles ($1.190)."

"People assess their chances more realistically. Unfortunately, their expectations are still above the salaries generally offered by employers," she went on.

RIA Novosti is not responsible for the content of outside sources.

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