News round-up

27 January - 3 February 1997

Oil deal in Turkmenistan

Monument Oil and Gas (UK) and Mobil (US) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government on Monday in Ashgabad, Turkmenistan. The oil deal covers the exclusive right to negotiate a production sharing contract for 20,000 sq. kilometres. Consortium executives say the deal was "significant".

Yeltsin leaves hospital

Russian President Boris Yeltsin left a Moscow hospital on Monday for Gorky 9 Rest Home to continue treatment for double pneumonia. Mr Yeltsin is unlikely to resume normal duties until 2 February, the day after his 66th birthday, when he welcomes French President Jacques Chirac to Moscow.

Latvian PM resigns

Andris Skele, Latvia's Prime Minister, offered to resign in a row over his selection of Finance Minister. If his resignation is accepted, a new Government would have to be formed less than a year after the eight party coalition has ended months of uncertainty. Prime Mininster Skele was given credit for a growth rate last year of one per cent. Standard and Poor's, the US agency, gave Latvia its first international rating, of BBB Investment grade, on a par with Poland.

Diamond deal in Russia

Russia and the international diamond cartel, headed by De Beers, are expected to sign a new marketing agreement shortly, worth US$1.8 billion. This deal would help stabilise the diamond market following months of disagreement over the previous contract.

NATO and Russia in constructive talks

Following the visit to Moscow by Javier Solana, ATO Secretary-General, officials stated that: "For the first time we engaged with each other." In the past, Yevgeny Primakov, Russia's Foreign Minister, had questioned Mr Solana's right to speak on behalf of the West. Prior to the meeting, Solana had envisaged a "relationship in which NATO and Russia would consult on each and every issue that would affect their common interests, whether these relate to crisis management, arms control or non-proliferation". The meeting was aimed at calming Russian fears of NATO's expansion.

Former Russian Minister, Alexander Lebed, on a private visit to Washington, called for a pan-European security system aimed at dealing with every kind of security threat, from natural disasters to nuclear terrorism and organised crime. He said that such a system could be constructed on the basis of NATO but must have a different name: "It is a relic of the Cold War and people react to it badly. We must change the signboard as a matter of urgency."

Russian GDP falls in 1996

For the fifth consecutive year The State Statistics Committee in Moscow revealed on Tuesday that the country's GDP fell by five per cent in 1996. Yevgeny Yasin, Minister of the Economy, conceded that Russia failed to turn its economy round last year as it had forecast. He said that national inflation's fall from 230 per cent in 1995 to 22 per cent last year had been the Government's only significant economic achievement.

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