Business in Brief

Chemezov Wants Air Stake

The state's stake in airline group AirUnion should be shifted to Russian Technologies, chief Sergei Chemezov advised President Vladimir Putin, Vedomosti reported Friday, citing an unidentified government official.

AirUnion combines KrasAir, a carrier co-owned by entrepreneur Boris Abramovich and the state, with Domodedovo Airlines, Samara Airlines, Omskavia and Sibaviatrans. Abramovich wants to control AirUnion, giving the state 45 percent in the merged business, the paper said. (Bloomberg)

Medvedev's Pipeline Request

First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has asked that the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline's initial phase be built by the end of 2008, as planned, Interfax reported Friday.

Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko and Nikolai Tokarev, head of pipeline monopoly Transneft, were told to make sure that the project be completed on time, after Tokarev said Thursday that he did not think the pipeline's first stage could be commissioned until late 2009, Interfax said. (MT)

Itera Execs Flock to Russneft

Two former deputy heads of gas trader Itera have been named vice presidents at Russneft and taken seats on the board of a subsidiary, Belkamneft, Interfax reported Friday.

Vladimir Svaikin and Andre Shegimago joined Belkamneft's board on Feb. 4, the company said in a statement, Interfax reported.

They join several other former Itera officials, including president Alexander Korsik, at Russneft, whose former head, billionaire Mikhail Gutseriyev, was among those leaving Belkamneft's board, the news agency said. (MT)

French-Kazakh Cooperation

ASTANA, Kazakhstan -- French Prime Minister Francois Fillon sought to step up energy contacts with Kazakhstan on Friday and said he had discussed energy independence on a visit there.

Europe sees the region as a potential new source of oil and gas to bypass Russia, which has disrupted flows in the past.

"We would like to increase contacts," Fillon, the first senior French official to visit Kazakhstan since 1993, told reporters. (Reuters)

February Inflation Lower

Consumer prices will probably rise by 1.1 percent or 1.2 percent this month, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said Friday, Interfax reported.

Prices increased 2.3 percent in January. (Bloomberg)

Abramov's $4Bln Fund

LONDON -- Steel magnate Alexander Abramov is starting a $4 billion investment fund based in Britain, The Sunday Telegraph reported, citing people it did not identify.

Abramov has hired Jeremy Fletcher, an investment banker, to run the fund, the newspaper reported. The fund will invest in a range of assets in Britain and Europe, the paper said. (Bloomberg)

Baltic Port Doubles Cargo

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Ust-Luga port, the country's fastest-growing Baltic terminal, almost doubled cargo handling last year to more than 7 million tons after President Vladimir Putin hailed the importance of the facility during a 2006 visit.

The port is constructing a new ferry complex and last year laid seven kilometers of rail tracks, the Leningrad regional government said Friday. (Bloomberg)

Capital Inflow Estimate

Net capital inflow may reach $40 billion to $80 billion this year, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said Friday, Interfax reported.

The forecast is "very approximate" because the depth of the U.S. subprime mortgage collapse is still unclear, Kudrin said. (Bloomberg)

Lower Trade Surplus Figure

The country's trade surplus narrowed to $128.7 billion last year as economic growth fueled demand for foreign goods, the Economic Development and Trade Ministry said Friday, citing Central Bank data.

The trade surplus declined 7.6 percent from 2006, the ministry said in a statement. (Bloomberg)

Swedes Get Drilling Permit

STOCKHOLM -- Swedish independent oil firm Lundin Petroleum said Friday that Russian authorities had issued it a permit to begin drilling an exploration well in the Caspian Sea.

Lundin said it planned to start installing the marine drilling complex in April. (Reuters)

Gazprom Drops Baltic Plant

Gazprom has scrapped plans for a $3.5 billion liquefied natural gas plant on the Baltic Sea, the firm said, dashing the hopes of international companies aiming to join the project.

"A detailed analysis of the Baltic LNG project showed that the construction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline and exploration of the Shtokman field, which also foresees production of LNG, are more competitive projects," Gazprom said Thursday. (Reuters)

For the Record

TGK-1, a power generator based in St. Petersburg, will spend 28.9 billion rubles ($1.2 billion) this year to upgrade regional facilities and supply new residential and industrial areas in the city, the company said Friday. (Reuters)

Russia plans to increase the area sown in the 2008 grain crop by 4 percent year on year, or by 1.9 million hectares, to 46.9 million hectares, the Agriculture Ministry said Friday. (Reuters)