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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Business in Brief

PM: Speed Ruble Union

MOSCOW (AP) -- Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said Wednesday that Russia and Belarus must work harder to establish the ruble as the single currency for the two countries, while a handful of protesters in Minsk denounced the plan as a threat to Belarussian sovereignty.

Meeting with his Belarussian counterpart Gennady Novitsky, Kasyanov said officials have no doubt the single currency will be established by Jan. 1, 2005, as agreed on at a January summit. "As for the preparatory work… it must be intensified," Kasyanov said.

The introduction of a single currency would be the most significant step since Russia and Belarus launched plans in 1996 for close political and economic integration.

National Debt Trim

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia plans to reduce its total liabilities by a quarter to some 29 percent to 30 percent of gross domestic product by 2006 and tap the domestic debt market more, Deputy Finance Minister Bella Zlatkis said Wednesday. Russia's debt currently stands at 42.4 percent of GDP, she told the Duma.

Ruble-denominated liabilities account for some 15 percent of Russia's debt, and the government plans to increase the share to 25 percent by the end of 2005, Zlatkis said.

Exxon Clears Hurdle

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- ExxonMobil's Sakhalin-1 oil and gas project cleared another hurdle Wednesday when Russia approved its Development Program and Budget, a document that lists investments the company will make.

The project, based on the island of Sakhalin off the Pacific Coast, received a boost Tuesday when Russia confirmed that it would retain its Production Sharing Agreement, a scheme that guarantees a stable tax regime for the project.

It was approved by a government institution, the Authorized State Body, which includes representatives of the Economic Development and Trade, Tax and Energy ministries.

According to Exxon, capital investment will total some $12 billion, and the first crude is expected in 2005.

Sun Consolidation

MOSCOW (Vedomosti) -- Russia's No. 2 brewer, Sun Interbrew, will merge all eight of its Russian breweries and six of its malthouses into a single company -- United Breweries -- by year's end. Merging the malthouses with the company's brewers should save Sun Interbrew between $3.8 million and $4.2 million a year, company president Joe Strella said. Agricultural enterprises are allowed property tax breaks.

Strella said that Sun Interbrew was considering a bond issue of up to $50 million.

Rostelekom Profits Up

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia's long distance, fixed-line carrier Rostelekom posted 2002 net profit under Russian accounting standards of 3.095 billion rubles ($98.85 million) on Wednesday, a 38.6 percent rise on 2001. The company said its 2002 operating profit grew 37.6 percent year-on-year to 7.720 billion rubles, while its revenues increased by 32.1 percent to 25.409 billion.