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RUSSIA

UN Head Looks to Moscow for Funds

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday expressed hope that Russia would increase its annual contributions to the global body and threw his weight behind Moscow's ambitions to host a Middle East peace conference.

Ban expressed hope that Russia would increase its UN contributions in line with its growing economic might, while appearing with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a news conference to crown his jam-packed schedule Thursday.

"Russia is one of the largest contributors in terms of financial contributions and also peacekeeping operations. But with increased development in the economy, as well as a political high profile, I hope that Russia can do more," he said.

Ban added that he had discussed the possibility of increasing contributions with President Vladimir Putin and his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, on Wednesday.

Lavrov did not say whether Moscow had any plans to boost the fees it paid, but Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko said earlier Thursday that Russia would increase its contributions in line with its growing economic potential.

Russia plans to double the amount it donates for international assistance to about $500 million in the next few years, up from the current $211 million, Yakovenko said.

"This would be a reinforcement of Russia's political positions in other countries," he said in an interview.

Yakovenko said a Kommersant report earlier this week, saying Russia planned a 20-fold hike in its UN contributions to roughly the same level as those of the United States, was incorrect.
Russia's total planned contribution for this year stands at $24.7 million. By comparison, fellow Security Council members the United States, at $453.3 million, and China, with $54.9 million, will pay significantly more.

Yakovenko could not say by how much Russia's contributions would grow.

Lavrov, who met with Ban earlier in the day, thanked him for his support of Russia's ambitions to host a Middle East peace conference.

"We are grateful for the support for this approach," Lavrov said. Russia, a member of the Quartet of Middle East mediators, along with the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, is keen to play a much more active role in the region, something Ban said he favored. Ban did not directly address the planned conference in the meeting with reporters but earlier called it a "very important initiative" in nationally televised comments.

Lavrov reiterated Russia's official position stressing multilateralism and the "universal legitimacy" of the UN. He said recent events had demonstrated that unilateral efforts to resolve conflicts outside the global body had only multiplied the problems and that no other international organization could replace the UN. Ban expressed his agreement with the statement.

The briefing Thursday evening followed the launch of the UN Global Compact network in the early morning, a 30-minute meeting with State Duma First Deputy Chairman Oleg Morozov, an audience with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, and an address at Moscow State University.

At the opening of the Global Compact, Ban appealed to business leaders to help support UN-endorsed values in the areas of fighting corruption, maintaining environmental and labor standards, and defending human rights.

"Your contributions could help make a real difference," he told a couple dozen representatives from Russian companies, adding that adherence to UN principles "promises significant benefits for Russian industry."

Twenty-four Russian companies are currently members of the Global Compact, including industry leaders like Oleg Deripaska's United Company RusAl, Vladimir Potanin's Interros, Victor Vekselberg's Renova and Vladimir Yevtushenkov's Sistema.

The UN describes the program as a "global corporate citizenship initiative."

David Yakobashvili, chairman of dairy giant Wimm-Bill-Dann, was the only major industrial executive present, while the rest preferred to send lesser representatives in their place.

Russia has a similar, homegrown program, set up after the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, or RSPP, a big business lobby group, adopted its own Social Charter in 2004.

UN officials on Thursday commended that set of rules, with Marco Borsotti, the world body's resident coordinator in Russia, saying the charter was "very much in the spirit of the Global Compact."

Seeking a more prominent role and more financing abroad, the country's biggest companies have significantly improved corporate practices recently, analysts say. The majority of the companies, however, and especially small and medium-sized examples, have yet to adopt international standards in social and environmental spheres, the UN said in a statement released at the event.

Yakobashvili, who also heads the RSPP committee on social and demographic policy, said on the sidelines of the event that he felt companies were making real efforts to improve practices.

"If they are disingenuous, they won't receive the money," he said.

Russia's Foreign Ministry welcomed the launch of the UN initiative in Russia.

"We should really adopt the most advanced fruits of globalization," Yakovenko said.

During a meeting at the Svyato-Danilovsky Monastery later Thursday, Ban had talks with Patriarch Alexy II, who told the UN chief that he hoped the global body would ensure access to relics for Orthodox Christians in Kosovo and protect the Serbian ethnic minority. Alexy said he was sorry that UN members had not reached a compromise on Kosovo and that he agreed with Serbian clerics that its declaration of independence was illegitimate, Interfax reported
Moscow has been unhappy about Ban's neutrality on Kosovo since it declared independence from Serbia in February.

Ban will wrap up his three-day stay Friday. This trip was his first visit to Russia since assuming his duties in January 2007. During a meeting with Medvedev, the UN chief admitted that he should have come sooner to Russia, which supported his candidacy.

(The Moscow Times 14.iv.08)

 
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