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Svyazinvest, Aeroflot Slated for Sale

The Cabinet on Thursday approved a list of government stakes to privatize in 2005 that includes telecom giant Svyazinvest and Aeroflot, but delayed a final decision until later this year.

The privatization plan, which the government hopes will bring in at least $1.4 billion, includes a 17.81 percent stake in steel giant Magnitogorsk, 20 percent stakes in the Black Sea ports of Novorossiisk and Tuapse, and 100 percent of the Rosspirtprom distillery.

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said the sell-off revenues would be used to help cushion the fallout from an unexpected drop in the price of oil, the mainstay of the economy.

"This will not just be filling holes in the budget," he said, Interfax reported.

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said the government wants to expedite the privatization process so that by the end of 2007 all stakes slated for sale will be liquidated.

Svyazinvest alone should fetch close to $3 billion should the government opt to sell its entire 75 percent minus one share in the national fixed-line monopoly. Svyazinvest controls Russia's so-called seven sisters, the super-regional operators that emerged out of the Soviet telephone network. In 1997, during the first phase of privatization, the government sold 25 percent plus share of the holding for $1.9 billion to Mustcom, a consortium that included billionaires Vladimir Potanin and George Soros.

(The Moscow Times 30.vii.04)

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