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Kremlin Appears to Back RSPP Merger

The Kremlin appears to be backing the proposed merger of the nation's three business associations.

State Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov, considered to be among President Vladimir Putin's most loyal supporters, said Friday that the merger "seems quite logical to me," Interfax reported.

Vladimir Potanin, owner of the Interros holding and member of the board of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, or RSPP, floated the merger Thursday. He proposed joining with Business Russia and Opora Russia, two associations representing small and medium-sized businesses.

RSPP is commonly known as "the oligarchs' union" and the nation's most powerful business lobby.

On Friday, Vedomosti quoted an unnamed source from within the presidential administration as saying the Kremlin had been consulted about the plan.

"Considering [Potanin's] good relations with the Kremlin, we are guessing that he's trying to free the RSPP of certain political risks," the source said.

Observers agreed that the RSPP is trying to shed its negative image.

Sergei Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies, recalled a major lobbying effort by big business last summer: "The statements by the president that the final decision about going after Yukos was taken after [major Yukos shareholder Vladimir] Dubov organized a successful blocking of the government's proposed tax hikes on natural resources was not lost on them."

If the Kremlin is indeed backing the union, it is just another step in the direction of "unification of every part of our life -- one party [United Russia], one leader, one business organization," said Andrei Piontkovsky, an independent political analyst.

(The Moscow Times 02.ii.04)

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