Russian President Vladimir Putin had a working meeting with the president of the Transneft company, Semyon Vainshtok, on Friday. According to presidential spokesman Alexei Gromov, at the beginning of the meeting the head of state spoke highly of the first stage of the Baltic Pipeline System (BPS), put into operation in late December in the Leningrad Region. Putin attended the inauguration ceremony. The president pointed to the project's great importance for Russia. He said Russia can now open its own routes for supplying oil from Western Siberia, the Urals, the Volga Region and some countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, specifically Kazakhstan. The spokesman said Putin made emphasis on two aspects. First of all, he emphasised the need to fully depoliticise the BPS. Today, he said, it is absolutely clear that the BPS and its further development fully meets the interests of both Russia and its Western partners. The other aspect emphasised by the president was the BPS's economic attractiveness for Russian companies and foreign partners. This means, Putin said, that the port must operate efficiently, ships must be served well, and tariffs must not exceed those charged by competitors in other countries. Semyon Vainshtok informed the president that in January the BPS will achieve the rated oil transshipment capacity of 900,000 tons. The figure for the year must reach 12 million tons. Transneft plans to begin the construction of the second stage of the BPS in June 2002 and complete it on schedule. Putin displayed interest also in other Transneft projects. After the meeting, Vainshtok told journalists that the second BPS stage provides for the construction of three oil-pumping stations, 250 kilometres of new pipelines, storage tanks with a total capacity of 500,000 tons, and related infrastructure. Commenting on the construction of an Angarsk-Nakhodka pipeline, the Transneft president said it could give a strong impetus to the development of the East Siberian oil and gas region. The pipeline's infrastructure could boost the development of Eastern Siberia and the Far East, he added.
As November 4 approaches (on this day, Russia and Belarus are to sign union programs), disputes between supporters and opponents of the integration become increasingly heated