Russia to Launch Full-Scale Moon Exploration Next Decade

ZVYOZDNY GORODOK (Moscow Region), September 23 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's space agency Roscosmos plans to launch a full-scale Moon exploration program in late 2020s or early 2030s, the agency’s head Oleg Ostapenko said on Tuesday.

“We are planning to complete tests of a super-heavy carrier rocket and start full-scale Moon exploration at the end of the next decade. By that time, analysis of Moon surface data gathered by unmanned spacecraft will help to determine the best sites for lunar expeditions and Moon bases,” the Roscosmos head said.

Preparatory work for lunar exploration missions have already started, according to Ostapenko.

“We already started to work on a new manned spacecraft, which will be the first element of the prospective manned system together with new launch vehicles - heavy and super-heavy carrier rockets," the space agency’s chief added.

The system is designed to deliver cargo and cosmonauts to the Moon, and eventually into the deep space, according to Ostapenko. The Moon exploration program will be carried out mostly as part of the Russian Federal Space Program for 2016-2025. Russia is also looking at space exploration plans till 2050 and further on.

Russian Minister: Rosneft, Exxon to Finish Arctic Oil Well Drilling on Schedule

NOVOROSSIYSK, September 23 (RIA Novosti) – Russian oil company Rosneft and American corporation ExxonMobil will finish drilling on an offshore oil well in the Artic on October 10 according to schedule Russia's Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Sergey Donskoy said Tuesday.

"The operations are on schedule," Donskoy said.

On Friday, some media outlets reported that US sanctions against Russia have forced ExxonMobil to cease offshore operations in the Russian Arctic. ExxonMobil said it had received permission from the US government to continue drilling on the Universitetskaya-1 well in the Kara Sea "to enable the safe and responsible winding down of operations related to this exploration well."

Rosneft and ExxonMobil joint venture company Karmorneftegaz began drilling at the Universitetskaya-1, the Russian Federation's northernmost well, using the West Alpha rig in August 2013. The drilling was scheduled to finish in 70 days, but US sanctions gave American companies until September 26 to cease all operations with blacklisted Russian companies, including Rosneft.

The United States and the European Union have been introducing sanctions against Russia, accusing it of playing a negative role in the Ukrainian crisis, a claim Moscow has repeatedly denied.

London Replaces Hong Kong as Most Expensive City for Company Employees: Report

MOSCOW, September 23 (RIA Novosti) – London has replaced Hong Kong as the world's most expensive city for companies to locate their employees, a report published by the Savills real estate company Tuesday revealed.

The report says that the cost per employee per year in London was $120,568, as of June 2014. The same figure for Hong Kong stands at $115,717.

New York and Paris complete the group of four leading cities, where the combined costs of renting residential and office space tops $100,000 per employee per year.

Tokyo comes fifth on the list, while Moscow is ranked seventh, with the June 2014 cost per employee per year in the Russian capital standing at $70,499.

Rio de Janeiro and Mumbai are last on the list, with the cost per employee per year for the two cities as of June 2014 standing at $32,179 and $29,742, respectively.

London, Hong Kong, New York and Paris have dominated the Savills Live/Work Index top 12 world cities since its launch in 2008.

According to Savills, fluctuations in total live/work costs reflect not only the strength of a city's residential and office markets and occupier taxes and costs, measured at a local level, but also the impact of fluctuating exchange rates on the cost of doing business on a world stage.

Minister: Arctic Maneuvers, Iskander, Pantsir Firing Conducted at Vostok-2014 Drills

PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY, September 23 (RIA Novosti) — Russian troops have carried out a series of combat training missions in the Arctic and used Iskander and Pantsir-S systems as part of the ongoing large-scale exercises in Russia"s Far East, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday.

"In order to protect the interests of the Russian Federation in the region [Arctic] the development of its military infrastructure is ongoing. As part of the exercise [in the far East]the Northern Fleet squadron of warships together with vessels from the Murmansk Shipping Company and Atomflot icebreakers have conducted the delivery of personnel and equipment to Kotelny Island [New Siberian Islands archipelago]," Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin in a video conference call from the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

The minister also said that during the exercise on Kotelny Island, Pantsir-S systems performed live firing on target, launched by the mobile coastal missile system Rubezh. "The target was hit successfully." And tactical ballistic missile complexes Iskander-M hit two targets at a range of 200 kilometers (124 miles).

The Vostok-2014 strategic military exercise in the Eastern Military District is taking place from September 19 to 25. The exercise was preceded by unannounced combat readiness checks.

Total Halts Joint Venture with Lukoil: Reports

MOSCOW, September 23 (RIA Novosti) - French oil and gas company Total has halted a joint venture with Russian Lukoil to explore shale oil in the west of Siberia, The Financial Times reported.

"The Lukoil joint venture is definitely stopped. But it hadn't started so it doesn't have any impact [on Total]," Christopher de Margerie, Total's CEO, told The Financial Times.

The joint project to explore shale oil was agreed upon by Total and Lukoil at the end of May was to be carried out in the licensed Galyanovsk field. So far, Lukoil have declined to comment on the matter.

The move comes despite assurances by Jacques de Boisseson, Total's head of exploration and production in Russia, that the company would continue operations in Russia despite the western sanctions.

The latest round of Western sanctions against Russia were imposed on September 12. The sanctions targeted the country's largest banks, oil and defense companies, as well as certain individuals.

Putin: Russia to Expand Endangered Species Conservation Program

MOSCOW, September 23 (RIA Novosti) - Moscow will further support research on the symbols of the Asian steppes within the framework of the rare species conservation program, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

"When we started to support projects on the study and conservation of rare species, we chose not only recognized species, but also, most importantly, 'problematic' species. 'Problematic' - first of all due to the scale of the tasks that were to be resolved," Putin said in an interview, published on the Kremlin's website, with the Russian Geographical Society's (RGS) journal "Around the World".

Putin is the chairman of the RGS's Board of Trustees. His support has seen the return of the Persian leopard to the Caucasus.

The endangered species that will be subject to research include saigaks which are on the brink of extinction, sturgeons and migratory birds, all binding Russia with other countries in Eurasia.

"The rescuing of the Amur tiger required action from different areas. Scientifically, we have provided significant support to research projects. Monitoring of the tiger's population is currently underway. Internationally, we have convened a 'Tiger summit'. Conservation-wise, we have established reserves and enlarged their territory. Legally, we have toughened punishments for poaching and the illegal trade of hunting objects," Putin said.

"This is the only correct approach to conservation," Putin added. "We are not casual in our approach to rare species from the fauna of Russia. Following their example, it is much easier to explain where the difficulties lie ahead."

According to Putin, such programs have propelled the cooperation between the state, business and society in the corresponding regions in the right direction.

Russian Ombudsman Urges UNHRC to Protect Children in South-East Ukraine

MOSCOW, September 23, (RIA Novosti) - Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, called on the UN Human Rights Council Tuesday to protect minors trapped in conflict zones in eastern Ukraine.

The Russian ombudsman presented a report entitled “Best Practices for Prevention of Violence Against Children: Current Global Issues and Goals” during the 27th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“Children’s rights to security, protection of life and health, harmonious development, education and health care are being violated on (a) large scale in Ukraine. Children in occupied settlements are deprived of food, drinking water, essential medicine and medical treatment,” Astakhov said.

The Ukrainian military’s shelling and mortar attacks “demolished civilian infrastructure and residential areas in many settlements, destroyed a significant number of childcare institutions - kindergartens, schools, clinics, hospitals, maternity homes and orphanages,” the official added.

The children's rights commissioner also reported on violence against Russian adoptees.

“During the past 15 years, 19 Russian children have died in the Unites States because of foreign adoptions,” Astakhov said as cited by his press service.

This year Russian authorities have launched 14 new criminal cases on the deaths of Russian children adopted by American families as well as violence and mistreatment against the adoptees.

Brazilian Petrobras Ready to Cooperate with Russian Transneft: Maritime Rating Agency

MOSCOW, September 23 (RIA Novosti) — The Brazilian state-run corporation Petrobras says it is ready to cooperate with Russia's Transneft oil company as part of the development of a partnership between Russia and Brazil, the International Maritime Risk Rating Agency said Tuesday in a press release.

“The parties plan to consider opportunities for potential joint projects in Latin America and for experience exchange programs. Petrobras’s plans for cooperation with Transneft lie within the context of the developing partnership between Russia and Brazil,” the release stated.

Executives from Petrobras, including the company's President Jose Sergio de Oliveira Machado plan to visit Moscow in 2014 “to update themselves on current Russian approaches and technologies in oil transportation, and to meet with their counterparts from the oil pipeline company OAO AK Transneft.”

On July 14, Russian and Brazilian Presidents Vladimir Putin and Dilma Vana Rousseff met in Fortaleza, Brazil, where Rousseff said Russia could extend its presence in Brazil's oil sector.

On September 12, a new set of European Union sanctions against Russia came into force. The EU barred three major Russian oil companies (Rosneft, Transneft, Gazprom Neft) from seeking finance on European capital markets. The restrictive measures also target several other Russian entities and 24 individuals.