MOSCOW Nov 14 Russia's anti-monopoly watchdog
has cleared a plan by telecoms operator Rostelecom to
buy medium-sized lender Sobinbank, the regulator said on
Sobinbank is ranked No. 83 by assets and is a unit of Bank
Rossiya of Yuri Kovalchuk, a St Petersburg banker whose
association with President Vladimir Putin dates back to the
early 1990s and who has business interests in telecoms.
Bank Rossiya recently bought a stake in the country's
fourth-biggest mobile phone operator Tele2 Russia and is linked
to a possible plan to merge it with Rostelecom's mobile business
to create a stronger rival to market leaders MTS,
Megafon and Vimpelcom.
Rostelecom said on Thursday it was interested in buying a
bank to develop mobile banking, online payments and microfinance
services and that it was considering various options.
Bank Rossiya confirmed talks with Rostelecom but declined to
Megafon, Russia's second-biggest mobile operator, said in
September it was in talks to buy a bank to capitalize on growing
interest among consumers in managing their finances on the go
and to cross-sell services to existing customers.
MTS already has a stake in a bank it had bought from their
parent Sistema to exploit benefits from combining
mobile communications and banking.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; editing by Douglas Busvine and