TODAY: Syrian government praises Russia-U.S. deal, opposition is wary; SCO meets in Kyrgyzstan; Sechin accused of misconduct; Ketchum in Russia; Gazprom FIFA contract; Valdai discussion begins today; Pussy Riot poll; Twitter diplomacy.
Syrian minister Ali Haidar praised ‘a victory […] won thanks to our friends,’ after Russia secured a landmark deal to prevent U.S. military action. After almost three days of talks in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reached an agreement under which Syria has one week to reveal its undeclared reserves of chemical weapons; but the White House insisted that military strikes were not completely ruled out. Syria’s opposition says they ‘don’t trust Putin and Lavrov’. And neither does Madeline Albright. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization meanwhile, meeting in Kyrgyzstan, unilaterally condemned the notion of foreign intervention in Syria, and discussed the need for improved transportation links across Central Asia. Rosneft president Igor Sechin has been accused of corporate misconduct by shareholders of TNK-BP; they question grandiose public statements he made about the size of the company after the recent takeover, and allege that he has ‘destroyed the shareholder value of the company’.
Ketchum, the U.S. public relations company that helped place Vladimir Putin’s Syria article (Peggy Noonan called it ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an op-ed piece’) in the New York Times, has ‘earned more than $25 million working for Russia’ – not including a $26 million contract with Gazprom. The gas giant has signed a four-year deal to sponsor FIFA. The annual Valdai International Discussion Club convenes today, where President Vladimir Putin will meet with prominent opposition figures – excluding Alexei Navalny, the losing candidate in Moscow’s recent ‘disastrous’ mayoral elections, as Vladimir Frolov calls them – disastrous, that is, for the Kremlin: ‘Putin’s endorsement is now an electoral liability’. Naval officials insist that there is no risk of a radiation leak from the fire that broke out on an atomic-powered submarine in Vladivostok.
A Levada Center poll indicates that the average Russian has ‘no respect’ for Pussy Riot; ‘19 percent said they felt irritated’. A diplomatic Twitter row has erupted after a United Russia member posted a photoshopped photograph of the Obamas that appeared to have racist connotations. Former Yukos head, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has been nominated for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shaking hands after giving statements on Syria in Geneva on Saturday. (Larry Downing / Reuters)