RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – March 15, 2012

TODAY: Pussy Riot will remain in jail; picket in support of band set upon by Orthodox protestors; four demonstrators arrested in Moscow heritage protest; Siberian netizen charged with extremism; Sochi says no to gay rights.  Alexei Navalny lay out plans for galvanizing protest movement; Medvedev contemplates meritocracy; just 44% of Russians say they trust March 4 election poll.   Lavrov mulls US use of Russian air base; Clinton asks Moscow for Iran warning.  Pop and politics.

Russia has refused to release two members of all-girl punk rock band Pussy Riot, who face up to seven years in jail on charges of hooliganism, from pre-trial detention following their protest concert in a Moscow cathedral.  RFE/RL has a video of the band’s supporters being harangued by Orthodox believers outside the court.  A physical altercation between the two brigades resulted in the arrest of three of the band’s supporters and one anti-band demonstrator.  Four demonstrators have been arrested in Moscow for attempting to obstruct work on a construction project on Kozikhinsky Pereulok.  Beleaguered environmental activist Suryen Gazaryan and his lawyer have been arrested and allegedly assaulted by guards, over their attempts to gain photographic evidence of a mansion which they believe to be the dacha of the regional governor.  An internet user from Siberia has been charged with extremism over a video posted on VKontatke more than a year ago of inebriated Russians, entitled “The Whole Truth About Russians”.  A Sochi appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling denying registration to Pride House, a local gay movement, on the basis that it undermines ‘public morals’.  The head of the district police department in the Volga Republic of Tatarstan, where a detainee died in custody after officers allegedly sodomized him with a bottle, has been fired.

Left Front movement leader Sergei Udaltsov is in a Moscow courthouse today facing charges of failing to obey a police officer.  Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky talks to Alexei Navalny about his new tool for political activism – the Good Propaganda Machine.  Brian Whitmore analyses the return of Kremlin clan warfare.  President Medvedev has suggested that competitive exams could be introduced as a method of appointing deputy ministers as well as chiefs of federal services.

A new poll by VTsIOM has apparently found that less than half of Russians believe the results of the March 4 presidential election are genuine and ‘consistent with the will of voters.’   The number of citizens who believe that Russia should not heed Western criticisms has grown considerably over the past year, finds this report.

According to Reuters, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov approves of a proposal to allow NATO use of a southern Russian air base as a hub for transport of supplies to Afghanistan, pending formal government approval.  This would be the first time the US has used a base on Russian territory.   Lavrov has rejected the suggestion that Russia may have an interest in deploying troops to Syria.  He has justified the ongoing sales of weapons to the Al-Assad regime on the basis that the state uses them to ward off external threats.  US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has asked Lavrov to warn Iran that it has one ‘last chance’ to reach an agreement over its nuclear program via diplomatic means.   ‘Jackson-Vanik is a relic and its time has passed. But allowing it to disappear with nothing in its place, and right on the heels of the fantastically corrupt “election” of March 4, turns it into little more than a gift to Mr. Putin’ warn opposition stalwarts Garry Kasparov and Boris Nemtsov.

As Pussy Riot gain headlines, the Guardian’s Andrew Khan looks for evidence of political sentiment on the Russian pop scene.

PHOTO: Supporters of radical all-female group Pussy Riot, which has sung raucous anthems against Vladimir Putin’s regime, protest outside a Moscow courthouse.  (AFP, Andrey Smirnov)