TODAY: Putin to lead United Russia. Advertising near the Kremlin banned. Storchak arrest could hamper arms deals with Libya. Ukraine won’t give up NATO membership drive. Sochi’s space monkeys. The biggest news today is that Vladimir Putin, “surprising no one”, has accepted United Russia’s “unanimous” leadership offer, “consolidat[ing] his longterm grip on power” and giving him “sweeping powers over the Duma”. One report says the decision will “drain authority from the President-elect, Dmitri Medvedev”, and earlier this month, Boris Gryzlov “made what many saw as a political faux pas by suggesting that Medvedev would not be eligible to join United Russia.” Medvedev has declined a more recent offer to join the party. Could Putin’s new role lead to an “overhaul of the country’s political system”?
“In an effort to preserve the city’s historical appearance”, officials have issued a decree ordering all outdoor advertising near the Kremlin to be removed by the end of next year. Social networking websites are reducing the number of active Russian bloggers, says a new report. A selection of Russian art sold for about $36.1 million at a Sotheby’s auction in New York.Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak’s arrest could frustrate the completion of arms deals with Libya. Storchak, charged with attempting to embezzle $43 million, has published a letter that he sent to investigators more than a month ago because they have refused to interrogate him since his detention in November.Ukraine has reiterated that it will press on with attempts to join NATO despite Russian opposition. Ukraine’s NATO membership is of particular concern to Russian nationalists, because, without Ukraine, “Moscow cannot restore its status as the center of power in Eurasia.” India and Iran have signed an agreement that would help establish a new rail link between Iran and Russia that could eventually become “a gateway for trade with Central Asia.”The Sochi Institute of Medical Primatology is reportedly “grooming an elite troop of monkeys for a mission to Mars,” planned to take place in a decade.PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the United Russia party congress in Moscow. Putin on Tuesday agreed to head Russia’s ruling party in a significant shift of the political landscape three weeks before he hands power to successor Dmitry Medvedev. (AFP/Alexander Nemenov)