TODAY: Russia announces support for Georgia’s breakaway regions. Interview with Russian Foreign Minister. NGOs to face stringent new regulations. Russia and Libya deals could be worth $10bn. Putin to re-marry? Rumors persist… Russia announced that it was broadly expanding support for the breakaway areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in neighboring Georgia, and that it would establish legal and trade links with them. The move has prompted “sharp criticism from Georgia and the West,” but the decision is supposedly “aimed at strengthening security and stability in the Caucasus.” Critics say that the controversial US missile shield, an ongoing source of tension with Russia, would not even work. Read the transcription of an interview with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, which discusses the US missile shield, NATO, and Dmitry Medvedev’s potential impact on foreign policy. The majority of Russians still widely identify Medvedev “as Mr. Putin’s loyal aide, and approvingly so.” Anthony Brenton, London’s ambassador to Moscow, says Britain hopes to make a fresh start in its difficult relations with Russia after Medvedev becomes President.
An article in the UK press on Vladimir Putin’s leadership of United Russia compares the party to the Soviet-era Communist Party, alleging that its key backers “are those holding positions of power in most Russian regions.” Thousands of Russian nongovernmental organizations face audits, potential searches and possible closure due to stringent new regulations. Reporting requirements for Russian NGOs were first tightened in 2006 by Putin, he said, to ensure the NGOs’ independence.Russia and Libya continue to rebuild their ties. It was initially thought that deals with Libya could be worth up to $3 billion. Reports now suggest that the total value of potential deals could be closer to $10 billion. Vladimir Putin is on his way from Libya to Sardinia, where he will meet Italian prime minister-elect Silvio Berlusconi. Analysts think that Berlusconi will use his third term as prime minister to “emphasize his special relationship with energy-rich Russia”.Rumors continue to abound that Putin intends to marry a gymnast half his age. Nikolai Baibakov, Stalin’s oil commissar who lived through “the greatest moments of the Soviet Union”, has died in Moscow, aged 97.PHOTO: Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and Russian President Vladimir Putin inspect an honor guard, unseen in Tripoli, Libya Wednesday, April 16, 2008. (AP Photo/Abdel Magid Al Fergany)