TODAY: New reports on media freedom and population; Abramovich was an “undeclared member of President Putin’s regime”?; WTO talks progress despite Georgian and Lithuanian reservations; Sochi land evaluation commission will be lighter than promised. A new report by US-based democracy watchdog Freedom House says media freedom in Russia “saw continued and substantial declines” in 2007, and that the country has the same level of press freedom as Sudan and Yemen. Russia is doing too little to reverse a critical decline in its population driven by increasing alcohol abuse, poor diet and social change, according to a new report from the UN. The case brought by Boris Berezovsky against Roman Abramovich has reportedly brought documents to light which show that Abramovich “was an undeclared member of President Putin’s regime in Russia when he bought Chelsea Football Club in 2003”.
The World Trade Organization took a “big step forward” in its membership talks with Russia this week. Georgia’s threat to block negotiations because of Moscow’s decision to boost support for Georgia’s separatist republics has not affected the process. NATO foreign ministers will meet with Georgia’s Foreign Minister to discuss changing the format of the Russian peacekeeping mission in Abkhazia. Sergei Lavrov will meet with EU officials this week to discuss a new framework partnership agreement. The previous agreement expired last December and talks for a new one were initially delayed by Poland. The talks, about which Lithuania has “strong reservations”, will cover trade, justice, political links, and energy cooperation with Serbia.The Olimpstroy commission, set up to evaluate land and houses that will be torn down to make way for the Sochi Olympics, has reportedly chosen 4 appraisers instead of the 30 it promised. Vladimir Putin has introduced a system for the evaluation of the performance of local self-government bodies. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against Russia in a case involving 13 Central Asian businessmen who were held for 20 months without trial while fighting to block their extradition to Uzbekistan. Russia will not accept binding caps on its greenhouse gas emissions under a new climate regime that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol.PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, talks to his wife Lyudmila, right, during Easter service in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, April 27, 2008. Eastern Orthodox churches, which observe the ancient Julian calendar, usually celebrate Easter later than western churches. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)