RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – April 7, 2008

blast040708.jpgToday: Putin gets a new job, Bush plays nice in Sochi, South Korea and Russia agree on North Korea projects, more spy games in London, and Europe pressures Moscow on human rights in Chechnya. Despite sweeping several elections on an independent ticket, Vladimir Putin has never been an actual member of his own supporting political party, United Russia. That may change, as today party leader and speaker of parliament Boris Gryzlov, announced that when Putin becomes Russia’s prime minister on May 7, he will have another job to offer him: “I will propose to Vladimir Putin that he takes over the leadership of United Russia.” This move, which could deeply strengthen the party’s dominance over Russian politics, could happen as soon as April 14.

The “final” Bush-Putin summit at Sochi was capped off by handshakes, dancing, and not much progress. “An unbelievably good dinner,” was how Bush described it to reporters Sunday. On the missile shield, some were talking about “a breakthrough” (the White House is claiming that Russia has softened on the issue), but for other observers, nothing practical was achieved. German newspaper Die Tageszeitung called it “The Lame Duck Summit,” askingWhy Bush is negotiating with Putin in April instead of with Medvedev in May is only the first of many riddles when it comes to the missile shield. The next question is whether Bush seriously believes that he can push the project through Congress as the lame duck president that he is. The missile shield is also controversial in the US, in both parties, for political, budgetary and technical reasons. It is unlikely that the Democrats Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, should they end up in the White House, would pursue the shield in its current form. Should Republican John McCain win the elections, it is likely that he will continue to pursue the plans. But he would likely make Iraq his first priority rather than squabbling with Medvedev about a missile shield that no one guarantees will even work.“Bush and Putin did however sign a strategic framework document for future U.S.-Russia relations to serve as a “roadmap” for their predecessors.South Korean President Lee Myung-bak had a phone call with President Putin this weekend to pledge his support for a railway in North Korea, an unspecified “Eastern Siberia” project, and the first space expedition by a South Korean astronaut. These economic projects are understood to represent Russia’s rising influence in East Asia.A decorated former KGB double agent living in London, Oleg Gordievsky, claims he was poisoned with the highly toxic metal thallium in a botched assassination attempt this weekend. So far the tests are inconclusive, but Gordievsky says “It was obvious to me I had been poisoned. KGB poisoning is based on the poison being undetectable.“The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), La Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH), Human Rights Watch, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), and Pax Christi Flanders are holding a photo exhibit and roundtable discussion tomorrow in the European Parliament to demand that the EU pressure Russia to end human rights abuses in Chechnya. “The European Court rulings on Chechnya provide the EU with a unique platform for calling on Russia to end ongoing abuses in Chechnya and the North Caucasus and ensure accountability for past violations,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The EU has a responsibility to make Russia’s full compliance with the European Court’s judgments a high priority in all dialogues with Moscow.PHOTO: United Russia leader and speaker of parliament Boris Gryzlov speaks to the media, Moscow, Monday, April 7, 2008, announcing President Vladimir Putin as its chief. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)