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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Dec. 13, 2007

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Today: Lavrov clarifies British Council move; Kasparov steps down from presidential race; Poland could lift EU-Russia veto; news that Russia and Belarus are in talks to unite is met by protests; hopes of re-writing the CFE Treaty; Rostov bird flu investigation; could President Putin be assassinated next year? A new report thinks so.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has defended the foreign ministry’s move to shut down the British Council’s regional offices in Yekaterinburg and St Petersburg next year, admitting that it is being made in retaliation for Britain’s expulsion of Russian diplomats in July of this year. “The British government undertook some actions which inflicted systemic damage to our relations so we have to retaliate. This is nothing to do with anti-British sentiments. It’s the law of the genre, if you wish.” One newspaper called it “diplomatic vindictiveness”.

Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov has announced that his participation in the Russian presidential race was over before the official campaign period had even started. “My presidential campaign will finish tomorrow,” he said. “There is no hall in Moscow where my initiating group can meet.” 20 candidates are set to run for President in the next elections, including former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Gennady Zyaganov, head of the Communist party. President Vladimir Putin has decreed the newly elected State Duma, or lower house of parliament, will hold its first session on December 24. “Despite being tipped as a presidential contender for months,” Dmitri Medvedev has thus far given little indication of his stance on foreign policy issues. “By committing to stepping down as president by naming a successor, Putin has taken a small but important step toward democratization.”A new report entitled “Alternative Futures for Russia” will be issued in Washington by the authoritative nonprofit Center for Strategic and International Studies. The report will allegedly suggest that Putin could be assassinated next year. Poland could soon lift its veto on talks on a new Russia-EU partnership deal, following Moscow’s decision yesterday to end its embargo on Polish meat, according to prime minister Donald Tusk. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she is disappointed Russia won’t hold a “contested” election next March. “You’ve had people arrested. It’s not an environment in which you can talk about free and fair elections.” US President George Bush did not comment on Medvedev’s suggestion that Putin become prime minister next year. “We just better let the elections play out and see what happens,” he said. It is being reported that Putin has unexpectedly revived efforts to unite Russia and Belarus, and that he is in Minsk today to discuss steps to create a single state. The news sparked protests from opposition activists in Belarus. Russia “is prepared for continuing a results-oriented dialogue on the CFE during its suspension,” the foreign ministry said, after Russia implemented its moratorium on participating in the CFE Treaty this week, indicating that an agreement could be revived.Gazprom-Media has agreed to sell its 51% stake in newspaper Izvestia to Bank Rossiya. Unified Energy System will spend $4.2 billion to buy back its stock from shareholders who voted against a proposed breakup of the national utility. The state will spend $1.2 billion on building a headquarters in Moscow for Rosatom, its new nuclear corporation. Korean Kogas and Russia’s Gazprom are in talks about strategic partnership in the Sakhalin-3 project. Microsoft intends to launch a big production and service center in Siberian city of Tomsk. Russia’s foreign trade turnover set a record of $56.8 billion in October, but analysts say the trend is unlikely to continue.The Agriculture Ministry’s animal and plant health watchdog is investigating whether the death of 35,000 poultry in the Rostov region was caused by the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu. A new Russian robot, capable of flirting with chat-room users to coax personal details out of them, has been named “Cyberlover”.(PHOTO: An opposition activist tears apart a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a protest in central Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007. Police on Wednesday forced some 200 protesters from a central Minsk square where they waved flags and chanted ‘No union with imperial Russia!’ Russian President Vladimir Putin heads to the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on Thursday for discussions of a framework for the long-debated merger of Russia and Belarus. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits))