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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Dec. 17, 2007

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Today: Putin could become leader of new state; Bukovsky and Zyuganov to run for the presidency; Gazprom raises prices; Moldovan journalist barred from entering Russia; Medvedka vodka?

Kremlin sources say Vladimir Putin could still accept the Russian prime ministership, but that it would be “a step backwards”. Instead, he is “taken with the idea of becoming president of a new Russian-Belarussian state.” “Artifice plays a role in politics everywhere, yet Russia seems to have adopted a kind of imitation of democracy.” Yabloko has announced that it will not support its veteran leader, Grigory Yavlinsky, to run for president in the next election, but will instead back Vladimir Bukovsky, a Soviet-era dissident who has been living in London in recent years. The Communist Party has nominated its leader, Gennady Zyuganov, to run for president.

A powerful Kremlin clan led by Igor Sechin is said to be suffering a series of “stinging blows”, including Putin’s support of Dmitri Medvedev as a presidential candidate. Three senior officials at the Health and Social Development Ministry, including the head of the Pension Fund and the deputy head of the Social Insurance Fund, have quit their posts.Gazprom wants to build a new 67-story HQ “to reflect its immense power“, in plans that are being called “controversial”. The company announced that Belarus will pay 19% more for Russian gas, starting next year. Latvia’s gas supply deal with Gazprom could see prices rise by up to 50% next year. If elected president, Medvedev “will most likely tip the scales in favor of Gazprom in any new acquisitions and help the state-controlled gas giant with domestic prices and taxes.” The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will lend 300 million euros ($436 million) to Russian steel major Severstal to fund an energy saving programme. Pimaş, a subsidiary of Turkey’s ENKA Group that produces window frames, has invested $15 million in a Russian factory. Hyundai Motor, South Korea’s largest automaker, will invest $400 million to build its first factory in Russia to meet surging demand. The Tula Submarine, which carries nuclear missiles, has fired a ballistic missile from the Barents Sea to Kamchatka.Russia has made its first shipment of nuclear fuel to Iran’s Bushehr plant, after Russia announced that its construction disputes with Iran had been resolved. The agreement on a schedule to finish building the plant was made last week. Russia’s military has commissioned another batch of new intercontinental ballistic missiles that nuclear weapons officials boast can penetrate any prospective missile shield. Joint energy projects are “advantageous for Russia and Greece”.The Guardian has published some readers’ responses to the news that Russia wants the British Council’s offices shut down. Andrei Sidelnikov, who has been linked to Alexander Litvinenko, is seeking political asylum in Britain, saying that his life was in danger in Russia. It is being reported that a young Russian opposition activist was committed to a psychiatric hospital on the eve of an anti-government protest that he was organizing. Entrepreneurs are hoping to cash in on the name of Russia’s next president by patenting brand names for vodka such as Medvedi, Medvedevka and Medvedka. Days after publishing a story that claimed the presidential administration had a secret multimillion-dollar fund that it used to finance parties during the State Duma elections, a Moldovan journalist was refused entry to Russia, and told that her presence was “undesirable”. America Online has entered the Russian market with a localized version of its Truveo search engine.Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine: “I don’t know why everyone is saying that Medvedev is going to have a liberal foreign policy. We don’t know anything about his foreign policy views.”(PHOTO: Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov walks past a poster with Communist party emblem at a party congress outside Moscow, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2007. Russia’s Communists on Saturday nominated longtime leader and past candidate Gennady Zyuganov to run in the March presidential election, a vote that is widely expected to be won by President Vladimir Putin’s personal choice. (AP Photo))