RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Dec 22nd, 2008

221208.jpgTODAY: Car tariff demonstrations see protesters beaten and arrested – video; Russia delivers air-defense system to Iran; Belarus could get $3 billion loan if willing to pay the price; presidential term vote unanimous; the Merchant of Death on trial, UK prime minister’s anti-Putin aide.

A demonstration against raising tariffs on imported cars in Vladivostok over the weekend saw protesters beaten and arrested.  A Putin deputy described the protesters as ‘provocative rogues‘, and one source reports that ‘ten journalists were detained by police, who demanded that several cameramen and photographers turn over videotapes and memory chips.‘  The decision to raise these tariffs, notes the Times, was a contradiction of the G20 undertaking not to impose or raise any new barriers to trade or investment for the next year.  ‘For me, the car business is the only way to support my family,‘ said one car dealer.  Some video footage of police detaining protesters can be found here.

According to an Iranian official, Russia has started delivering an advanced air-defense system to Iran, despite earlier denials by Russia that a deal had been reached.  This news makes it seem unlikely that Russia will be the one to ‘stop Iran‘.  Russia could agree to a $3 billion loan for Belarus – but only in exchange for the recognition of Georgia’s breakaway regions as independent. If it agrees, Belarus will be only the third nation, after Russia and Nicaragua – to do so.  Russia wants the OSCE to divide operations in Georgia to reflect South Ossetia’s claim for independence.  Could the ten military jets offered to Lebanon by Russia be ‘more hype than substance‘ or ‘more liability than asset‘?

The move to amend Russia’s constitution and extend the presidential term has received a final, unanimous vote in the Duma.  Jon Mendelsohn, one of British prime minister Gordon Brown’s top aides and Labour party fundraisers, has been revealed as a senior figure in an anti-Putin lobby group.  Russia and the US are both committed to finding a successor to the START missile treaty before it expires, but it seems uncertain that they will be able to agree on any other aspects of the deal.  Nato is having to accelerate efforts to open a northern corridor through Russia as an alternative route to Afghanistan than the one involving the Khyber Pass, which is currently agreed to be dangerous and problematic.

Viktor Bout, the Russian arms trader dubbed ‘the Merchant of Death’, has gone on trial in Bangkok.  Read a special report on Bout here.  On Russia’s faith healers, who are being given licenses by the government.

PHOTO: Riot police arrest a demonstrator in Vladivostok. (Gennady Shishkin/AFP/Getty Images)