RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Dec 23rd, 2008

231208.jpgTODAY: United Russia blocks logging enquiry, party leader resigns over car tariffs?  Putin’s image suffering, no apparent plans to reverse tariff decision; confusion over supply of weapons to Iran, US calls for clarification; OSCE mission in Georgia to end over Russia dispute; navy’s missile fails another test launch, military to receive spending boost.

The United Russia party allegedly blocked a State Duma deputy enquiry into the logging going on at the Bolshoi Utrish reserve, which many environmentalists, activists and locals say is illegal.  A senior United Russia leader in the Far East has resigned, supposedly following the protests against the government’s plan to increase tariffs on imported cars, although he has not explained his decision.  Vladimir Putin’s spokesman has been unavailable for comment since Friday, amid plummeting public faith in the prime minister’s ‘Teflon image‘ and the Vladivostok protests exhibiting some of the first ever public criticisms of Putin.  Putin has given no indication that the government will reverse its decisions on auto tariffs, and a recent poll by the Public Opinion Foundation found that 39% of Russians are dissatisfied with their government, compared with 24% in September.  ‘The anger over increased import duties is particularly strong among residents of the Far East, the majority of which — perhaps as high as 80 percent — make a living either directly or indirectly connected with the sale or servicing of imported automobiles.‘  Journalists in Russia’s Far East are calling for an investigation into the way reporters at the car tariff protests were treated.

According to the Moscow Times, state arms trader Rosoboronexport confirmed it is supplying Iran with defensive weapons, but a report in the New York Times has Russia’s Federal Military and Technical Cooperation Service flatly denying claims that Russia had begun supplying Iran with the S-300 surface-to-air missile system, and Iran also reportedly denied that there was any agreement with Russiaover missile delivery.  The US has responded to the conflicting claims by demanding straight answers, saying that any missiles sold to Iran could threaten the safety of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Russia has blocked a proposal to extend the OSCE’s 16-year mission in Georgia over a row about the status of South Ossetia, effectively causing the entire mission, whose actions are decided by consensus, to be shut down.  Many are concerned that the Russian stance could undermine stability throughout the Caucasus.

An experimental ballistic missile has failed another test launch, ‘signaling serious trouble with a key component of the nation’s nuclear might‘.  The BBC is reporting that Russia has set out plans to increase its military spending over the next three years.  Russia’s return of 117 14th-century stained glass windows to Germany is an unusual‘ gesture of reconciliation and friendship.

PHOTO: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin chairs a Cabinet meeting in Moscow, on Monday, Dec. 22, 2008. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Pool)