Today: bird flu; pro-Kremlin youth groups; relations with Iran steadily improving; US missile shield tensions continue; a satellite tracker for Putin’s labrador? Russia’s equivalent of Santa Claus is called Ded Moroz, or Father Frost. Every December, a free three-week course called the Moscow School of Ded Moroz is run at a government-funded youth center. “Ded Moroz is the wizard of New Year’s. His origins predate Christianity, as the pagan god of winter.” Some say he acts as an emblem of Russia’s search for its own identity within existing Western cultural symbols.
The Russian Government is due to discuss this year’s results of the radical social reform programmes in health, education and agriculture introduced by President Putin two years ago. Russia would “have no other choice than to take measures of reprisal” if the United States insisted on deploying a missile shield in central Europe which could threaten Moscow’s national security. Could Russia-US relations develop into another Cold War? Iran and Russia have held further meetings of their joint defense committee to discuss defense cooperation, although full details have not yet been provided.First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov briefed the cabinet on the development of GLONASS, the Global Navigation Satellite System. Vladimir Putin’s response? “When will I be able to buy the necessary equipment for my dog Koni so that she doesn’t run too far?” Ivanov responded that collars for dogs and cats with satellite-guided positioning equipment will be available for private consumers in Russia from the middle of next year. A fifth case of bird flu has been confirmed at a farm in the Rostov Region, south Russia. A special report on Russia’s pro-Kremlin youth groups can be found here. “Were they brought into politics by somebody else, or are they doing it by themselves?”(PHOTO: A statue of Moscow’s founder Yuri Dolgoruky is decorated in a costume of Father Frost, Russian Santa Claus, to mark the upcoming New Year celebrations in Moscow, Friday, Dec. 21, 2007. New Year is the biggest holiday of the year in Russia and is followed by the Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev))US