Today: Nemtsov withdraws from elections; Medvedev receives increased support, pledges to increase spending on national projects; Russia to provide Iran with new air defence system; Khodorkovsky’s custody extended. Boris Nemtsov, the liberal opposition leader, has pulled out of the March presidential election in Russia, saying that improper pressure by the Kremlin turned the campaign into a farce. The head of the Union of Right Forces also said that he was withdrawing so as not to split the vote with what he described as the only other remaining candidate from the democratic opposition, Mikhail Kasyanov. “[The Kremlin] is using Goebbels-esque propaganda, law-enforcement and administrative resources against opposition candidates,” Nemtsov said.
A new poll conducted by the independent Levada Centre found that Dmitri Medvedev’s popularity has more than doubled since he was named as Vladimir Putin’s preferred successor. Medvedev has announced that the government will increase spending on its national projects by 15% next year to $12 billion. Inflation in Russia is currently running at 12%. Two of United Russia’s Duma deputies – a singer and a film director – have objected to the election of a lawyer as chairman of the Culture Committee in the new Duma. The Duma’s members also include “at least five former magazine cover girls”.In line with Putin’s opposition to the US hardline stance on Iran, Iran confirmed that Russia has agreed to deliver a “new and lethal” S-300 air defence system “capable of shooting down American or Israeli fighter jets in the event of any strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities”. The US, meanwhile, is reportedly “gearing up to battle Russia and Europe for sales of billions of dollars in jet fighters, cargo aircraft and other arms to India.” Russia has expressed concern over NATO’s “open doors” policy, saying that it “can lead to antagonism between particular states.”A district court in Chita, in east Siberia, has upheld a lower court’s decision to extend the custody of ex-Yukos head, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.(PHOTO: A member of the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi gets ready for the movement’s congress in Moscow, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2007. The youth organization that pays homage to Russian President Vladimir Putin and seeks to promote Russia’s resurrection as a superpower, has grown rapidly, sprouting branches in most of Russia’s 85 regions and staging public cleanup campaigns and other civic projects. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze))