RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Dec 30, 2008

blast123008.jpgTODAY:  Extended presidential terms signed into law – protests in response, a missile test gone awry, clashes in Dagestan claim life of top Russian official, Abramovich to sell yacht or Chelsea while Latvia asks to be bought, fallen hockey star Alexei Cherepanov is alleged to have used drugs, and Ded Moroz, Russia’s version of Santa Claus, pulls a heist at a gas station.

On Tuesday, President Dmitry Medvedev signed into law a proposal to extend Russia’s presidential terms from four to six years, which made its way through the legislative bodies with record speed – the constitutional amendment cleared the parliament at 83 regional legislatures in less than 50 days.  The pro-democracy Yabloko party held a last-ditch protest demonstration to oppose the change to the constitution, pointing out that under law the regions have one full year to consider any such change.  “They’re completely ignoring the law,” said Sergei Mitrokhin, chairman of Yabloko. “Unfortunately, this happens quite often, but this is the first time the process has been ignored for such a significant issue as a constitutional amendment.

Over the past number of weeks, concerns had been growing over a series of failed tests by one of Russia’s newest submarine-launched ballistic missiles, the Bulava.  The missile has failed for the fifth time out of ten attempts, leading military officials to blame faulty manufacturing.

On Monday night armed militants attacked a government convoy near Makhachkala, Dagestan, fatally wounding Maj. Gen. Valery Lipinski, a high ranking official within the Interior Ministry.  Lipinski headed up the regional interior forces for the North Caucasus, and formerly was a deputy head of the anti-terrorism commission in Dagestan.

Under pressure from the financial crisis, the British tabloids are reporting that the London-based Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich is considering a sale of either his yacht or his beloved football club Chelsea.  Meanwhile, 400 Latvians have unofficially signed a letter to Abramovich asking him to “buy” the country as opposed to taking an IMF bailout:  “I would like you to consider the possibility of purchasing Latvia: thepopulation are hard working and pleasant, environmentally clean areaand plenty of space to dock your yacht,” the letter read.

Alexei Cherepanov, the former star ice hockey prospect of the New York Rangers who died during a game in Russia, is posthumously accused of doping, as investigators say there were traces of alcohol and narcotics in his blood point towards performance enhancing drugs.  Both the Russian hockey league, KHL, and the team which employed Cherepanov had come under pressure and potential litigation following the mishandling of the emergency medical service to the player.

Ded Moroz, Russia’s version of father christmas, has been making numerous appearances across Moscow to the delight of children.  Mayor Yury Luzhkov held a welcoming ceremony for Ded Moroz, with a strong dose of nationalism directed at the West: “Our Ded Moroz is more dignified than Santa Claus,” he announced to a large group of children.  Unfortunately, later that day, a man dressed up as Grandfather Frost robbed a gas station in the southeast of the city, making off with 2,000 rubles ($70).

PHOTO: Russian Prime Minister VladimirPutin speaks to the media after the last in 2008 Cabinet meeting inMoscow on Monday, Dec. 29, 2008. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin saidMonday that Russia’s long-term economic goals would remain unchangedand the financial crisis should ‘raise adrenaline in the blood’ to makethe Cabinet work harder. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, Pool)