RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Dec 5th, 2008

051208.jpgTODAY: Patriarch Alexei II dies in Moscow; Putin’s Q&A, Medvedev tries to define his boundaries; EU responds negatively to Russia’s proposed security measures and moves to boost ties with former Soviet states; masked police invade human rights offices; Politkovskaya trials moves into closed courts.

Vladimir Putin held his live question and answer session yesterday on Russian television.  The New York Times sums the session up by saying that the Prime Minister ‘spent more than three hours Thursday afternoon trying to calm Russians concerned that they may be victimized by yet another economic crisis‘.  This has been his message for some time now.  To the suggestion that he might step down next year to prevent the worsening economy from damaging his personal popularity, Putin said, ‘It has always been a rule for me never to run away from problems.  You have to fight these problems and take full responsibility for what you do.‘  But when problems arise, who will take the blame?  When asked what he loves most, Putin replied, ‘Most of all, I love Russia‘.  Meanwhile, President Dmitry Medvedev has attempted to reassert his role in relation to Putin, insisting to the Indian media that ‘it is absolutely clear that his activities are his job, while my job is my job‘.

Patriarch Alexei II, the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church, died this morning in Moscow, aged 79.

The US Deputy Secretary of State has responded to Russia’s suggestions for a new European security order, calling them ‘redundant and an attempt to weaken NATO. […] NATO makes Russia uncomfortable‘.  But apart from France, which said it was willing to discuss the proposals, most EU ministers responded negatively.  ‘We don’t need new international institutions to get things done, we only need the common political will to make present institutions work as they were intended to,‘ said the Dutch foreign minister.  In a move likely to further irritate Russia, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has proposed boosting its ties with Ukraine, Georgia and four other former Soviet republics as a response to ‘events in Georgia in August‘.

State investigators – wearing masks – have raided the offices of the human rights group Memorial, seizing computers in a presumed search for extremist material.  ‘This is an act of repression against our organization,‘ said a staff member.  The Anna Politkovskaya murder trial has moved into a closed court today in order to hear ‘classified evidence‘, with one lawyer speculating that the witness would be linked to a government agency.  Russia’s political opposition is finding it increasingly difficult to get permits for protest marches.

The Duma today will consider a bill that would eliminate jury trials for cases involving terrorism, espionage and attempts to overthrow the government.  United Russia, which is sponsoring the bill, says the legislation is necessary because juries in volatile southern regions have been lenient toward those accused of involvement in organized crime.  United Russia has reportedly teamed up with the Centrist Democratic International, a global grouping of parties associated with Christian democracy, apparently in a bid to gain some international recognition.
PHOTO: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev walks during a ceremonial reception, in New Delhi, India, Friday, Dec. 5, 2008. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Dmitry Astakhov, Presidential Press Service)