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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Dec. 8, 2008

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TODAY: National mourning of the patriarch continues, Switzerland helps soften Russia-Georgia relations, a hostage siege in Dagestan ends with fatalities, more asset seizures on the horizon, fingers point to FSB in Politkovskaya trial, and Russia joins the talks to persuade North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons.

The Swiss government has announced that its embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia, will officially represent the Russian Federation in diplomatic issues with the local government, as relations between Russia and Georgia have been suspended since Aug. 26.  This announcement, which is unopposed by Tbilisi, is accompanied by signs that the new foreign minister, Grigol Vasadze, is eager to renew ties with Moscow.  Meanwhile, Abkhazia is beginning to show its weariness of the costs of Russian support:  “We have already become a province of Russia,” said a newspaper editor who closed his publication after the recognition.


On Saturday, Russian police stormed a small hotelnear the regional capital of Dagestan where armed militants hadblockaded themselves after failing to negotiate a surrender.  Theincident happened along with several other violent clashes betweenmilitants and government troops through Ingushetia and Dagestan overthe weekend.

According to a piece in the Moscow Times, one of slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s editors has taken to the stand in court and accused Dzhabrail Makhmudov of being an FSB agent, something that Makhmudov denies.  Meanwhile, the nation has been seized by large scale memorial events to commemorate the life of the recently deceased Patriarch Alexey II, as thousands have turned out on the streets and formed lines for the public viewing.  “Under Alexei the Orthodox church has become what could be considered aseparate branch of power,” said Alexei Malashenko, an analyst at theCarnegie Moscow Institute. “They play the role of an ideologicaldepartment of the government.

Others point out the Patriarch’s legacy as a peacemaker, who intervened during the constitutional crisis coup attempt on Aug. 21, 1991, with the comment that “Every person who raises arms against his neighbor, against unarmedcivilians, will be taking upon his soul a very profound sin that willseparate him from the church and from God.

The economic crisis is being used as a pretext for a renewed round of private property seizures reminiscent of the Yukos affairs, reports a front page article in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune.  Why would Igor Sechin take a suddenly intense interest in a two-year old accident at a mine?  “He is the state’s main raider,” said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, “Heorganizes these raider seizures, sometimes to the benefit of the state,or sometimes to the benefit of companies that are friendly to him.


Photo: Russia’s chief mufti, or Islamic religious leader, Talgan Tadzhuddin, prays near a casket with late Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy’s body, foreground, placed for public viewing in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2008.  (AP Photo)