TODAY: Putin declares onset of new arms race; Sergei Ivanov gives “conciliatory” speech. Putin’s Playground? Human rights issues; Aleksanyan moved to a specialized clinic. Russia to write off Iraqi debt; Japan angry over violation of airspace. President Vladimir Putin has “used one of the last major speeches of his presidency” to declare the onset of a “new arms race“, that would defend Russia from unnamed foreign powers who, he claimed, were bent on controlling the world’s natural resources. Putin’s statements were indirectly tempered by First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who yesterday said the West need not fear Russia’s growing economic and political clout. One UK journalist, in a piece entitled “Putin’s Playground”, says that the fusion of political and economic power in Russia is complete.
“The world had its first glimpse of the post-Putin era yesterday. What will it look like? The same as the Putin era.”One UK story focuses on the case of Artem Basirov, the Russian student detaiend in a psychiatric hospital due to his “dislike of President Vladimir Putin”. A Moscow court has ordered a US pastor to remain in detention for two months while prosecutors investigate him on suspicion of smuggling ammunition into the country. Russia’s human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said his efforts to defend citizens’ rights were being hampered by courts “that lack independence and that issue poor rulings.” Ex-Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky is continuing a hunger strike he began almost two weeks ago in support of Vasily Aleksanyan, his terminally-ill former colleague. It is again being reported that Aleksanyan has been moved from jail to a specialized clinic, according to his lawyer and a prison spokesman.Oleg Gordievsky, the former KGB officer who spied for Britain, fears he could be murdered by Russians in the UK.Russia will write off Iraq’s remaining debt, estimated at around $10 billion, without resurrecting earlier demands of preferential access to Iraqi oil fields in exchange. A new survey by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry says that trade between India and Russia has the potential to hit $20 billion by 2015 if some obstacles like high credit risk and procedural hassles are addressed.Japan has protested to Moscow after a Russian military plane violated Japanese air space over the weekend, demanding an explanation and saying “We strongly protest against the violation.” Russia says it will submit to a UN disarmament conference a joint Sino-Russian proposal for an international treaty to ban the deployment of weapons in outer space. The United States and Russia should set aside Cold War arms control treaties and replace them with new, multilateral agreements to combat nuclear proliferation, says Sergei Ivanov.PHOTO: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin speaks to the State Council in Moscow’s Kremlin February 8, 2008. Putin made a keynote speech to the State Council, which gathers ministers, regional governors and members of parliament. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Kremlin (RUSSIA)