TODAY: Putin threatens to target missiles at Ukraine but Russia wants a ban on the use of weapons in space; Russia’s ‘Corporate Raiders’; Boris Nemtsov suspends membership of Union of Right Forces. Vladimir Putin will give his seventh and final annual news-conference as President today. One journalist, in a bid to prove that Putin is “a failure, not a success,” says that in important respects, Russia’s economic reform “has gone backwards, particularly with the ever-growing role of the state in vital segments of the economy”. Another says “the strange paranoia and vindictiveness of Mr. Putin are on display everywhere, notably in Russia’s frozen far east, where Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, is languishing in a subarctic labor camp”. The story of another businessman who alleges his company was stolen from him by authorities (“Corporate Raiders”) can be found here.
Putin will attend a NATO summit in April. Putin has warned that Russia may target its missiles at Ukraine if the latter joins NATO and accepts the deployment of the US missile defense shield. Putin himself described such retaliatory action as “frightening”, but said it would be necessary given Russia’s inability to interfere in the decision. Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, who was sitting beside Putin during these remarks, responded by saying that Ukraine had the right to choose its own alliances. Putin’s talk “is representative of an increasingly truculent foreign policy, which goes largely unchallenged by Russia’s political elite.”In what signals a “shared effort to challenge America’s military superiority”, China and Russia have demanded a ban on the use of weapons in space. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that “weapons deployment in space by one state [ie, the US] will inevitably result in a chain reaction.” The US Navy Chief has said that a Russian strategic bomber’s sweep of an American aircraft carrier near Japan was “benign” and part of the country’s bid to reassert its global military might.Union of Right Forces co-founder Boris Nemtsov has “suspended” his membership in the party “in an apparent attempt to spare party colleagues from possible political reprisals” as a result of his co-authored report criticizing Putin.PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin walks past a guard as he arrives for a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko at the Kremlin in Moscow. (AFP/RIA NOVOSTI /Mikhail Klimentyev)