RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Feb. 15, 2008

150208.jpgTODAY: Medvedev sets out his program; Russia could join WTO this year. Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin press conference dominates the news. Duma to extend presidential term? Dmitry Medvedev has set out his program, pinpointing “freedom, private property and an independent judiciary” as the central tenets of his administration, and calling for tax reform. “The harmony between freedom and rule of law is the most important thing at this stage,” he said. It is also being reported in the UK that one of Medvedev’s priorities is to reduce the economic role of the state. European Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, has said that the “good progress” in talks between Russia and the World Trade Organisation could result in the country joining this year.

Vladimir Putin’s annual Kremlin press conference, full of florid language and lasting for almost five hours, is dominating the news today. Reports are that the President called Western efforts to bypass Russia with alternative energy routes as “incorrect, stupid [and] unprofessional”. The UK press largely seems to have taken the bait, reporting him as having launched a “menacing tirade against the West”, and of suggestingthat he had been anointed by God to make Russia a great state.” The Moscow Times claims that its question for Putin, “Mr. President, what do you see as the biggest mistake you have made during your eight years in office?” was the only one that the President declined to take, and reports that Putin said he would “serve as a strong prime minister for as long as necessary”.The State Duma this year could focus on a bill to amend the Constitution that would extend the presidential term from four to six or seven years.Speaking at the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice noted “some positive points” in Washington’s cooperation with Moscow, but outlined concerns over Russia’s interactions with Iran and Ukraine.“Plans have been abandoned for the Turner Prize Retrospective by the Tate to visit the Moscow Museum of Modern Art. This, says the Tate, is due to the “withdrawal of their key [unnamed] sponsor”. “Hardly surprising, is it?,” we were told.PHOTO: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin holds up a heart during an annual question and answer session at the Kremlin in Moscow February 14, 2008. REUTERS/Eduard Korniyenko (RUSSIA)