RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Feb 17th, 2009

170209.jpgTODAY: Medvedev fires four governors in one day, fears of social unrest are suspected; Medvedev signs declaration of shared interests with Bolivia, promises helicopters; BBC Russian Service to stop making features; no change to Iran policies. Prosecutor blames foreign workers for rise in crime; Politkovskaya lawyer says real killers are still at large.

President Dmitry Medvedev fired four of his governors and demoted his Minister of Agriculture in a single day. Some call the move a publicity stunt but The Moscow Times notes that ‘the dismissals show that the Kremlin only tolerates governors whose power dates back to the time of President Boris Yeltsin in rich regions’.  Others say it is a sign of the Kremlin’s concern that the economic slump could lead to social unrest.  Alexei Gordeyev, the Minister of Agriculture, was put forward to take over as governor of the Voronezh region.  ‘[I]ncomplete reforms, disillusionment, joblessness and clumsy policing make for a volatile mix. Keep an eye on Russia,’ writes Mary Dejevsky.  The Independent weighs up the likelihood of revolt.

Medvedev announced that Bolivia will receive helicopters from Russia to help fight the drug trade, as well as assistance to develop energy resources, and together with President Evo Morales, signed a declaration emphasizing similar positions on global issues and opposition to US policies.  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the new US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, could hold their first meeting on March 6.  The BBC’s Russian Service has announced it will stop making feature programmes.  In response, the heads of Russia’s Independent Radio Foundation write, ‘[T]he shrinking of the BBC’s Russian broadcasts will add nothing to restoring [Russia’s] normal perception of Britain.’  The Deputy Foreign Minister says Russia has no intention of toughening its policy toward Iran regarding its nuclear program.  Iran’s Defence Minister is in Moscow this week for talks on military and technical cooperation.

Moscow’s top prosecutor has blamed foreign workers for fueling a rise in crime as the cut in construction jobs leads to a higher demand for illegal drugs. ‘These kinds of statements are extremely inappropriate given the growing anti-immigrant sentiment in Russia,’ said human rights group Sova.  Prosecutors say that the murder of Anna Politkovskaya was organized by a Chechen man who had previously been a witness in the trial of three men charged with her killing.  The Politkovskaya family lawyer, Karina Moskalenko, told the court yesterday that the men on trial were just pawns, and that the real killers are at large.

Another day, another local paper critical of the authorities under investigation

PHOTO: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, and Bolivian President Evo Morales shake hands during the signing ceremony in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Feb. 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)