RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Feb. 18, 2008

180208.jpgTODAY: Independence for Kosovo ruffles Russia. Nashi forms a children’s movement. Medvedev defends power of presidential role, even with Putin as prime minister. Protesters rally in support of Yukos prisoners. Polish prime minister Donald Tusk urges EU to work out a common policy for Russia. Dominating the news today is Kosovo’s declaration of independence. Vladimir Putin pre-emptively warned that the declaration would be “illegal, ill-conceived and immoral”, and Russia’s Foreign Ministry are currently saying they expect NATO and the United Nations “to annul the decision”. The Nashi youth organization last year set up a children’s movement called Mishki, which supposedly has “no political associations” but wants “to teach children to be in charge of their own lives”.

Roughly one hundred protesters, predominantly from the Other Russia coalition, have rallied in Moscow in support of ex-Yukos officials Vasily Aleksanyan and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The Prosecutor General’s Office has completed its criminal investigation of former Yukos co-owner Leonid Nevzlin and said he would be charged with organizing a number of murders. Russia’s human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, has criticized the treatment of prisoners in his annual report, which summarizes human rights violations reported during 2007, outlining a total of 28,617 complaints. “The conditions in many penitentiaries are, in essence, close to torture,” says the report. The United States has granted political asylum to lawyer Boris Kuznetsov, who said he was being harassed by the Federal Security Service.Early voting for the presidential election has already begun, with the first ballots cast in remote outposts such as lighthouses, vessels at sea and settlements above the Arctic Circle. Dmitry Medvedev says that, even with Putin as Prime Minister, Russia’s next president “will remain the country’s most powerful official.” Some opponents will not be appeased, however. US Republican presidential candidate John McCain has accused Putin of “preparing to lead a puppet government”.It is being reported that a Russian helicopter violated Finnish airspace over the weekend, just a week after Japan made the same complaint.Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, writing in today’s Financial Times, urges the EU to work out a common policy with regard to Russia. A special multimedia report from the FT reveals “why President Vladimir Putin, increasingly feared and distrusted abroad, enjoys rising popularity at home.”Deep Purple on Medvedev.PHOTO: Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister and presidential front-runner, Dmitry Medvedev, speaks with journalists in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk February 15, 2008. Medvedev said on Friday media freedoms are guaranteed in Russia — by the Internet. (REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Dmitry Astakhov)