TODAY: Putin responsible for the strengthening the Kremlin’s “power vertical”. Medvedev to run “ascetic” campaign. Aleksanyan given “unprecedented attention and care”. Court bailiffs tighten border controls for those in debt. Human Rights Watch calls Putin a “despot masquerading as a democrat”. The Kremlin’s “power vertical” has been strengthened and consolidated by Vladimir Putin since his coming to power, says one newspaper, which notes that his first state-of-the-nation speech asserted that “Power should be based on the law and the vertical created in accordance with it.” The Kremlin is demanding the extradition of another Russian oligarch who has fled to England, claiming that Yuri Nikitin has swindled £250m from his country’s shipping fleet. Dmitry Medvedev is reportedly planning to run an “ascetic” presidential campaign. Former Yukos executive Vasily Aleksanyan, who claims he was denied crucial medical treatment while in detention, is now receiving “unprecedented attention and care” in detention. One newspaper has likened Russia’s court bailiffs to “a new branch of the special services” after the “Enforcement Law” was updated to prevent citizens from leaving the country if they owe alimony, back debts on bank credits, utilities bills or old traffic fines.
In its annual round-up, Human Rights Watch has accused London and Washington, among others, of publicly espousing the cause of democracy whilst being happy to deal closely with “despots masquerading as democrats“, including Vladimir Putin. The EU meanwhile “is taking a cautious approach to the state of Russian democracy” in the run-up to the elections.The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia has reported three attacks in the last two weeks in western Russia, including a raid on a synagogue and desecration of a memorial to Holocaust victims, calling them part of ”a recent surge in anti-Semitic manifestations” in the country. Russia has sent 12 air force bombers to take part in naval exercises over the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans.PHOTO: A supporter of Serbia’s ultra-nationalist Radical Party acting leader Tomislav Nikolic holds a picture of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin during a pre-election rally in Belgrade January 31, 2008. Serbia’s pro-Western President Boris Tadic faces nationalist challenger Nikolic on Sunday in an election that is seen as a referendum on the nation’s future. REUTERS/Marko Djurica (SERBIA)