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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Feb. 29, 2008

290208.jpgTODAY: Russia says that EU mission in Kosovo was “illegal”. The divide beween Russia’s rich and poor is increasing. Head of the electoral commission says coverage has been “unequal but fair”. Voters pressured to turn out on Sunday. Russia has made a statement at the UN Security Council meeting saying that the deployment of an EU mission in Kosovo was illegal, and that the resolution authorizing the United Nations to administer the Serb province in 1999 remains in force. One article says that Medvedev’s trip to Serbia this week could “further stoke a dangerous nationalism in response to Kosovo’s independence declaration.” One article examines the increasing divide between the wealth of Russia’s cities and the poverty of their surrounding areas. An MP for the pro-Putin United Russia party is quoted as saying, “If we combine the increas[ing gap between rich and poor] with some kind of liberal economic reforms […] it could lead to an uprising.” In another, a small-businessman says that “there are rumors predicting financial meltdowns, devaluation. People are afraid of losing their savings”.

The head of Russia’s electoral commission has admitted media coverage for Sunday’s presidential election has been unequal, but said he still believed the coverage had been fair. Officials are reportedly pressuring voters due to concerns that Sunday’s presidential election result is such a foregone conclusion that turn-out could be embarrassingly low. “One shop owner said tenants at a Moscow shopping centre had been instructed by management to obtain absentee ballots to vote at the centre. After several failed to do so, their shops were barred from opening until they did.” Another story reports that “every Russian with a mobile phone has received a text message reminding them to vote in the country’s presidential election on Sunday.” Yet another warns “that Russia’s economic growth — driven exclusively by high global energy prices — has not produced improvements in the country’s infrastructure or even the seeds of economic diversification.”An analysis of the voting figures for the last election offer “mathematical proof of either election fraud or extremely anomalous voter behavior”.One UK newspaper is running a video profile of Dmitry Medvedev, which ends on a reference to a “cult of personality”. One Russian political analyst comments, “Medvedev has very little political resources to conduct an independent political course even if he wanted to. Right now, everything is being done to ensure that he has as little power as possible when he takes over.” US President George Bush said he does not know much about Dmitry Medvedev, but that it will be interesting to see who represents Russia — presumably either Medvedev or Putin — at the Group of Eight meeting later this year in Japan. US-Russian relations are important, he said, “for stability.”Britain’s Royal Navy has started training crews to man the luxury yachts of the rich and famous and one of their first clients is reportedly Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.