RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Feb 2nd, 2009

020209.jpgTODAY: Thousands of protesters take to the streets all across Russia in widespread dissent; United Russia holds 30-minute pro-Kremlin rallies; Patriarch Kirill enthroned; gearing up for Russia-US meetings; Russians turn to internet for objective news.

Russia saw its largest demonstration of public discontentment in years over the weekend, as thousands of people gathered in cities across the country, denouncing the Kremlin, Dmitry Medvedev, and Vladimir Putin with ‘largely subdued, but pointed criticism’Reuters counts ‘a dozen rallies’, with motives ranging from car tariff hikes and unemployment, to the murder of Stanislav Markelov and dissatisfaction with ‘Putin’s Plan’.  The BBC has footage of one protest.  ‘The anti-government rallies were largely ignored by state television, which instead covered United Russia’s pro-government rallies in Moscow and several other cities.’  Moscow’s counter-rally lasted 30 minutes, with tea being distributed by the military to the participants, who held signs saying ‘We trust!’  Is Putinism on the wane?, wonders Radio Free Europe‘The Kremlin’s rule is beginning to look much shakier than at any time since Vladimir Putin came to power,’ notes The Independent.

The Russian Orthodox Church has enthroned Metropolitan Kirill, its 16th patriarch, in an elaborate ceremony attended by both Putin and Medvedev.  He pledged to keep his church united and to ‘bring God to young people’.  The BBC is running a series of photographs of the ceremony.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov will meet their US counterparts to discuss sensitive strategic issues ahead of a presidential meeting, currently scheduled for early April.  A senior US envoy has spoken out against Russia’s unconfirmed plans to open a naval base in Abkhazia.  The leaders of Russia and Cuba both spoke warmly about a new chapter in the history of Russia-Cuba relations during their hour-long meeting, during which agreements were signed, giving food aid and a $20 million loan to Cuba to buy Russian construction, energy and agricultural equipment.

Dmitry Muratov, editor of Novaya Gazeta which has lost four reporters in the past eight years to contract-style killings, is trying to plan the paper’s next issue. ‘There’s usually a lot of jokes, laughing, talk about ideas. But our batteries are totally spent.’  A new poll suggests that Russians are increasingly choosing the Internet over other media outlets in their pursuit of ‘objective’ news.
PHOTO: Thousands of people held rallies across Russia over the weekend, protesting at the government’s handling of the economy. (AFP/BBC)