RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Feb 6th, 2009

060209.jpgTODAY: US and Russian delegates to meet in Munich today amid new challenge in Afghanistan; Nashi activists spying for Kremlin?; former Mayor gunned down in contract killing, media editors threatened and beaten; Politkovskaya witness says he was asked to lie.

US President Barack Obama is searching for an alternative to the crucial US air base in Central Asia, used to supply the growing military operation in Afghanistan, after Kyrgyzstan said that its decision to close the base was final.  Administration officials reportedly perceive the closure as the result of pressure from Russia, and thus a shot across the bow, but the Associated Press suggests that both sides have legitimate goals, ‘and they are not necessarily at odds’.  The matter is expected to be discussed at a security conference today in Munich between Europe, Russia and the US.  The Telegraph reports that Henry Kissinger made secret visits to Russia last year to win support for Obama’s nuclear reduction initiative.  US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said she hopes to have a more constructive relationship with Russia.

A former deputy mayor of Grozny was gunned down early yesterday morning in western Moscow in what authorities said appeared to be a contract murder.  Yuri Grachev, the 72-year-old editor-in-chief of a Solnechnogorsk newspaper critical of the authorities, suffered concussion after being beaten near his house.  The editor in chief of the independent Ekho Moskvy radio, Aleksei Venediktov, says he found a chunk of timber with an ax embedded in it outside his apartment door in Moscow yesterday.  Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, the alleged organizer of the 2006 murder of reporter Anna Politkovskaya, testified that investigators offered him a reduced sentence in exchange for falsely incriminating either Chechnya’s president or prominent Kremlin foe Boris Berezovsky.  Read a feature on Novaya Gazeta’s plans in the wake of the murder of its junior reporter, Anastasia Baburova (click for a special report at The Economist).  Anna Bukovskaya, a former Nashi activist, has told reporters that shewas part of an operation in which undercover pro-Kremlin agents workedin opposition groups across Russia to provide the presidentialadministration with information on opposition activists and rallies.  Ilya Yashin, former leader of Youth Yabloko, said he feared for Bukovskaya’s safety in light of her claims.

A BBC World Service poll suggests that global attitudes towards Russia have worsened over the year.  On the several challenges faced by the Orthodox church’s new Patriarch.

Picture this: Putin dancing to ABBA.

PHOTO: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, and Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov, left, are seen during the opening ceremony of the ‘Year of Bulgaria in Russia’, at the Bolshoi Theater, Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009. (AP Photo/Natalia Kolesnikova, Pool)