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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Jan. 11, 2008

blast011008.jpgToday: Poland is looking more flexible on the missile defense shield, Moscow bans cigarette advertisements, a wealthy Georgian opposition leader is charged with terrorism, Serbia is warned over a Russian energy siege, and a big hockey fight. Pressure from Russia is beginning change the diplomatic strategy of Poland and the Czech Republic in their discussions with the United States over the plans to build an anti-ballistic missile shield. Today it’s been reported that the two countries are teaming up to go into the talks together to increase their bargaining leverage. However it might just be about making the Americans pay for it all, rather than calling off the project. One way to do that is for Poland to invite Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Kislyak, to Warsaw to talks about the “strategic dangers” posed by the project. Tomas Valasek of CEF saidThe new Polish government is prepared to drive a hard bargain because much is at stake if this system goes ahead. … Poland wants security guarantees from the U.S. since it is not convinced NATO would provide that guarantee. This means the U.S. putting boots on the ground in Poland but also helping Poland to upgrade its air defenses.

Not that we will hear any complaints today. Simultaneously, U.S. envoy Christopher Hill is in Moscow to discuss with Russian officials North Korea’s failure to make the year-end deadline to fully declare their nuclear program. The visit was successful, and ITAR-Tass reported that Hill said that a new round of six-party talks could happen this month.On a less harmonious note, the newly appointed nationalist ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin wasted no time in getting to work: “As far as the CFE is concerned, we must liberate ourselves from colonial dependency in the security sphere. The CFE in its original form is an anachronism of the Cold War.” Rogozin did promise to speak with NATO in a “human way.”In domestic politics, Medvedev has officially launched his presidential campaign with a tour the westernmost territory of Kaliningrad and the Arctic port of Murmansk, where he called for pension reforms, more food production, and a revival of Russia’s naval power. Vladimir Putin stayed behind in Moscow to award medals to the team of scientists which recently completed the expedition to the Arctic circle to plant a controversial Russian flag on the seabed. The Duma has presented its legislative agenda for the Spring, which includes a proposal to build a library and museum to honor Vladimir Putin, but does not include a major anti-corruption bill. Speaker Boris Gryzlov said the Duma would focus on raising state salaries and increasing the military budget before Feb. 1.In a rare move of actually voluntarily “joining” an international law (World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control), plans to ban all cigarette advertising – a proposal of great significance in one of the largest tobacco markets in the world. In other advertising news, Coca-Cola has had to pull a series machine advertisements which depicted a Russian skyline, after religious activists in Nizhny Novgorod filed a complaint with the procuracy that the depiction of Orthodox crosses was blasphemous.Just days following the reelection of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, one of his chief opponents, the tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, has been charged with terrorism and plotting to overthrow the government. After dismissing the charges as politically motivated, Mr. Patarkatsishvili said “It is not me that has committed any crimes but rather the regime of Mr. Saakashvili and his administration that has instigated crimes and illegal acts against the citizens of Georgia.“The BBC is reporting that the European Commission has issued a stern warning about Gazprom’s aggressive bid to take over Serbia’s national energy company, NIS. The EC spokeswoman stated, “The commission hopes that the sale of an important asset such as the Serbian oil company will be open and driven by objective, commercial and economic interests.” The NIS sale to Gazprom has become involved in Serbia negotiations to join the European Union, which was already made difficult by Kosovo issues and cooperation in the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.With regard to the Gazprom offer, Serbia appears largely resigned. A spokesman told the BBC “We simply have no alternatives. …. Gazprom’s proposal includes security of supply and this is very important to Serbia. We have no possible supply from Algeria or Norway, which are supply points for the rest of Europe.“In sporting news, one of the largest all-out hockey brawls occurred this week at the end of a match between AK Bars Kazan and Chelyabinsk in Russia’s main pro league, resulting in “a mammoth 378 minutes in penalties.” One blogger quipped “Four minutes of bench-clearing bliss, complete with former NHL scrubs, goalie fights and a referee doing his best Kevin Bacon from “Animal House,” screaming the Russian equivalent of “Remain calm! ALL IS WELL!” Seriously, I haven’t seen Ruskie carnage like this since that time a truck full of GAP blue jeans and loaves of bread tipped over near Sankt Peterburg.” A video of the fight is posted here.A Russian radio station may face criminal charges for using the terms “Puting” and “Putinist” on the air – which were deemed offensive to the president.PHOTO: A billboard promoting the presidential polls in the form of an adventure movie advertisement is presented for discussion by the Chairman of the Central Electoral Commission Vladimir Churov in Moscow January 11, 2008. The text in the centre read ‘Russia’s Presidential Polls’. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin (RUSSIA)