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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Jan. 15, 2008

150108.jpgTODAY: British Council row escalates, visa sanctions imposed; United Russia officials dismissed over “financial machinations”; new Berezovsky lawsuit; US and Russia to run joint anti-terror exercise; difficulties faced by Russian journalists and activists. The row over Russia’s British Council offices has escalated further, sending the international press is in a frenzy. Russia has accused Britain of “deliberate provocation” after the latter defied orders to close two of its Russian offices. The Foreign Ministry is threatening to recover back taxes from the St Petersburg office, and says it will not renew the visas of current British Council regional staff or issue new ones. Council director James Kennedy, when asked to predict the next step, said, “All sorts of things might happen. But [Sergei] Lavrov has said that we should not expect tanks outside the British Council.” Kennedy said it was too early to say what impact the visa sanctions would have. Sir Anthony Brenton, Britain’s ambassador to Moscow, continues to call the order a “breach of international law“. One paper, focusing on the cultural advantages offered by the British Council’s operations in Russia, points out that Lavrov’s daughter attended the London School of Economics. Another says that the row “was entirely predictable.”

Two senior United Russia officials have been dismissed over possible financial fraud linked to the presidential campaign of First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, a party source has revealed. An ex-CEO at Image Bank, Valery Motkin, has launched a lawsuit against Boris Berezovsky, blaming Berezovsky for time he had to spend in prison. Motkin is seeking 38 million rubles in “moral damage compensation”.A new report by the Glasnost Defense Foundation has recorded 2007 as one of the worst years for journalists in post-Soviet Russia. Russia’s independent newspaper, the St Petersburg Novaya Gazeta, is to stop appearing in Leningrad newsstands this year. Four ethnic Russian activists have gone on trial in Estonia charged with fomenting unrest during the removal of a Soviet-era war memorial last April. A Russian television journalist could face a fine or even prison time after referring to a local meeting of supporters of President Vladimir Putin as a “puting” and the supporters as “Putinists,” a crime classified as “insulting a public official”.The air forces of Russia and the United States will conduct a joint anti-terror exercise in the summer to focus on practicing “the inter-operability of communications and command systems from both sides”; and NATO and Russia are set to conduct a joint Theater Missile Defense (TMD) exercise next week in Germany.PHOTO: The British Council offices in Moscow. Russia has summoned the British ambassador after the British Council defied a government ban and reopened two regional offices, heightening diplomatic tensions between the two countries. (AFP/File/Alexander Nemenov)