RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Jan. 17, 2008

17Jan.jpg TODAY: British Council shuts two of its offices indefinitely and the director of its St Petersburg office is detained. Medvedev a liberal? Putin heads to Bulgaria to cement energy pipeline deals. Yukos executive accuses jailers of blackmail. Russia’s freedom is downgraded. Japanese activists respond to allegations of Russian spying. The “diplomatic war” between Russia and the UK reached “a dangerous new phase” after Russian police detained the son of the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock on drink-driving charges, in a move that British newspapers are callinga Kremlin-backed campaign of intimidation against British Council staff.” The Council has indefinitely shut its St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg offices. Washington’s State Department has chimed in, saying it ”regrets” the actions taken by Russia and noted that the British Council plays ”a vital role in increasing understanding between the peoples of the United Kingdom and Russia.”

Dmitri Medvedev is coming to be seen as a liberal, but one Russian analyst comments that “maintaining the status quo” does not equate with liberalism. “The EU is as much to blame as the Kremlin” for deteriorating relations between the two.President Vladimir Putin heads to Bulgaria this week to promote a Kremlin plan to build a web of pipelines “that would cement Europe’s dependence on Russia’s energy supplies.” Putin says that Bulgaria’s new NATO commitments won’t be a barrier for the country in extending relations with Russia. “Our main concern is that Bulgaria does not try to protect its interests at the expense of the security interests of other countries,” he said. A record number of Russian delegates will attend the World Economic Forum next week.Vasily Aleksanyan, a jailed former Yukos executive, has accused his jailers of trying to blackmail him into testifying against old associates by denying him the medical treatment he needs to stay alive. Aleksanyan has not consented to have his illness disclosed. The latest report from Washington democracy watchdog Freedom House says that the level of freedom in Russia went “from bad to worse” in 2007, largely due to the State Duma elections.Japanese far-right activists staged protests outside the Russian Embassy in Tokyo following reports of Moscow’s alleged spying activities in the country. Russia has denied the claims.PHOTO: Russian First Deputy Prime Minister and presidential candidate Dmitry Medvedev visits an electrometallurgical plant in Chelyabinsk January 17, 2008. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Dmitry Astakhov (RUSSIA)