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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Jan. 21, 2008

210108.jpgTODAY: British Council offices are shut, and accusing of covering up spying operations. Kasyanov says his efforts to run for president are being thwarted. Mitvol’s resignation rejected. Kasparov condemns delay of investigation into activist’s death. Russia’s military chief of staff says Moscow will use pre-emptive nuclear force if necessary. Killer given government post. Two British Council officials in St Petersburg have left Russia after being detained by security services, “raising fears that the offices may never reopen.” Two UK journalists separately blame the Kremlin’s power for the current situation, and urge the West to support Russia’s liberals. The Foreign Ministry has hinted that the British Council’s regional offices might be allowed to reopen if Britain “resumed cooperation with the Federal Security Service and expressed a willingness to ease visa rules for Russians,” but a senior officer of Russia’s Federal Security Service said that “We have no doubt that British intelligence uses the council as well as other organizations to spy in Russia.”

One US journalist writes that Russia’s democracy has “strikingly receded since the days of Boris Yeltsin”.Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov says that the Interior and Justice ministries are conducting a coordinated campaign to prevent him from running for president. Public polls, meanwhile, continue to predict that Dmitri Medvedev will win the presidential elections. It appears that the resignation of Oleg Mitvol, the environmental watchdog, was tendered to protest the possible appointment of a new head to his agency; but the resignation has been rejected. Garry Kasparov says that the Interior Ministry’s anti-organized crime unit “distinguished itself by its savagery” in delaying an investigation into the killing of a National Bolshevik activist.Russia’s military chief of staff, Gen Yuri Baluyevsky, says he wants to be sure that other countries understand that Moscow “is ready to use force, including pre-emptively and with nuclear weapons, to defend itself.” He emphasized that this “did not mark a policy shift.” The defense ministers of Russia and Belarus have signed an agreement to set up a communications system between regional groupings of the countries’ Armed Forces. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski is in Moscow today to discuss a range of issues, including US plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe. The visit will “pave the way” for a visit by Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who is eager to improve Polish-Russian relations, next month. Sergei Lavrov says Russia will not exert any pressure on Poland or on any other country in connection with the missile defense shield.Vitaly Kaloyev, who killed an air-traffic controller he blamed for the deaths of his wife and two children in a midair collision in 2002, has been appointed to a high-level government post in southern Russia.PHOTO: Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Sobyanin attend a Security Council meeting in the Moscow Kremlin, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2008. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Presidential Press Service, Mikhail Klimentyev)