RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Jan 21st, 2009

210109.jpgTODAY: Russia sees NATO as test for Obama; gas supplies to Europe resume; Duma reading freedom of information bill; fighter jets transported to Lebanon; tributes to Stanislav Markelov.

The Kremlin says that it considers the US position on NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine to be a key issue on which to judge the intentions of US President Barack Obama.  The new US administration will certainly improve relations with Russia, says one columnist, but only because ‘bilateral relations could hardly get worse than they are now’.  But others see Obama’s inauguration speech, in which he said ‘America is a friend of each nation’, as a cause for optimism regarding the improvement of US-Russia relations.  The United States military has obtained permission to move troop supplies for Afghanistan through Russian territory.  Russia, ‘which is trying to increase its influence again in the Mideast,’ has begun shipping fighter jets to Lebanon.

Read a tribute to Stanislav Markelov by columnist Zoya Svetova.  A reported 1,500 people gathered in the Chechen capital yesterday, and hundreds more in Moscow, to protest Markelov’s murder.  President Ramzan Kadyrov has given Markelov a posthumous award ‘for service to the Republic of Chechnya.’  The Duma is considering the final reading of a bill – ‘comparable to freedom of information laws’ – on citizens’ rights to gain access to government documents and outlining punishments for officials who do not comply.

Slovakia and Hungary both confirmed that they have begun receiving Russian gas again, following a supply and transit deal brokered between Yulia Tymoshenko and Vladimir Putin earlier this week.  Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has criticized the finalized deal, which will cost Ukraine over $1 billion dollars, calling it a defeat for his country.  José Manuel Barroso, president of the EU Commission, said, ‘It is difficult to welcome something that should not have happened in the first place. It was utterly unacceptable that European gas consumers were held hostage.’

PHOTO: Russian Matryoshka dolls featuring portraits of US President Barack Obama, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao are on display at a market in St.Petersburg January 20, 2009. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk (RUSSIA)