RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Jan 26th, 2009

260109.jpgTODAY: Putin blames Ukraine again; Rogozin to meet NATO ambassadors today; Russia ready to cooperate on Afghanistan supply routes, get involved in Darfur; Orthodox Church voting for new head; Stanislav Markelov: rights activists condemn Medvedev’s silence; art, history, Stalin’s favourite ballerina dies.

In an interview with Bloomberg yesterday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin focused on recent disputes with Ukraine, again blaming former US President George W. Bush for fostering political chaos in the region, and reiterating his optimism about the Obama administration.  ‘To some extent, I think, the opportunity for the US is to find ways to make [Russia] believe that they are being taken seriously,’ says a former US ambassador.  Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s NATO envoy, sees relations with NATO improving, and wants the military alliance to succeed in Afghanistan in order to be able to help counter what he views as a regional threat.  Rogozin is to meet NATO ambassadors today in Brussels for an informal meeting, the first after a 5-month hiatus.  President Dmitry Medvedev says Russia is ready to cooperate on supply routes for NATO forces in Afghanistan, and Russia’s envoy to Sudan says the country is planning to step up its diplomatic involvement in African issues, including the Darfur crisis.

The Russian Orthodox Church has drawn up a shortlist of three contenders to succeed Patriarch Alexiy II, with a new patriarch to be chosen by Thursday.  The first round of voting favored Metropolitan Kirill, a modernizer who wants to forge closer ties with the Vatican. 

Human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov comments on Friday’s funeral of Stanislav Markelov, ‘Hundreds of people came here, and the state be damned because the president has not said one word. This is amazing.  The president always talks about superiority of the law. A lawyer was killed carrying out his duties and the president, a lawyer himself, could not even find one word to say.’  Yulia Latynina, a journalist at Novaya Gazeta, ‘leans to the theory that right wing radicals, connected with Budanov, killed Markelov.’

Sunday was Russia’s Students’ Day, which marks the founding of the Moscow State University, on which Russian police treat celebrating students ‘indulgently’.  To mark the occasion, Boris Gryzlov emphasized youth policy, modernized education and support to families as priorities for the government.  Read an article on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979; an obituary for Russian ballerina Olga Lepeshinskaya, apparently one of Stalin‘s favorite dancers, who has died at the age of 92; and an in-depth piece on Russian Modernist Rodchenko and Russian contemporary art.

PHOTO: A policeman keeps watch outside the Christ the Saviour Cathedral where representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church will convene to elect a new patriarch in Moscow January 26, 2009. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin (RUSSIA)