RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Jan. 31, 2008

310108.jpgTODAY: New OSCE spats for March presidential election, and Putin orders FSB to prevent external meddling. Kudrin criticizes Russia’s foreign policy. Putin and Medvedev call for environmental improvements. Khodorkovsky stars hunger strike. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has warned that they could again refuse to take part in Russia’s elections, as Russia’s restrictions are “making it impossible for them to assess the campaign.” President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, has ordered the FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service, to guard againstoutside” interference in the presidential election. He also called on the FSB to speed up the formation of a comprehensive system of anti-terror security.

Independent analysts suggest that the real reason Dmitry Medvedev does not want to take part in television campaigns with “a fake democrat and a clownish ultranationalist” is to “avoid the embarrassment of a debate in which all the contestants agreed with each other and tried to outdo one another in pledging allegiance to Mr Putin.” One Russian journalist notes that “since Medvedev hasn’t debated a single rival, he has been able to avoid any difficult or uncomfortable questions — including, ‘What the heck is your platform?’” Both Putin and Medvedev have called for sweeping environmental improvements, saying cleaning up Soviet-era pollution and reducing industrial waste were crucial for the country’s economy and public health.Jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky has started a hunger strike to protest prosecutors’ handling of Vasily Aleksanyan, a former Yukos executive who claims he has been denied medical treatment.Finance minister Alexei Kudrin acknowledged that Russia’s spats with Europe and America on a number of issues have gone too far, and suggested that Russia needed to “shift our foreign policy goals” to safeguard stable investment. One newspaper notes that “it is exceptionally rare for ministers to criticise Kremlin policy publicly.” One Duma speaker says that Germany and the European Union are “not doing enough” to support a planned pipeline that will carry gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. Russia may reconfigure its military presence in the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad in response to US plans for missile defense sites in Europe.Is customs corruption due to low wages? Switzerland’s highest court has ruled that a former executive at a state-owned company can not be handed over for trial in Russia without a guarantee that conditions for his detention will meet standards set by the European Convention on Human Rights.With more than 10,000 followers in Moscow alone, Russia is apparently a “prime target” of “controversial religious movement” Scientology.PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks in Moscow’s Kremlin on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2008, as he opens the Security Council meeting. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)