RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Jan 8th, 2009

080109.jpgTODAY: Russia in talks with Ukraine and EU to attempt to solve the gas crisis; Bulgaria and others in state of emergency; Orthodox Christmas.

The EU, Russia and Ukraine are holding talks today, following preliminary negotiations last night, to try and find a resolution to the dispute which, according to EU Commission President Jose Manual Barroso, is taking the EU’s gas supply hostage.  Both sides have agreed in principle to allow EU monitors to investigate gas flows on both sides of the dispute, to discern how much gas Russia sends to Ukraine and whether or not Ukraine is allowing that gas to reach its paying customers.  ‘Any pretence that this is a commercial row between a gas supplier and a customer is ridiculous.’  Is Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s using the gas war to align his country with the West?  Or is it simply a question of not having the funds to pay for gas at European market prices?  Read a comprehensive overview of the situation at The Economist.

A number of EU governments have declared states of emergency.  Of the 18 countries now affected by gas shortages, Bulgaria has been hit the hardest, with many inhabitants lacking central heating and fears that its electric grid will collapse under the pressure of so many people using electric heaters to keep warm.  The UK is reportedly exporting gas to supply the EU, driving up wholesale prices.

The gas crisis is drawing attention away from the ongoing effects of the economic crisis.  How will the Kremlin’s focus on new judicial reforms affect political protest and free speech?

Many dissident voices reportedly marked the Russian Orthodox Christmas yesterday by denouncing practices such as christening and confession on the grounds that they could spread disease – in smart contrast to President Dmitry Medvedev’s Christmas letter celebrating ‘the unfailing light of faith, hope and love.’

PHOTO: Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attends the Orthodox Christmas mass at a church in Petrozavodsk January 6, 2009. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Pool/Alexei Druzhinin (RUSSIA)