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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – July 4, 2008

040708.jpgTODAY: Putin takes Sochi plans off track to comply with environmental organizations, tax cuts for NGOs raise concerns; UK press has reservations about Medvedev’s optimistic outlook on relations; Abramovich resigns as governor of Chukotka; a third of money for armed forces goes to corruption; poll reveals 50% of the Russian middle-classes do not believe in a Putin legacy of stability. Vladimir Putin has ordered organizers of the 2014 Winter Olympics to relocate a number of planned facilities away from protected wilderness following complaints that some of the constructions would damage wildlife. “In determining our priorities – money or the environment – we chose the environment,” he said. Putin’s decision to offer fewer tax breaks to Western NGOs has “raised fresh fears that the Kremlin had opened a new front in its war against free speech”. Letters and a comment piece printed in The Guardian show reservations regarding Medvedev’s indication of wanting to improve relations with the UK. Medvedev is to make his “debut” at next week’s G8 summit. In terms of “asserting European values,” one source already see him as “following the course set by Vladimir Putin” in relations with the EU. Medvedev has fired Russia’s envoy to the European Court of Human Rights.

Billionaire Roman Abramovich has officially resigned as governor of the “impoverished, icy” Chukotka region, having reportedly long made it clear that he wanted to leave the post. Vladimir Putin reportedly denied his request to step down last year.If a senior Russian official’s estimate that a third of all money spent by the Russian government on its armed forces is lost to corruption is correct, it would amount to an annual $13 billion. A poll by independent group Levada has found that half of Russia’s emerging middle class do not believe in the stability delivered by their former president, and would like to emigrate before a crisis develops. Britain’s security services have identified Russia as the third most serious threat facing the country, fearing that intelligence agencies have “flooded the country with agents”.Abkhazia, “in law part of Georgia but in effect controlled by Russia, has become a new frontier between Russia and the West.”PHOTO: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin held two meetings in Sochi July 3 dedicated to the preparation of 2014 Olympics. KOMMERSANT: Sergey Mikheev