TODAY: Medvedev’s Russia Day speech focuses on freedom and democracy; Bush and Merkel discuss Russia; Jacques Chirac given Russian award; Yushchenko reassures Russia that its NATO bid is not aimed at Moscow; NATO to discuss Georgia situation. Yesterday was Russia Day, “when Russians celebrate their independence—from their own empire.” Speaking at the Kremlin’s celebrations to mark the occasion, Dmitry Medvedev said that Russia must ensure that the country’s economic success produces higher living standards for the population, and generally reinforced Russia’s need for democracy and freedom.
George Bush and Silvio Berlusconi are “old friends” but find themselves increasingly divided over key issues, most notably, their relationships with Russia. Bush and Germany’s Angela Merkel reportedly discussed Russia-Georgia relations at a meeting this week. Former French President Jacques Chirac, who apparently translated Pushkin’s classic novel ‘Eugene Onegin‘ into French as a young man, has received an award for his contribution in making Russian culture more accessible to the world, the first foreigner to receive such an award. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has again tried to reassure Russia that his country’s ambition to join NATO is not aimed at Moscow, and Ukraine’s Vice President says his country will help Russia become a WTO member in the future.At their meeting in Brussels, NATO ministers today will begin discussing Russia’s tensions with Georgia and US plans to build a missile defense system in Central Europe.PHOTO: A Russian army officer walks past a floral display saying ‘Russia’ as they prepare for a parade celebration to mark a state holiday, the Day of Russia, in St. Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, June 12, 2008. The holiday was established after the Soviet breakup to commemorate the emergence of an independent Russia. But there is widespread regret over the Soviet collapse, and former president Vladimir Putin renamed the holiday and turned it into a celebration of Russia’s resurgence. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)