RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – June 23, 2008

230608.jpgTODAY: Yavlinsky leaves Yabloko; human rights group condemns Russia; US missile defense shield delayed; Medvedev in Belarus; regional heads election debate continues. Grigory Yavlinsky has stepped down from his 15-year post as leader of the Yabloko party in order to allow it “to be renewed”. In his parting address, he reportedly said that Putin and Medvedev were dependent on Russia’s centralized power structures to rule the country. A new report by US-based human rights group Freedom House, to be released later today, says that Russia has become the leading anti-democratic force in its region, buoyed by energy wealth. The debate over the direct election of regional heads is “indicative of Russia’s current political climate”. President Dmitry Medvedev made a brief visit to Belarus over the weekend to mark a World War II memorial day in Brest and discuss energy agreements, and took the opportunity to indirectly attack Ukraine’s “politicized approach to history”. He also spoke to law students in St Petersburg over the weekend, where he said that parts of Russia could be uninhabitable within the next three decades if the country did not take steps to address environmental issues.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has again urged the United States to delay deployment of its planned missile-defense system in Europe if it does not want to further damage relations with Russia, but it appears the shield could now be delayed until 2013 due to technical issues. Russia and Israel are planning to switch to a visa-free regime before the end of the year.UK newspaper The Guardian is running a story on a Russian TV series about Ivan the Terrible, taking the opportunity to muse on the Russians’ apparent “penchant for leaders who crack them into shape.” On the extravagant phenomenon that is the Russian school prom…PHOTO: A Russian soccer fan celebrates atop a car in Moscow after Russia beat the Netherlands in their Euro 2008 quarter-final soccer match June 22, 2008. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin (RUSSIA)