TODAY: Putin disbands departments in charge of Medvedev’s national projects, moves to support shipbuilding; military and Women’s Day protests; Saakashvili blames Russia for increased protests, Tymoshenko on Russia and Europe.
The Kremlin insists that, despite Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s disbanding of the Cabinet department responsible for Dmitry Medvedev’s ‘campaign tool’, the four national projects (designed to develop farming, health care, education and affordable housing), will continue to move ahead. Putin said that the state would support the shipbuilding industry, announcing plans to triple orders of state ships in the next six years to 680 billion rubles ($19 billion) and build a new shipyard near the Baltic Sea port of Primorsk. If Russia manages to reach a swift conclusion with the US on its new nuclear treaty, ‘Russia’s foreign policy authors will inevitably be left with the question: What more can we discuss with the United States the day after the new treaty is signed?’
From Celestine Bohlen at Bloomberg: ‘The wrong man is in the dock at the second trial of former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. It should be President Dmitry Medvedev. His crime? Failing to break the vengeful grip of his mentor Vladimir Putin, on a case that has become a symbol of political abuse and corruption in Russia.’ A reported 1,000 people joined a rally in central Russia to protest army reforms that would disband a local brigade of special forces troops. The Other Russia reports that demonstrators called for the resignation of Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. In Kirov, people marked International Women’s Day with a demonstration of ‘empty pans‘ to protest against rising food prices and unpaid wages. ‘Xenophobia has been a scourge in Russia for years, but human-rights activists worry that the ongoing economic crisis will fan the flames.’
Amid an increasing number of protests and feeling of dissent in Georgia, President Mikheil Saakashvili and his allies are suggesting that certain opposition leaders have been receiving monetary backing from Russia. ‘[K]eeping Russia at arm’s length from Europe has only strengthened the sense of isolation that many Russians feel, tempting them to define the country’s interests in ways that are irreconcilable with those of Europe,’ writes Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in the Guardian.
PHOTO: People walk across the melting ice of the Neva River in the centre of St. Petersburg March 8, 2009. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk