RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – March 18th, 2009

180309.jpgTODAY: Duma to consider extending powers to dismiss regional mayors; United Russia loses mayoral race in Murmansk; Russia’s missile contract with Iran; how does arms reduction fit with Russia’s plan to modernize? Khodorkovksy trial date set; Sochi elections.

Russia has not yet delivered its S300 air defense missiles to Iran, saying it will base its next moves on the international situation, but ‘Russia does not intend to abandon this contract that is estimated at a hundred million dollars’.  The Washington Post says ‘the Kremlin has indicated it is willing to explore a deal with Washington, and analysts say it may be more open to new sanctions against Iran than expected’, with Dmitry Medvedev reportedly concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions following last month’s test satellite launch.  Will Russia’s plan to modernize its military and nuclear forces disrupt the multilateral deal to reduce nuclear arms stockpiles across the world?  US President Barack Obama has chosen a specialist in Russian nuclear issues for a key arms control post.

United Russia’s mayoral candidate in Murmansk’s mayoral elections lost to independent candidate Sergei Subbotin over the weekend, prompting the party to call foul play.  ‘Subbotin’s victory will cause temporary problems for United Russia because they will have to explain why their candidate didn’t win,’ commented one analyst.  Currently, only a court can order a mayor’s removal, but the Duma this week will consider the first reading of a bill giving governors extra powers to dismiss mayors.

The trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky will begin on March 31, after the judge refused a defense request to throw out the charges against him and his former business partner Platon Lebedev.  Solidarity leader Boris Nemtsov on the increasingly-hyped Sochi mayoral elections: ‘If these elections are transparent and honest, which I give a 1 percent chance, it will be a great sign for the future of Russia.’  The Sochi elections have sparked a ferocious piece against Vladimir Putin from The Times of London.

PHOTO: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev inspects a Topol missile ahead of a series of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests in 2008. (AFP/POOL/File/Dmitry Astakhov)