RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – March 19th, 2009

190309.jpgTODAY: International forces could replace troops in Transdnestr; action film based on Georgian war to be screened; US plays down threat posed by Russian military upgrade; state officials double in number; NGO fund distribution ‘nontransparent’; seal hunting banned; Khodorkovsky interview.

Russia and Moldova have held talks with leaders of the breakaway Transdnestr republic, and provisionally agreed that international forces could replace Russian troops in the region after a peace deal for the 19-year conflict has been completed.  Will the EU’s outreach efforts to former Soviet Union territories succeed?  Officials are reportedly concerned about the Eastern Partnership launch summit, due to be held in Prague in May, believing that Russia’s influence in the region may be too strong.  Russia’s top TV channel is due to screen a Russian action film ‘inspired by the Georgian war’, which apparently reignites the debate over who started it.

Mary Dejevsky at The Independent has a Q&A on Russia’s plans to refurbish its military.  US Defense Secretary Robert Gates played down the risk of Russia’s military refurbishment, pointing out that Moscow is actually moving to reduce the size of its traditional military force.  Could Barack Obama make a visit to Moscow in July?  As of October last year, the number of state and civil service officials in Russia had almost doubled since 1999 – to a total of 846,307.

The process for distributing $35 million in funds to Russia’s NGOs has been criticized as nontransparent, after it emerged that the organizations responsible for allocating the money are all loyal to the government, were all set up by Vladimir Putin and, in some cases, have links to United Russia.  The Natural Resources Ministry has banned the hunting of baby harp seals, and Russia is joining WWF talks in Norway on protecting the polar bear.

Reports on an interview given by Mikhail Khodorkovsky to Russian weekly Sobesednik have appeared in the Russian press, and The Associated Press called the interview a challenge to Dmitry Medvedev ‘to depart from the policies of his powerful predecessor’.

PHOTO: Job-seekers line up to employers looking for job vacancies at a job fair in St. Petersburg, Russia, Wednesday, March 18, 2009. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)