RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – March 3rd, 2009

030309.jpgTODAY: Obama offers to drop missile defense plans in exchange for Russia’s help on Iran; Khodorkovsky hearing begins today; regional elections ‘a small, uninteresting show’; more power struggle speculation; youths protest Georgia’s Eurovision entry.

A US official has confirmed that President Barack Obama sent a secret letter to President Dmitry Medvedev last month, offering to withdraw plans for a missile defense shield in Poland in exchange for Russia putting a stop to Iran’s nuclear program.  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meanwhile has urged the United States to talk to Iran.  Analysts and journalists are still enjoying the thought of Medvedev and Putin in a power struggle, whilst a new cartoon making the rounds in Russia indicates that no one is fooled.  The Moscow Times says, ‘It is obvious that the surge in [Medvedev’s] activity is mostly PR and does not indicate any serious political or personal changes.’

Preliminary hearings on the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky begin today.  In a New York Times interview, Khodorkovsky’s parents express hope that the courts would reject the new charges.  ‘I’m really putting all my hopes on the current president,’ said his father.  Khodorkovsky himself guarantees ‘an interesting spectacle’.

United Russia officials are referring to their victory in the regional elections (disputed by the opposition and Golos, the country’s only independent election monitor) as evidence that the government ‘are correct and directed at preventing serious impacts of the global crisis on the economic situation in Russia’.  An Echo Moskvy commentator, on the other hand, described the elections as ‘just a small, uninteresting show.  Golos said its studies of the results suggested that the authorities are capable of being fought, as United Russia apparently ‘lost everywhere there was someone to lose to’.

A pro-Kremlin youth group has publicly protested Georgia’s Eurovision Song Contest entry, ‘We Don’t Wanna Put In,’ on grounds that ‘this song does not just insult Putin, it insults the whole Russian people’.  Meanwhile Russia will resume issuing visas to Georgian citizens this week for the first time since the Georgian war.

PHOTO: Visiting Russian First Lady Svetlana Medvedeva, left, toasts with Spain’s King Juan Carlos before a gala dinner at the Royal Palace in Madrid, Monday, March 2, 2009. (AP Photo/Andres Ballesteros, Pool)