RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – March 6th, 2009

060309.jpgTODAY: NATO agrees to restore normal relations with Russia; Kremlin working on anti-satellite weapons; Khodorkovsky trial in the news; media owner attacked; Medvedev orders investigation into elections; Gorbachev criticizes United Russia.

In a western push led by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, NATO has agreed to restore normal relations with Russia, whose foreign ministry spokesman called the decision a ‘triumph of common sense’.  The decision is seen as a move by allies to seek a broad front against Afghan militants, and Lithuania was the only country with initial objections to the call.  Russia has expressed cautious optimism for its upcoming meetings with the US.  The Kremlin has criticized US plans for space-based weapons, saying it opposes a space arms race, but is working to develop anti-satellite weapons to match those held by other nations.

‘There could be no more depressing sign that the habits and mindsetof Stalinism are returning to Russia than the latest trial of MikhailKhodorkovsky,’ writes Michael Binyon in The Times, calling the government’s tactics throughout the case ‘chillingly reminiscent of the 1930s’.  The New York Times also has a story on the trial today, noting that ‘few independent observers expect Mr. Khodorkovsky to receive a fair trial’, and Mary Dejevsky has a question-and-answer session on Khodorkovsky at The Independent. Russia’s emergency situations minister has called for a law, based onHolocaust denial legislation in Germany, that would make it a criminal offense to suggest that the Soviet Union did not win the War.

Orlando Figes’ conspiracy theory about the pulled publication of his Stalin book in Russia is ’embarrassing’, says The Independent.  The government has decreased the areas of affordable housing it will create this year, but under the project it intends to build 54 million square meters of living space.  President Dmitry Medvedev urged regional governments to make land cheaper and increase construction.  He has also reportedly made the gesture of ordering the Central Elections Commission to investigate purported violations in last weekend’s regional elections.  Mikhail Gorbachev meanwhile likened the winning United Russia to ‘a party of bureaucrats and the worst version of the CPSU’, and said Russia is today a country where the parliament and the judiciary are not fully free.  Vadim Rogozhin, who heads a media holding that comprises an internet news site and a newspaper, is in serious condition after being attacked by unknown assailants.
Russian security analysts say US President Barack Obama may have exaggerated expectations about what Moscow can deliver on the issue of Iran’s nuclear capability.  The President of Russia’s Institute for Middle Eastern Studies said, ‘One cannot pressure Iran into doing anything they don’t want to, and it is impossible to buy them off.’  Russia and Georgia’s breakaways region, Abkhazia, are moving towards the signing of an agreement that would allow Russia to station a base there for 49 years.

PHOTO: Former Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky walks into a court building in Moscow March 5, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov (RUSSIA)