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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – March 7, 2008

070308.jpgTODAY: “Merchant of Death” arrested in Thailand. Russia’s European University shut down over elections project? Putin supports Armenian government. Reznik allegedly ends hunger strike. The biggest story in the UK press today concerns the “Merchant of Death” – a Russian arms dealer arrested in Thailand. Viktor Bout, the former Soviet army officer also known as the “Lord of War”, has been wanted for years in several countries. Bout says the accusations against him “resemble more a script for a Hollywood thriller.” This letter to the Moscow Times claims that the European University at St Petersburg was shut down because it had received a European Union grant to implement a project on election monitoring.

Putin by law will remain president until May 7, when Dmitry Medvedev will be inaugurated, but analysts wonder whether he will ever have the chance to use his powers of office. President Vladimir Putin stood out from other Western voices in support for the Armenian government’s crackdown on opposition resulting from a disputed presidential election. The US is keen to support NATO memberships for Ukraine and Georgia, but France and Germany say now is not the time to further alienate Russia, which opposes them.Maxim Reznik, the head of the St Petersburg branch of the liberal Yabloko party who was detained hours after polls closed in Sunday’s election, has ended a four-day hunger strike launched in protest at his weekend detention for “political and personal reasons”, his lawyer reportedly said. Oleg Kozlovsky says he was drafted into the army despite a medical exemption “to keep him from organizing and participating in rallies during State Duma and presidential elections”. Former Arkhangelsk mayor and would-be presidential candidate Alexander Donskoi has been convicted of abusing his office and handed a three-year suspended sentence in a case he called politically motivated.The Medvedev/Deep Purple link continues to fascinate the press. “To see [Medvedev’s musical taste] as a sign of liberalism in Medvedev is a mistake,” said a former Kremlin adviser. “He’s just a typical product of the 1970s; if a Soviet schoolboy wanted to be cool at that time, he listened to Kiss or Deep Purple.” “Lenin was bald, Stalin was hairy; Kruschev was bald, Brezhnev was hairy; Gorbachev was bald, Yeltsin was hairy – and Putin is practically bald. Medvedev had to win.”PHOTO: Grigory Yavlinsky, head of the liberal Yabloko party, speaks at a news conference organized in support of Maxim Reznik, leader of the Yabloko party in St. Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, March 6, 2008. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)