TODAY: EU agrees on mandate to begin negotiations with Russia; Medvedev on first international visit in Kazakhstan, emphasizing the role of the East for Russia; football final passes without a hitch; Storchak refused bail; migrant workers to live in metal containers. European Union countries have finally agreed to begin wide-ranging new negotiations with Russia, bringing to an end an 18-month impasse and raising hopes of an improved relationship. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that his country (the next EU president) was also keen to improve relations. Dmitry Medvedev has embarked on his first international trip as President, with his first stop in Kazakhstan, an acknowledgment of the country’s increasing influence in the region. The two countries are expected to discuss space exploration and military cooperation. Analysts say that the trip emphasizes the importance of the East over the West for Russia.
Russian fears of “hooligan problems from visiting Chelsea and Manchester United fans” for this weeks Champions League football final “were mostly misplaced.” “It has become a habit in Vladimir Putin’s Russia to splash cash on sports events, using them them to boost the nation’s morale in the tradition of the Soviet Union in its heyday.”A government plan to house migrant workers in “metal containers” has sparked criticism from ethnic minority leaders who believe the plan will promote segregation.An appeal for bail, made by former deputy finance minister Sergei Storchak through a videolink to a Moscow court, has been refused. Russia’s Communist Party will take its case against the Central Electoral Commission to the Supreme Court next week with the aim of annulling the results the December 2007 Parliamentary elections.PHOTO: Russian artist Vasily Saprykin displays a painting of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev depicted as a tsar in St. Petersburg. (AFP/File/Kirill Kudrjavtsev)