TODAY: Yukos “hatchet man” hired as presidential aide; Georgia accuses Russia of trying to block its Nato membership; EU-Russia pact to take more than a year to complete; Putin in France for 2-day visit; Winnie the Pooh/Medvedev comparison upsets Zhirinovsky. Anton Ustinov, the tax official who pressed claims against former oil company Yukos, has been hired as an aide by Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin. Vladislav Surkov, first deputy head of Dmitry Medvedev’s administration, has summoned leaders of the three largest pro-Kremlin youth movements to discuss future strategies. “Compared with the Ukrainians, Russians take themselves far too seriously.” Georgia has accused Russia of trying to provoke a war in Abkhazia in order to ruin the country’s chances of joining Nato.
Russia is hopeful France’s presidency of the European Union will help it improve relations with Brussels but expects talks on an EU-Russia cooperation pact to be difficult, and to take longer than a year to resolve. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will travel to France for a two-day visit this week. “As we have always regarded dialogue with France as a significant factor in rapprochement between Russia and the EU, special attention will be paid to the issues of Russia-EU cooperation during the period of France’s presidency.” Vladimir Zhirinovksy reportedly became agitated at a Nato-Russia summit when a British academic compared Dmitry Medvedev to Winnie the Pooh.“Wealthy Russians who can’t spare millions to buy headline art from Europe and the United States are snapping up cheaper contemporary works in Russia,” causing prices to rise 20-30% a year.PHOTO: Foreign Ministers from left: Per Stig Moeller, Denmark; Sergej Lavrov, Russia; Jonas Gahr Stoere, Norway; Aleqa Hammond, Greenland; Gary Lunn, Canada; John D. Negroponte, United States Deputy Secretary of State; and Greenland’s Prime Minister Hans Enoksen with icebergs in the Ice Fiord near Ilulissat in Greenland, Wednesday, May 28, 2008, before attending the Arctic Ocean Conference. (AP Photo/Bent Petersen/POLFOTO)