TODAY: Russia celebrates Victory Day; Russia expels two US military attachés; Communists vote against Putin’s appointment as Prime Minister; Medvedev to restore Pushkin Fine Arts Museum. 56 of the 450 members of Parliament, all Communists, voted against the appointment of Vladimir Putin as Prime Minister, with their leader “issu[ing] a scathing assessment of Mr. Putin’s eight years of rule, saying they were marked by lost opportunities.” This morning’s Victory Day parade included a “military parade involving almost 8,000 personnel, 111 sophisticated tracked and wheeled military vehicles, as well as 32 aircraft and helicopters,” plus “a large military orchestra of 550 musicians”. The Russian government has expelled two US military attachés, but the US denies that there is any connection with its expulsion in April of a Russian diplomat. Neither side has given any reason for the expulsions, but the US insists that it does not reflect a broader rift between the two countries. Russia may increase the number of troops in Abkhazia “to the upper limit.” Before stepping down as President, Vladimir Putin signed into law new United Nations economic sanctions against Iran aimed at persuading Tehran to suspend its nuclear enrichment activities. The Lithuanian Prime Minister says that his country’s opposition to planned partnership talks between Russia and the EU was intended to defend EU interests.
Radio Free Europe discusses Putin’s “manipulations” of the Russian constitution. The Economist suggests several measures that Dmitry Medvedev could take if he wanted to West to respond to him in a friendly fashion, including freeing Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the “oligarch imprisoned without even a pretence at a fair trial”. One analyst points out, “In the run-up to the inauguration, Medvedev was subjected to a series of humiliations, conscious or not, by the Kremlin, by Putin, and by part of the elite”. The siloviki “see Putin as the key to preserving their positions and continued access to financial flows.”Medvedev has announced plans for a $177 million restoration of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.PHOTO: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev greets a World War II veteran, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, second left, and acting Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, second right, before a reception concert on the eve of the Victory Day in the Kremlin in Moscow, Thursday, May 8, 2008. The Victory Day marking Germany’s defeat is celebrated in Russia on May 9. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Dmitry Astakhov, Pool)