TODAY: Obama not yet committed to missile defense plan, giving Kremlin hope of more flexible relationship; Medvedev and Obama speak; Kremlin to all but ignore Bush administration; Russia to soften trade measures to smooth path to WTO; Russia and Venezuela form development bank; OSCE monitors blame Georgia; Communist marches, anti-corruption, presidential pardons. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has voiced his optimism on foreign policy relations under Barack Obama, amidst news that Dmitry Medvedev and the new president-elect held an amicable telephone conversation over the weekend. The Russian government reportedly believes that the new US administration could be persuaded to abandon plans to station a missile defense shield in Poland, and reports indicate that Obama has not given Poland a definitive answer on the shield. Despite a meeting between Lavrov and Condoleezza Rice over the weekend, the Moscow Times reports that the Kremlin will bring US relations ‘to a virtual standstill’ until the new president moves into his role. Russia is still keen to get its World Trade Organization membership, and will reconsider its ‘potentially contentious’ trade decisions with the EU as a means of speeding up the process, according to the Kremlin’s economic adviser. Poland and Lithuania have acknowledged that they cannot block the reopening of talks between Russia and the EU, although a senior Lithuanian diplomat said that talks would go ahead without his country’s approval.
Venezuela and Russia have agreed to form a $4 billion joint bank to pay for a series of economic development projects. Hugo Chávez hailed the agreement as overcoming ‘Yankee imperialism’. Two former OSCE monitors believe that Russia’s bombardment of Georgia was in response to Georgian rockets hitting civilian areas in South Ossetia. The Japanese government is seeking information from Russia on the submarine accident over the weekend that killed 20 people.A Communist march on Friday, the anniversary of the 1917 revolution, saw ‘tens of thousands’ of participants gathering mainly to protest against the financial crisis, spurring Dmitry Medvedev to order police to take a tough line on ‘social unrest’. ‘We have a stable state. We do not need a return to the 1990s when everything was boiling and seething,’ he said. A first reading of Dmitry Medvedev’s anti-corruption bill was unanimously passed by the Duma last week. The notion that the presidential pardon has ever had anything to do with justice and mercy has been a ‘fantasy from day one’, as demonstrated by the cases of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Svetlana Bakhmina, writes this Moscow Times reporter.PHOTO: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev looks at a banknote while visiting the crime laboratory of a city police department in St. Petersburg in Russia, Friday, Nov. 7, 2008. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Dmitry Astakhov, Presidential Press Serivce)