TODAY: Putin to stage early elections? Moscow newspaper editor in critical condition after being beaten; EU-Russia talks resume today amid Kremlin’s tensions with Ukraine and worries over NATO expansion; Gates critical of missile plans; Putin’s colourful language. A former Duma deputy slams the Kremlin’s ‘feckless budgetary policy’ and ponders the likelihood of Vladimir Putin staging early elections to lessen the possibility of social unrest stemming from the financial crisis. The Moscow Times has fixated on Dmitry Medvedev’s evasion of a question during his Le Figaro interview on whether or not he will step down early from the presidency. A criminal investigation has been launched after Mikhail Beketov, the editor of a small, Moscow-based opposition newspaper who has fought to protect Russian forestland, was beaten up outside his home. Beketov is in a critical condition, and reports say he may not survive. A court has ruled that Magomed Yevloyev, owner of the Ingushetiya.ru website who was shot dead in custody, had been illegally detained by police.
Russia’s EU talks have resumed today, amidst warnings from the US to proceed with caution. Russia says that the CFE Treaty is ‘doomed’ if Ukraine and Georgia are on their way to joining NATO. Meanwhile relations with Ukraine have been further strained by Dmitry Medvedev’s letter to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, seeking clarification on Stalin-era grievances.US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has criticized Russia’s plan to station missiles in Kaliningrad as ‘hardly the welcome a new American administration deserves’, and rejected Medvedev’s suggestion that both sides could scrap their missile shield plans. The Belarusian president is in negotiations that could potentially see Russian Iksander missiles stationed on his territory.The Times gleefully quotes Vladimir Putin as having said, during the Georgian war, that he wanted to hang Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili ‘by the balls’. A 200-year old church has ‘disappeared’ from a Russian village.PHOTO: French President Nicolas Sarkozy, left, shakes hand with President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev during the EU-Russia summit, in Nice, southern France, Friday, Nov. 14, 2008. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)