RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Nov. 19, 2008

191108.jpgTODAY: Politkovskaya trial closed to public; tariff increases could harm WTO bid; presidential term bill has successful second reading in Duma; Medvedev against parliamentary elections; prosecutors to eye press coverage of financial crisis; Georgia-Russia talks could take years; Putin to do television Q&A session as usual.

The EU aims to draw up a plan of action for Russia’s WTO membership, although the Trade Chief warned the country against pursuing tariff increases proposed by Vladimir Putin which would be ‘contrary to the spirit of the G20‘.  President Dmitry Medvedev has promised that Russia will not resort to protectionist measures to fight the economic crisis.

The judge in the murder trial of Anna Politkovskaya has overturned anearlier ruling that the trial be held in public, saying jurors had refused to enter the court room in the presence of reporters.  A new campaign has been launched to keep tabs on press coverage – ‘information attacks‘ – on Russian banks during the financial crisis.  ‘It isn’t censorship.  We are checking the accuracy of the information,‘ says the Prosecutor General’s office.  The case of Svetlana Bakhmina has appeared in the New York Times.

Vladimir Putin will continue the ‘tradition‘ of his yearly live television question and answer sessions this January.  Spokesman Dmitry Peskov says Putin’s aim is ‘to continue the practice of direct communication with the people of this country by the head of the government.‘  ‘He will act more in the role of party leader than prime minister,‘ said a United Russia official.  As the State Duma bill to extend the presidential term moves forward, the Moscow Times points out that Russia’s longest-serving leaders behaved in a pattern of ‘losing their motivation, energy, innovation and the ability and willingness to consider the opinions of others within an average of five to six years after coming to power.‘  Medvedev has responded to a call for gubernatorial elections by saying that anyone who supported such a measure could step down from their posts, and said that a parliamentary republic would be the death of‘ Russia.

Medvedev’s first tour of Latin America begins this Saturday, and will finalize a range of agreements, particularly in Venezuela, on nuclear energy (Moscow has agreed to build Venezuela’s first ever nuclear reactor), air transport and a $4 million joint development bank.

Russia wants an independent inquiry into who started the Georgia-Russian war.  Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov says allegations that Georgia is trying to build up its military are ‘causing concern‘ that the region could see a conflict worse than the last.  The deputy foreign minister of Abkhazia predicts that Georgia-Russia talks, which have commenced this week, could take years to resolve.

PHOTO: Deputies of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, vote on a proposal to extend the presidential term in Moscow November 19, 2008. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)