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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Nov. 22, 2007

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President Vladimir Putin addresses the crowd at the rally, organized by backers at a stadium in downtown Moscow on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007. Thousands of people gathered in a sports arena to show their support for Putin ahead of parliamentary elections, the latest in a series of choreographed events. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Farid Babayev, who leads the electoral list of the liberal Yabloko party in the southern Dagestan region, has been shot and seriously wounded by an unidentified gunman “in what appears to have been an assassination attempt.” At an event organized by the ‘For Putin’ movement, Vladimir Putin made an aggressive attack on his opponents, both political and foreign. “Our opponents all want to see us disunited. Some want to take away and divide everything, and others to plunder.” He also made vague references to “jackals” in foreign offices. Fuller account of the proceedings can be found here and here. Voter apathy in Russia is being fueled by the existence of a “one-party poll”. Analysts say that interest in party politics is at an all time low, “partly due to a concerted set of moves on the part of the Kremlin to stifle real political debate and partly due to the belief that voting will change nothing.” Several co-authors of Russia’s Constitution have warned that using legal loopholes to allow Putin to run for a third presidential term would threaten the legitimacy of the country’s fundamental law. “There are countries like Iran and, perhaps, Libya, where there are national leaders who are above presidents,” said one. “But one sees nothing like this in a democratic country.” Lawyers and colleagues of Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak, facing charges of attempted embezzlement, have mounted a fierce defense, calling for his immediate release. Imperial Energy, the UK oil explorer accused by Russia of inflating reserves, fell 6.4% in London trading after it rejected an offer from Gazprom’s banking unit, Gazprombank, to buy a minority stake. Shareholders of state-controlled VTB Group, the Russian bank that completed the world’s biggest initial public offering in May, asked the Russian government to buy back shares that have, since the IPO, lost their value. A 1974 Central Asia-Center gas pipeline that runs from Turkmenistan via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to Russia will be modernized to pump 230 million cubic meters of gas per day. Analysts expect Ukraine to join the World Trade Organization ahead of Russia. Russia and Saudi Arabia have begun the next round of talks on Russia’s WTO accession. The Moscow International Currency Exchange is expanding into the countries of the CIS, beginning with a 5% stake in the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange. Russian and Uzbekistan may sign an agreement on integrating the Chkalov Tashkent Aviation Production Association into the Associated Aviation Construction Corporation in a “politically motivated” purchase. Gazprom and Italy’s Eni will sign a deal confirming their plan to build a new pipeline to supply Russian gas to Europe. Analysts interpret the plan as an attempt by Gazprom to undermine a rival plan by Azerbaijan to supply southern Europe via Turkey through a pipeline known as Nabucco. The deal is to be signed as part of Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s visit to Russia to meet with Putin. Putin and Prodi will focus on “bilateral trade and economic cooperation.” The United States has submitted a formal proposal to Russia for cooperation on missile defense in eastern Europe, as well as a proposals to modify the SORT and START nuclear treaties. The countries are divided over the “form and content” of the agreements. Iran is pursuinga further expansion of cultural, political and economic relations with Russia,” according to an Iranian envoy. The Vostochny Cosmodrome, which will be built in the Amur Region, will be ready for its first manned space launch in 2018. First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said that the new base should act as a spur to revive the Russian space industry. The state-run Tretyakov Gallery has filed a lawsuit against Culture and Press Minister Alexander Sokolov for saying that a recent exhibition by the gallery in Paris, which included a photograph of two policemen kissing, “brought shame on Russia.”