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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Nov. 29, 2007

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A shop assistant adjusts the volume during a nationwide TV address delivered by Russian President Vladimir Putin in a shop in Moscow on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007. Putin on Thursday strongly urged Russians to cast ballots for the main pro-Kremlin party United Russia whose ticket he’s leading in Sunday’s parliamentary vote. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

Golos, Russia’s only group of independent election observers, has been forced to reduce its activities ahead of the weekend’s elections after coming under intense pressure from the authorities after the head of Golos’ two offices in the Samara region was charged with installing unlicensed software on the group’s computers. Golos says the charges are politically motivated. Up to 20,000 activists from Nashi Vybory, a spinoff of the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth movement, intend to conduct nationwide exit polls during Sunday’s State Duma vote. Top election official Vladimir Churov has dismissed complaints that governors and thousands of other state-paid workers have been told to round up votes for United Russia. The vote, he said, would be “the most free, most transparent and most suitable for [voters] … because these are my first elections.” Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has called for Russians to vote for President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party in the parliamentary elections. “He has brought stabilisation to Russia. Not everyone would have been able to cope with the kind of legacy that he inherited from Boris Yeltsin. I did not think he would succeed but he did succeed in preventing total collapse in the country,” Gorbachev said. Speaking at the Kremlin, Putin said he has been “forced” to repeat his anti-Western rhetoric. “We have done everything to safeguard Russia from internal disturbances and to put it firmly on the track of evolutionary development.” The President’s pre-recorded television address urged the Russian public to vote for United Russia and opt for “stability and continuity”. Andrei Lugovoi is continuing his election campaign in Russia. “Putin’s destiny may be to confirm that Russia cannot be modernised from above. Russia will need his failure to start looking for a democratic government and build a state that will accept constraints.” Former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov was turned away when he tried to visit and offer moral support to Garry Kasparov, who is currently still in detention. A growing number of workers are turning to grassroots labor unions in light of the rising costs of living caused by inflation. Former economic development and trade minister German Gref has been elected president of Sberbank following a shareholder vote. Ukraine has told Russia that it could charge more for Russian gas transit to Europe if Moscow imposed steep gas price increases. Nutritek Group, Russia’s largest baby-food company, has agreed to sell its domestic milk and agrarian units to Russagroprom for $350 million. Russian scientists have completed the first stage of preparations for an experimental Mars mission simulation entitled Mars-500. Conservative leader David Cameron will issue a “stark warning” that Russia’s increasingly assertive foreign policy is jeopardising Britain’s national security, and that Western forces, which could include British troops, must be sent into the Balkans to prevent Russia sparking a new European war, when he speaks at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank. A Russian consulate has been opened in Kurdistan. An Israeli newspaper has reported that a senior Russian envoy has been trying to broker a deal between Israel and Syria on the future of the Golan Heights. Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov is on an official visit in Canada to discuss trade and energy issues. Azerbaijan plans to purchase arms from Russia. A “heated debate” between Russia and the US has “overshadowed” the start of a two-day meeting of ministerial talks in Madrid, at which Russia is set to push for reform of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. American shareholders in Yukos, seeking compensation on their claim that the Russian oil company was stolen from them by the Kremlin, only have one legal step left to try before they must abandon the case. Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky was convicted in absentia by a Moscow court of embezzling 214 million rubles from national airline OAO Aeroflot in the 1990s. “I’m not going to take part in a farce,” Berezovsky responded from London. A Fabergé egg has sold to a Russian buyer for £9m, breaking a number of world auction records, at a sale of Russian art at Christie’s in London that took a record £39.1m ($81m). The International Herald Tribune’s annual luxury industry conference, entitled “Supreme Luxury,” is being held in Russia for the first time. “Fueled by an oil boom, the Russian capital seems as awash in cash as Dallas was in its heyday.”