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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Nov. 30, 2007

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Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a nationwide TV broadcast in Moscow November 29, 2007. Putin signed a law on Friday suspending Russian participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, the Kremlin said. (REUTERS/RIA-Novosti/Kremlin)

Golos, an independent Russian NGO, reported that its election hotline had received 1,130 calls, with 43% of them reporting illegal campaigning practices and 51% complaining of officials abusing their office for electoral purposes. Local governors have “been given quotas of votes that have to be cast for United Russia.” According to a study by the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, United Russia received between 57 and 62% of all prime-time political television news coverage from Oct. 1 to Nov. 22. “This can’t be called a fair representation.” A group of mothers of children who died in the 2004 Beslan terrorist attack have put up street signs pointing to the site of the attack that read, “Putin’s Course”. Despite their protests, many people in Beslan intend to support United Russia with their votes, some reportedly out of fear: as part the party’s campaign, according to one journalist, “people are told that they have to vote for United Russia if they want to keep their jobs.” As part of the election campaign, voters are being “coerced” into applying for absentee ballots by their employers to ensure high turnout. A collection of electioneering case studies can be found here, and a Q&A on the Russian electoral system here. City administrations and election officials are reportedly outfitting polling stations with “various attractions” to encourage voters, including cheap food, coupon books, hair stylists and doctors. Vladimir Putin’s televised address this week, which analysts are calling a violation of Russian law, was followed by a speech from Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, or the LDPR, although a Communist official said Zyuganov only won airtime after filing multiple complaints to the Central Elections Commission about state television’s lavish coverage of United Russia, and one national channel did not air the speech at all. The liberal Union of Right Forces called the speeches unfair: “Nobody approached us about airtime.” Meanwhile, Russia’s Central Elections Commission has opened its election headquarters to foreign observers to explain the preparations and logistics for Sunday’s vote. According to the foreign ministry, Russia will invite the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which had earlier refused to attend the December parliamentary polls, to be present as observers during next year’s presidential elections. “The police reaction to our peaceful march shows that the stability the authorities are so proud of doesn’t really exist,” said Garry Kasparov, on his release from prison where he served five days for taking part in an unsanctioned march. The failure of the government to abide by its own laws and Constitution, he said, “could result in a catastrophe for the whole country.” Could part of Putin’s dilemma be that Mikhail Gorbachev struggled to define a role for himself after his resignation and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991? State-controlled Gazprom is planning to operate a natural-gas entity in the US by 2014 as part of its strategy to expand its business outside of Russia. Oleg Deripaska, together with partners including Hochtief, has agreed to invest $20 billion in St. Petersburg from now to 2015 in an effort to upgrade infrastructure. Soaring prices for crude oil will propel Russia’s oil windfall fund to the equivalent of $158 billion by the end of the year. Russia’s Vnesheconombank and Export Development Canada have reached an agreement on export insurance. If the European Commission goes ahead with plans to limit investments of sovereign wealth funds into the assets in Europe, the restrictions will affect Russia’s Stabilization Fund. The government has just ruled to distribute 640 million rubles from the fund to various domestic operations. Putin has signed a law suspending Russia’s participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, in a move which “could allow it to deploy more forces close to western Europe.” The President has also approved amendments to a federal export control law designed to improve security and current legislation. Is Russia on track to achieve Putin’s goal of doubling the size of the economy? Russia is heading towards implementation of a two-level Western education model. Starting from 2009, Russian students will be able do a Bachelor’s degree with the option of continuing to a Master’s.