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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Oct. 24, 2007

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Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with Regional Development Minister Dmitry Kozak during a congress of Russian local leaders in Moscow, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2007. Putin urged mayors across Russia to get out the vote in parliamentary elections (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

President Vladimir Putin has urged Russia’s mayors to “get out the vote” in the next State Duma elections and promised them more financing. Local government shortcomings are a regular source of frustration due to a system in which mayors have no power to collect taxes, and there are often complaints that they lack the money to provide basic services to citizens. A group of leading Russian artists has reportedly begged Putin not to leave the presidential office. “Russia needs your talents and your wisdom. We plead with you, highly esteemed Vladimir Vladimirovich, to take into consideration our hopes regarding this request,” they said in an open letter, angering “ordinary artists”. Russia’s new anti-inflationary measures are being widely referred to as “Soviet-style price controls”. Washington has offered to delay the “activation” of its proposed missile defence sites in eastern Europe, according to US defence secretary Robert Gates. A Russian official responded, “”We believe that the outcome of the talks is promising. We think a number of ideas the Americans raised in Moscow merit careful consideration. For example, we believe there is a need for a joint discussion of the Iranian missile threat.” Conversely, President Bush has strongly defended plans to build the missile defenses, saying yesterday that “the need for missile defense in Europe is real, and I believe it is urgent.” Gates insists that “nobody wants a new Cold War.” A change in Poland’s government could help to break the stalemate in Russian-EU relations and could remove some of the obstacles in the way of a new partnership agreement between Moscow and Brussels. “A change in Polish-Russian relations, I think, is the most important task of the future Polish government in foreign relations — the most important in the sense that it’s extremely difficult,” said Donald Tusk, most likely to be Poland’s next PM. A meeting between Russian and Japanese foreign ministers had “a rather unexpected outcome.” Japan said it is ready to increase investment in Siberia, tried to soften Moscow’s irritation over the creation of a regional missile defense system in the Far East, and did not press the territorial issue of the South Kuril islands. The Finance Ministry is set to repay 80% of Russia’s $4.4bn debt to the World Bank, Deputy Finance Minister Sergey Storchak has announced, in what could in part be “an attempt to improve the country’s credit rating before the presidential election.” According to yesterday’s report by Ernst & Young, of the $27 billion attracted by IPOs in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) between July and September, almost none of it went to Russia. Russian foreign direct investment surged to more than $40 million in the first nine months of the year, said a Putin aide. Russia is heading for “another showdown” with the EU after failing to invite international election observers to monitor the country’s parliamentary elections in December, with the central election committee so far refusing to allow a delegation of foreign observers to visit Russia. The apparent snub follows a report by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe into Russia’s last parliamentary elections in December 2003, which described the poll as “free but not fair“. On the energy front, Russia and the EU have agreed to set up an early warning system which will alert them to any disruptions to gas and oil supplies flowing through Russian pipelines. Russia’s Development Bank, established in May to provide medium and long-term financing for big infrastructure programmes, intends to place 200 billion roubles next month with three banks – VTB, Sberbank and Gazprombank – to boost liquidity. State diamond miner Alrosa is considering whether to pursue an offer to buy a stake in Polyus Gold, the world’s fourth-largest gold company by reserves, said Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who also heads Alrosa’s supervisory board. Independent ratings agency RusRating said that it would appeal a court ruling last month that comments by one of its analysts harmed the reputation of the Russky Standart bank. Shareholders of Russia’s Unified Energy Systems, 50% owned by the state, will have a vote this week on winding up the holding in the final step towards the liquidation planned for next year. Russia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office has accused Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service of blocking a Russian inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko by repeatedly ignoring urgent requests for information. The future of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games is said to be at stake, after a court upheld a lawsuit from the International Social and Ecological Union, and invalidated the order of Russia’s Natural Resource Ministry to allow 10,000 hectares of Sochi’s National Park to be stripped of its protected status.