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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Oct. 26, 2007

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Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and his Portuguese counterpart Anibal Cavaco Silva look at the Hermitage collection of the Russian Empire at the Ajuda palace in Lisbon October 25, 2007. REUTERS/Andre Kosters/Pool (PORTUGAL)

The Kremlin is currently involved in a diplomatic campaignto curtail the activities of election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe,” inviting criticism. Moscow denies that it wants to limit the activities of foreign observers. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the government has accomplished its task to connect all schools in Russia to the Internet. Russia will develop a large new uranium field in Yakutia, East Siberia, and $722 million in federal budget funds has been allocated this year for the development of the country’s nuclear energy sector. Indian state-run gas utility GAIL and Russia’s Lukoil have formed a panel of senior executives who will explore the possibility of jointly setting up a petrochemicals plant in Russia. The Central Bank of Russia has withdrawn licenses from three banks. The International Social Bank, the Commercial Bank, and the Universal Commercial Bank Era lost their licenses to conduct banking operations over failures to comply with federal banking laws and CBR regulations. It is thought that yesterday’s decision by Gazprom to choose Norway’s StatoilHydro as its partner on the Shtokman oil field is a reflection of Russia’s abortive negotiations over the US’ much-debated missile defense system in eastern Europe. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the US has done as much as it can to appease Russia over plans to deploy the system, and “now I want to see some movement on their part.” Little progress has been made on the issue. “We cannot agree on what was offered to us and are sticking to our position,” said Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. Putin has spoken out against the harsh new US sanctions imposed on Iran. ‘‘Why worsen the situation by threatening sanctions and bring it to a dead end?” Putin said. ‘‘It’s not the best way to resolve the situation by running around like a madman with a razor blade in his hand.” A ban on imports of Polish meat into Russia could be lifted after Moscow indicated it is prepared to send inspectors back to Polish production facilities, most likely to ease tense relations in the European Union over the Russia-EU Parternship and Cooperation Agreement which is currently being vetoed by Poland. The EU-Russia summit being held in Portugal is set to be dominated by disagreements over “trade, energy, human rights and international affairs”. Europe’s current “Big Three” are “all critical of Vladimir Putin.” Economic Development and Trade Minister Elvira Nabiullina says that the EU-Russia relationship is suffering because Russia has still not been allowed to join the World Trade Organization. Brussels has refused to sign off on the WTO bid because it believes Russia has not implemented a 2004 bilateral WTO accession deal, especially by failing to cut export duties on timber. “No other country meets the EU as regularly as Russia does for high-level political dialogue.” An internal EU paper prepared ahead of the summit says that Russia is “a strategic partner in many areas of common interest, notably in the economic field, but in others – such as involvement sin the post-Soviet space – Russia is likely to remain a competitor or even opponent.” Jailed former Yukos Oil chief executive, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, would have been eligible for parole this week, on the fourth anniversary of his detention, if he had not received a reprimand. “Ten days before it was possible for him to apply he was reprimanded for not having his hands behind his back after returning from a prison walk,” said lawyer Yuri Schmidt. Khodorkovsky’s former business parter, Platon Lebedev, has had his appeal upheld in the European Court of Human Rights. The court ruled Lebedev’s rights to liberty and security were breached during the arrest and pretrial detention and ordered Russia to pay to him €3,000 in damages and €7,000 for legal costs. “It is vital that Strasbourg court has recognized our claims, the fact that the court has actually confirmed the initial unlawfulness of Platon Lebedev’s arrest,” said lawyer Elena Liptser. Britain’s relations with Russia could worsen in light of fresh reports by a Russian newspaper that missing billionaire oligarch Mikhail Gutseriyev, former head of Russneft, has fled to the UK. Vladimir Putin denounced Britain as a haven for “criminals and terrorists” for refusing to send back Boris Berezovsky. The wife of Alexander Litvinenko has publicly urged the EU to “act against Russia”, and the New York-based Human Rights Watch have urged the EU to challenge Moscow on its “worsening” human rights record at this week’s meeting, following damning new reports on Ingushetia from Amnesty International.