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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Oct. 8, 2007

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Activists of Kremlin-backed youth group Nashi rally to mark the 55th birthday of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in downtown Moscow, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2007. The signs on t-shirts with stylized Putin’s portrait read: ‘Our Choice!’ (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

President Vladimir Putin has announced a new role for the former Russian Prime Minister. “You all know well the man who will head the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service – this is Mikhail Fradkov,” he said. Andrei Piontkovsky of the Yabloko party called the appointment “absurd”, and said it was targeted at the “de-sacralization of key political officers.” The government may appoint former Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref as the new president of Sberbank, the country’s largest, and state-controlled, bank. Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Kudrin has been given new power over the national economy and finances, including the budget, foreign debt, state-run monopolies and customs rules in the new Cabinet. Tanya Lokshina, of the human rights group Demos, commented that Putin’s intention to become the next Prime Minister “means that the presidential elections, from which so many people expected so much, have become completely meaningless,” and that Putin could realistically expect to stay in power for another 20 to 30 years. While Putin “might baulk at changing the constitution in letter, he’s happy to trample it in spirit.” Vladimir Bukovsky, the former Soviet-era dissident who will run in the next presidential elections, has likened the lack of free speech under Putin to the repression of communist times. “Increasingly people’s unwillingness to oppose those in power reminds me of my youth when speaking out was very dangerous.” Putin said he would throw his birthday party in the Kremlin this year because it was his last chance as president. “You know, as a rule I don’t hold any parties, but this year is an exception.” Putin turned 55 on Sunday, on the same day that a reported 2,000 supporters rallied in Moscow this weekend to commemorate the death Anna Politkovskaya, including Garry Kasparov, who said, “Today is the official celebration of Putin’s birthday, but in a few years people will remember this day more for the death of Anna.” “We are living in a country that isn’t free,” said one activist, “and Politkovskaya was fighting for freedom.” The Committee to Protect Journalists states that there have been 13 “contract killings of Russian journalists since President Vladimir Putin came to power. Reporters from Politkovskaya’s newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, revealed they have received threats after conducting their own investigation into the unsolved killing. “One guy received a text message to his mobile from an anonymous number,” said Dmitry Muratov, the paper’s editor. “All that was written there was his full home address, which nobody even in the office knew.” The newspaper says it knows the identity of the man who killed Politkovskaya, although the identity of the orchestrator has not been determined. Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the non-governmental Civic Assistance Committee said, “I’m afraid that Politkovskaya’s murder will never be solved,” and over 60 celebrities and dignitaries have signed a letter calling on Russia to bring the journalist’s killers to justice. Several foreign rights activists trying to attend a conference commemorating Politkovskaya in Nizhny Novgorod were detained by police this weekend. Due to this and other “official obstacles”, the conference had to be cancelled. Anna Politkovskaya remembered. It has been revealed that Gazprom received a loan of $1.635 billion from Credit Suisse Group in September. Gazprom will continue talks with Ukraine this week on gas supplies and Kiev’s debts, despite an earlier announcement that the issues had been resolved. Mining giant Norilsk Nickel’s net profits in the first six months of 2007 rose 60% to $3.79 billion amid record-high global prices for nickel. St. Petersburg-based construction firm LSR Group and Gazmetall, the iron ore and steel firm controlled by billionaire Alisher Usmanov, are considering initial public offerings on the London Stock Exchange. Russia’s ambitious energy projects in eastern Siberia are “threatening” the indigenous Evenk people. France’s Nicolas Sarkozy is preparing for his first presidential trip to Russia “by courting leaders who have bristled at Moscow’s influence on Eastern and Central Europe.” US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will meet in Moscow for the “two-plus-two” meetings to discuss several bilateral issues with their Russian counterparts, including the much-contested US plan to deploy parts of a missile-defense shield in Central Europe. Putin has promised to sell weapons to former Soviet republics at cheaper prices in exchange for their assistance with peacekeeping operations in the region. The deals on peacekeeping and the sale of Russian military hardware were among more than 20 documents signed by the leaders of the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization. “CSTO members will now get special equipment at domestic Russian prices,” Putin said. The CIS Summit over the weekend was “soured”, however, due to “discontent over Russia’s continued domination of former Soviet republics,” with Kazakhstan announcing plans to form an economic grouping without Moscow that would create a “self-sufficient” market. The leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Poland are to try and revive a long-delayed plan to ship Caspian Sea crude to world markets, bypassing Russia. Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan have moved a step closer to a long-delayed customs and trade union as part of an effort called the Eurasian Economic Community. Madagascar’s foreign minister, Marcel Ranjeva, is in Moscow to discuss the settlement of conflicts and crises on the African continent with Sergei Lavrov. Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich have clashed on London’s Sloane Street in what was “like a scene from The Godfather,” and Alisher Usmanov has been accused in court papers of “unjust enrichment” in a dispute over one of the world’s most lucrative diamond mines.