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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept. 18, 2007

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Vladimir Zhirinovsky has some choice words for Britain at a news conference for Andrei Lugovoi’s Duma campaign in Moscow on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2007. (Photo: AP)

Media are beginning to debate the legacy of Vladimir Putin’s eight years in power, with a strong focus on the dramatic changes in the economy and Russia’s new foreign policy. Ahead of the EU-Russia Summit scheduled for next month in Portugal, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt saidEverybody agrees that at the moment we don’t have a strategic relationship with Russia. We all wish it would be there,” while German energy firm E.ON is on a spending spree in Russia. Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s ultra-nationalist Liberal Democrats party are supporting the nomination of Andrei Lugovoi as a Duma candidate because it is likely to generate publicity; while others think attacking the West will now be even more politically popular than attacking the oligarchs in the upcoming parliamentary elections. True to form, Zhirinovsky gave the media no shortage of anti-West quotes, accusing Britons of being “bandits and criminals.” Optimism that the US will reach an agreement with Russia over a missile shield in Poland is fading, although US and Russian experts will investigate the possibility of using Russia’s Gabala radar instead when they meet in Azerbaijan today. The French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, is in Moscow to clear the way for Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit next month. Kouchner is in talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who today added his voice to the growing concerns over possibly military action in Iran, whilst the Deputy Foreign Minister, Alexander Losyukov, said that a US attack on Iran would have “catastrophic consequences”, and issued a heartfelt apology to Iran for the unrelated murder of a diplomat’s son in Moscow. Polish President Lech Kaczynski signalled that it may be time to renew Russian and Polish relations on a visit to the country, saying, “We have a democratic Poland and we have a new Russia.” Tajikistan is to officially propose that Russia grant an immigration amnesty to Tajik citizens working illegally in Russia. LUKoil, Russia’s second-largest oil producer, plans to build a refinery in Venezuela with the South American country’s state company. US Counter-Intelligence officials are complaining that Russia and China are spying on the US “nearly as much as they did during the Cold War” – which they rationalise as proof that wider domestic spying privileges need to be given to the government. Rosneft has announced that it expects to refine almost 40 million tonnes of oil in 2007. London-listed miner Aricom has concluded a cooperation agreement with Oboronimpex, a unit of state arms export monopoly Rosoboronexport, to explore opportunities in strategic raw materials, including titanium, molybdenum and tungsten. The rise in Russia’s industrial output has slowed to 3.8%, and the Russian government has suspended import duties on rechargeable batteries for cell phones and word processors for nine months, in a move that could entice electronics contracts to the country. Russia’s auto industry could soon be monopolised, with the possible consolidation of AvtoVAZ, KamAZ and GAZ. It is thought that political action taken against VinLund, a shipping company, and its employees, was due to its owner’s support of investigative journalism (Peter Vins, owner of VinLund, is a former Soviet dissident). The Guardian reported that a sale of Russian art was cancelled on the eve of the London auction at Sotheby’s when a Alisher Usmanov, the Russian billionaire who also now owns a stake in Arsenal football club, stepped in and bought the entire collection of the late musician Mstislav Rostropovich, paying over £25m. The Russian Internet passed a milestone as the millionth .ru domain name was registered.