RA’s Daily Russia News Blast, Sept 7, 2009

kremlin090709.jpg[Again, my apologies for the late posting of this news blast, as I’m covering all the bases on my own today… – Best, James]

TODAY:  The United States sells even more arms during a recession, Gorbachev’s towering ego, more gas spats between the Kremlin and Kiev, Khodorkovsky talks about jail for life, the Pikalyovo virus spreads, Deripaska doesn’t want Opel, and a EU human rights commissioner gets the state-approved tour of Chechnya.

Russia and Ukraine are at each other’s throats again over natural gas, with the Kremlin accusing Kiev of attempting to alter the contracts.  In a televised meeting with Gazprom’s Alexei Millar, President Dmitry Medvedev said “As far as an idea of an advance payment for tariffs, then I would like to ask you a simple question — is it stipulated in a contract?” After receiving a negative answer from Miller, Medvedev said: “Then don’t pay! There’s a need to act in accordance with the contract that has been signed.  We’ve specially prepared it, it was born in the throes of pain, has been quite seriously developed and we are currently working in line with it.

On Saturday, the Times of London published an interesting interview and profile of Mikhail Gorbachev with Ginny Dougary:  Gorbachev may be our favourite Russian export but our desire to transform himinto a cuddly international treasure – how stern can a man be, one mightthink, who tolerates his universal nickname “Gorby”? – are wide of the mark.He talks in a series of speeches, brooking no interruptions, which means ourinterview is peppered with impatient slap-downs: “I have not yet finished,”and “Let me say something first and then I’ll reply.”

On Sunday, the New York Timespublished a report on global arms sales for 2008.  Russia was hangingin there in third place with a plucky $3.5 billion in sales, but downfrom $10.8 billion in 2007.  Arms from the United States grew at afrightening pace to $37.8 billion, representing 68.4% of the sector.

What’s happening in our town is not capitalism,” a Russian industrial worker told the Associated Press. “It’s like we’re in medieval times again.”  The the Yasnogorsk Machine-Building Factory has shut down 2/3rds of its machines, and whittled down its staff to a couple hundred people.  The fate of Yanogorsk, a one-factory town, is a similar problem for some 500 one-industry towns across Russia.

Thomas Hammarberg, the human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe, is headed to visit Chechnya and Ingushetia today.  Hammarberg’s visit looks to be strictly institutional – he attended roundtable discussionin St. Petersburg with governmment-selected human rights reps, and will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov onSeptember 10 in Moscow.

The Russia-Canada-Germany-GM squabble over the purchase of Opel took another turn this weekend after meeting resistance from the Americans, as Oleg Deripaska’s company GAZ has announced that they are not interested in acquiring an equity stake.  “We can help them set up assembly at our facility and offer our dealernetwork for marketing. There is no talk of buying a stake,” Deripaskatold Vedomosti.

Over the weekend, political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky gave an interview to the German magazine Focus in which he stated that he expects he may spent the rest of his life in prison:  “Theyare doing everything they can to keep me in jail until I die. (…)Russian courts won’t be independent for a very long time.

Image credit:  Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L) speaks with GazpromCEO Alexei Miller during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow onSeptember 7, 2009. President Dmitry Medvedev accused Ukraine of seekingchanges to a contract for the transit of Russian gas across itsterritory, the latest row over energy between the two fueding states.Medvedev told the head of state-run Russian gas giant Gazprom thatRussia would not accept any move from the Ukrainian authorities todemand advance payment for the transit of Russian gas to Europeanconsumers via its soil. (Getty Images)