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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – April 18, 2011

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TODAY: Mironov leaves A Just Russia; Putin tells officials not to focus on presidential elections, plays hockey; Russia to block more Libya sanctions; internet freedoms could be curbed; two anti-corruption rallies in Moscow; Stepanova video documentary; Khodorkovsky court aide says judge acting on orders; Lyudmila Ulitskaya; Politkovskaya; banker jailed over beating.
Sergei Mironov has stepped down as the head of opposition party A Just Russia, which said that a shake-up could help it remain relevant, and that it would not back United Russia’s presidential candidate, no matter who it is.  Despite receiving backing from the ruling party, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has not indicated whether or not he will be running at all, and has instructed party officials to focus on the December parliamentary elections rather than getting ‘excited‘ about the presidential race.  Russia, together with China and India, will block British and French plans to impose sanctions on Libyan state media.  The FT says that an upcoming Freedom House report on internet freedoms counts Russia among the countries displaying increased repression (including blocked opposition sites and blogger arrests), and that the country could ‘suffer setbacks‘ this and next year.  The government says it has plans to regulate‘ internet use, but not to broaden censorship.

Two anti-corruption rallies were held in Moscow over the weekend, one by Nashi and one by the People’s Freedom Party – the former garnered a reported 50,000 supporters; the latter, 1,500.  A video documentary has been released in conjunction with a private investigation into the assets of former Moscow tax official Olga Stepanova, conducted by supporters of Sergei Magnitsky; it apparently claims that Stepanova’s personal assets are worth $38.9 million.  A former court official involved in the Mikhail Khodorkovsky case is the second court assistant to say that Viktor Danilkin, the judge in charge of the trial, admitted that the final decision was not up to him.  ‘Whether Danilkin was the actual decision maker or a mere puppet is no longer relevant. The problem is deeper. Too many people are convinced that the judicial system is crippled and judges are corrupt.‘  The Guardian interviews novelist Lyudmila Ulitskaya on freedom of speech and her published correspondence with the former Yukos head.
According to a new State Council report, Russia needs to take tougher measures against drug addiction among the younger population.  NPR has an interview with Anna Politkovskaya’s sister on the journalist’s final writings.  A banker has been jailed for an attack on a Dutch executive rumored to be ‘a boyfriend or fiancee of Putin’s daughter Yekaterina‘.  Putin’s latest photo-op: joining a training session with a group of teenage hockey players. ‘It’s an exciting and energetic sport.
PHOTO: The Russian opposition protests wave opposition parties and movements during an government protest against corruption in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, April 16, 2011. The rally was called by the fledgling People’s Freedom Party, an unregistered political party run by critics of the Kremlin (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)