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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – April 1, 2011

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TODAY: Strategy 31 protests see 150 arrested in Moscow and St Petersburg including opposition leaders, U.S. concerned; troops to be posted in Arctic; banned spying devices could include mobile phones; supercomputer to monitor bloggers; strangeness of Gorbachev gala; Andrianov obituary.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva’s authorized Strategy 31 protest in Pushkin Square was attended by either ‘250 to 350‘ or ‘between 300 and 1000‘ (depending on your source) peaceful protesters and went without a hitch; Eduard Limonov’s Triumfalnaya Square protest saw 54 of its demonstrators arrested, including Limonov himself. 100 more protesters were detained in St Petersburg, including opposition leader Boris Nemtsov (his ‘umpteenth‘ arrest); reports say that a ‘police helicopter hovered low over demonstrators shouting anti-Kremlin slogans on the main street‘.  The Other Russia reports that Voina activists present were treated particularly harshly, with Oleg Vorotnikhov apparently beaten in detention.  RFE/RL reports on the protests’ American component, with a small group of protesters gathering in Washington to call for freedom of protest in Russia: ‘Here you can feel the freedom. Here you can say something about anything. Here you can say, ‘I’m Russian [and] I disagree with Mr. Putin.’ I can’t say it there.‘  The White House expressed concern following news of the Russian arrests.  Bloomberg suggests that President Dmitry Medvedev’s move to oust government ministers from company boards will trigger a row with Vladimir Putin, whilst Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, says that ‘the subject of replacing officials with independent directors has long been on the agenda.‘  RFE/RL’s Brian Whitmore think Putin is ‘probably in on it‘.

Up to 8,000 combat-ready troops will be based in the Russian Arctic near the Norwegian and Finnish borders as of later this year in order to protect its energy interests there, the Telegraph reports.  The vague definition of ‘spying devices‘ outlawed for purchase by anyone other than members of the special services will allow for misinterpretations that could put ordinary mobile phone owners at risk.  The Mendel ‘supercomputer‘ is being designed by the Kremlin to monitor the political opinions of bloggers and social network users, and deliver policy recommendations accordingly. 
The Moscow Times considers the strangeness of the Gorbachev birthday gala in London and its celebrity presenters: ‘Hearing both of them continuously mangle various Russian names and concepts added a level of surreality to the event.‘  Read an obituary for Russian gymnast Nikolai Andrianov, who has died aged 58. 
PHOTO: Police officers stand guard during a protest rally to defend Article 31 of the Russian constitution, which guarantees the right of assembly, in St. Petersburg March 31, 2011. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk