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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Aug 2, 2010

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TODAY: Forest fires in fourteen regions kill 34 and destroy thousands of homes; Strategy 31 protests in Moscow and St Petersburg broken up by police, Boris Nemtsov amid those detained; Pamfilova resigned due to pressure, says Alexeyeva; Khimki forest activists could face jail; journalist banned from television for joining opposition; Georgia, START.
Hundreds of forest fires spread across Russia this weekend through fourteen regions, necessitating the evacuation of over 5,000 people and mobilizing 180,000 to help fight the flames, estimates the Moscow Times.  ‘Neither fire nor wind have days off, so we can’t take any days off,‘ said Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, promising to compensate those who lost their homes and threatening the jobs of administrators in areas that have suffered.  Germany and Ukraine have both pledged their help, and the Russian Navy has been brought on board.  In Nizhny Novgorod, an area particularly badly hit, Orthodox Patriarch Kirill called upon Russia ‘to unite in prayer for rain to descend on our earth‘.  The New York Times reports that the death toll has reached 34.  The BBC has a video report, and anticipates ongoing fires this coming week as temperatures remain high and hundreds of fires continue to burn.

Unsanctioned Strategy 31 demonstrations took place in Moscow and St Petersburg this weekend (dramatic video from the BBC here), the latter drawing the most official ire.  ‘Some of the detained had bloody noses, while others had their heads beaten against police buses.‘ St. Petersburg’s Union of Journalists says it will lend legal assistance to three journalists (among the 60 people, including Solidarity leader Boris Nemtsov) arrested at Saturday’s March of Dissent despite showing their press ID cards, RIA Novosti reports.  The Other Russia counts the attendees (including Eduard Limonov) at 1000, and the number of detained at 100.  Long-time human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva says that the main reason for Ella Pamfilova’s resignation of her post in the Kremlin’s human rights council was due to ‘hounding by the mass media and, in particular, by the pro-Kremlin youth‘.  Two Khimki forest activists have been detained in connection with an attack on an administration building and, despite ‘weak‘ evidence against them, could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison
RFE/RL reports that a journalist has been banned from appearing on local TV ‘because he had accepted a position in the opposition political movement Other Russia‘.  A Vedomosti editorial looks at the potential knock-on effects of the recent expansion of FSB powers and suggests that Russians will be less willing to accept the loss of their civil rights during a time of low wages and high unemployment. 
Is it too late to develop a clear dialogue between Russia and Georgia?  ‘The crisis [of the ‘7 April events’] showed that nobody, Russia included, is really interested in Kyrgyzstan.‘  Ratification of the START treaty is suffering delays due to critics’ objections that ‘the treaty will somehow constrain American efforts to build missile defenses‘, but the treaty needs to be ratified as soon as possible, urges the New York Times.  Why has Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has been taking soil samples from the bottom of Lake Baikal?
PHOTO: Women weeping near the ruins of a burned-out house in Voronezh on Friday. (Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters)