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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Aug 6, 2010

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TODAY: Fire death toll hits 50 as compensation draws criticism; Kremlin silent on Strategy 31 criticism from the US; two years on from Georgian war, Medvedev has no regrets; debate with Japan continues; embezzlement witness killed; Chirikova fined; athletics win for Russia in Barcelona.
A number of countries are offering to help with efforts to quench Russia’s wildfires, including France, Germany, and Italy, and Belarus is fighting fires on its Russian border.  The death toll has now reached 50, the Kremlin’s Volga representative is calling the fire ‘a beast‘, and thick smoke over Moscow is interfering with flight schedules.  Stockpiles of explosive military material have been moved to safe locations from their base near Naro-Fominsk due to concerns about encroaching flames.  Impressive compensation figures (around $67,000 per household, part of ‘a string of populist gestures‘) for Russians who have lost their homes in the fire are inspiring criticism that ‘Putin’s government is throwing money at a problem that it helped create and did little to avert‘.  Why didn’t the Kremlin respond to criticism from the US about the detention of the Strategy 31 protesters?  Victor Davidoff, one of those arrested last month at the group’s Triumfalnaya Ploshchad rally, explains his motives.  ‘For those of us who lived in the Soviet period and remember perestroika and glasnost, it remains a mystery why the current leaders are following the path of their Soviet predecessors.

It’s been two years since the outbreak of the Georgian war.  The FT says that ‘the August war actually weakened Russia’s position in the Caucasus.‘  But President Dmitry Medvedev insists that Russia did the right thing: ‘Revisiting the events of two years ago, I would like to say that I consider all the decisions made at the time to be absolutely warranted and justified.‘  A minister at Japan’s Embassy in Moscow writes on the dispute surrounding the Northern Territories.  Khimki forest campaigner Yevgenia Chirikova has been given a $77 fine for staging an unsanctioned rally. 
A football coach who testified in court on behalf of his boss in an embezzlement case and later criticized the trial in a newspaper as ‘made up‘ has been shot dead.  The national athletics team were congratulated by President Medvedev yesterday after finishing first at the European Athletics Championships in Barcelona. 
PHOTO: Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral is seen through the heavy smog covering Moscow, Russia, early Friday, Aug. 6, 2010, as a woman with a boy wear masks protecting from the thickest blanket of smog covering. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)