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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Dec 10, 2010

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TODAY: Khimki highway to go ahead; restrictions for protesters; migalki to be regulated; St Petersburg tower to be relocated; Putin slams hypocritical Western treatment of Assange; Serbian leaks; NATO insists relations are improving; are citizens ready to stand up to corruption? Hancock aide deportation could lead to tit-for-tat expulsions; Russia denies Georgian charges.
The Kremlin has made its ‘final decision‘ on the Khimki forest, approving the long and violently-opposed plan to build a highway through it; and in a second blow to the opposition, under a revised law, citizens charged with ‘minor administrative offenseswill be barred from attending protest rallies.  Some concessions today, also: following public anger and a wave of reported abuse from drivers using migalki (flashing blue lights affixed to the vehicles of state officials), Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ruled that all officials using them must pass training.  And another embattled project, the St Petersburg Gazprom tower, will be relocated following criticism from residents; with hints that President Dmitry Medvedev’s position had a ‘direct bearing‘ on the decision.  Putin says that the arrest of Julian Assange reflects badly on the West’s idea of democracy, and gives the US little solid ground from which to criticize Russia. ‘If it is full democracy, then why have they hidden Mr. Assange in prison? That’s what, democracy?‘  His sentiments were echoed by many prominent Russians.  The latest WikiLeaks suggest that Serbian officials believe that Russia is withholding information about the whereabouts of its fugitive general Ratko Mladić.  NATO insists that, despite recent leaks about secret defense plans against Russia, its relationship with the country is improving: ‘We do not consider Russia a threat to NATO, nor does NATO present a danger to Russia.

Here’s a link to Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer report, which is drawing headlines for its suggestion that the number of citizens willing to report corrupt activities is on the rise.  Yelena Panfilova, at the agency’s Russian office, debates the accuracy of the suggestion that over half of Russians would report corrupt activities, estimating that ‘only 7% have actually faced corruption and thought it necessary to contest it.‘  A senior UK-based Russian diplomat says that the case against MP Mike Hancock’s Russian aide is an attempt to distract from the UK’s failure to win the World Cup bid.  Russia is also hinting at tit-for-tat expulsions, if allegations of espionage lead to Kayta Zatuliveter’s deportation.  Her lawyers are insisting that she is innocent of the charges
The Foreign Ministry says that Canada’s sanctions on Russian officials connected with the death of Sergei Magnitsky amount to ‘pressure tactics‘.  Russia is denying Georgia’s charges that one of its servicemen was involved in a series of bombings earlier this year, calling the accusations a provocation.  The Washington Post looks at the many trials faced by Novaya Gazeta, which has lost six of its journalists to murder or unexplained death.  A Russian Ombudsman believes that there is a political aspect to the Mikhail Khodorkovsky case. 
Putin’s new dog is named Buffy. ‘It’s soft, kind, and sounds nice,‘ he said. 
PHOTO: Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Dima Sokolov, the boy who has proposed the dog’s name, play with the Bulgarian shepherd dog named Buffy at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow December 9, 2010. REUTERS/Alexsey Druginyn/RIA Novosti/Pool