RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Dec 15, 2010

PH2010121407348.jpgTODAY: Khodorkovsky verdict, widely viewed as litmus test for Russia’s stance on democratic freedoms, delayed until Dec 27; Khimki forest destruction gets the go-ahead; Moscow braces for possible new wave of ethnic violence.  Democrats confident on START; Belarus elections in the bag for Lukaschenko? Moscow metro chief faces embezzlement charges

Today’s newspapers are replete with articles anticipating the verdict on the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, which was due to be announced today.  The Washington Post considers the Yukos hearing and the imminent European Parliament verdict on Magnitsky’s law landmark cases for judging Russia’s commitment to justice.  Prospects for the acquittal of Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev lurk at a discouraging 5%, says former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who testified as a defense witness in the trial.   The conjecture will continue: the reading of the verdict has been postponed until December 27.  No reasons were cited for the delay and apparently Khodorkovsky’s lawyers had not been informed of the decision.  Khodorkovsky’s mother, who says a second conviction for her son will confirm Russia is ‘still moving toward 1937’, believes that delaying the verdict is an attempt to minimize press coverage, as the period between Christmas and New Year is one when many foreign journalists are out of Russia.  Veteran human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva makes a plea for the rights of all Russian citizens, all of which ‘have been lost or substantially weakened’ under Putin’s rule, in a Moscow Times op-ed.

Following a temporary suspension, the construction of the eventual Moscow-St Petersburg highway which will splice through the Khimki forest, has been approved by the government, to the dismay of environmental activists.  Police are on standby in Moscow following a warning from the Movement Against Illegal Immigration that another showdown with ethnic minority groups may occur today.  Opposition leaders have released a statement, which can be viewed here, on what they believe to be the root cause of the weekend’s ethnic clashes.   RFE/RL has a video report on the failure of law enforcement to deal with a spate of attacks by criminal gangs occurring across Russia.

The final week of the lame duck session will see START pushed through, says Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who is reportedly confident that the 67 votes needed for ratification will be secured.  Pundits reportedly believe that irksome Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko will easily triumph in Sunday’s elections, but that the outcome Russia desires remains ‘a puzzle’ to most analysts.

Federal prosecutors have reportedly accused the head of the Moscow metro of embezzling $3.6 million and urged Mayor Sergei Sobyanin to oust him. On the synapses in Moscow’s metro system – its escalators.

PHOTO: Children light candles at a rally in support of jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, in central Moscow.  (Yuri Kadobnov Photo)