RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Dec 17, 2010

17russiaspan-cnd-articleLarge.jpgTODAY: Putin slams Khodorkovsky in televised Q+A; defends abolition of gubernational elections; Surkov uses weekend violence to justify slow rate of reform, accuses opposition rallies of setting bad example.  European parliament recommends Magnitksy sanctions; US military backs START; McCain highlights Russian political oppression; Japan moves away from Cold War axis.

A thief should sit in jail’.  In his four-hour televised phone-in session, Vladimir Putin argued that Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s punishment was light in comparison to that of US Ponzi-master Bernie Madoff, giving weight to the expectation that the jailed Yukos founder will receive a guilty verdict on December 27.  One of Khodorkovsky’s lawyers sees the comment as an outright assertion of legal nihilism, saying, ‘right at the time when the judge is working on the verdict… he removed all doubt about who puts pressure on the court’.  The Guardian reports that Putin had the manner of ‘an out-of-touch despot’ throughout the session, in which he scarcely mentioned President Medvedev, except to emphasize the diarchy’s all-seeing eye (‘we take turns sleeping’.)  Putin also cited recent nationalist violence as a reason for re-enforcing the power of law enforcement bodies, despite the complaints of ‘our liberal intelligentsia’.  The Prime Minister also affirmed the rectitude of his decision to abolish democratic gubernatorial elections and replace them with appointments cherry-picked by the President.  Highlights of the session are provided by Reuters.

Opposition politician Boris Nemtsov has responded to claims by Vladislav Surkov that opposition rallies helped to pave the way for the weekend’s nationalist rioting with the claim that ‘Surkov is personally responsible for flaring up these tensions’, in order to establish harsher rules on public protesting prior to the presidential elections.  Opposition activists Lyudmila Alexeyeva and Eduard Limonov have filed separate applications to hold rallies in the same location on December 31, demonstrating differences of opinion on the issue of sanctioning.  The European Parliament has voted to recommend a freeze on the assets of 60 Russian officials implicated in the death of Sergei Magnitsky.  Thwarted Khimki forest activists apparently plan to nominate a 2010 Presidential candidate.

Ethnic tensions: police in Samara have detained more than 100 young people as part of a crackdown on race-related violence, and according to Ria-Novosti, an Uzbeck national was killed in Moscow yesterday.  What does the torrent of violence say about Russia’s ability to host the World Cup?  At Putin’s Q+A, the judo-lover suggested that hosting sporting events in Russia will help to reduce crime and substance abuse.  Frustrated poker fans question Putin’s understanding of criminality. 

As Republicans cast doubts about its impact on national security, the US military has voiced its backing for the START treaty.  Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona has cited Russia’s domestic record on rights and political opposition, including the Khodorkovsky trial, as evidence of the Kremlin being an untrustworthy partner on defense issues.  Despite recent tensions over the Kuril islands, apparently Japan’s new defense program guidelines cite China and North Korea as bigger threats than Russia.

PHOTO: Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on a television screen in an electronics shop during his annually televised question-and-answer session on Thursday, December 16, 2010.  (Natalia Kolesnikova/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)