RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Dec 20, 2010

hospital.jpgTODAY: Ethnic tensions linger in Moscow; nationalism and Putinism interwoven? Belarus’ Lukaschenko wins fourth term, protesters claiming election fraud attempt to storm government building; doctor claims Putin hospital visit staged; Nemtsov to sue.  Russia voices concerns over tense Koreas situation; EU and Russia relations lacklustre?  Polish PM decries Russian plane crash report; Latvia rapprochement

‘The Russian leadership, under Vladimir Putin, has long flirted with chauvinism and xenophobia. Putinism itself is built around soft nationalism’.  According to the Moscow Times, around 2000 people were detained in the capital on Saturday, after a sanctioned nationalist demonstration seemed to spell disturbances.  The Guardian examines the links between ultra-nationalism and football.  Dr. Andreas Umland has an in-depth analysis of how nationalism has been sown into the fabric of the power vertical.  Belarus’ Alexander Lukaschenko apparently worked hard to create a veneer of pluralism prior to Sunday’s presidential elections (‘it looks like a celebration of democracy’, said one opposition politician).  Needless to say, the strong man won a fourth term with almost 80% of the vote.  When as many as 40,000 protesters tried to storm the government building in an protest against vote-rigging, in what the New York Times has called ‘one of the most significant challenges yet to his iron-fisted, 16-year rule’, they were met with severe police repression.

A whistle-blowing doctor who used Putin’s TV address to inform the Prime Minister that a hospital visit in Ivanovo was staged by hospital staff, apparently fears losing his job.  The region’s top health official has vociferously denied the claims.  Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov says he and his colleagues plan to sue Vladimir Putin over pejorative comments he made during his Q+A.

At Russia’s request, the UN Security Council met on Sunday for an emergency session over bubbling tensions between North and South Korea, with Russia’s U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin advising that South Korea show ‘maximum restraint’ and cancel its military exercises in the peninsula.  Although relations with Russia ‘matter enormously’ to the EU, the concrete results are lagging well behind expectations, says EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.  The Union voices its support for START in the New York Times.  Meanwhile minority Republican leader Mitch McConnell says he will not vote for a hastily-debated START, seemingly echoing a sentiment among Republicans who feel frustrated by the rush to push it through before Christmas.  Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has denounced Russia’s report on the plane crash that killed Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski.  Latvia’s President Valdis Zatlers has embarked upon an ‘historic’ visit to Russia as relations ostensibly improve.

‘[H]e is forging himself into some kitsch hybrid of Peter the Great, GI Joe, the horse whisperer and the Milk Tray Man’.  Any ideas who that could be?

PHOTO: Putin visiting an Ivanovo hospital on Nov. 9. A doctor says much of what Putin saw was staged for his benefit.  (Alexei Nikolsky/AP)