RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Dec 28, 2010

Mikhail-Khodorkovskys-sup-007.jpgTODAY: International condemnation of Khodorkovsky verdict; Oleg Orlov vs Ramzan Kadyrov; Putin recommends restricting trial by jury; Medvedev and PM’s difference of opinion over ethnic integration model; Russian dissidents living in Germany poisoned? Tit-for-tat expulsions with Spain; lawsuit dropped against Khimiki forest defenders; rioting at the airport

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been one of the first international politicians to voice her dismay at the guilty verdict handed down to Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, saying it has ‘a negative impact on Russia’s reputation for fulfilling its international human rights obligations and improving its investment climate’ and the verdict ‘raises serious questions about selective prosecution and about the rule of law being overshadowed by political considerations’.  Germany has followed suit, suggesting that it marks a ‘step backward’ on Russia’s path to modernization.  An unsanctioned protest outside the courtroom ended with the police dragging Khodorkovsky supporters into police vans.  The Independent reports that Khodorkovsky’s lawyer, Vadim Klyuvgant, said that the judge’s verdict appeared simply to be ‘paraphrasing, and at times quoting the claims of the prosecution’.  An appeal is planned.  Regarding the motives behind the case, the Telegraph sees the trial as integral to the cultivation of Putin’s hard-man image.  Vladimir Milov, ex-energy minister and opposition agitator concurs that ‘Putin fears him: this is clear from how aggressively he talks about the process’.  An analysis in the FT also suggests the case against the Yukos founder shows that ‘the current leadership feels strangely nervous about its grip on power’

The New York Times reports from the trial of Oleg Orlov, chairman of Memorial, who has been charged with defamation for claiming that Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov was responsible for the murder of human rights defender Natalya Estemirova, in what are widely seen as politically motivated charges.  Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hammers another nail in the coffin of justice, by calling for further restrictions on the use of jury trials in Russia.  In this kind of climate, can President Medvedev really use the word democracy? wonders Charles Recknagel on RFE/RLThis article reports on evidence of friction in the tandem on how to deal with ethnic conflict, with Putin favoring the Soviet model, Medvedev leaning to the US.

In Germany, two Russian dissidents have been found to have high levels of mercury in their blood, prompting fears that they may have been the victims of a Litvinenko-style poisoning. Authorities are investigating.  Russia has begun a diplomatic tit-for-tatting with Spain.  The Foreign Ministry has demanded that Russian citizens in Belarus who were arrested following the presidential elections be freed.  Is Russia ‘the world’s largest dying power?’

A rare piece of good news for Khimki Forest protesters: a logging company has dropped a lawsuit against the campaigners.  The freeze may continue, but incensed passengers apparently reached boiling point at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport after 200 flights were cancelled.

PHOTO: Russian police officers detain a Mikhail Khodorkovsky supporter outside a court room in Moscow.  (Ivan Sekretarev/AP)