RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Dec 30, 2009

PH2009122900425.jpgTODAY: Medvedev outlaws pre-trial arrest for tax evasion suspects, fires another senior prison official in wake of Magnitsky report; Putin’s concerns that missile defense will jeopardize replacement START treaty rebuffed by the US; the Prime Minister asserts himself, but for whose benefit? Medvedev introduces house arrest; exacts time limits for regional governors.  Russia’s national projects.

Medvedev has approved a law which makes first time tax evasion a civil, rather than a criminal offense, banning the pre-trial jailing of suspects in tax evasion cases, in the wake of the outcry over the death in custody of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky whilst awaiting trial for tax evasion. The President has, according to the Washington Post, also fired another senior prison official, Alexander Piskunov, deputy head of the Federal Penitentiary Service, in another decree.  The Wall Street Journal looks at the case of Yana Yakovleva, a businesswoman who similarly faced trial for tax evasion, and once freed, began campaigning for Business Solidarity to put an end to harassment and corruption by law enforcers.

In comments yesterday which voiced the need for Russia to develop offensive weapons to counterbalance the US missile defense scheme, Vladimir Putin apparently also demanded that the US provide detailed data about its plans for the new system.  According to the BBC, the US has refuted Putin’s suggestion that the existence of missile defense may endanger the replacement of the START treaty, asserting that the two issues are separate.  Meanwhile Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko has been quoted by Ria-Novosti as saying that Russia and the United States have not halted talks on a new arms reduction treaty to replace the one which expired on December 4. 

RFE/RL has an interview with military analyst Aleksandr Golts analyzing Putin’s statements from a military, political and power-wielding point of view.  ‘Mr. Putin’s comments left no doubt that he was playing a pivotal role in negotiations with Washington, a task that technically should fall to his protégé, President Dmitri A. Medvedev’, says Ellen Barry in the New York Times.

President Medvedev has signed into law a bill allowing courts to sentence people to house arrest, a ‘restriction of freedom’ punishment which, according to RFE/RL, would mainly be handed out for minor crimes.  The President has also notified the country’s governors that most provincial heads will be able to stay in office for three terms in the future, and that a fourth term ‘would be a rare exception’.  Whatever happened to Russia’s grand hopes for the four national projects? asks Robert Coalson in RFE/RL. 

PHOTO: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, right, meets with employees of an auto assembling plant in Vladivostok, capital of Russian Far East, on Tuesday, December 29, 2009.  (AP Photo)