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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Dec 8, 2009

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TODAY: Perm death toll rises to 117 as Putin demands inspections; Yukos case coming back to haunt the Kremlin?; Magnitsky’s prison letters spark nationwide attention; internet provider admits to blocking ‘extremist’ sites; Putin’s economic strategy; START delays; provincial architecture being destroyed.
The death toll in Russia’s Perm nightclub fire has risen to 117, with 30 more victims still in critical condition.  Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ordered the Emergency Situations Ministry to inspect nightclubs and concert halls across the country, following the blaze, which was started by fireworks (the Moscow Times notes that firework sales have significantly dropped in wake of the news).  After an arbitration panel ruled that shareholders in former Yukos are entitled to seek an estimated $100 billion in damages from the Russian government, this Guardian journalist suggests that, if it wants to avoid large compensation claims, Russia will have to ‘convince an independent court that the seizure of Yukos was a legal act and not a politically inspired violation of property rights‘.

Since Sergei Magnitsky’s death, ‘the press, even Kremlin-controlled outlets, has shown unexpected vigor‘ in their publishing of the lawyer’s prison letters, says the Washington Post. ‘We had this in Stalin’s time, but never since then have we had such a detailed account that suggests the practices of the gulag continue to exist now,‘ one opposition journalist is quoted as saying.  A wireless internet provider owned by Russian Technologies has acknowledged that it blocked access to certain internet sites, including that of opposition leader Garry Kasparov, calling itself ‘a law-abiding firm‘.  Agora, a Tatarstan-based human rights group, has been hit with a large back tax claim on foreign grants after it helped a nongovernmental organization win a lawsuit over a similar claim by tax authorities.  
If you are expecting Putin to modernize the economy, don’t hold your breath. Putin outlined his economic strategy very clearly, and it differs strikingly from Medvedev’s vague plans for modernization,‘ writes Vladimir Ryzhkov.  The Guardian reports that ‘the historic architecture of Russia’s provincial towns is being destroyed at an alarming rate‘ to make way for ‘concrete giants‘.  
The START treaty is suffering delays due to a quibble over the issue of stock verification – Russia apparently wants a ‘less intrusive system‘.  
PHOTO: A poster in Copenhagen reading: “I’m sorry. We could have stopped catastrophic climate change … We didn’t.” (Greenpeace)