RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Feb 14, 2011

PH2011021201577.jpgTODAY: Activists held at Moscow protest rally; Luke Harding returns to Moscow; Lavrov begins British visit; son of Khodorkovsky lobbies for father at Grammy awards.  Nemtsov takes on Moscow judge over chair issue; policeman handed down 12 years for murder of journalist.  Georgia sells idea of united Caucasus; Medvedev lauds multiculturalism; anti-authoritarian art group Voina shortlisted for prize; new poll reveals high levels of ignorance

Russian police detained opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov of the anti-Kremlin Left Front group and a dozen activists during a weekend rally in Moscow that attracted hundreds of protesters.  RFE/RL has a video from the event, which had initially been sanctioned by City Hall.  Following his expulsion from the country, the authorities would appear to have backtracked on the fate of Guardian reporter Luke Harding, to whom a new visa was issued on Saturday.  As Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov touches down in London for a rare meeting with his British counterpart, the Guardian’s Julian Glover argues: ‘We have no sway over Russia. We need its money. But we should be ashamed by the direction in which this pulls us’.  The lawyers of jailed Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky have argued that the visit should be used as an opportunity for Britain to exert pressure on Russia over the case: ‘Lavrov must realise that he cannot pick and choose when Russia wants to be a part of the international community’.  Meanwhile Khodorkovsky’s son, Pavel, represented Estonian composer Arvo Part (who dedicated his ‘Symphony No 4’ to the incarcerated tycoon) at last night’s Grammy awards to draw attention to his father’s plight, at the composer’s request.  

Boris Nemtsov’s defamation suit against Vladimir Putin, precipitated by the Prime Minister’s  suggestion that Nemtsov and other opposition activists are motivated by financial gain as opposed to a commitment to democracy, is underway inMoscow.  According to Ria-Novosti, lawyers for the opposition leader have requested that Judge OlgaBorovkova be stripped of powers after Nemtsov was refused a chair duringhis court hearing.  A policeman in central Russia has been sentenced to 12 years in jail forbeating journalist Konstantin Popov to death; the victim’sfamily apparently believes he was not the sole perpetrator of the crime.  Moscow’s TverskoyRegional Court has upheld the ruling that sentencedopposition activist Ilya Yashin to five days in jail following the December 31rally. 

The New York Times reports on Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s attempts to foster solidarity with the restive North Caucasus nations, just days after the Domodedovo Airport brought home Moscow’s fears of separatism.  This reportfrom the Ingushetian hometown of the alleged airport bomber revealsstark poverty and entrenched anger against Russian security forces that carriedout a brutal raid three summers ago.  The Telegraph has an interview with the father of the man supposedly behind the attack.  Apparently a senior U.S. arms control negotiator has assuaged Polish concerns about Russian involvement in developing European missile defense.  In sharp contrast to his European counterparts Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, President Medvedev has sung the praises of multiculturalism.  As Hosni Mubarak packs his bags, the President has also stated that ‘a strong, democratic Egypt is an important factor for the peace process in the Middle East’.

United Russia critic and former ballerina Anastasia Volochkova claimsthat her scheduled media appearances have been canceled at the behest of Kremlin eminencegrise Vladislav Surkov.  Kremlin-bating art collective Voina has been shortlisted for a contemporary art award by Russia’s Ministry of Culture and the National Center for Contemporary Art for its penis bridge project; two of the collective’s artists await trial on hooliganism charges.  In a stinging indictment of education standards across the nation, a state pollster has revealed that one in every three Russians believes that the sun revolves around the Earth.

PHOTO: A protester holds a sign reading “Power to people!” in Moscow, Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011, during a protest against corruption, rising prices and to increase democratic rights. Russian police detained Saturday an opposition leader and other activists during a rally in Moscow that drew hundreds of protesters.  (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)