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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Feb 15, 2010

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TODAY: Protesters gather in Baikalsk over fate of paper and pulp mill; Medvedev’s Khanty-Mansisk governor unanimously approved; official released from pretrial detention thanks to Duma guarantor; Russia should attract skilled foreigners; no plans to delay sales of defense weapons to Iran; Ukraine election commission will not recount votes, Yanukovych promises to rebuild ties with Russia.
Protesters gathered in Irkutsk over the weekend to protest the relaunch of the Baikalsk Paper and Pulp Mill, which would dump waste into Lake Baikal – RFE/RL estimates the gathering at 2,000, RIA Novosti at 1,000, and also reports that those gathered called for Putin’s resignation. Protesters want to protect the lake, but Oleg Deripaska says his decision to reopen the plant was based on ‘social considerations‘, as the plant is the main employer in Baikalsk; Deripaska plans to hand over his stake in the mills to the city.  Another estimated 2,000 protesters gathered at a counter-rally, calling for the mill to be re-opened to create jobs.  Critics would rather see the region develop its tourist industry.  Natalia Komarova, the regional governor proposed for Khanty-Mansiysk by Dmitry Medvedev (reportedly against the wishes of the population), has been unanimously approved.  The New York Times ‘find[s] it surprising that Mr. Sarkozy’s response to [the Georgian war] is to furnish the Russian navy with a vessel that, if deployed to the Black Sea, would make Russia far more capable of inflicting damage on Georgia the next time around‘.

A former city official has been released from pretrial detention (for corruption charges) after a Duma member volunteered as his guarantor.  This Moscow Times writer wonders why Russians (now apparently a majority in their own country), ‘haven’t created a better country for themselves‘, whilst the Kremlin reportedly thinks that what Russia really needs for technological success is to attract a few foreigners.  ‘Moscow seems to want Georgia to be run by a puppet leadership like the occupied territories are,‘ suggests this commentator, on the back of Medvedev’s appearance in Tbilisi last week.  Russia has no plans to delay its sales of anti-aircraft systems to Iran, saying that the deal ‘is not restricted by any international sanctions, because the talk is about deliveries of an exclusively defensive weapon‘.  
Ukraine president-elect Viktor Yanukovych says he wants stronger ties with Russia to end the threat of gas disputes, and intends to help the country join the World Trade Organization, and could permit Russia to station its Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol beyond its 2017 exit date. Yulia Tymoshenko insists that the Ukrainian presidential vote was rigged, and plans to appeal the result in court, despite the main election body’s announcement that Yanukovych had won.  Ukraine’s Central Election Commission says it will not recount the votes.  
Russian ice hockey player Svetlana Terentyeva was the first athlete to test positive (for head cold medicine) at the Vancouver Olympics, but escaped a ban as she took the substance before the Olympic period.  Ivan Skobrev has picked up Russia’s first Olympic medal – in speed skating.  
PHOTO: Protesters rallying in Irkutsk on Saturday against a decision by the government to reopen a mill on Lake Baikal. The sign reads: “We need Baikal alive.” (Maria Antonova / MT)