RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Feb 15, 2011

mars.jpgTODAY: Khodorkovsky verdict rigged says judge’s assistant; Guardian seeks clarification on Harding’s status; defamation suit against Putin thrown out of court. Russia-Britain relations under scrutiny as Lavrov prepares to meet Hague; Kremlin asserts Kuril sovereignty with missile plan; Wikileaks offers insight into NATO’s view of Russian army; Dubrovka hostage crisis inquiry to be reopened; walking on Mars (without leaving Moscow); Chernobyl on film

Today’s press is awash with claims from an aide to the judge who convicted oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky that Viktor Danilkin did not write the verdict himself and was under the ‘total control’ of senior-level officials during the two-year trial.  Whistleblower Natalia Vasilyev reportedly claims that Danilkin’s original draft of the verdict was rejected and he was forced to read one written by senior officials at the Moscow City Court.  Judge Danilkin refuted the claims as ‘slander’.  The Moscow City Court has stated it has no plans to fire Vasilyeva; she has apparently resigned.  RFE/RL looks back at the fate of other whistleblowers who have taken on the Kremlin.  ‘It’s a death stare that says: you, my friend, will soon be sleeping with the carp at the bottom of the Volga (or failing that, a gulag six time zones away from Moscow’): the Guardian reviews the new Cyril Tuschi documentary about Khodorkovsky.  The Guardian is concerned that the situation of its Moscow correspondent Luke Harding remains uncertain and has urged the Kremlin for clarification over the duration of Harding’s visa, which, the newspaper suggests, could expire in a fortnight’s time.  A Moscow court has thrown out the defamation suit brought by opposition activists Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir Ryzhkov and Vladimir Milov against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, without stating why.

Russians actually enjoy more democracy and freedom than is often, condescendingly, understood. Try the blogosphere if you don’t believe it’: the Independent’s Mary Dejevsky argues the case for Britain resetting relations with Russia as Sergei Lavrov prepares to discuss visas, economics and terrorism with his British counterpart.  ‘Tony Blair and George Bush both tried charming Vladimir Putin, but came to regret it’, warns the Economist.  In a move likely to incur the wrath of Japan, Moscow has announced plans to deploy short- and long-range air defense missile systems to the southern Kuril Islands in order to guarantee Russia’s sovereignty in the region.  The New York Times reports on a Wikileaks document which apparently reveals that NATO was underwhelmed by Russia’s military during two large maneuvers in 2009.  Russia’s anti-drug tsar has slammed the UN’s campaign to curb heroin production in Afghanistan as ‘stillborn’.

The Independent examines Georgia’s ‘non-military offensive’ against Russia ‘encompassing diplomacy, media, culture and governance’.  The 2002 Dubrovka hostage crisis will, the Moscow Times reports, be reinvestigated due to some of the terrorists allegedly involved in the atrocity escaping.

Russia’s space agency has suggested that a foreign power may have been behind the accident that damaged a military satellite earlier this month.   After 257 days sealed in a mock spaceship, two astronauts have taken their first walk on the simulated surface of the planet Mars at a Moscow space research center.  ‘I think it’s a purely Russian story […] I think generally our genetic code is such that we always live very close to danger and death’:  Alexander Mindadze, the director of the new film ‘Innocent Saturday’ about the Chernobyl disaster (the 25th anniversary of which is in April) talks to the New York Times.

PHOTO: Technicians at the mission control center watching a crew member “landing” on a simulated mission to Mars, February 14, 2011.  (Alexander Natruskin / Reuters)