RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Feb 16, 2011

pg-16-russia-epa_557098t.jpgTODAY: International focus at Lavrov-Hague meeting; Russian FM warns Britain on encouraging democracy abroad; new hotline to be set up.  Ring in about corruption; Gorbachev denounces diarchy; Left Front leader on hunger strike; policeman charged with abuse of protesters. Military helicopter crash grounds fleet; airport bomber did not serve in Interior Ministry troops, says spokesman

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s meeting with British counterpart saw, it would seem, a muted tone of conciliation between the two nations, with Lavrov lauding ‘very positive’ dialogue with David Cameron and confirming an invitation for the British Prime Minister to visit Moscow later in the year  A new hotline will be installed between London and the Kremlin in aid of efforts to improve chilly relations between the two countries.  According to the BBC, William Hague warned it would ‘take time’ for relations with Russia to improve after the ‘serious disagreements’ of recent years.  ‘Hague picked his words with the care of a man crossing a flooded river on stepping stones’, says the Guardian’s Simon Hoggart in a sardonic look at the meeting.  The Independent reports that Lavrov used the meeting as an opportunity to criticize British and US policies abroad, such as the use sanctions on Iran, and Western support of protests in the Middle East, which he called ‘counter-productive’, apparently arguing that pressure for ‘democracy of a specific pattern’ in the region would have an adverse effect.  Ria-Novosti notes that London-based Russian opposition activists tried to pass on a gift for Putin (‘the [Russian] constitution and a magnifying glass’) as well as other ironic offerings for President Medvedev and Andrei Lugovoi (the principal suspect in the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko) to the Foreign Minister after he gave a talk at LSE.

Demonstrating the Kremlin’s new fondness for the telephone hotline as political panacea, the Russian Public Chamber is opening a help line for citizens who wish to report alleged incidents of corruption.  The Moscow Times reports that, according to a new survey, the public views the Kremlin’s new police law favorably; the ban on using batons, tear gas, water cannons when dispersing peaceful protests is supported by 76% of the public.  RFE/RL has an extensive interview with Mikhail Gorbachev in which he lambastes the notion of the ruling tandem.  A Moscow court has sentenced opposition activist Sergei Udaltsov to ten days in jail for disobeying police orders following a sanctioned rally in Moscow; the Left Front leader has announced a hunger strike for the duration of his arrest.  A policeman caught on video beating protesters at a Strategy 31 rally in St. Petersburg last summer has gone on trial, charged with abusing demonstrators.  ‘[F]or what worthless baubles did he trade in his winning hand?’: following claims of rigging by court aide Natalya Vasilyeva, Yulia Latynina wonders why Khordokovsky judge Viktor Danilkin would have ceded to the authorities.

The Defense Ministry has, according to this report, grounded its fleet of Mi-28 attack helicopters following a crash in the south of the country that killed the pilot.  Saber-rattling in the Kuril islands continues with the Russian Coast Guard denying Japanese media reports that it had opened fire on a Japanese fishing vessel off the disputed territory.

Russian Interior MinistryForces spokesman Vasily Panchenkov has denied claims by the media that the suicide bomber at Domodedovo airport had served in the Interior Ministry troops.  This spring will see the launch of Russia’s first Muslim television channel.

PHOTO: Sergey Lavrov and William Hague at a press conference, February 15, 2011.  (EPA)