RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Feb 17, 2011

italy.jpgTODAY: Guardian reporter refused visa extension; Khodorkovsky whistleblower motives considered;  Sobyanin says no to gay marches; Putin chastises customs officials over rap video; nationalist movement to be banned?  Russia-Italy cooperation on Afghanistan; rapprochement for Orthodox and Catholic churches on the cards? Caucasus violence; military commander suggests Kuril missile plan overkill; mortality rates and climate change

Following deportation and period of uncertainty about his status in Russia, Guardian reporter Luke Harding has learned that his visa will not be renewed, and he now plans to leave the country next week.  Despite describing her words as slander, Judge Viktor Danilkin says he will not sue aide Natalya Vasilyeva over her recent claims that the Khodorkovsky verdict was predecided.  ‘The obvious explanation–that she acted of her own volition because she was disillusioned with the system–seemed too implausible for the conspiracy-laden world of Russian politics’: the Economist considers the underlying reasons for Ms Vasilyeva’s admission.  According to the Other Russia, journalist Oleg Kashin, who was the victim of a brutal beating last November, has written on his blog that investigators apparently believe the motive was the fact that Kashin had ‘stolen‘ the wife of one of the attackers.  Kashin denies this is the case.  Hopes of pride marches for Moscow’s gay community have been dashed by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin.  ‘This kind of creativity should be saved for a talent show’: Putin’s words of warning to a group of customs officials who placed a spoof rap video on Youtube portraying a champagne and limousine lifestyle for those in government jobs.  Moscow prosecutors have suspended the activity of the prominent nationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration, and requested the Moscow City Court to ban it as extremist.

President Medvedev was in Italy yesterday to oversee energy and cultural agreements with Silvio Berlusconi, whilst Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa signed a bilateral agreement on military transit by air via Russia in connection with Italy’s participation in reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.  A meeting between Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kirill to help smooth over long-standing differences between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches could be a possibility, a senior Russian official has reportedly hinted.

After a week of renewed violence in the Caucasus, RFE/RL looks at the cracks in the Kremlin’s policy in the region: ‘I know that the best way of combating terrorism is to stop violating human rights’, says a Kabardino-Balkaria lawyer.  As Moscow law enforcement makes a show of tightening security measures in the capital, police at Kievsky Station detained four alleged rebels, ‘though the suspects apparently only planned to take a train to Chisinau, Moldova, not stage a terrorist attack’.  The Russian Fisheries Agency has pledged that Russia will continue to exploit waters around the disputed Kuril Islands.  Meanwhile a military commander has apparently said that plans to deploy advanced medium-range S-400 Triumf missile systems on the islands would be excessive.

‘Russia says that it wants a new security relationship with Europe; it should be told that a condition for that is giving up its imperialist ambitions and supporting a democratic Belarus‘, says a Washington Post editorial, as the trials of dozens of people arrested on the night of the December 19 election begin in Minsk.  After last summer’s heatwave killed 14,000 people, Russia’s top scientists are set to contemplate ways of combating the effect of extreme climatic conditions on the mortality rate.

PHOTO: Medvedev shaking hands with Berlusconi on Wednesday, February 16, 2011, on his Italy trip.  (Andrew Medichini / AP)