RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Feb 21, 2011

medved.jpgTODAY: Terrorists hit Caucasus ski resort; three tourists killed; bombs defused; security concerns over Sochi Olympics. Opposition leaders refute President’s reforming attempts; is Khordokovksy whistleblower a concern for Putin?  Extreme nationalism scrutinized in Markelov Baburova murder trial; Chapman in the Kurils; Russia says no to US bases in Afghanistan; alcohol; culture; cosmonauts

A wave of violence hit the popular ski resorts of the North Caucasus over the weekend: on Friday, a group of camouflage-wearing assailants, claiming to be security forces, shot five vacationers from the Moscow area, killing three and wounding two.  A cableway on Mount Elbrus in the republic of Kabardino-Balkaria was hit by an explosion, but no one was injured.  The New York Times reports that a total of three car bombs were defused near a hotel in a village in the region of Kabardino-Balkaria, with a combined strength of 70 kg of TNT.  Unknown killers shot dead local official Ramzan Friev in the city of Nalchik on Saturday, Ria-Novosti reports.  In response to the troubles, the Kremlin has established a counter-terrorism regime in two areas of Kabardino-Balkaria.  President Medvedev has pointed at another source of security threats to the Sochi Olympics, warning his Security Council that there are also certain problems connected to our neighbor, Georgia’.  Medvedev’s representative to the North Caucasus, Alexander Khloponin, has told Rossiya 24 that young people from the restive region should be able to enjoy freedom of movement across all of Russia.

Mikhail Kasyanov, Vladimir Milov, Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Ryzhkov of the People’s Freedom Party in Russia have penned an article in the Washington Post condemning the violation of civil liberties in Russia, leveling criticisms at liberal idea touting Medvedev.  The President has asked the leaders of the four state Duma parties to inform him of violations in the election process in advance of the upcoming regional and federal elections.  Over half of Russians have trust in Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, says a poll by Russia’s Public Opinion Fund.  Simon Shuster in Time magazine wonders if the recent Khordokovksy whistleblowing affair is to do with a ‘hidden war’ waged by Medvedev against his predecessor.

The New York Timeshas a feature on Nikita Tikhonov, the extreme nationalist charged with the murder of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and reporterAnastasia Baburova, examining the trial as a testament to the growth oframpant nationalism in Russia.  ‘Perhaps “Operation Harding” was an attempt by overzealous FSB agentswho wanted to prove to their bosses how vigilant they were in defendingthe motherland against “saboteurs and libelers’: a Moscow Times editorial considers the fate of Guardian reporter Luke Harding.  The Moscow Times reports on a possible ‘turf war’ between the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Ex-spy turned media darling Anna Chapman has apparently been awarded the task of hoisting a Russian flag on the disputed Kuril Islands in March.  Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano has moved to quell a war of words with Russia’s Foreign Ministry; military cooperation between the two nations will apparently continue.  Russia has cautioned the United States against the idea of establishing long-term military bases in Afghanistan.

Russia may be pleased to know that it is only fourth in the WHO’s ranking of most alcohol consumption – though it is number one in terms of alcohol-related deaths.  RFE/RL takes us on a tour of under-performing hospitals.  Roman Abramovich’s palace of culture.  A look inside the Cosmonaut training center, courtesy of the BBC.

PHOTO: Medvedev, Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov inspecting Olympic sites during a meeting with Duma political party heads.  (Mikhail Klimentyev / RIA-Novosti / Reuters)