RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Feb 22, 2011

Mikhail-Gorbachev-007.jpgTODAY: Gorbachev launches stinging verbal attack on Putin’s ‘overconfidence’; Khodorkovsky disheartened by prospect of PM’s possible return to power; Kudrin’s reform talk analyzed. Patriarch’s dacha plans upset environmentalists; Medvedev puts foot down on corruption in law enforcement; new police website; FSB chief ousted; terrorism concerns for Sochi; Kurils; Russia’s battle with heroin

According to the New York Times, once President Mikhail Gorbachev has lambasted Vladimir Putin’s comments about deciding which half of the diarchy will run for President, as a show of ‘incredible conceit’ and disdain for the Russia electorate.  The last Soviet leader also called United Russia a ‘rotting monopoly’ and ‘a bad copy of the Soviet Communist Party’‘If Putin runs in the elections, this would mean that the peaceful transition of power has failed‘: Mikhail Khodorkovsky is none too pleased either about the prospect of a third term for Putin, in written comments published by Kommersant-Vlast.  Meanwhile the Independent‘s Mary Dejevsky considers the discrepancy between the Prime Minister’s image at home and that held of him abroad, arguing ‘there is a defence of Putin to be made’‘Was he speaking with Putin’s blessing?’ wonders Brian Whitmore over Finance Minister and close ally Alexei Kudrin’s unusual comments in praise of free and just elections at the Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum.  Konstantin Sonin in a Moscow Times op-ed considers whether the statements, were, as some would have it, a challenge to the Prime Minister.  Reports of Vladimir Putin’s palatial Black Sea mansion have caused uproar but, argues Alexei Pankin, ‘[T]he problem is that every time there is a public fight against “dacha corruption,” it ends with a new round of hardships for ordinary citizens’.  Apparently Patriarch Kirill’s dacha, the construction of which allegedly threatens an endangered forest on the Black Sea coast, has enraged activists. 

Prompted by the break-up of an illegal gambling ring that had allegedly been allowed to thrive under the nose of the authorities, President Medvedev has ordered a sweeping crackdown on police corruption.  Medvedev has also warned the two government agencies sparring over the gambling incident, the Investigative Committee and Prosecutor General’s Office, that the investigation must be carried out in a ‘quiet and calm manner’.  A new and improved website for the police reflects the desire to create a culture of openness and transparency in law enforcement, says Deputy Interior Minister Sergei Bulavin.

The ultranationalist defendants in the murder of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalistAnastasia Baburova have pleaded not guilty before a jury trial.  President Medvedev has relieved FSB chief Colonel-General Vyacheslav Ushakov of his duties; the Kremlin claims the general’s ousting is not related to the case for illegal gambling in the Moscow region or the terrorist act at the Domodedovo airport.  After a weekend of violence in the North Caucasus, the BBC reports on growing security concerns surrounding the Sochi Olympics.  Russia’s envoy to the volatile region has called for tourism to be halted at the country’s most popular ski resort following the spate of violence.

The Russia-Japan Kurils dispute continues – the Russian embassy in Tokyo remains, it would seem, incensed by the recent desecration of the Russian flag.  The embassy reportedly summoned the U.S. ambassador to a meeting to register disapproval of American support for Tokyo over the territorial wrangling.  Russia and the European Union are ‘working hard’ to develop a plan to stem the flow of Afghan heroin, says Russia’s anti-narcotics chief Viktor Ivanov.  ‘Methadone will never be legal in Russia’: the Independent examines why Russia refuses to countenance methadone therapy, when the country is the world’s number one consumer of the drug.

PHOTO: Mikhail Gorbachev accuses Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin of arrogance over their plan to jointly decide who should run in next year’s presidential elections.  (Andrey Smirnov/AFP/Getty Images)