Andrew E. Kramer in the International Herald Tribune examines how the souring of relations between traditional allies Russia and Belarus is the result of more than just the current oil crisis. According to ITAR-TASS, the speaker of the Russian state duma, Boris Gryzlov, has said that Russia will welcome it if other CIS states choose to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The customs union could, Gryzlov reportedly says, up economic growth in the three existing members by 14-15% by 2015. Following yesterday’s Black Sea Fleet threat, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has continued to use the Russia card against his rivals for the Presidency, suggesting that his competitors are part of a Kremlin-backed ‘coalition’.
The leaders of three Circassian organizations have sent a letter of protest to President Dmitry Medvedev regarding comments they deemed offensive made by the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, Vladimir Ustinov. How should Georgians respond to Moscow’s ‘provocations’ wonders Paul Goble on RFE/RL: not the way President Mikheil Saakashvili does, is his answer. The first flights between Moscow and Tbilisi in three years will take place on January 8-10.
Ellen Barry has a feature in the New York Times on Russia’s monograd problem, focusing on the ‘dying settlement’ of Baranchinsky, home to a lone oligarch-owned factory, which, despite a lack of employment and a crumbling infrastructure, inhabitants will not leave.
The Guardian is astounded to see holiday photos of Putin with his shirt on. The Times has an interview with the son of Alexander Solzhenitsyn on growing up with the Soviet era’s most famous literary dissident.
PHOTO: Workers filed out of the Baranchinsky Electro-mechanical Factory at the end of the work day. (James Hill for The New York Times)