RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – July 1, 2010

customs-1-storypic1.jpgTODAY: Decline of Russian democracy; independent mayor of Irkutsk turns to United Russia; Investigative Committee rejects charges against investigators in Magnitsky death; Nashi youth disrupt Limonov reading; Foreign Ministry softens reaction to spy ring scandal; Clinton seeks to ease abandonment fears in Russia’s backyard with 5-day trip; Russia in tit for tat with Moldova; conservation; ecology

The Other Russia examines the Freedom House report on the decline of democracy in Russia, which it apparently blames on the diminishing space for dissent, and an increase in corruption.  The Moscow Times reports on the mysterious case of Viktor Kondrashov: he was elected mayor of Irkutsk three months ago as an independent candidate and praised for cracking United Russian hegemony; now the ruling party has claimed him as one of their own.  He will apparently join the party within six months.  The Investigative Committee has reportedly refused to file charges of abuse of office and corruption against investigators involved in the case of Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in pretrial detention after being held there at their behest.  Two activists have been detained in a protest in Moscow against the new bill which would increase the powers of the FSB.  RFE/RL reports that pro-Kremlin Nashi youth activists have crashed a book presentation by opposition politician Eduard Limonov and hurled abuses at the Other Russia leader.  A group of United Russia deputies have proffered new legislation which proposes banning jury trials for criminal cases involving state secrets.  Yevgeny Bazhanov in a Moscow Times op-ed explains why democracy is the only viable path for Russia.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman has said that it is unlikely that the US spy-ring arrests will have a deleterious effect on bilateral relations.  ‘The scandal has underscored the limits of the new relationship’ and is a ‘cautionary reminder‘ even if it has not entirely cursed the reset, argues the New York Times.  The US State Department is ‘not anticipating’ any diplomatic steps in response to the arrests of 11 suspected Russian agents, one of whom is now on the run.  RFE/RL has an overview of some expert opinions on the unavoidable story.  Hillary Clinton will be in Ukraine, Poland, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia this week in order to reassure the nations that the US-Russia reset has not come at their expense.  The Washington Post examines the thorny path through Russia’s backyard which Clinton will have to tread.  ‘Showing up there on the Fourth of July is not bad symbolism,’ regarding the US’ good-will intentions, says one analyst quoted by the New York Times.  

Putin has said that Russia is ready to move to a visa-free regime with Europe, but is aware that the EU is divided on the issue.  A suicide bomber in Grozny has wounded five people after detonating a device near a theater.  Moldova raised the ire of Russia with its recent ‘Day of Soviet Occupation’, now Russia has announced that restrictions on Moldovan wine imports may be put into place over safety concerns.

One year on from the gambling ban; find out why it’s no dice for the CIS nations here.  The city of Izhevsk may be about to lose one of its oldest buildings, if protests go unheeded.  UNESCO has requested that Russia consider ecological issues in Lake Baikal.  “Russians say, ‘The worth of a thing is best known by the want of it.'” : it seems the thing, in this case, is sturgeon.

PHOTO: Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, left, and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, at an economic meeting involving former Soviet Union nations.   (D. Grishkin / Vedomosti)