RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – June 22, 2010

NEWS-1-xodor.jpgTODAY: Sberbank head’s testimony at Khodorkovsky trial hailed a boost for Yukos founder; journalist freedoms protected by new law; damning report of North Caucasus sees United Russia acquiesce with activists; artists under attack on charges of inciting hatred, FSB offers material incentives for info. Medvedev heads to US; Kyrgyzstan unrest flairs up; vodka; caviar; the wobbling bridge.

The head of Sberbank, German Gref, has made his appearance at the Khodorkovsky trial, where his comment that ‘if embezzlement had been discovered, I would have been made aware of it’, has been seen as a ‘major victory’, by the jailed oilman’s lawyers, the New York Times reports.  Gref also testified that Yukos was lawfully buying oil from producing companies at prices lower than those on the European exchanges at that time.  The Other Russia has a full reportA positive step for freedom of speech: the Guardian reports on a new law safeguarding the legal conditions for political journalism.  The Moscow Times informs us of a ‘rare show of unanimity’ between human rights activists and a United Russia lawmaker, who have concurred on a highly critical report of the rights situation in the North Caucasus.  Moscow artist Lena Hades is apparently in serious trouble with the authorities for a painting which they say incites hatred against Russia, charges for which she could face two years in prison.  Meanwhile prosecutors want to sentence curators Yury Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeyev to three years in prison for the 2007 ‘Forbidden Art’ exhibition, which authorities claim incited religious hatred.  The Federal Security Service plans to start paying for tip-offs about terrorists.  A bomb has gone off outside a synagogue in Tver.

Aside from trade and innovation, child adoption will apparently also be on the agenda at Medvedev’s meeting with Obama in Washington.  Some ten deals will reportedly also be signed on the visit, which begins today.  An op-ed by Andrew C. Kuchins sees a future in steady Russia-US relations.  An article in the Washington Post urges the US to treat Russia with caution, saying that its ‘smiling face’ leaked foreign policy document ‘is not pro-Western at all’.  Kremlin aid Sergei Prikhodko has told reporters that the US should ensure that sanctions against Iran do not affect Russian interests.

Alexander Golts in the Moscow Times argues that the CSTO is an understaffed and undertrained ersatz NATO, and that its inability to intervene in Kyrgyzstan ‘has demonstrated that Russia is incapable of being even a regional leader’.  There have apparently been renewed clashes in the epicenter of tensions, the town of Osh.  The interim leader Roza Otunbayeva has promised to press ahead with a referendum on a new constitution.

The FT takes a close look at Igor Sechin.  The Guardian reports on an uphill struggle: how President Medvedev plans to curb vodka consumption.  Gourmets food lovers may also face privation.  The President has ordered a second investigation into the safety of the ‘dancing’ Volga River bridge.

PHOTO: Sberbank CEO German Gref walking to a Moscow court to testify Monday, June 21, 2010.  (Igor Tabakov / MT)