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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – March 10, 2011

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TODAY: Biden in Moscow for continuing ‘reset’ talks, praises Medvedev’s ‘personal leadership’, Putin wants visa-free US-Russia travel; Egiazaryan may seek US asylum; Putin charity concert scandal continues; rights groups dismayed at Kremlin’s choice of NGOs; protesters against highway through national park; 2010 heatwave not caused by global warming? Bomb near FSB training center.
The US-Russia ‘reset‘ renewed by Vice President Joe Biden’s presence in Moscow has done nothing to help the Russian opposition, says today’s Moscow Times editorial.  Biden met rights group representatives earlier today, but the timing of the meeting, immediately preceding talks with Vladimir Putin, ‘underscored Biden’s desire to demonstrate that Russian rights issues remained a concern in Washington‘, says AFP.  Breaking news suggests that Putin wants visa-free travel between the two countries.  The Vice President praised Medvedev’s ‘personal leadership‘ in a demonstration of support for progress ‘in the last two years‘, implying a contrast with relations under Putin.  Ashot Egiazaryan, to be arrested on charges of embezzelment, says he is considering asking for asylum in the US, but, says the Washington Post: ‘the Obama administration may find it awkward to let him stay. The US needs Moscow’s help in everything from enforcing sanctions against Iran to shipping supplies to US troops in Afghanistan.

The co-organizer of the concert at which Vladimir Putin sung in aid of children’s hospitals has ‘sought to distance himself‘ from the Prime Minister ‘in an apparent effort to shield Putin‘ from the scandal emerging as sources struggle to show any proof of a hospital having benefited.  The story is spreading through the English-language news this week, with The Independent reporting that Putin is ‘following extremely attentively‘.  The Kremlin is to give $350 million to six NGOs to distribute, to the dismay of Transparency International: ‘There is a flavor of nontransparency because it was never explained why those organizations were chosen. Why can’t we have a tender for choosing them?
Environmentalists associated with Yabloko are protesting plans to build a new highway through the Zavidovo National Park, says RFE/RL, although there are disagreements about whether or not the route will actually pass through the park.  A US climate research report says that Russia’s heatwave shouldn’t be blamed on global warning, instead saying that ‘natural internal atmospheric variability‘ was the cause.  Russian activists are still angry about Tokyo protesters having desecrated the Russian flag during Kuril Islands protests, with a group of Young Russia members reportedly picketing the Japanese embassy in Moscow yesterday. 
A bomb went off near Moscow’s FSB training center: no one was injured.  The National Anti-Terrorist Committee estimates that 410 people died as a result of terrorist acts last year, and that, overall, there has been a decrease in terror crimes.  The Kremlin is planning to ramp up its defense spending through to 2020: but ‘as enormous increases in defense spending were announced, there have also been reports of equally enormous inefficiencies in the defense industry.‘ 
PHOTO: Vice President of the United States Joe Biden, center, shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, looks on before talks in the Gorki presidential residence outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, March 9, 2011. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Dmitry Astakhov, Presidential Press Service)