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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – March 11, 2011

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TODAY: Biden lukewarm on abolishing visas; Nemtsov and Alexeyeva praise Biden’s attention to rights and democracy issues; missile defense; regional elections to be held on Sunday; growing number of Russian claims filed with EU Court of Human Rights; Gordon Brown on Anna Politkovskaya; Lavrov firm on Libya; ultranationalist group could be banned.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin enthusiastically raised the subject of abolishing visas for travel between the US and Russia to Vice President Joe Biden today, but his idea received a cool reception. ‘Mr. Prime Minister, in case you haven’t noticed, there’s a real difference between being president and vice president,‘ said Biden.  Following his meeting with opposition leaders, Boris Nemtsov blogged that Biden said he was against the notion of a third term from Putin. ‘He was very reactive and asked tons of questions‘, wrote Nemtsov, with another rights campaigner, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, saying that Biden promised to press Russia on human rights and democracy.  US Missile defense in Poland remains a thorny issue for Russia.  On the domestic front, regional elections will be held this Sunday.  United Russia is expected to lead the vote, but reports suggest that support for the party is at a slump, with opposition members on the watch for vote-rigging. Not that it needs to worry: ‘with no other party offering a serious challenge to United Russia, the ruling party’s “main competitor at the elections will be its own result”.

Kommersant newspaper has issued an apology to activist Alexei Navalny for a blog post that discredited his whistleblowing activities.  ‘The growing number of claims filed with the European Court of Human Rights by Russian citizens speaks to the greater frequency of civil and human rights violations in Russia and, perhaps, citizens’ growing awareness of their legal rights,‘ says Mario Corti.  Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown writes on Anna Politkovskaya in The Independent today, focusing on her military detention and the death threats that dogged her career, and calling for a commission to investigate both her death and her journalistic findings: ‘That fearlessness must never be forgotten.‘ 
Russia is sticking to its guns on Libya, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisting that military intervention is ‘unacceptable‘.  The Duma is trying to pass an easing of visa requirements for foreigners on short trips by the end of the month.  The Movement Against Illegal Immigration, Russia’s ‘sole prominent ultranationalist group‘ is currently the subject of a hearing that could see it banned
PHOTO: Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev (C) listens to CEO Oleg Deripaska (L) as he visits RUSAL Sayanogorsk Aluminium Smelter in Russia’s Republic of Khakassia March 11, 2011. REUTERS/Dmitry Astakhov/RIA Novosti/Kremlin