RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – March 17, 2010

medved.jpgTODAY: Medvedev comes down hard on ministers; prison mastermind fired; could a return to Soviet labor be on the cards?  Colonel sentenced for bribe taking; Chernobyl survivors bring lawsuit against Medvedev. Tensions bubbling with Belarus as Lukashenko courts Chavez; Ukraine proposes Kiev as venue for possible START replacement signing.  Ex-Yukos director jailed; Waffen SS march raises storm of controversy; Russia Today examined

According to the Moscow Times, President Medvedev has flexed his muscles at a Kremlin meeting, suggesting that ministers must obey orders, or face dismissal.  A move to detract attention from delays in reform?  The President has dismissed Deputy Justice Minister Yury Kalinin, the architect of Russia’s existing and much-criticized prison system.  Bloomberg reports that Russia may introduce Soviet-style convict labor as it tries to revamp the incarceration infrastructure.  A military court in the western city of Penza has sentenced a former colonel for taking bribes from young conscripts.  Is faith in the police really growing in Ingushetia?: Medvedev’s recent dismissal of the interior minister may suggest otherwise, argues RFE/RL.  Graft-tarnished senator Andrei Vavilov will step down as Federation Council senator for a new job, the Moscow Times reports.  A group of Chernobyl veterans has filed a compensation lawsuit against President Medvedev and Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov.

Prime Minister Putin is not scheduled to meet President Alexander Lukashenko on his visit to Belarus.  Reports of the Belarussian leader trying to avoid the Russian Prime Minister are circulating, with the former’s attention turned instead towards Venezuela.  Venezuela and Belarus, as well as making energy deals, are reportedly forming closer military ties.  Meanwhile Putin has apparently expressed displeasure at Belarus’ failure to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  Ukraine’s new coalition intends to pass a law against joining military alliances such as NATO, a move that will, this report suggests, gratify Russia.

The time frame and venue for the signing of the replacement START treaty have yet to be determined, says Sergei Lavrov, though apparently Russia welcomed a proposal from new Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to sign it in Kiev.   ‘[…] Obama’s dream of wiping the slate clean and seeking real pragmatic ties with Russia has begun to look naive’: Time magazine fears another reset is required.

The Independent has an interview with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, featuring questions that the jailed Yukos founder would like to ask Vladimir Putin. The former director of a branch of Yukos, Sergei Shimkevich, has been sentenced to 12 years for embezzlement.  A Russian lawmaker has suggested that Tuesday’s march by Waffen-SS veterans in Riga is a ‘challenge for humanity’.  The Moscow Times has the low down on TV channel Russia Today.  RFE/RL looks at the mounting tide of problems facing the Sochi Olympics.

PHOTO: President Medvedev speaking at a video conference of ministers and regional bosses Tuesday in the Kremlin.  (Dmitry Astakhov / RIA-Novosti / AP)