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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – March 23, 2011

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TODAY: Putin says Medvedev has final say; Gates visit sees disagreements over Libya; Voina donates to political prisoners; Alexeyeva’s half of the Strategy 31 protests to be permitted; bill to reduce prisoners could cause criminal nightmare; scathing U.S. cables from 2008 on Russia-Slovenia relations; Bolshoi scandal, yetis.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sought to dismiss controversy over yesterday’s Libya comments, saying that Medvedev ‘has the final say on foreign policy and no splits are possible,‘ and insisting that the two ‘understand each other‘.  He added that those responsible for civilian deaths in Libya ‘should pray for their souls to be saved‘.  His spokesperson, meanwhile, insists that it is Medvedev who speaks for Russia, and that Putin’s comment are merely ‘his personal opinion‘.  Today’s Moscow Times editorial says that Putin’s critique of the U.S. role in the Libyan intervention ‘once again demonstrates that he is more interested in being a spoiler of reset than its chief supporter‘.  U.S. defense chief Robert Gates’ Russia visit saw ‘clashes‘ over the Libyan situation, with Gates claiming that Gaddafi was lying about civilian casualties, as Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov suggested that ‘the surest path to the reliable security of civilians‘ would be an immediate ceasefire, and Medvedev voiced concerns over ‘indiscriminate‘ use of force.  Gates insisted that ‘most of the targets are air defense targets isolated from populated areas‘.

Art collective Voina says it used part of a donation made by British artist Banksy ‘to help our political prisoner friends‘.  Lyudmila Alexeyeva’s request to hold a Strategy 31 rally this month in Pushkin Square has been granted, whilst Eduard Limonov’s request to hold a rally under the same banner in Triumfalnaya Square has not.  One criminal lawyer has suggested that a bill to reduce the number of prisoners in Russian jails was drafted ‘by dilettantes who have no clue about criminal legislation‘; another suggested that it could cause a ‘criminal nightmare‘ if it goes through.  A separate bill to provide the police with social security is aimed at reducing the low incomes that are believed to cause corruption. 
The Moscow Times reveals that U.S. diplomatic cables from 2008 contained some scathing judgments on Russia’s relationship with Serbia: ‘Serbs and Russians are profoundly ignorant of each other, the former from a lack of any real interaction throughout history, and the latter out of utter lack of interest; other than Serbia’s periodic usefulness as a naive and willing Russian pawn in the Balkans.‘  On the ‘greed, vulgarity and corruption‘ associated with the Bolshoi Ballet.  Will Russia be allowed to hold the figure skating world championships this year, now that Tokyo has canceled?  Yeti sightings
PHOTO: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (3rd L) speaks with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates (3rd R) during their meeting at the presidential residence at Gorki, outside Moscow March 22, 2011. REUTERS/Vladimir Rodionov/RIA Novosti/Kremlin