RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – May 19, 2011

front.jpgTODAY: Medvedev’s press conference deemed damp squib; election intrigue remains; Putin upstages tandem partner with hunting recommendations.  Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov dismissed.  Rospil logo raises ire of authorities; LiveJournal blocked in Ulyanovsk; Al-Qaida website in Russian; Russian spymaster meets Kim Jong II; Israeli attache expelled on spying charge

Reports back from Medvedev’s highly publicized press conference yesterday seem to imply it was an opportunity squandered.  ‘Yesterday’s performance […] reinforced the assumption that Mr Putin would return to the Kremlin in 2012′.  Some analysts went even further; Lilia Shevtsova is quoted by AFP as saying,‘In front of the entire country Medvedev was commiting political harakiri’.   One major source of disappointment for pundits was the President’s failure to make any concrete assertions about the electoral race.  The only difference Medvedev apparently flagged up between himself and the Prime Minister was regarding ideas on the pace of modernization.  One topic of note was the release of Khodorkovsky; in response to a journalist’s question, the President stated that the jailed oligarch would not pose a danger to society if released.  The Independent reports that the publication of an interview with Vladimir Putin the same day, in which he polished his masculine image with praise of Russian hunting and fishing, diverted attention away from the President’s moment in the spotlight.  For more details on the conference, RFE/RL has a useful overview with a set of video extracts.  The BBC has a neat radio piece on Putin’s enduring popularity.  

Another surprise twist in the electoral background, as the founder of the Just Russia party and long-serving FederationCouncil speaker Sergei Mironov has been dismissed, a move which, commentators say, may imperilthe existence of the pro-Kremlin party, and pave the wave for an ascendant Right Cause party.  Brian Whitmore on RFE/RL has an in-depth analysis of Mironov’s expulsion.  According to this report, Mironov will not recede from the political scene, with possible plans to become a state duma deputy. 

As the authorities’ campaign against blogger Alexei Navalny continues, investigators have ruled that the logo of his anti-corruption website Rospil.info is adesecration’ of Russia’s double-headed eagle coat of arms.  The Other Russia reports that an internet service provider in the Russian city of Ulyanovsk has blocked access to blogging platform LiveJournal by order of the Federal Security Service.  According to a long-standing tradition, often-thwarted gay rights activists have vowed to ignore the ban on their Moscow rights parade and hold it regardless.

An al-Qaida online magazine, targeting Muslims in the West, has been translated into Russian in what analysts have suggested is an attempt to solidify ties with North Caucasus insurgents.
Mikhail Fradkov, head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, has met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his youngest son in a ‘warm and friendly atmosphere’.  Russia has expelled an Israeli military attache to Moscow on suspicion of espionage, charges which Israel’s military have wholeheartedly rejected.

PHOTO: Medvedev walking into the hall at the Skolkovo innovation center where he held a news conference, May 18, 2011.  (Dmitry Astakhov / RIA-Novosti / Reuters)