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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Nov 19, 2010

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TODAY: NATO summit begins today; US pressured Bout to admit guilt, says Russia; Caspian summit projects united front; activists arrested in elite neighbourhood; Putin to host tiger summit; Kremlin will not investigate Duma income declarations; START row continues.
Onlookers are eagerly awaiting this weekend’s NATO summit in Lisbon, anticipating some ‘unusual courting‘ of Russia thanks to comments from Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who is touting the meeting as ‘the most important in NATO’s history‘ and, he hopes, a turning-point in relations.  Setting a date for withdrawal from Afghanistan is one of NATO’s key aims, along with enlisting Russia’s help in doing so.  If it succeeds in this latter aim, it would amount to a ‘striking turnaround‘ for Russia, says VOA.  Michael Bohm says that Russia will never become a NATO member for various reasons, including the alliance’s requirement that its members have civilian and democratic control over their armed forces, which is, he says, ‘anathema to the basic principles of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s vertical power structure.‘  Russia says that US authorities pressured Viktor Bout to admit his guilt in exchange for ‘unspecified benefits‘, and insists that the suspected arms dealer has ‘no secrets, military or otherwise‘.  Nadira Isayeva has won the Committee to Protect Journalists’ annual International Press Freedom Award for her work in Dagestan.

Yesterday’s Caspian summit, attended by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan, was unsuccessful in resolving territorial disputes, but demonstrated a united front on matters in the region: ‘If at any moment we relax in our mutual cooperation, there is no doubt that other states will want to interfere with our concerns,‘ said President Dmitry Medvedev.  Five activists, including a well-known Russian actress, have been detained for protesting new constructions in ‘an elite Moscow district‘. The leader of A Just Russia suspects that new rules on the appointment of senators, signed into law by President Medvedev, ‘could allow people with low professional skills to become senators‘, although he was the only senator to vote against them.  Vladimir Putin will host a summit on the protection of the world’s few remaining tigers next week in St Petersburg.
The Kremlin will make no further investigations into disputed income declarations from Duma deputies.  Here’s a Fact Check on the row over the embattled START treaty, which evaluates various claims made regarding the potential effectiveness and urgency of ratification.  Russia is apparently ‘mystified‘ as to why the US Senate would fail to ratify the treaty, and this Guardian piece says it must be ratified, criticizing the ‘nauseating‘ Republican habit of ‘wrapping themselves in the national flag and calling their stands patriotic‘. 
PHOTO: From left, the presidents of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan posing for a group picture at a Caspian summit in Baku on Thursday November 18, 2010. (Dmitry Astakhov / Ria-Novosti / AP)