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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Oct 29, 2010

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TODAY: Russia wants press freedom ranking explained; Council of Europe issues critical report demanding direct elections; Medvedev’s popularity on a par with Putin, who does not have a black eye, says his spokesperson; Kamchatka volcanoes erupt ash; Medvedev aiming for cooperation with NATO, calls for higher military salaries; police reform bill online; who is Sobyanin? 70% don’t know. 
Russia is apparently seeking justification from NGOs as to why its press freedom rating this year was so low (ranking 140th out of 178 by Reporters Without Borders). ‘It is ridiculous that we [Russian media] are put there.‘  Hot on the heels of the ranking is a Council of Europe report criticizing certain Russian policies including local authorities’ subjection to ‘excessive supervision by higher levels,‘ and calling for a return to directly elected regional leaders. ‘The Kremlin was not pleased with the report,‘ says The Other Russia.  Vedomosti is reporting that President Dmitry Medvedev’s approval rating has tied with Vladimir Putin’s for the first time.  Putin hasn’t been beaten up, he’s just tired, says his spokesperson, responding to press speculation arising from his appearance at a meeting with Ukrainian officials this week.  The Prime Minister ‘had heavy makeup over what was clearly a black mark across his left cheekbone.‘  Sources had suggested that the ‘noticeable swelling‘ was caused by plastic surgery or a judo match.

Two volcanoes in the Kamchatka Peninsula have erupted, the ash clouds covering one town and forcing flights to be diverted.  The BBC has video footage of the Shivulech eruption.  At his appearance at the NATO summit next month, Medvedev says he will focus on ‘equal cooperation, balanced and long-term cooperation‘ with the aim of building trust.  Compensation is the key to successfully reforming the Russian military, says Medvedev, proposing ‘considerable‘ increases to current salaries.  The full text of the new police reform bill has been published online, showing the extent to which it takes public comments into account.  A Vedomosti editorial picks apart the political manifesto of film director Nikita Mikhalkov. 
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has promised to address Moscow’s traffic problem, after  Medvedev pinpointed it as a top priority for the city and an issues that ‘influences the mood of […] millions of Muscovites‘.  70% of Russians do not know who Sobyanin is, according to a VTsIOM poll, and the Telegraph has a special report on Sobyanin, which considers critics’ accusations that he is ‘a nobody‘. 
The EU is ‘not eager‘ to approve a visa-free travel arrangement for Kaliningrad residents traveling to Poland.  New questions on Canada’s visa application for Russian citizens call for applicants to disclose what Russia deems ‘state secrets‘. 
PHOTO: A man walks in front of the Novokuibyshevsk refinery near the city of Samara, October 28, 2010. REUTERS/Nikolay Korchekov