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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Sept 9, 2010

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TODAY: US officials speak out about human rights in Russia; Pomonarev imprisonment criticized; Fink jailed; United Russia deputies head all regional parliaments? Altai journalist charged with defamation; Altai village loses all of its homes in wildfires; Nashi antics, anti-alcohol bandits; home trial for Lugovoi? Visa-free travel with Europe is far off; new START is cheat-proof.
Two senior US officials say they are willing to speak openly about Russia’s human rights abuses in meetings with the country’s leaders in the hope that ‘public criticism‘ could influence current conditions.  The officials drew particular attention to Lev Pomonarev, absent from the meetings after being jailed earlier this week for his participation in the most recent Strategy 31 rally. ‘The freedom of assembly is very important to the United States and very important for any democratic society.‘  Amnesty International and Memorial also criticized Pomonarev’s imprisonment.  Businessman Yury Fink, who made online appeals to Russia’s leaders to protect him from company raiders, has been jailed for six years on embezzlement charges.  A regional deputy has complained to a court that United Russia deputies head all of the regional parliament committees in central Russia.  The notion of Putin as President again in 2012 ‘should not be welcomed‘, says the FT, discussing Putin’s reference this week to Roosevelt’s four terms. ‘Mr Roosevelt won fully competitive elections, not the ersatz variety held in Russia.

Sergei Mikhailov, an opposition journalist in the Altai region, has been charged with defamation for calling the Altai administration ‘a nest of vipers‘, and could face four years in prison, although he insists that the charges are politically motivated due to his recent election to the republic’s legislature.  The region lost all of the 433 houses comprising Nikolayevka village yesterday to wildfires, as President Dmitry Medvedev pressed the need to reform forest protection legislation at a government meeting.  Firefighters are currently working along the Kazakh-Russian border.
Nashi has been up to some giant poster-hanging tricks, insisting that its complaints about Moscow brothels are going unnoticed.  A gang of youths wearing ‘white medical masks‘ has apparently been attacking groups of young people drinking alcohol in public in Rostov-on-Don; the ‘anti-alcohol outlaws‘ are also thought to be behind anti-alcohol graffiti in the city.  Russia is criticizing the European Court of Human Rights’ decision to uphold a decision to convict Soviet veteran Vasily Kononov of ordering WW2 killings, and says it is considering ‘launching one or two symmetric lawsuits‘.  Yury Fedotov has indicated that Russia could be willing to organize a home trial for Andrei Lugovoi, the main suspect in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. 
The Foreign Ministers of Hungary and Finland, writing in the Moscow Times, say that ‘the ultimate goal is a free-trade area between Russia and the EU‘.  Russia is ‘the only country championing the issue‘ of visa-free travel with Europe, and a decision would have to be made unanimously, which suggests that success is far off.  The country has ranked higher than Europe in a new OECD study about completing higher education, notes Reuters (the full report can be found here). US Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that he trusts Russia to keep its side of the bargain, but either way, the new START treaty is cheat-proof
PHOTO: President Dmitry Medvedev, pictured on September 7. (AFP/POOL/File/Mikhail Klimentyev)