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

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TODAY: Pollution drives embassy workers out of Moscow, no sign of improved conditions, doctors told not to diagnose patients with heat or pollution-related illness; Strategy 31; new laws to curb police violence; Medvedev marks Georgian war with visit to Abkhazia; US-Russia conflict brewing over START; Pavlovsk agricultural station under threat; Russian spy says he is ‘not from Russia’.
Russia continues to burn.  Air quality in Moscow hit a new low over the weekend as embassies evacuated staff.  The BBC has footage of Moscow’s smog-filled streets, and RIA Novosti reports that the situation is unlikely to improve this week.  Over the weekend, firefighters managed to put out flames that were threatening the Sarov nuclear research center, apparently by digging a ‘five-mile canal‘ around the site.  Reuters reports that medical staff at a major Moscow hospital ‘had been instructed by senior management to not link patients’ illnesses with the heatwave‘, as opposition leaders accuse the authorities of being in denial about the crisis. Despite all of this, a ‘top public doctor‘ appears in today’s Moscow Times urging foreigners not to avoid Russia, just to ‘stay indoors‘.  Tourists, he suggests, ‘visit first St. Petersburg, where everything is fine‘.  Masha Lipman in the Washington Post examines the growing dissatisfaction of the Russian public and the ‘overreaction‘ of the government in their attempts to quash the most recent Strategy 31 protests.

President Dmitry Medvedev visited Abkhazia yesterday to mark the anniversary of the Georgian war (‘Two years ago today, Georgia provoked a bloody conflict‘) and to reinforce Russia’s support for the region’s independence (the Kremlin will donate $330 million to Abkhazia and South Ossetia in exchange for the regions’ modeling their economic legislation on Russia’s, says the Moscow Times).  As yet, there is still no official death toll of the war. And ‘South Ossetia […] has virtually no prospect of becoming a viable state.‘ New laws for the police force will prohibit the use of nightsticks and of issuing repeated blows to any one area of the body.
Is a new US-Russia dispute brewing?  A new report from the Foreign Ministry accuses the US of ‘violating dozens of provisions of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons treaties going back about a decade‘, reports the New York Times.  The Pavlovsk agricultural station, a uniquely-stocked seed bank established in 1926, is under threat from property developers who say that, as the collection is priceless, ‘no monetary value can be assigned to it and so it is worthless‘.  On the case of Mikhail Vasenkov, one of the recently arrested Russian spies, who insists that he is not from Russia and doesn’t speak Russian. 
PHOTO: In this photo taken on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2010, a newly married couple, no name given, celebrate their wedding despite the deep layer of smog from wildfires covering the ancient Russian city of Ryazan, some 180 km (111 miles) southeast of Moscow. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)