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Weekly News #6

Foreign Affairs

  • Syria’s President Assad had a productive visit to Moscow this week.  Not only did he manage to persuade Russia to tell the US that accusing Syria of harbouring terrorists was counterproductive and not based in fact, but he managed to negotiate a deal writing off 73% of Syria’s debt to Russia.  I wonder where the $9.8 billion dollars he’s saved will go? 
  • China and Russia have blocked a US bid to impose UN sanctions on Sudan.  Both countries have, however, publicly supported a peacekeeping mission to Darfur.
  • Several Yukos board members have requested asylum in the UK.  The PACE spokesman who broke the news claims that the British government has "expressed full support".  Exactly what that support is for is not clear.
  • A Project 941 typhoon submarine that was the prototype for the Sean Connery film ‘The Hunt for Red October’ is to be scrapped.  The US will pay for the destruction of the one of the only submarines large enough to have its own onboard sauna.

CIS

  • Viktor Yushchenko was inaugurated as Ukrainian President Sunday.  He quickly appointed Yulia Timoshenko as his Prime Minister, a job which could prove difficult considering that Russia has vowed it will not drop the Interpol arrest warrant accusing her of bribing Russian military officials.  (This is despite the fact that the Russian officials accused of taking the bribes were themselves cleared of any wrongdoing by a Russian court in 2003).
  • Georgia has reached a deal to restructure its debt to Russia.  The first half of the $94.43 million owed is to be paid by the end of 2006.  A six year grace period will then follow, after which the second half is to be paid over a period of 23 years.
  • Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has offered an autonomy deal to the breakaway republic of South Ossetia.  Georgia gets control of security, foreign policy and finance.  South Ossetia get to control education, language, culture and public order.  The South Ossetians seem unimpressed by the offer.
  • The UN envoy to Abkhazia reckons that the recent Presidential election there could pave the way to a resumption of peace talks with Georgia.

Domestic

  • Pensioners continue to protest against the introduction of a new law replacing benefits such as bus passes with cash.  Communist Party head Gennady Zyuganov has claimed the credit for organising the protests and is trying to collect enough signatures to force a vote of no confidence in the government.  Despite his best efforts, and the efforts of six MPs from the opposition Rodina party who remain on hunger strike, the issue seems to be fading away. 
  • Soldiers, who also lost benefits under the new law, are about to receive a 20% pay increase to compensate, if Putin’s latest declaration is to be believed.
  • Sergei Darkin has become the first governor to ask President Putin for his endorsement following the introduction of a post-Beslan law abolishing gubernatorial elections in Russia.  The governor of the Primorye region has five months left on his term and could resign if he isn’t approved.
  • 19 Russian MPs and around 500 academics signed a letter to the Russian Prosecutor General calling for the banning of all Jewish organisations from Russia.  The MPs later retracted the letter without giving their reasons.
  • Families in Beslan blocked the highway into town for several days, demanding that the republic’s President step down over his mishandling of the school siege.
  • Police in the North Caucasus are besieging an apartment where Muslim Atayev, who is accused of leading a recent raid on an anti-drug agency, is though to be hiding.
  • 100 Students from Guinea Bissau studying in Russia today stormed their country’s embassy in Moscow.  They say they intend to hold the ambassador hostage until their are paid their monthly stipend.  The ambassador was too embarrassed to call for police assistance.

And finally…

  • A SU-27 interceptor from Kaliningrad was scrambled to intercept what was thought to be a light plane from Lithuania violating Russian airspace.  It turned out to be a cloud.

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