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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 1517

Moscow turns up the heat on Britain;
More trouble in U.S.-Russia ties

Edited by Jonas Bernstein
December 9, 2007

December 6:

The pro-Putin youth group “Nashi” (Ours) has revived a campaign to drive out British Ambassador Sir Anthony Brenton as part of an apparent renewal of Kremlin attacks on British interests, the Times of London reports. “Nashi” activists gathered outside the British Embassy in Moscow on December 5th, demanding Brenton’s recall and carrying signs featuring his face with the word “loser” over it. “Nashi” accuses Brenton of giving £1 million to Garry Kasparov’s The Other Russia opposition group and is threatening Brenton with legal action for attending a conference organized by The Other Russia. A British Embassy spokesman said “Nashi” had distorted Brenton’s speech at the conference, in which he said London had provided £1 million to civil society groups in Russia.

Meanwhile, three Russian employees of the British Broadcasting Corporation have been assaulted in Moscow over the past two weeks. “Although we have no evidence to suggest that the attacks were motivated by the victims’ employment by the BBC, we are exploring that possibility,” the Associated Press quoted BBC World Service spokesman Peter Connors as saying. “We have asked the Russian Foreign Ministry for assistance in ensuring staff safety.”

According to Yelena Panfilova, who heads the Russian branch of Transparency International, the Berlin-based corruption watchdog, corruption in Russia is concentrated in law enforcement, education and health care. “Our research this year shows that the inhabitants of Russia are alarmed above all by the growth of corruption in the spheres of education and health care,” quotes her as saying. “The situation there resembles a catastrophe.” Transparency International has just released its annual Global Corruption Barometer, a survey assessing general public attitudes toward and experience of corruption worldwide.

December 7:

Oleg Zhukovsky, a top manager with state-controlled VTB, Russia’s second largest bank, has been found dead in the empty swimming pool of his luxury country home just outside Moscow. According to Kommersant, while Zhukovsky left a suicide note saying he was “very tired of life,” investigators say unidentified criminals forced Zhukovsky to write it after breaking into his home, tying him up and torturing him. Kommersant notes Zhukovsky was in charge of the VTB’s work with the timber industry, which is “considered highly criminalized.”

A strike at a Ford Motor Company assembly line near St. Petersburg has slowed production and cost Ford millions of dollars, the New York Times reports. After two raises at the plant, each about 15 to 20 percent, the Inter-Region Union of Automotive Workers is now demanding an increase of about 40 percent in base pay for workers there. A Ford spokeswoman in Russia told the Times the average wage at the Ford plant is 21,500 rubles – about $880 – a month. Meanwhile, AvtoVaz, Russia’s largest car manufacturer, has agreed to sell a minority stake to Renault of France. AvtoVaz is owned by Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state weapons exporting company, which will retain a majority stake.

December 9:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused the United States of blocking approval of a program setting out Russia-NATO cooperation for 2008 in such areas as combating weapons of mass destruction and narcotics, Agence France-Presse reports. “The fact that an important document that simply set out a large number of spheres of agreement... has been blocked due to the absolutely ideological position of our American colleagues, who are trying to force us to annul Russia’s law on the Conventional Forces in Europe [CFE] treaty, obviously is a cause for regret,” Lavrov said. Russia has suspended participation in the CFE Treaty, which sets limits on levels of troops and military equipment on the continent. Lavrov attended a NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels on December 7th

Related Categories: Russia; Democracy & Governance; Israel

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