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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 1543

Reformists snubbed by Rice;
Diplomatic dance on missile defense

Edited by Jonas Bernstein
March 20, 2008

March 18:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has met in Moscow with several leading Russian liberals but not the Kremlin’s most strident critics, Reuters reports. "Yabloko" party leader Grigory Yavlinsky and former independent State Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov were among those who met with Rice at the U.S. Embassy residence. Notably absent were former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, both of whom prominently denounced the March 2nd presidential election in which Dmitry Medvedev was elected.

Bribery in Russia is “as commonplace as borscht,” Canada’s Globe and Mail reports. The newspaper cites the case of a college student who works full time driving a moving van to pay his tuition bills and support his single mother and who paid his course supervisor nearly $900 in order to get passing grades on all his exams. “Russians pay bribes to avoid passport-renewal lineups, to obtain driver’s licenses, to get their kids into top universities or keep them out of the dreaded army,” the Globe and Mail writes. “Corruption is so widespread in Russia today that some activists say the word ‘corruption’ itself is misleading because it implies that there is an aberration of standards.”

March 19:

The Washington Post reports that in two days of talks in Moscow, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates failed to bridge their differences with Russian officials over U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe to guard against potential attacks from Iran but that both sides adopted “a strikingly moderate tone after a long period of rancor between the two countries.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Americans agreed that the missile defense plan “fuels our concerns and offered proposals aimed at lifting or easing these concerns.” The Post quotes unnamed U.S. officials as saying that these proposals include giving Russian military inspectors access to missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic and a promise that the system will not be activated until there is demonstrable evidence that Iran has tested missiles capable of reaching the U.S. or Western Europe.

President Bush has said he is “cautiously optimistic” the U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe will proceed with Russia’s agreement, Agence France-Presse reports. “We intend to move forward with the (missile defense system)... for the good of NATO,” Bush told the U.S.-funded Farsi-language Radio Farda, adding that U.S.-Russian cooperation over such a system would “make life easier.” Bush stressed that the system “would not be aimed at Russia,” but at nations which “try to hold the free world hostage with a nuclear weapon.”

President-elect Dmitry Medvedev has said that “a mature civil society” is “one of the guarantees of our country’s stable development.” According to his website, Medvedev told members of the Public Chamber, a Kremlin-created consultative body, that “our task is to create a system in which civil structures take part in working out state policy and assessing its quality.”

March 20:

One day after police raided the Moscow offices of British Petroleum and its oil joint venture TNK-BP, the Federal Security Service (FSB) has announced that it detained TNK BP employee Ilya Zaslavsky and his brother Alexander for industrial espionage, the Financial Times reports. Alexander Zaslavsky heads the British Alumni club, a networking club for Russian professionals who studied in Britain that is run under the auspices of the British Council, an NGO that acts as the British Embassy’s cultural arm. The British Council was forced to close offices in St. Petersburg and Ekaterinburg after Russia’s Foreign Ministry accused it of “operating illegally” in Russia.

Related Categories: Russia; Missile Defense

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