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(updated 20 April 2012)

   Rise and fall of Hungary's president
   Russian carmaker AvtoVAZ axes classic Lada
   Building of oil pipeline from Iran to Armenia to begin in next two years
  Czech coalition party in turmoil after conviction of leader
   Family Law struck down in Slovenian referendum

   Belarus-Russia air traffic tit-for-tat ban

   Former KGB chief ahead in South Ossetia presidential election
   Storms leave 86 Ukrainian towns and villages without electricity
   Slovak MPs might donate a month’s salary to restore Krásna Hôrka Castle
   A ballot choice 'Against All' would have given Putin 47%
   Two men executed for Minsk metro bombing
   Moldovan parliament elects President, ending 3-year deadlock
   Slovak election result can provide single-party government

   Rail controller faces prosecution over Polish train crash
   Lithuania and Gazprom negotiate over EU gas market reform
   Second round of negotiations on Transdnestr open in Dublin

   EU foreign policy chief backs Serbia's bid for candidate status

 

Sub-zero weather in Russia risks gas shortage in Europe
UNDP research pinpoints areas of social exclusion
Roma - implementing the EU Framework
Muslim leaders lament restrictive legislation and media bias in central Europe
European Parliament 2009 election results
Schengen area enlargement
How the European Union has grown

 

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News from Russia

Other reports are grouped by country, alphabetically
  For quick links use the News Index at the top of the page or the indexed Map


Students and schools:
Link:   Encyclopædia of Russia: 1860-1945

AvtoVAZ axes classic Lada

Carmaker AvtoVAZ was reported on 17 April as having decided to stop producing the Lada 2107, the old-fashioned classic known colloquially as the ‘semyorka’. "Demand for the 'classic' has dropped a lot. It is time to say goodbye," company spokesman Igor Burenkov said. Production of the vehicle would cease the following week.

Lada 2107

The vehicle, a mainstay on Russian roads, has been produced virtually unchanged since its introduction in 1982, when it was already outdated by international standards. The model was first developed under an agreement with Italy and is based on the Fiat 124, first produced in 1966. Despite the risk of breakdowns spare parts and widespread familiarity with the vehicle means repairs have always been relatively easy.

The model long remained popular due to its low price, starting from just under $7,000. Two years ago, sales of the classic 2107 reached 17,000 per month. But in 2011 sales began to drop sharply.

Data from the Association of European Businesses in Russia shows that sales from AvtoVAZ were down by 15% in the first quarter of 2012, outpaced by 50% gains by its second and third-place competitors, Nissan and Hyundai.

Speculation over split within United Russia party

Speculation surfaced on 16 April about the future of the United Russia party, following a report that Dmitry Medvedev might assume its leadership in an attempt to allow incoming President Vladimir Putin to distance himself from a political force that appeared to be faltering.

The move would allow Putin to remain unaffiliated with United Russia — which he is not formally a member of — and instead find backing from his more recently formed People's Front coalition leading to the creation of an alternative political party.

Kremlin sources hinted that Putin might propose that Medvedev — the presumptive prime minister — take control at the party's upcoming congress in May. Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not comment, only saying it is up to the congress to decide who would become the head of the party.

Medvedev, who is also not an official member of United Russia, led the party during last year's State Duma elections. But this created difficulties for the party, which built its campaign around Putin while Medvedev was associated with more liberal-minded policies.

The Kremlin is believed to have toyed with the idea of creating a genuine two-party political system in the past, backing the creation of the left-wing A Just Russia party under the leadership of then-Federation Council head Sergei Mironov, a former Communist. The party had started to attack United Russia instead, but it did not gain widespread support.

United Russia still has a parliamentary majority but suffered a significant defeat in December's Duma elections. Since then it has become the target of attacks from liberal activists who dubbed it the party of "crooks and thieves".

United Russia's ideological agenda has always been a problem. Despite early efforts to present itself as a conservative political force, the party's only main feature has been its loyalty toward the government and not an ideological agenda.

Russia becomes world's third largest defence spender

The Russian Federation is now ranked third in the world in terms of expenditure on the army. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported recently on the spending of the world's leading economies on arms procurement.

In 2011 the Russian Federation increased spending on the army by more than 9%. Russia's army spending thus totalled $72 billion. The amount put Russia ahead of France ($62.7 billion) and Britain ($62.5 billion).

First place, as expected, belongs to the United States at $711 billion. China comes second on the list with $143 billion.

In 2010, the list of six leaders included Brazil, France, Germany, India, Britain and the USA. These six leaders cut their arms procurement spending in 2011, reflecting global austerity issues.

Global defence spending in 2011 totalled $1.7 trillion, SIPRI said

A ballot choice 'Against All' would have given Putin 47%

According to a poll released on 22 March by the Levada Centre 47% of voters would have supported Vladimir Putin in the 4 March presidential election if the "against all" option have been on the ballot form. Putin actually won the election with over 63% of the vote, thus avoiding a run-off second round of voting.

The second highest vote total in the poll went to "against all" with 24%, followed by Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov with 10.8%. The option of a protest vote had been previously available on election ballots in Russia from 1991 until 2006.

The Levada Centre poll also showed Putin's approval rating up slightly, to 68% compared to 65% in February, and the level for the State Duma up to 42%, compared to 37% in February.

Prisoner escapes in hijacked helicopter

A murderer escaped from a penal colony aboard a hijacked helicopter but was captured a few hours later.

Interior Ministry officials said the drama began on the morning of 22 March when two people commandeered a helicopter owned by a private company and ordered its crew to fly to the high-security prison in Sheksna near Vologda, 300 km north of Moscow. The helicopter had apparently been rented by an associate of the prisoner Alexei Shestakov.

Interior Ministry spokesman Valery Gribakin said “It has been established that in March the convict called this person and asked him to organise a top delegation helicopter visit. He did not understand exactly what was meant but went ahead and rented the helicopter.”

“At the scheduled time today, the helicopter’s crew landed it at the designated place, taking on board a man and a woman. After the aircraft took off, they drew guns and forced the pilot to hover above the penal colony and throw out a rope. The convict used the rope to climb on board,” he said.

The craft flew away, then landed, and the prisoner and the hijackers scattered.

Gribakin said that Shestakov, who had served 12 years of a 24-year sentence, then hijacked a taxi, but it was stopped at a police roadblock. The escaped convict was wounded while resisting arrest, but the helicopter hijackers remain at large.

New political groupings announced

On 21 March former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev announced plans to revive the Social-Democratic Party that he led in the early 2000s. Other opposition leaders also said they would create parties or organisations of their own. By May the State Duma (parliament) is expected to pass legislation easing the rules for creating political parties.

Gorbachev, a vocal critic of the policies of president-elect Vladimir Putin, said he was prepared to take an active role in the formation of a new social-democratic party that could bring together competing political factions. "There is currently a lot of confusion in the party structure, and a social-democratic party can unite enormous groups," Gorbachev said. "I don't plan to be at the head of that new party myself, but I'm ready to participate very actively in its creation, and I call on those who were in the former team of social-democrats also to get involved in this process."

Gorbachev led the Social-Democratic Party from 2001 to 2004, then formed the unregistered Independent Democratic Party with businessman Alexander Lebedev in 2008. Lebedev said the same day that he was ready to collaborate with Gorbachev in his new efforts.

Also on 21 March, outspoken former Moscow prefect and federal environmental inspector Oleg Mitvol said he would create a party on the base of his Green Alternative movement.

Earlier in the week, Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov and Just Russia MPs Ilya Ponomaryov and Gennady Gudkov announced plans to create a "Social-Democratic Union," a political movement with a central goal of fighting corruption and poverty in Russia.

"The Social-Democratic Union will take up the task of defending the interests of everyone who works honestly for the good of himself, his family, and society as a whole," Ponomaryov stated. "We will conquer corruption, return to people everything that has been stolen from them over the last 20 years, and eradicate for good the poverty inflicted by capitalism!"


The Presidential election on 4 March

There were five candidates.  The Central Elections Commission announced results, based on an overall 58% turnout:

Vladimir Putin 63.6% United Russia party, current Prime Minister
Gennady Zyuganov 17.9% Communist Party leader
Mikhail Prokhorov 7.8% billionaire businessman
Vladimir Zhirinovsky 6.2% Liberal Democrat party leader
Sergei Mironov 3.9% Just Russia party leader

The results were an obvious decrease for Putin from the 71% he took in 2004, when he won his second term in office. The turnout then was 64.3%. But his personal vote was however significantly higher than the 49% his United Russia party collected in the State Duma election in December.



articles continued at top of right-hand column


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Fair or faulty?

Central Elections Commission chairman Vladimir Churov said no other country had fairer elections than Russia. He consistently denied accusations of overseeing widespread election fraud and resisted calls to resign. He argued that webcams and transparent ballot boxes made Russia's process fairer than the voting anywhere else in the world. He even offered help to the United States. "We are working on observation systems for the elections in America," Churov said, adding that this would ensure the legitimacy of this November's U.S. presidential election.

After massive fraud allegations following the State Duma elections in December 2011, the government had installed some 200,000 webcams more than 90,000 polling stations throughout the country.

International observers were less convinced but avoided statements about the vote's legitimacy. The observers had come by invitation because Russia is a member of both the OSCE and the Council of Europe. The OSCE and the Council of Europe sent 262 observers, including 40 long-term monitors deployed in the regions.

"Conditions for the campaign were clearly skewed in favour of one candidate," Dutch MP Tiny Kox commented, adding that national media coverage had given a clear advantage to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Led by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the observers said they noted procedural irregularities, including cases of group, proxy and multiple voting.
Former Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula, who headed the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly delegation, said the election was problematic from the start. "The point of elections is that their outcome should be uncertain. This was not the case in Russia," Picula said. "There was no real competition, and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt."

The observers also criticised the vote count, saying it had been bad or very bad in a third of 98 observed counts and that ballot-stuffing had occurred. "Crucial figures related to the count could not always be established with confidence in their accuracy," the report stated.

OSCE mission chief Heidi Tagliavini, a Swiss diplomat, refused to label the election as not free or unfair. "Free and fair is a political statement," she said at a joint news conference of OSCE and Council of Europe observers. She added that she deliberately chose not to make any statements about the election's democratic standards.

As was the case in past elections, the North Caucasus proved to be Putin's biggest stronghold. But local results topping 90% fuelled doubts about the vote's fairness.

Chechnya reported results of 99.7% for Putin and also the highest turnout at 99.6%. Neighbouring Dagestan gave Putin 92.8%, Ingushetia and Karachayevo-Cherkessia both 91.3%. The only other region with similarly high results was the southern Siberian Tyva republic, where Putin got 90%.

Moscow was the only region where Putin got less than 50%. He received 46.9% of the vote in the capital.

Mikhail Prokhorov, who is not an experienced politician and had never run a campaign before, received considerable support in the larger cities. In Moscow, the focus of opposition protests, he got 20.4%. Other areas of strong support were St Petersburg (15.4%) and Ekaterinburg (18.7%).

Leaders not swapping residences

Under Russian law, the future president and prime minister should swap their official residences following the 4 March presidential election.

But Viktor Khrekov, spokesman of the Office for Presidential Affairs said "I don't think anything will change."

Officially, Dmitry Medvedev has four residences as President: the Kremlin in Moscow, Gorki-9 located 15 kilometres outside Moscow, Bocharov Ruchei in Sochi and Dolgiye Borody in the Novgorod region near Valdai.

As Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has two official residences: Novo-Ogaryovo on Rublyovo-Uspenskoye Shosse and Riviera in Sochi.

Under Russian law, former presidents have a variety of privileges, one of which is the use of a government dacha until their death.

On leaving the presidency in 2008, Vladimir Putin chose his one-time official residence Novo-Ogaryovo as his government dacha. So he would be able to live in Novo-Ogaryovo even if he had not become Prime Minister.

Functionally, all the residences are equal. They are wired with the latest communications technology for work and equipped for convenient living. "I think that there will not be any moving required," said Vladimir Kozhin, head of the Office for Presidential Affairs.

International IT forum to take place in Nizhny Novgorod

The 5th International Forum of Information Technologies will begin its work in Nizhny Novgorod on 18 April. The event is organized by the Government of the Nizhny Novgorod region, as it was during the previous years.

In early March it was announced that this year the topic of the Forum would be the ‘informatization’ of modern life.  Companies participating in the exhibition have been invited to present their solutions in the areas of: e-government, e-life, e-education, medicine and culture, as well as e-business.

The Forum will consist of three theme days, revealing the aspects of ‘informatization’ of the basic fields of our lives.

18 April "E-state Day

-  Multi-functional centres of public and municipal services: their scope and effectiveness;
-  Inter-agency and inter-layer interaction in the provision of public and municipal services in the Nizhny Novgorod region;
-  Universal e-card: the pros and cons;
-  Federal and regional portals, government and municipal services are simplicity and accessibility.

19 April "Informational Society Day

-  Modernisation of Health;
-  School of the future in the present: eternal values and digital technologies;
-  Primary schools: first steps in computerisation;
-  University: young minds - new ideas - new opportunities;
-  Internet and archives, museums and libraries;
-  "Safe City"
-  "E-life" - the present or the future?
-  Electronic media - access to information

20 April "E-Business Day"

-  Infrastructure: information and communications technology in service businesses;
-  Information systems at different levels and in all industries;
-  Information and innovation: personal contribution and collaboration;
-  Geoinformation, engineering, architecture: information technology and specialised software.

Russian scientists revive Ice Age flower

An Ice Age squirrel created a chamber, a burrow, containing fruit and seeds that then became preserved in the Siberian permafrost for over 30,000 years. Russian researchers have since been able to resurrect an extinct flower from tissues frozen for more than 30,000 years in the permafrost of Siberia. "The squirrels dug the frozen ground to build their burrows, which are about the size of a soccer ball. They first put in hay and then animal fur for a perfect storage chamber," said Stanislav Gubin, one of the authors of the study, who spent years rummaging through the area for squirrel burrows. "It's a natural cryobank."

Researchers published the study results in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published on 21 February.

 Regenerated Ice Age flower 'Silene stenophylla'

Svetlana Yashina, from the Institute of Cell Biophysics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, led the work of tissue regeneration. She said the researchers had been able to retrieve the fruit of the plant after investigating dozens of fossils hidden in ice deposits on the bank of the Kolyma River in north-eastern Siberia. Sediment in the area dates from 30,000 to 32,000 years back. "We consider it essential to continue permafrost studies in search of an ancient genetic pool, that of pre-existing life, which hypothetically has long-since vanished from the Earth's surface," the scientists said in the article. The extinct flower Silene stenophylla is the oldest plant to be regenerated, according to scientists, which is fertile and able to produce viable white flowers and seeds.

There was speculaton that if the tissue can be preserved in ice for thousands of years and reconstructed, it could even pave the way for a possible resurrection of the Ice Age mammals.


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