Weekly News Roundup

Response to last week’s trial run seemed positive, so a news roundup will become a regular feature on SiberianLight.  Right now I plan to run it weekly, but this could change depending on time commitments.  Anyway, on with the news:

Foreign Affairs

Former Soviet Union

  • A re-run of Ukraine’s Presidential election has been announced.  Despite a last minute panic, Duma deputies agreed to revise the electoral law in an attempt to reduce the chances of fraud.  Meanwhile, Victor Yushchenko’s claims that he was poisoned were both verified and denied by his Austrian doctors today.
  • Russia severed rail links with Abkhazia, the pro-Russian breakaway region of Georgia.  The reason?  The Abkhazian’s recently dared to elect the wrong President.  Unsurprisingly, given that Russia is Abkhazia’s main only foreign trade partner, a new "unity" election was quickly arranged.  The two previous presidential candidates will run on a joint ticket – Sergei Bagapsh as President and Raul Khadzhimba as Vice President. 
  • A major CIS meeting in St Petersburg has just broken up.  Terrorism was high on the agenda, as were human rights where the delegates went so far as to set up a co-ordination committe for human rights.
  • The OSCE’s mission to monitor the Georgia-Russia border is set to expire at the end of December.  Georgia wants it renewed.  Russia doesn’t.
  • The Russian Duma plans to send representatives to decidedly undemocratic Uzbekistan to see what the Uzbeks can teach them.

Russia domestic

  • The FSB claims to have killed an al-Qaeda operative in Southern Russia.  A Syrian, he was allegedly al-Qaeda’s deputy representative in Abu Havsa in the North Caucasus.  A man of many nicknames, he was probably most commonly known as the White Arab.
  • Shamil Basayev, meanwhile, is alleged to have fled Chechnya and gone into hiding.
  • Long-time world chess champion Garry Kasparov is, for the first time ever, undisputed champion of Russia.  His main rival, current world champion Vladimir Kramnik, was absent from the event, taking the shine off his victory somewhat.
  • Newsweek has appointed Leonid Parfyonov, a newsreader fired from NTV, as its new editor.  Editing is a dangerous game in Moscow these days – Forbes editor Paul Klebnikov was murdered this summer.
  • Russia’s Chernobyl veterans have gone on hunger strike to protest that their $89 pension does not cover their basic living and medical expenses.

Economy & Business

  • The US dollar has hit a four year low against the rouble.  One dollar will now buy you a mere 28 roubles.
  • The Duma has just approved the 2005 state budget.  Defence spending has increased by 27.7% to $17.7 billion.  The budget is based on an estimated GDP growth of 6.3%, but Reuters think this may be too optimistic.
  • Another senior Yukos figure – this time it’s Svetlana Bakhmina – has been detained for questioning by the Russian authorities.
  • VimpelCom, Russia’s second largest mobile company, has just been hit with a bill for $158 million in back taxes from 2001.  The news led to a 5% drop in Russia’s already battered stock market.

And finally…

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