Hogging the news this week are Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Moscow and Donald Rumsfeld’s visit to the Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan. Someone whacked Garry Kasparov over the head with a chessboard, too.
- A new law that will effectively bar small parties and independent candidates from the next Duma has been approved by the current Duma. The law will require parties to gain 7% of the national vote to get seats.
- Russian intelligence reports that a power struggle is taking place among Chechen rebels following the death of former President Aslan Maskhadov. Money is reportedly at the heart of their dispute.
- Chechnya’s state gas company is under investigation for evading $1.9 million of tax payments to the Russian federal government. How ungrateful.
- A criminal investigation has been launched into ecological damage caused by Russia’s oldest nuclear reprocessing plant.
- Residents of the Krasnoyarsk region and the Evenki and Taimyr districts have voted to join together into one big Siberian super-region. In Krasnoyarsk, more than 90% of those polled voted in favour, and more than 70% of Evenki and Taimyr residents expressed their support for the proposal.
- Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion turned political wannabe, was bashed over the head with a chessboard by a man allegedly affiliated with Nashi, a pro-Putin youth movement.
- 5,000 people rallied in support of Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov in the main square of Ufa on Saturday. Their rally comes a couple of weeks after 10,000 attended a march calling for his resignation.
- Russia has pledged to destroy its stocks of chemical weapons by 2012. Five new disposal plants are under construction and due to come online by 2005 and 2006.
- The Patriots of Russia coalition has formed a new political party. Their leader Gennady Semigin left the Communist party recently, presumably because they were too right-wing for his tastes.
- A car bomb killed two people in Dagestan. The dead mean were thought to have been trying to kill the local prosecutor.
- The changing of the guard has been reinstated within the walls of the Kremlin. From now on, every Saturday at noon, tourists can pay to watch the spectacle.
- NATO foreign ministers are meeting for the first time in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.
- The European Union has declined the opportunity to lead a monitoring mission on the Georgia-Russia border.
- US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has made a surprise visit to Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan. RIA Novosti thinks his visit was "on the sly"
- Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has promised to announce to the waiting world the identity of the next post-Soviet regime to fall into the evil clutches of the United States and adopt democracy. He’ll take us off our tenterhooks on April 22nd.
- Russia has begun withdrawing troops from the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border. All Russian border guards are scheduled to leave Tajikistan by 2006, although the 201st Motorised Rifle Division will remain in a permanent base.
- Ukraine is upset that the Russian Black Sea fleet is polluting Sevastopol harbour.
- Turkmenistan has announced a deal to supply 50-60 billion cubic metres (bcm)of gas to Ukraine. This about all the gas that Turkmenistan can produce, and they’ve unfortunately already agreed a deal for a similar amount with Russia. And a further 15bcm per year to Pakistan. Somebody’s gonna be cold next winter…
- Rumours are surfacing that new Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko had a hand in the illegal sale of cruise missiles to Iran and China.
- US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is visiting Moscow for talks ahead of President Bush’s visit in May. After being briefly diverted by a bomb threat against her hotel she met with President Putin, and several other senior members of the Russian government dishing out criticism and praise in equal measure. She also found time to meet and offer support to members of the Belorussian opposition in neighbouring Lithuania.
- Russia is negotiating the sale of two helicopters and up to 50 armoured cars to Palestine.
- Patriarch Alexei II has welcomed the appointment of Pope Benedict XVI, and expressed hope that the the Orthodox and Catholic churches can work together in the future.
- World Bank statistics (not always the most accurate of indicators) show that Russia has the world’s 16th largest overall GDP – Russia made $433 billion in 2003. Per capita GDP, however, was not so hot. $2,610 per person leaves Russia a disappointing 97th in the world rankings.
- An amnesty has been announced for all World War 2 veterans currently doing time in Russia’s jails. 200 battle scarred octogenarian criminal masterminds are about to be let loose on the streets.