Russia, Azerbaijan Discuss Lease Renewal For Radar Station

BAKU — Russian and Azerbaijani officials are in the midst of three days of talks in Baku on renewing Moscow’s lease on an Azerbaijani radar station, RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service reports.

The Russian Defense Minister told reporters the talks — which began on December 13 — would continue through December 15. Russia signed a lease agreement for the strategic Qabala radar station in 2002 that is due to expire in December 2012.

The ministry says the Russian delegation is being led by Deputy Defense Minister Anatoliy Antonov.

“The sides discussed military-technical cooperation issues and talked about the conditions of the Qabala radar lease agreement,” the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry reported after Defense Minister Safar Abiyev met with Antonov on December 14.

Qabala was built in 1985 and can monitor missile launches in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Russia pays $10 million annually to the Azerbaijani government under the current 10-year lease. Azerbaijani officials said this summer that they want to raise the rent Moscow pays to use the facility.

Vladimir Savchenko, director-general of the Russian Radiotechnics Institute, told RIA Novosti that construction of a new, module-type radar station known as Voronej-VP will be completed in Qabala by 2019.

He said the new station will replace the existing Daryal radar station in Qabala and will belong to Russia.

Azerbaijani parliament deputy Zahid Oruc, a member of the parliamentary committee on defense and security issues, told RFE/RL that construction of a new radar station at Qabala could be possible as part of a political agreement between Russia and Azerbaijan.

“But if Russia wants to strengthen its military participation in Azerbaijan, it will damage our military political interests,” he said. “Because in some cases these military forces have a negative impact on a country’s independence and ensure Russia’s dominant role in economic-political processes [of the country].”

Deputy Rasim Musabeyov, a member of the committee on international issues, told RFE/RL that Azerbaijan has not yet given consent to a renewal of the Qabala radar lease, let alone agreed to the construction of a new station at the site by Russia.

He added that he does not believe Russia will be able to put forth suitable proposals to Azerbaijan in order to realize its intention.

“Russia can construct this station in Daghestan as well,” he said. “Until then, Azerbaijan can extend Qabala’s lease for one or two years.”

Some political analysts say that the Qabala radar station brings nothing but political and ecological damage to Azerbaijan and there is therefore no need to build a new module-type station or renew Russia’s existing agreement to use the station.

Read more in Azeri here

Russia launches fourth unit at Kalinin Nuclear Power Plant

UDOMLYA (Tver region), December 12 (RIA Novosti) – Unit 4 of the Kalinin Nuclear Power Plant in central Russia went online on Monday in the presence of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The unit with a total capacity of 1,000 MW will be operated at half capacity for the time being.

Its construction began in 2007 and cost 70 million rubles (about $3.5 million).

The NNP is located in the Tver region, 350 kilometers from Moscow. Units 1 and 2, 1,000 MW each, were built in 1984 and 1986. Unit 3 was launched in 2004.

Vote protest a ‘watershed’ Russian leaders cannot ignore: analysts

Opposition rallies against recent elections that culminated in a massive demonstration in Moscow this weekend are a major “watershed” in Russia’s post-Soviet social and political development that the country’s leadership must reckon with, analysts said.

The rally in Moscow on Saturday, attended by tens of thousands of relatively young, well-dressed, educated “mainstream” people rather than a few hundred marginal politicians and their followers, demonstrated that average Russian people in large numbers have real questions for the country’s leadership. They are not interested in burning down the state but rather in making their voices heard. And this, political experts say, is a force that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, President Dmitry Medvedev and other top Russian leaders cannot afford to ignore.

“I consider this a remarkable and watershed event in our society. After 1989 and the 1990s, there were no such mass actions,” Valery Borshchyov, a human rights activists, told RIA-Novosti after Saturday’s nationwide rallies. “People acted in solidarity against electoral fraud and for a rerun of the elections.”

Both the authorities and the opposition were able to meet each other halfway as was evidenced by the calm nature of the Moscow rallies and the absence of a tough police crackdown on protests in most Russian regions. Now the ruling elite’s main task is to build an effective political dialog with society.

The rally in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow on Saturday, which Moscow police say gathered 25,000 and the rally organizers say brought together over 100,000, was the largest-scale opposition action since Putin came to power in 2000. It was the latest in a series of protests which began in Moscow on Monday, the day after the elections to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, and continued in Moscow and other parts of the country the following two nights.

Prior to Saturday’s protest, opposition groups had criticized police for using excessive force against peaceful dissenters. In sharp contrast, the Moscow rally this weekend ended with protesters applauding the police who behaved, all seemed to agree, with remarkable restraint.

For honest elections

The protesters’ main demand, which united representatives of the entire political spectrum, was a review of the results of the elections, in which the ruling United Russia party got 49.32% of the votes, the Communist Party 19.19%, A Just Russia party 13.24%, the LDPR 11.67%, Yabloko 3.43%, Patriots of Russia 0.97% and the Right Cause party 0.6%, according to final data published by the Central Election Commission on Friday. The opposition, including opposition factions in parliament, believes that the official electoral data were falsified and that the day of voting itself was marked by alleged massive breaches of electoral legislation, including ballot stuffing and the removal of observers from polling stations.

For the first time in Russia’s political history, massive protests were coordinated outside traditional political structures, using social networks where people independently organized groups, agreed on where and how to express their dissatisfaction with the election results. This fact, and also a mere look at the rally participants in Moscow showed that the protest activity was staged not by social groups who are regularly angry at the government – pensioners and low-paid workers, for example – but by educated and relatively “well-to-do” young professionals who have as much interest as the country’s leaders in seeing stable social, economic and political development but who have, until now, lacked any organized political force.

“The protest movement exists and it has manifested itself, in particular, today,” political analyst Mikhail Remizov said following the Moscow rally on Saturday. “What we see is a movement of civil rather than political protest. We are talking about citizens who are advancing their demands to the incumbent power but do not want it replaced.”

The main demands heard at the rallies included cancellation of the December 4 vote results and organization of an election re-run, a recount of votes at all pollilng places where complaints of fraud were registered and the sacking of Vladimir Churov, head of the central election commission.

“We have the right to demand that law-enforcement agencies open criminal cases against thousands of thieves in electoral commissions,” Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of the liberal Yabloko party, told the protesters in Moscow. This statement, along with other similar pronouncements by those who spoke at the meeting, drew applause from the crowd.

Saturday’s demonstration also marked the first time in years when representatives of rival political parties were able to stand side by side in one location, temporarily putting aside their disputes and personal animosity. This can be regarded as a victory but assigns a complex task to the opposition to look for a compromise and a single political platform for dialog with the authorities, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, not to smother society’s awakening self-consciousness by party feuds, experts said.

“This is a serious success of the opposition but we need to understand that these people are not from one political group; there were representatives of completely different groupings. That is why, you can’t assign the success to any particular opposition force,” Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected political analyst and member of parliament for the dominant United Russia party in the outgoing Duma, told RIA-Novosti.

Readiness to hear society is the authorities’ strength, not weakness

Political scientists say that the authorities should respond to the demands advanced by the people disagreeing with the election results, which would be the most correct reaction to the protests, instead of ignoring public discontent. This response will help ease protest and strengthen the legitimacy of the legislative bodies of power.

In particular, political scientist Valery Khomyakov believes that the manifestations held by Muscovites are a sort of a test to show “how wise the authorities are.” In his opinion, the authorities should declare that they will examine all the violations in detail and the culprits will be punished.

“If the authorities act like this, the rally activity may subside,” he said.

“Until recently, the authorities did not hold a substantive dialog with the opposition, suppressing street protests by forceful methods. In particular, during unauthorized rallies held by the opposition on Monday and Tuesday in Moscow, about 600 people were detained, according to official data. On December 4-7, a total of about 550 protesters were detained in the center of St. Petersburg. Dozens of people were detained in other Russian cities.

However, closer to the end of the week, evidence emerged that the authorities were ready, if not to hear, then at least to avoid the tough use-of-force scenario against those willing to express their dissatisfaction with the elections. In Moscow, the city authorities promptly agreed the holding of a massive protest rally and organized a comfortable corridor for the opposition to move from Revolution Square where initially a small rally was planned to Bolotnaya Square. This relocation was not interpreted by the City Hall as an unauthorized march. Oleg Orlov, chairman of the council of the Memorial Human Rights Center, told RIA Novosti that the agreements between the rally organizers, on the one hand, and the city authorities and the police, on the other hand, were observed ideally in Moscow on Saturday.

Moreover, not a single person was detained in Moscow while only about a hundred out of several dozen thousand protesters were detained across Russia. The police acted most toughly in St. Petersburg but there only about 30 people were detained.

Society longing for politics

Markov believes that society has come to “miss” active politics and this bodes an active and tight presidential campaign at the beginning of next year.

In Markov’s opinion, the authorities should respond because if they ignore the protest movement, protests will only grow. “This is just simple: you need to listen to the people’s main demands, i.e. to stop talking and start doing. It is necessary to return to the political dynamics present in the country during Putin’s first term.”

Putin, who had been the “face” of United Russia for many years, has already put forward his candidacy for the presidential elections in March 2012. He has also started building a base on another, broader group – the All-Russian People’s Front.

Political scientist Remizov said possible fears within the country’s leadership circles that any steps to review the vote results or open criminal cases against the offenders of electoral law could be regarded as weakness or concessions to street protesters were unfounded.

“Putin is quite a strong leader to have the possibility to do it in a way that this does not look like a concession. As a rule, a package of decisions is adopted in cases like this to seize the initiative,” the political scientist explained.

He also said that the protesters had come to the square believing that they would surely be heard.

“Today these people are confident that they have been heard and if they get an adequate response from the authorities, this may deprive further protest actions of sense,” Remizov said.

The organizers of the rally on Bolotnaya Square have already announced that they intend to hold a similar action in two weeks’ time, on December 24.


Poll protests continue in Russian regions

Authorized and unauthorized protests against alleged electional fraud continued in several Russian cities on Sunday, RIA Novosti correspondents reported.

The largest sanctioned rally was held in Perm, a city in the Urals, which gathered some 800 people instead of 300 permitted by the police.  Two people were detained.

The demonstrators signed a resolution demanding the dismissal of Central Election Commission head Vladimir Churov and the local election commission chief.

About 300 protesters gathered for an unsanctioned rally on a central square in Omsk (west Siberia), which yesterday saw a 1,000-people strong rally.

Only 120-150 people came to protest against poll results in Russia’s third largest city, Novosibirsk, where more than 3,500 rallied on Saturday.

Police reported that all rallies were peaceful and did not last long.

Meanwhile, activists in the town of Apatity in the northern Murmansk Region decided to stage an unusual toy rally since they failed to gain permission from authorities.

Toys from Kinder Surprise chocolate egg with slogans attached to toothpicks were acting as protesters in Apatity. According to organizers, who called the event “a nano rally”, such demonstrators could not be dispersed but are likely to attract public attention.

Demonstrations against alleged electoral fraud in favor of the ruling United Russia took place on December 10 across the country, from the European exclave of Kaliningrad to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast. Organizers say they the protests may continue next weekend and probably on December 24-25.

United Russia saw its share of the vote fall sharply in the December 4 polls, although it just managed to hang onto its parliamentary majority. But opposition activists claim the party’s real figures were much lower.

The largest rallies to demand a rerun of last weekend’s parliamentary polls and vent anger at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party were held in Moscow (at least 20,000 participants) and St. Petersburg (7,000).

Fugitive Russian businessmen take part in election fraud protest in London

Some 100 people, including fugitive Russian businessmen Boris Berezovsky and Yevgeny Chichvarkin, gathered on Friday outside the Russian embassy in London to protest against the alleged fraud in Russian parliamentary elections, a RIA Novosti correspondent reported.

Similar protests against the results of Sunday’s vote, in which the pro-Kremlin United Russia party retained its majority in parliament, are expected to take place on Saturday across Russia and in more than 20 other countries.

Chichvarkin, a co-founder of Russia’s largest mobile phone retailer Yevroset who is wanted in Russia on kidnapping and extortion charges, was one of the first to arrive at the embassy for the demonstration.

Taking part in the protest, he said, allowed him to “become part of what can affect the Russian political leadership through local media, public and political activists.”

The businessman went into a self-imposed exile in Britain in 2008, saying he faced imprisonment in Russia and could be killed if put behind bars.

When asked whether he believed that Russians living abroad should take part in such demonstrations, he replied: “They have not been deprived of Russian citizenship, and as Russian citizens, they have the right to have a say in determining [its future] from abroad.”

Tycoon Berezovsky arrived at the site of the protest with an anti-government placard, surrounded by his bodyguards.

Over a dozen criminal probes have been launched in Russia against Berezovsky, a one-time close associate of the late president Boris Yeltsin, including on charges of plotting to stage a coup and embezzling $13 million from a leading Russian bank.

Russia has issued multiple warrants for Berezovsky’s arrest and has repeatedly demanded his extradition from Britain.

Participants in the protest, which was organized by the Speak Up! human rights movement, were chanting slogans calling for the annulment of Sunday’s vote results and the holding of new elections.

Another similar protest is expected to take place outside the British Parliament building later in the day.


Poll protests in eastern Russia

Hundreds of people have gathered in different cities across Russia on Saturday to protest against alleged electoral fraud in favor of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, RIA Novosti correspondents reported from the scene.

Some 1,000 people rallied in the southern Siberian city of Barnaul, about 200 at the central square in Chita and several hundreds of people in Krasnoyarsk, Russia’s Siberia, and more than 50 people came to an unsanctioned rally in Russia’s Far East city of Khabarovsk, RIA correspondents reported.

Khabarovsk officials did not give permission to hold a protest. The head of the Khabarovsk regional administration Interior Ministry Andrey Sergeev said on Friday that the police would apply strict measures to the participants in unauthorized rallies.

The police detained about 20 people during the rally, RIA Novosti correspondent reported.

Similar protests – both sanctioned and unsanctioned – are expected to take place later in the day in dozens of cities across Russia, as well as in some 20 other countries.

Some 30,000 people intend to take part in an authorized rally in Moscow, which is expected to become the largest public protest in Russia in almost a decade.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that citizens “should be given a right to express their opinion” if they are “acting within law.” But if they do break the rules, he said, the authorities should take action “by legal means.”


Russia faces nationwide vote protests

Voters took to the streets Saturday across Russia to protest elections they charge were rigged in favor of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, a mass demonstration of public anger not seen in years and a critical test for the country’s leadership.

The rolling, nationwide demonstrations came a day after Russian election authorities announced the final official results of legislative elections of December 4, giving United Russia 238 seats in the 450-seat State Duma with just under 50 percent of the popular vote.

Around 1,000 people rallied in the southern Siberian city of Barnaul while smaller crowds numbering in the hundreds turned out in the cities of Krasnoyarsk, Vladivostok, Chita and Khabarovsk in eastern Russia, RIA Novosti correspondents reported from those cities.

The largest crowd however was expected in Moscow, where city officials gave permission for several demonstrations including one by those angry over the results of the elections for up to 30,000 people. A demonstration was also planned for Russia’s second largest city of St. Petersburg.

According to the latest police reports, between 20,000 and 25,000 of the expected 30,000 protesters have so far gathered at the venue in downtown Moscow.

The co-chairman of the Party of People’s Freedom, Vladimir Ryzhkov, announced from the stage in downtown Moscow that 40,000 people have gathered to protest with another 10,000 from Revolution Square making their way to the main venue.

A RIA Novosti correspondent said the crowd has begun chanting “Putin Out!”

Security was tight in the Russian capital, where several hundred people had gathered on a square near the Kremlin and planned to make their way to a different location further from the center of the city where the largest demonstration was to take place.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said ahead of the demonstrations that all Russians had the right to assemble and express their political views publicly, but warned that security forces would use “all legal methods” to maintain law and order.

The December 4 vote polarized Russian society, with Putin and supporters describing the outcome as a “real” reflection of the mood in the country while others – both Russian political activists and international observers – saying the vote was slanted in United Russia’s favor.

Although United Russia won nearly half the popular vote, the election was a huge setback for the “party of power” and Putin directly accused the United States of seeking to stir up trouble in Russian politics after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the conduct of the vote.

“People in our country don’t want the situation in Russia to develop like it did in Kyrgyzstan and, not so long ago, in Ukraine,” Putin said Thursday. “Nobody wants chaos.”

He was referring to popular uprisings, referred to in Russia as “color revolutions,” that led to the downfall of leaders in both former Soviet republics and another, Georgia, which he did not mention.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party announced in a statement posted on its website Saturday that it does not recognize the results of the elections in many Russian regions, including the North Caucasus republics and the largest cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, citing massive violations there.

“We consider the vote illegitimate from the moral and political points of view,” the party’s presidium said in the statement.

Another political party, the liberal Yabloko party, separately vowed to contest the results of the December 4 elections in court.

Disgruntlement over the polls saw some 5,000 protesters rally in central Moscow on Monday. Demonstrations continued across Russia, although on a smaller scale, for the next two evenings.

Some 1,000 people have so far been detained in protests, police said, including influential blogger and opposition activist Alexei Navalny.

Navalny, along with another opposition leader, Ilya Yashin, was jailed for 15 days on Tuesday as a result of their participation in Monday’s unsanctioned protest.

The protests have been largely ignored by state-run televisions channels, which chose instead to broadcast images of United Russia supporters parading near the Kremlin. Demonstrations have been organized via Facebook and Vkontakte, a popular internet social networking site. Vkontakte’s founder, Pavel Durov, said this week he had refused a request by the security services to deactivate accounts belonging to opposition groups.


Top Russian Health Inspector: Demonstrators Will Catch The Flu

The Kremlin spin machine was firing on all cylinders on December 9 as top state doctor Gennady Onishchenko warned that protesters set to rally across dozens of Russian towns on December 10 should stay at home – or else risk catching the flu.

It was unclear whether Onishchenko’s advice had struck a chord with the tens of thousands of Russians gearing up for an anti-Kremlin rally billed as the biggest in over a decade.

“I recommend that people don’t go to the demonstration and, considering the cold weather and forecasts saying it will get worse, this goes especially for people with chronic illnesses and endocrinic illnesses,” Onishchenko told the RIA Novosti state news agency.

“With the increase of people falling ill that we are observing at the moment, a mass gathering of people on the streets could facilitate the rapid infection of flu with ensuing consequences.”

‘Political’ Health Warnings

Chief Health Inspector Onischchenko has gained infamy for making medical and health pronouncements that have an overtly political flavor.

At the height of souring Russian relations with Tbilisi and Chisinau, he declared that Georgian and Moldovan wines were not fit for consumption, leading to Russian trade embargos decimating the countries’ most lucrative exports.

Most recently, amid a diplomatic spat with Dushanbe when a Russian pilot was jailed in Tajikistan, Onishchenko suggested making it harder for Tajiks to enter Russia on the grounds that they have a higher incidence of HIV and tuberculosis.

Electoral Violations On YouTube

Onischenko’s latest comments come on the heels of remarks from Central Election Commission head Vladimir Churov, who has also gained a measure of infamy on Russian internet sites claiming that online video clips of electoral violations were filmed in makeshift studios in apartments.

On December 9, Churov told journalists that he has appealed to police to find the people who “ordered and sponsored” this “fabricated” material, suggesting he remains unswayed by the YouTube videos after his last comments outraged many of Russia’s 51 million Internet users. 

“There’s a lot of rubbish on the Internet about the elections,” Churov said in an interview with the Itogi magazine ahead of the elections. “Even before polling day, I knew about several fake election polling stations in apartments where they would make videos. I think we will see this film.”

The videos, allegedly shot in apartments, appear to contain footage of multiple storey polling stations at schools, buses shuttling “carousel” voters around to cast their votes several times, and election officials signing dozens of ballot papers in favor of the ruling United Russia party.

Russian social network rebuffs FSB request to close ‘opposition’ accounts

Russia’s most popular social network was asked by the country’s domestic security agency to deactivate accounts of groups that contained posts calling for street protests, but the company rejected the request, a spokesman said Thursday.

“We received a request from the FSB to stop the activity of Vkontakte groups calling for riots and a revolution,” Vladislav Tsyplukhin, spokesman for social network VKontakte, wrote on his corporate web page.

“We explained in response that we have been following those groups and cannot block them as a whole just because some individual users have called for violence,” Tsyplukhin wrote.

The accounts of specific users who have explicitly called for public disorder however are being blocked by the company, he said, adding that there had not been any excessive “pressure, threats or rudeness” from the Federal Security Service (FSB) in its requests.

Contacted by RIA Novosti, the FSB declined to provide comment on the reported request.

Tsyplukhin’s comments came after the administrator of popular Russian anti-corruption website RosPil published a report on Thursday in which he quoted Vkontakte founder Pavel Durov as saying that the FSB had asked him to shut down “opposition” accounts.

The report, which came amid ongoing protests against the results of Sunday’s parliamentary vote, went viral over Russian internet blogs and online media.

“Over the past few days, the FSB has been asking us to block opposition groups, including yours,” Durov was quoted as informing the administrator of the RosPil website, which is operated by controversial Russian anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny.

“We don’t do this on principle. I don’t know how it can affect us, but we are sticking to our position,” Durov wrote in his message to the administrator, adding: “Vkontakte is a 100-percent apolitical company. We support neither the authorities nor the opposition, and no particular political party.”

Representatives of other Russian social networks said they had not been contacted by the FSB.

As of Thursday, more than10 accounts have been registered on Vkontakte where users discuss the alleged fraud during Sunday’s elections, in which the pro-Kremlin United Russia party gained around 50 percent of the vote, and preparations for a protests rally to be held in Moscow on Saturday.

Similar rallies have already taken place in Moscow and St. Petersburg earlier this week, including protests on Monday and Tuesday in central Moscow, in which several thousand people took part.

The Russian authorities have declared the elections fair and democratic, while the OSCE pointed to “flagrant procedural violations” during the polls, including cases of ballot-stuffing, “a convergence of the state and the governing party,” limited political competition and a lack of fairness.

Moscow police seal off central square as opposition to rally

Police are setting up metal barriers along the perimeter of Triumfalnaya Square in central Moscow as opposition groups are preparing to stage a new unsanctioned rally to protest election fraud, a RIA Novosti correspondent reports.

On Tuesday evening the square saw a rally that drew up to 5,000 people, including both opposition and pro-Kremlin youth groups. More than 300 people were detained while five had to seek medical assistance as a result of a police crackdown.

Meanwhile, around 5,000 people are holding an authorized rally on Pushkin Square, less than a kilometer away, in support of the governing United Russia party, a spokesman for the city Main Internal Affairs Administration said.

Reinforced police patrols are on standby to ensure security.

Police have detained about 900 people over two nights of protests against alleged fraud in Sunday’s parliamentary elections in which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party won a much reduced majority.


On Tuesday, a Moscow court sentenced anti-regime blogger Alexei Navalny to 15 days in jail for disobeying police orders during Monday’s protest. Ilya Yashin, leader of the opposition Solidarity movement, was also jailed for 15 days.


Russian army officer jailed for spying for Georgia

A former Russian Army major was given a 12-year prison term on Wednesday for spying for Georgia, a RIA Novosti correspondent reported from the courtroom.

Vladimir Klenkov passed classified information concerning the location of Russian military units in the Southern Military District to Georgian intelligence services “for mercantile motives,” investigators alleged.

The North Caucasus District Court convicted him of high treason and stripped him of his rank (“retired major”).

This is the second conviction in a case of espionage concerning Georgia in recent months.

In October, Sr. Lt. David Aliyev and his mother Irina Aliyeva were sentenced to ten and eight years in a Russian prison, respectively.

Aliyev, deployed to a military unit in Russia’s Southern Military District, was found to “have been collecting secret information on orders from Georgian intelligence services.”


His mother was convicted of conveying the information to Georgia.


Poll protests continue in Russia, more arrests

Demonstrations against alleged electoral fraud in favor of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party continued for a third night on Wednesday, with arrests in both Moscow and St. Petersburg, police said.

Some 500 people rallied in downtown St. Petersburg, where police said 70 people had been detained.

A much smaller protest took place in Moscow, where some 20 people were arrested for trying to organize an illegal protest, a police spokesperson told RIA Novosti. The protest drew around 30 people, plus dozens of journalists.

A protest rally was also reported in Russia’s western exclave of Kaliningrad, which police said was attended by 150 people. The organizers said the figure was closer to 1,000.

Some 20,000 people have so far indicated on social network sites that they will attend a sanctioned protest on Saturday at central Moscow’s Revolution Square.

But the Moscow-based New Times magazine reported on Wednesday, citing a source in the city administration, that the square would be closed for “repairs” before Saturday.

The largest protest against alleged poll violations at Sunday’s parliamentary elections came on Monday, when a crowd of some 5,000 rallied in central Moscow.

Some 1,000 people have been arrested in poll protests since Sunday, police said.

Dozens of video clips appearing to show election fraud at the polls have so far been uploaded onto the Internet.

President Dmitry Medvedev, meeting the election commission chief outside Moscow on Tuesday, said charges of voting violations must be investigated. But he added that video material posted on social networks did not constitute “incontestable” proof of cheating.

International observers and the United States also criticized the elections, which saw United Russia’s worst ever nationwide performance. The party did, however, manage to hang onto its majority.


Moscow city hall says will allow only 300 people at Saturday’s rally

Moscow Deputy Mayor Alexander Gorbenko warned organizers of Saturday’s rally against election results that the number of protestors should not surpass the previously declared 300 people.

Some 20,000 people have so far indicated on social network sites that they will attend a sanctioned protest on Saturday at central Moscow’s Revolution Square.

“A total of 300 participants were declared to take part. If more people are eager to join, organizers will be held responsible. We will warn people that they attend an unsanctioned part of the rally, and are thus subject to all measures envisaged by the law,” the deputy mayor said in an interview with the Ekho Moskvy radio station.

Gorbenko invited organizers to apply for another rally location if they expect more people to come.

“We will find an opportunity to choose a more suitable place together,” he said, adding that it was only a matter of public security.

The deputy mayor said the organizers face a fine or an administrative arrest of up to 15 days for violating the law on public protests.

Demonstrations against alleged electoral fraud in favor of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party continued for a third night on Wednesday, with arrests in both Moscow and St. Petersburg, police said.

The deputy mayor also dismissed media reports that the square would be closed for “repairs” before Saturday. According to a RIA Novosti correspondent, who visited the site of the future protest, an area of 50 by 70 meters is currently closed.

Russia downgrades relations with Qatar over attack on ambassador

Russia will downgrade its diplomatic relations with Qatar following an attack on the Russian ambassador by customs officers at Doha airport, the  Foreign Ministry said on its website on Monday.


The ministry said Russian Ambassador Vladimir Titorenko will leave Qatar “after he finishes a course of medical treatment as a result of the attack” and Russia’s interests in Qatar will be temporarily represented by a charge d’affaires.


Airport security and customs officials beat up Titorenko and two other Russian diplomats on November 29 in an attempt to seize the diplomatic dispatch the ambassador was carrying on a return trip from Jordan.


The Qatari officials reportedly tried to X-ray the diplomatic mail despite a bilateral agreement allowing diplomats from both countries to carry diplomatic bags through customs without any inspection under the 1961 Vienna Convention.


The Russian Foreign Ministry sent a protest note to Qatari authorities on November 30, demanding “an immediate and full investigation into the incident, the strict punishment of the culprits and the prevention of similar incidents in the future.”


There has been no official response from Qatar so far.


An anonymous diplomatic source earlier told RIA Novosti that the incident had been most likely provoked by Russia’s position on the Syrian crisis, which many Qatari analysts believe advocates the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.


Qatar has been consistently supporting sanctions against the Syrian regime, while Russia stands against sanctioning Syria on all diplomatic levels, including the UN Security Council.


Arrests as Russians rally against ‘election fraud’

Thousands of people gathered in downtown Moscow on Monday to protest against alleged election fraud.

Crowd numbers were estimated at “around 5,000” by a RIA Novosti correspondent at the scene. Police put the crowd at 2,000.

Opposition rallies in Moscow rarely draw more than 500 people.

There were an unconfirmed number of arrests made as the crowd gathered at downtown Moscow’s Chistye Prudy region. Influential blogger and anti-graft activist Alexei Navalny was among those detained.

“I’ve never seen anything like this. A sea of pi**ed off young Russians, revved up and loud,” Foreign Policy magazine’s Moscow correspondent Julia Ioffe wrote on her Twitter account.

Protestors called on the police to “be with the people.”

Sunday’s elections were marred by widespread allegations of poll procedure, with dozens of clips appearing to show election fraud uploaded onto the Internet.

The rally, organized by the opposition Solidarnost movement, came a day after parliamentary elections in Russia saw the ruling United Russia party suffer its worst ever result.

While the party of Prime Minster Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev managed to hold onto a simple parliamentary majority, its share of the vote slumped from 64% to just under 50%.

The protest is continuing at Lubyanka, near the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB), although crowd numbers have dropped considerably.


Far Eastern University/APEC summit facility commissioned by 50 percent

Construction workers have commissioned five of the 11 buildings planned for the Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) being built on Russky Island, Vladivostok. The university buildings will be used during the 2012 APEC summit.

“The plan called for the commissioning of the first five FEFU buildings on February 28, 2012. But the builders are now three months ahead of the schedule. The other six buildings will be completed one by one but also ahead of the schedule,” Azar Agalarov of the Crocus construction company told journalists.

Following the APEC summit, to be held in Vladivostok in early September 2012, the buildings will be used for faculty and student housing.

A spokesman for the Primorye Territory’s administration told RIA Novosti that the floor area of the new university buildings, including academic, housing and auxiliary buildings, on Russky Island would total 900,000 square meters. The infrastructure will include a 210 hectare nature park. “The campus will include 5,500 rooms, each measuring 25 square meters, two academic buildings, and a multi-functional press center,” he said.

S.Ossetian talks with Russia on presidential election results end in failure

Talks between supporters of South Ossetian opposition leader and former presidential candidate Alla Dzhioyeva and Russian Presidential Administration head Sergie Vinokurov, acting as the mediator between the South Ossetian opposition and official Tskhinvali, have failed, Dzhioyeva supporter Alan Pliyev told journalists on Sunday.

Pliyev said supporters would continue to stand on the central Teatralnaya Square in the former Georgian republic to demand the recognition of Dzhioyeva as their elected president.

Supporters of Dzhioyeva scheduled her inauguration for December 10 despite the ruling of the republic’s Supreme Court to cancel the elections outcome.

“Consultations [with Russia] did not lead to anything. We will now wait for the court’s decision,” Pliyev said.

The republic’s Supreme Court on Tuesday canceled the elections outcome, citing violations. Dzhioyeva declared herself president and her supporters have been rallying on the central square of the capital Tskhinvali ever since.

“The South Ossetian people voted for Dzhioyeva, therefore, we appoint her inauguration for 2.00 p.m. December 10,” a spokesman for Dzhioyeva’s staff said speaking to a rally of her supporters who gathered in Tskhinvali’s central square.

He did not specify the venue for the inauguration. However, Mikhail Khanikayev, the chief of Dzhioyeva’s staff, told RIA Novosti earlier that the inauguration will take place on one of Tskhinvali’s squares and is expected to gather tens of thousands of her supporters.

Dzhioyeva won the November 27 runoff presidential polls in the former Georgian republic, as preliminary results showed. In the runoff, Dzhioyeva, former education minister, emerged with 57%, leaving behind Kremlin-backed rival Anatoly Bibilov with 40%.

The rally participants issued an address to the international community urging the UN and European parliament to interfere in the situation.

“Given that the political crisis in the republic may destabilize the situation in the Caucasus, the republic’s people urge you to immediately interfere with the developments [in South Ossetia] in order to stabilize the situation and restore the constitutional order,” the address says.

With a population of 70,000, South Ossetia has been a volatile area since the 1990s. Tensions between Georgia and Russian-backed separatists in South Ossetia exploded into a five-day war between Russia and Georgia in 2008. South Ossetia has since been recognized by Russia and enjoyed financial support from the bigger neighbor.


Moscow police release election protesters

Police in Moscow have released all of the protesters who were detained on Sunday for attempting to stage unsanctioned demonstrations against parliamentary elections, a police spokesman told RIA Novosti on Monday.

Riot police detained about 100 would-be protesters at Moscow’s central Triumfalnaya Square, a trademark venue for opposition rallies, and about a dozen more people at other sites.

The demonstrators face court appearances where they may receive fines or other administrative penalties, the spokesman said.

Dozens of opposition activists were arrested in Moscow and St. Petersburg on Sunday evening for attempting to stage rallies against parliamentary elections .

Seventy protesters were detained in St. Petersburg, according to the local police.

Russians voted Sunday to elect the State Duma, the lower chamber of the parliament, in what was widely regarded as a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. The party has nominated him as the presidential candidate for the March, 2012 vote.

Major squares in downtown Moscow were sealed off by police Sunday afternoon and dozens of police buses and paddy wagons were parked around the Kremlin.

There were more than 50,000 police on duty in the Russian capital on election day, more than double the number in Moscow during the previous Duma vote in 2007.


United Russia will need coalition with other parties

Russia’s ruling United Russia party, which is gaining slightly less than half of the vote in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, will need to enter a coalition with other parties on some issues, experts told RIA Novosti.

With over 52 percent of the ballots counted, United Russia has 49.68 percent, the Communist Party, 19.70 percent, the moderate A Just Russia got 12.91 percent and the nationalist Liberal Democrats 12.18 percent. Voter turnout was above 50 percent.

Earlier President Dmitry Medvedev said the ruling party will anyway have to join bloc agreements with other parties in the State Duma with account for a more complex structure of the lower house of parliament, adding that this is “normal, this is what parliamentarianism and democracy mean.”

A Just Russia chairman Nikolai Levichev said his party could form a coalition with the Communists and United Russia on some issues. The head of the Liberal Democrats (LDPR) faction in the State Duma, Igor Lebedev, said a coalition with United Russia was possible but only on equal terms.

First deputy chairman of the Communist Party’s (KPRF) central committee, Ivan Melnikov, said his party will not form any kind of coalition with United Russia unless the ruling party utterly reconsiders its positions.

Mikhail Remizov, president of the Strategy 2020 foundation, told RIA Novosti that some issues may force United Russia to seek agreement with other political parties.

“Coalitions will be situational. I don’t think the new parliament will have anything like a ruling coalition,” he said.

Another expert, president of the fund for research of democracy problems, Maxim Grigoryev, said there will be no permanent coalition. He said A Just Russia and LDPR are the most likely partners for United Russia.

He said no one had thought United Russia would receive a constitutional majority in the new Duma (over two-thirds of the vote).

“Russia’s political system is becoming more modern, adequate, dynamic. I think the quality of political decisions will increase,” he said.

Political scientist Pavel Danilin said United Russia will not need to form a coalition with others.

“If constitutional amendments are required, United Russia will have to enter a coalition, but in other cases, United Russia has enough mandates in a simple majority to approve necessary laws,” he told RIA Novosti.


Russia’s parliamentary elections: LIVE Updates

­11:37 MSK: International observers have no objections to the electoral process in Russia, an international observer from Poland told RIA Novosti Sunday.

­11:30 MSK: Russian citizens can cast their votes in Belgium at two polling stations at the Russian Embassy in Brussels and at the Consulate General in Antwerp.

­11:04 MSK: Nearly 700 international observers are working at the polling stations in Russia’s regions, where a total of 78 per cent of voters will cast their ballot, according to the deputy chairman of the CEC, Leonid Ivlev.

­10:50 MSK: Fancy ballot boxes have been installed at the polling stations in Tula region; they are made of the famous Tula gingerbread or ‘pryanik’. This was reported today by the chairman of the Russia’s CEC Vladimir Churov.

­10:31 MSK: At the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) building an Information Center “Elections 2011” has started its work. Two thousand Russian and foreign journalists got their credentials for working at the center. 61 TV correspondents, 26 radio reporters, 30 news agencies and over 40 print media will be covering the State Duma elections, according to the CEC spokesperson.

­10:22 MSK: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his wife Svetlana arrived at a ballot station located in Moscow School No. 1118. The president had previously voted here during the regional parliamentary elections of 2009.

­10:05 MSK: A polling station has opened in Sudan, located at the Russian embassy in Khartoum.

­10:00 MSK: Five per cent of Russians have so far cast their votes.

­09:55 MSK: Voting for the State Duma elections is being held in Thailand at two polling stations. One is on the premises of the Russian embassy in Bangkok and another at the Honorary Consulate of Russia mobile polling booth, which is stationed at the Royal Cliff hotel in Pattaya.  At the moment in Bangkok more than 70 people have voted, and over 50 in Pattaya .

­09:20 MSK: Seven voting stations have opened for Russian citizens in Belarus. The Minsk polling station is located on the territory of the Russian Embassy. Another is in the city of Brest, on the territory of the Consulate General.

­09:00 MSK: Polling stations have opened in the Russian exclave of the Kaliningrad Region. As of now, all voting stations are open throughout the country, which spreads over nine time zones. The Kaliningrad Region began voting an hour after Moscow and nine hours after Chukotka and Kamchatka.

08:20 MSK: Electronic voting systems are being used in Abakan, the capital of Khakassia , for the first time in the history of elections in the region, according to secretary of the regional election committee Vladimir Togochakov.

08:00 MSK: Three thousand three hundred and seventy-four polling stations have opened in Moscow on December 4, mostly located in schools. Citizens can also cast their votes at railway stations and hospitals.

08:00 MSK: Ballot stations open in the European part of Russia including Moscow.

­07:40 MSK: In the Amur region almost 20 per cent of voters have cast their ballots in the first four hours of the polls, the regional Election Commission reports.

­07:23 MSK: United Russia reports its office building in the city of Bryansk, Western Russia, has been attacked. According to the report on the party website a group of people attacked their office with petrol bombs causing a fire.

­06:30 MSK:  “Golos” (Russian for “voice” or “vote”) NGO is claiming that its observers have not been allowed to attend voting at several ballot stations in the city of Tomsk, Western Siberia. According to “Golos” the Election Commission representative at the stations say they have been instructed by telephone not to allow “Golos” observers in.

­06:15 MSK:  Witnesses in the city of Khabarovsk report that some parties are still distributing their election materials in the streets thus violating election law. The Liberal Democratic Party, the Fair Russia Party and the Communist Party are named as violators.

­06:05 MSK: The rest of Western Siberia and some parts of the Ural region are opening ballot stations for the voters.

05:40 MSK: Almost 14 per cent have voted in the Kolyma region in the first four hours of the parliamentary elections, a spokesman for the Election Commission reports.

05:26 MSK: The turnout in the Primorsky region, where 6 per cent of voters arrived in the first two hours of polling, is lower than in the parliamentary elections of 2007, says the regional Election Commission.

05:00 MSK: Ballot stations are opening in some parts of Western Siberia including the Novosibirsk, Altai and Omsk regions.

04:25 MSK: Russia`s first vice-premier, Igor Shuvalov has cast his vote on Russky Island in Vladivostok, Russia`s Far East, his press service reports.

04:15 MSK: The Election Commission reports that in the Chukotka region more than 22 per cent of registered voters have shown up during the first two hours of the elections.

04:00 MSK: The Krasnoyarsk region and the republics of Khakassia and the Tyva open ballot stations.

­03:31 MSK: According to the Election Commission, voters from northern regions of Russia`s Far East are voting more actively than in the parliamentary elections of 2007. The commission also says that “the elections are taking place in a quite atmosphere” and that no violations have been reported so far.

­03:15 MSK: In the Kolyma region more than 6.5 per cent of voters have cast their votes in the first two hours of polling, the local Election Commission reports.

03:01 MSK: More of Eastern Siberia begins voting. Ballot stations are opening in the Irkutsk region and the Republic of Buryatia.

02:33 MSK: Witnesses from the city of Khabarovsk report that despite the early hour there are a lot of voters at ballot stations.

02:00 MSK: Ballot stations are opening in Eastern Siberia including the Amur region and Yakutia.

01:36 MSK: Sakhalin Election Commission confirms that 316 ballot stations are currently functioning on the islands and 142 additional ballot stations are situated on vessels sailing in Sakhalin waters.

01:03 MSK: Russia`s Far Eastern regions begin voting. Ballot stations are opening in the Khabarovsk region, the Primorsky region and the Sakhalin region.

00:01 MSK: 57 ballot stations are opening in Chukotka in Russia’s Far East.

00:00 MSK: Hello. It is December 4 – the day of Russia’s parliamentary elections. Seven political parties are competing for seats in the sixth State Duma. Stay tuned for the latest updates.