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Friday, September 21, 2007

"Getting Real" on Russia

At last, someone in the US government is starting to confront the reality of the new Russia.

From Novosti

WASHINGTON, July 12 (RIA Novosti) - A senior U.S. intelligence analyst said political maneuvering in Russia is intensifying as the country approaches presidential elections in March 2008.

Speaking before U.S. lawmakers, Thomas Fingar, National Intelligence Council deputy director for analysis, gave an analytical assessment of the current situation in Russia as part of a report about global security threats facing the United States.

"As Russia moves toward a presidential election in March 2008, succession maneuvering has intensified and increasingly dominates Russian domestic and foreign policy," he said Wednesday in a prepared testimony before the House of Representatives' Armed Services Committee.

Russia will hold parliamentary elections in December this year and presidential elections in March 2008.

To date, former Central Bank chairman Viktor Gerashchenko, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, Mikhail Kasyanov, an ex-prime minister and leader of the Russian People's Democratic Union, and Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the liberal Yabloko party, have announced their plans to run for the presidency.

President Vladimir Putin, who has been increasingly criticized in the West for his anti-democratic record, but who remains popular within Russia, has repeatedly denied any possibility of him staying in office for a third term, and is widely expected to name "a successor".

Meanwhile, the U.S. intelligence official reiterated warnings about the alleged clampdown on democracy in Russia and the Kremlin's attempts to assume control over key sectors of the Russian economy.

"The last year has seen expanded Kremlin efforts to stifle political opposition and widen state control over strategic sectors of the economy," Fingar said. "Those trends are likely to deepen as the succession draws closer."

He also warned about the growing political rift in relations between Washington and Moscow as Russia's blossoming aspirations to become an energy superpower continue to bolster the Kremlin's confidence both at home and abroad.

"Russian assertiveness will continue to inject elements of rivalry and antagonism into U.S. dealings with Moscow, particularly our interactions in the former Soviet Union, and will affect our ability to cooperate with Russia on issues ranging from counterterrorism and nonproliferation to energy and democracy promotion in the Middle East," the intelligence analyst said.

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