Dmitry Medvedev
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Russia Grabs Belarus Gas System in Rescue Deal

Russia on Friday took control of the Belarus gas pipeline network in an economic rescue deal that will help Minsk survive isolation by the West and increase the Kremlin's influence over its neighbor.

Russian gas giant Gazprom said it would pay $2.5 billion to take the 50 percent stake it does not own in Beltransgaz in a deal easing pressure on the depleted treasury of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

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Russia Sets Presidential Poll for March 4

The upper house of Russia's parliament on Friday formally set March 4, 2012 as the date for the presidential election, a vote expected to see Vladimir Putin return to the top job.

"The elections for the president of Russia are set for March 4, 2012," the Federation Council said in a statement on its website after senators approved the date in a vote called for under the constitution.

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Medvedev Warns of Kaliningrad Missile Deployment

President Dmitry Medvedev says Russia will aim its missiles at the U.S. missile defense sites in Europe if Washington fails to address Russian concerns on its missile defense plans.

Medvedev said that Russia will deploy missiles in its westernmost Kaliningrad region and other areas if Russia and NATO fail to reach a deal on the U.S.-led missile defense plans.

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Putin Tickled by Stalin Joke on Television Show

Vladimir Putin, known for his earthy sense of humor, made a rare appearance on a popular Russian comedy show, seeming to relish a vulgar gag about Stalin and wincing at a Lada joke.

Putin seemed to cry with laughter at some points and at other times looked deeply uncomfortable, as he sat in the front row at the show, aired as a recording on state television late Sunday.

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Syrian Opposition Fails to Shift Russia Stance on Assad

The exiled Syrian opposition on Tuesday failed to convince Moscow to toughen its stance against the regime of defiant leader Bashar al-Assad, the leader of the Paris-based dissident delegation said.

Members of the largest and most representative Syrian opposition grouping, the Syrian National Council -- led by its head Burhan Ghalioun -- traveled to Moscow for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

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Russian Patriarch Begins Syria Peacemaking Bid

Russian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Kirill on Saturday started a peacemaking bid to unrest-swept Syria for talks with President Bashar Assad and other leaders, officials said.

"I am deeply convinced that all the problems can be solved peacefully and through dialogue," Kirill told journalists at Damascus airport, the Russian news agencies RIA Novosti and Interfax reported.

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IAEA Report: 'Serious' Concerns on Iran Nuclear Activities

The U.N. atomic agency has "serious concerns" about Iran's nuclear activities, and has "credible" information Tehran may have worked on developing nuclear weapons, a report seen by Agence France Presse said Tuesday.

"The agency has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program," the keenly awaited International Atomic Energy Agency report said.

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Russia Targets NATO Missile Shield

Russia could take steps of "a technically military nature" if its objections to NATO's planned missile defense system are not heeded, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a Serbian daily Tuesday.

"If our partners in the future continue to ignore out position we should protect our interests by other means... Concrete measures might be needed... a response of a technically military nature," Lavrov told Belgrade's Vecernje Novosti in an interview published Tuesday.

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Russia Introduces U.S. Visa Blacklist in Lawyer Row

Russia said Saturday it had put high-ranking U.S. officials implicated in "human rights crimes" on a visa black list, saying that list would grow if Washington continued to put pressure on Moscow.

Washington had earlier outraged Moscow by banning visas for an unspecified number of Russian officials linked to the 2009 death in prison of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, which became a symbol of abuses in the Russian judicial system.

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Medvedev Denies Putin Will 'Return Russia to the Past'

President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday denied that Vladimir Putin's expected return to the Kremlin would throw Russia back to its past but admitted the decision disappointed some of his supporters.

Lampooned by liberals as a lame duck who had failed to change Russia in his presidency, Medvedev sought to regain the initiative in a town hall-style meeting with supporters at the trendy Red October complex in central Moscow.

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