Politics over gambling for Medvedev at horse course

Moscow hosts a horse race for the Russian President's prize on Saturday, with the runners and riders at the oldest race track in Europe galloping in front of Dmitry Medvedev and the leaders of former Soviet states.

The presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Moldova as well as the Abkhazian and South Ossetian leaders, have been cheering on the horses, while also holding talks in informal surroundings.

Twelve thoroughbred horses will compete for prize money of 7 million rubles (around $210.000).

It's the sixth year of the race, but this time not even the presidents will be having a flutter, as the new Russia-wide gambling ban means all bets are off.

However, they can wager on a better chance next year. A draft law exempting state and municipal race tracks from the betting ban has already been approved.

CIS countries interested in Customs Union

Dmitry Medvedev has held a meeting with his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev, in which the sides talked over the Customs Union the two countries recently joined.

"We’ve come a long way and have completed the process," Dmitry Medvedev said about the Customs Union. "It is an important and advantageous process for our nations."

And Nazarbayev assured that other CIS member countries are also interested in joining the Customs Union proposed by Russia.

"I am sure that the Customs Union will work from January 1. It is a very serious step toward integration, and other CIS members have already become interested in the Customs Union," Nursultan Nazarbayev said, ITAR-TASS news agency reports.

During talks with Tajik president Emomalii Rahmon, the Russian President promised to visit Tajikistan for the opening of the Sanktudninkaya hydro-electric power station in the end of July.

After the race, President Medvedev went to a restaurant together with the heads of Armenia and Azerbaijan to turn the high officials’ attention to the latest round of talks on the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, in which Russia is acting as a mediator.

Both the Armenian president, Serzh Sargsyan, and his Azeri counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, showed eagerness to work with each other in resolving the issue.

On Friday the two leaders held talks but no details have been released.

The Nagorno-Karabakh ethnic conflict began in 1988, with Armenia asserting territorial claims over the enclave in Azerbaijan, leading to war. The area has been under Armenian control since the fighting ended in 1994.

Talks on a peace settlement began seventeen years ago and have been mediated by Russia, the US and France.

Today's meeting is the third round of face-to-face talks between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan attended by the Russian President. In November 2008, the three signed an agreement to intensify efforts to find a political settlement.

But Armenia and Azerbaijan are not yet ready for a compromise, suggests Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the CIS institute.

“I’m afraid neither country is ready to support the President’s [Medvedev] desire for the compromise now. Both countries would consider it a failure and the presidents might fear losing power because of that,” Zharikhin told RT.