News in Brief

Medvedev Polls Over 80%

First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev could garner more than 80 percent of the vote in the March 2 presidential election, according to a Levada Center poll released Wednesday.

Medvedev had the backing of 82 percent of the 1,600 decided voters polled in 46 regions from Jan. 18 to 21, Interfax reported.

Medvedev's showing in the poll was even greater than in a survey published this week by state pollster VTsIOM, in which he had the support of 60 percent of respondents.

Unlike the VTsIOM poll, the Levada Center did not include responses from undecided voters.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky were the respondents' next choices in the Levada poll, with 9 and 8 percent, respectively. (MT)

NATO Invites Putin to Meet

BRUSSELS -- NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has invited President Vladimir Putin to talks with leaders of the 26-nation alliance at their summit in Bucharest in early April, a NATO spokesman said Wednesday.

"It made sense in terms of clearing the air. … There is a lot to discuss," the spokesman told a news conference, referring to differences with Moscow on issues ranging from Kosovo to a U.S. missile-shield plan. (Reuters)

Cease-Fire Line Shootout

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- An Azeri soldier and an ethnic Armenian soldier were killed in an exchange of fire along a cease-fire line separating ethnic Armenian-held territory from the rest of the country, Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said.

The separatist ethnic Armenian authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh denied forces on its side of the line had fired.

A 19-year-old conscript in Azerbaijan's armed forces was killed Monday near the Terter district after ethnic Armenian forces opened fire, the ministry said Tuesday. It said there were also exchanges of fire in two other areas Sunday and Monday and that it had information that one ethnic Armenian soldier was killed. (AP)

Middle East Peace Host

DAMASCUS, Syria -- Visiting Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Sultanov said Moscow was in contact with Middle Eastern countries on how to go about holding a peace conference in Russia later this year.

As a member of the international Quartet that is trying to broker peace in the region, Moscow has offered to be the venue for a follow-up conference to the U.S.-hosted negotiations held late last year in Annapolis, Maryland.

Sultanov's comments came after discussions Tuesday with Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem. (AP)

U.S. Supports Kiev Bid

DAVOS, Switzerland -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday indicated Washington's support for Ukraine's bid to join NATO, a U.S. official said -- a move likely to anger Russia.

Ukraine's leadership this month wrote to NATO asking it to accept the country into the Membership Action Plan, a step toward accession.

In a meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Rice discussed internal developments in Ukraine as well as their bid to join the military alliance, said the official, who is traveling with Rice. (Reuters)