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Date: 07.01.2019

Russia News



1) When Putin met Kim

President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met on Thursday for a day of talks in Russia's Far East city of Vladivostok.

— Observers said Putin was keen to use the summit to boost Russia's status as a global player, while Kim hoped to get Russian relief from sanctions.

— Following the talks, Putin said that U.S. security guarantees would probably not be enough to persuade Pyongyang to shut its nuclear program.

Read more

2) Ukraine elects Zelenskiy  

Comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy won by a landslide vote in the Ukrainian presidential election on Sunday.

— The political outsider’s victory triggered speculation in Russia that relations between the neighboring countries might improve.

— Putin, who declined to congratulate Zelenskiy on his win, called the election results a reflection of the “total failure” of President Petro Poroshenko’s policies.

Read our roundup of everything Zelenskiy has said about his positions on Russia so far.

3) Russia eases citizenship for Eastern Ukrainians

Putin signed a decree making it easier for residents of separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine to obtain Russian passports and citizenship.

— Russia’s Interior Ministry will now consider applications from eastern Ukraine within three months of submission.

— Putin enacted the measures “to protect the human and civil rights and freedoms” of the area's 3.7 million residents, the Kremlin said.

— Ukraine and its Western allies have condemned the move, while Putin later defended the decree by comparing it to similar actions by Poland, Hungary and Turkey.

Read more

4) Meanwhile, social media was abuzz with footage of the most unconventional moments from Kim Jong Un’s first visit to Russia. Watch our roundup of the summit's weirdest moments here.

Editor’s picks

As Ford closes its auto plants in Russia, 900 laid-off workers near St. Petersburg are now fighting for fair treatment, Daniel Kozin reports.

The withdrawal of U.S. influence from Syria and Iran is giving Russia new opportunities to the south, Bruno Maçães writes.

Michele Berdy goes over переживать and пережить, two tricky Russian verbs that generally mean “to endure” or “to get through.”

Save the date

- Today, Putin will give a presentation at China's Belt and Road summit in Beijing.
- Russia celebrates Easter on Sunday according to the Orthodox calendar.
- On Wednesday, Russia celebrates May 1 as a public holiday, followed by two more days off.

Have a good weekend!


1) No collusion, many Trump-Russia contacts, Mueller says

A redacted version of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into coordination between Donald Trump's campaign and Russia was made public Thursday.

— The report found no evidence of a criminal conspiracy between Trump's team and Russia, but gave details about extensive contacts between the campaign and Russian operatives who sought to influence the U.S. election.

Read our explainer on the Russia-Trump links found in Mueller’s report here.

2) Russians react to Notre Dame fire

Many Russians sent condolences to France following this week’s fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris — while other commentators said it symbolized the decline of Europe.

— Ksenia Sobchak, a 2018 Russian presidential candidate, claimed the fire was “karmically linked” to France’s Yellow Vest protests and labor practices.

— While Russian officials offered to raise funds to restore the church, critics said many historic churches that recently burned down in Russia have still not received state support.

Read more

3) Stalin’s approval in Russia soars

A record 70 percent of Russians approve of Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s role in Russian history, according to an independent poll released Tuesday.

— Stalin’s image has gradually changed to one of an “outstanding leader” as Putin revived Soviet-era traditions under his presidency, including military parades.

— The share of Russians who said Stalin’s crimes were unjustified has decreased to 45 percent this year.

Read more

4) Meanwhile, Russian state media tried to pass off a man in a robot costume as “Alyosha the robot,” a marvel of modern technology, at a recent football match. Watch the uncanny valley-esque kickoff here.
 Editor’s picks

Evan Gershkovich reports on Russia’s fast-growing ‘Youth Army,’ a Putin-created military-patriotic movement that has drawn criticism for its efforts to create a generation of Russians loyal to the state.

The election of Volodymyr Zelenskiy to the Ukrainian presidency won’t change Russian authorities’ antagonistic views toward Ukraine, Andrei Kolesnikov argues.

Don’t miss The Moscow Times’ first live event on April 24, where Word’s Worth columnist Michele A. Berdy will discuss her life in Moscow from the Soviet era up to today.

Save the date

Ukrainians will head to the polls on Sunday to elect their next president in a second-round runoff vote.
On Monday, Russia’s Federation Council will vote on the controversial internet isolation bill.
River navigation opens up on the Moscow River on Wednesday.


Putin made a change of infrastructure plans this week, signing off on a high-speed railway line between Moscow and St. Petersburg rather than a previously discussed route between Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod.

Have a good weekend!



1) Russia condemns Assange arrest

Wikileaks founder and whistleblower Julian Assange was arrested at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Thursday. Russian officials have condemned the action and expressed hope Assange’s rights are respected.

— “The hand of ‘democracy’ squeezes the throat of freedom,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said of the arrest.

— Federation Council senator Konstantin Kosachev called the arrest “a long-awaited act of revenge” from those accused in revelatory documents leaked by Assange.

Read more of Russia’s reactions to the high-profile arrest.

2) Theater director freed

Director Kirill Serebrennikov was released on bail on Monday after a year and a half under house arrest. Supporters of the Gogol Center's artistic director say the charges levied against him are politically motivated.

— Serebrennikov was detained in August 2017 on charges of embezzling $1 million in government funds, damages that later doubled.

— One day after his release, Serebrennikov delighted fans and friends in a surprise public appearance at the Gogol Center.

Read more about the release here.

3) Russian corruption

Prosecutors uncovered $25 million worth of fraud Russia’s Roscosmos and a state-run military corporation, underscoring the country’s corruption problem.

— Total corruption accounted for 65.7 billion rubles ($1 billion) in 2018, almost doubling 2017's level, according to the report published this week.

— Former Vladivostok mayor Igor Pushkaryov was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay a $7.7 million fine for arranging a trade deal between the local government and a company headed by his relatives.

Read sociologist Alexei Levison's overview of Russians’ surprising attitudes toward corruption.

4) Meanwhile, a kiddie train in a Siberian children’s park took a morning cruise to the soothing sounds of industrial metal band Rammstein. Watch the video here.

Editor’s picks

A Siberian city rich with Russian history will soon become one of the world’s five-biggest producers of plastics when a new factory opens later this year, diversifying Russia’s oil-dependent economy, Evan Gershkovich reports.

After Assange’s arrest and the ousting of Sudan’s Kremlin-supported leader, Mark Galeotti considers the fate of Russia’s allies — and why these events shouldn't worry the Kremlin too much.

Michele Berdy delivers the definitive guide to в and на, two prepositions that challenge even the most experienced of Russian language learners.

Save the date

On Friday, Russia celebrates Cosmonautics Day, established in memory of Yury Gagarin, the first man in space.
A delegation of Russian State Duma lawmakers has arrived in North Korea for a working visit and will depart Pyongyang on Tuesday.
On Sunday, Russia celebrates the Day of Air Defense Forces.


President Vladimir Putin championed the energy-rich Arctic region at the 5th International Arctic Forum in St. Petersburg this week. More than 3,600 lawmakers, scientists and businesspeople discussed the region’s economic and social development at the two-day forum. Don’t miss our highlights.

Have a good weekend!

1) Ukraine decides

Comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy has stormed ahead in the first round of Ukraine’s presidential elections, establishing a double-digit lead over current president Petro Poroshenko.

—The two candidates will face off in a second-round runoff later this month.

— Russia has kept a close eye on the election. The “preliminary results show the failure of [Poroshenko’s] Maidan policy,” Duma lawmaker Leonid Slutsky said Monday.

We headed out to the streets of Moscow to ask Russians what they think about the Ukrainian election. Watch here

2) Venezuela crisis

More Russian troops could be deployed to Venezuela as the country’s political crisis continues, Venezuelan deputy foreign minister Ivan Gil has said.

— While the U.S. has threatened sanctions against Russia for its growing presence in Venezuela, Gil said Russian forces will stay as long as needed.

— Russia said it has opened a helicopter training facility in Venezuela to help the country’s pilots fly Russian-made planes.

Read more about Russia's involvement in the Latin American country.

3) NATO warning

The head of NATO warned the U.S. Congress of "a more assertive Russia" due to massive military buildup, threats to sovereign states, the use of nerve agents and cyberattacks.

— “Time is running out,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenburg said Wednesday while calling for Russia to comply with the INF treaty.

— "We cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on Russia," U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said.

Read more

4) Meanwhile, a Russian prankster who was filmed destroying a badly parked car with a sledgehammer now faces five years in prison. The catch? The destroyed car belonged to him. Watch the video here

Editor’s picks

Russia is embarking on a 6.3 trillion ruble overhaul of its transport infrastructure over the next six years. We rounded up five projects that have made recent headlines.

Amid strong reactions to Russia’s involvement in Venezuela, Vladimir Frolov argues that Russia would prefer to launch new elections in ways that would look like an internal decision not dictated from the outside.

In Russia, yoga has grown from a niche discipline to a nationwide wellbeing trend. Read our report on why more Russians are limbering up.

Save the date

Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the creation of Russia’s .ru domain, considered the beginning of the Russian internet.
On Wednesday, Russian lawmakers will vote on a controversial bill to ban hostels in residential buildings.
The suspects of the 2017 St. Petersburg bombings that killed 15 and injured almost 70 will go to trial beginning Thursday.

Have a good weekend!

1) Mueller report

U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections did not find sufficient evidence that President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia.

— “Enormous efforts and considerable amounts of taxpayer money went into refuting the obviously fake story” of collusion, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

— The special counsel backed the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia had meddled in the 2016 election.

Read more about how Russian officials reacted.

2) Ex-minister’s arrest

Former Russian minister Mikhail Abyzov was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of fraud and organizing a criminal group.

— Abyzov allegedly embezzled 4 billion rubles ($62 million).

— President Vladimir Putin was informed of Abyzov’s detention in advance.

Learn more about the high-profile arrest in our explainer.
3) Venezuela tensions

The Kremlin rejected U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for Russia to pull out of Venezuela, saying that its actions in the Latin American country were lawful.

— Two Russian military planes with dozens of soldiers and military advisers landed in Venezuela’s capital, leading Washington to accuse Moscow of “reckless escalation” of the country’s political crisis.

— The Russian Foreign Ministry vowed to stay in Venezuela "as long as necessary."

Read more

4) Meanwhile, a Russian man tried to board a plane departing from Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport naked so as to be more “aerodynamic.” You can’t argue with physics. 

Editor’s picks

The arrest of ex-minister Mikhail Abyzov, a longtime ally of Dmitry Medvedev, could signal that the prime minister’s luck is running out, Oleg Kashin writes.

Meager pensions aren’t the only hardship faced by Russia’s elderly — loneliness is also an acute fear for many pensioners, with more than 9 million estimated to be living alone, Evan Gershkovich reports.

Michele Berdy delves into every Russian language learner’s favorite topic: Russian word formation.

Save the date

On Saturday, the Kremlin and 15 Moscow parks will mark Earth Hour by turning off their lights for one hour starting at 8:30 p.m.
Ukrainians head to the polls on Sunday to vote in the first round of the country’s presidential elections.
Putin will host Kazakhstan’s new president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, in Moscow on Wednesday.

Have a good weekend!


1) Crimea annexation anniversary

Russian authorities in Crimea marked the five-year anniversary of the peninsula’s annexation with extravagant celebrations Monday.

— Despite the well-publicized events, international sanctions have reportedly knocked up to 6 percent off Russia’s economy since 2014.

— Meanwhile, Russian lawmakers have assembled a task force to assess the damage they say was inflicted on Crimea by Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Read The Moscow Times’ coverage of the anniversary here.

2) Nazarbayev steps down

Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev unexpectedly resigned on Tuesday after three decades in power. Nazarbayev, 78, was the last Soviet-era leader still in charge of his country.

— Kazakh lawmakers moved to rename the capital city, Astana, to Nursultan, in honor of the former president.

— Observers have speculated whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will use Nazarbayev’s departure as a model for his own exit.

Read more

3) Fake news bill

Putin signed a controversial set of bills making it a crime to “disrespect” the state and to spread “fake news” online.

— Polls suggest that citizens largely believe the law will help stop the proliferation of fake news.

— Critics, however, say the law’s vague language could be used to stifle free speech.

Read more

4) Meanwhile, a Siberian babushka dropped a baller music video of her rapping about European softies while swimming in frozen Lake Baikal. Witness the work of art here.

Editor’s picks

Anti-Kremlin activist Pyotr Verzilov is back in Moscow after surviving a suspected poisoning six months ago. Pjotr Sauer spoke to the Pussy Riot member and media publisher about his return to Russia and why he vows to keep up his fight for answers.

Michele Berdy considers the many ways in which Russians describe the deceptively simple concept of a “boyfriend” — listen here.

As Ukraine prepares for its presidential elections next week, Russia finds itself both unwilling and unable to influence the outcome, Konstantin Skorkin writes.

Save the date

On Tuesday, Kirill Vyshinsky, RIA Novosti’s Kiev bureau chief, will face espionage charges in a Ukrainian court.
Russia celebrates National Guard Day on Wednesday.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny will hold a congress for his unregistered Russia of the Future party on Thursday.

Have a good weekend!


1) A Moscow Times investigation

By moving their court cases to the south, Russia’s wealthy have found a way to play the system in their favor, a Moscow Times report reveals.

— Wealthy Russians enlist sketchy residents of Krasnodar region as co-defendants to shift their court cases from the courts that should have jurisdiction.

— Through tactics like having their real earnings paid out to a subordinate, some of Russia’s richest people are able to hide their real incomes and dodge taxes.

Read our full report here, or browse the top takeaways here.

Starting with this investigation, The Moscow Times will now translate its most high-profile reporting and opinion writing into Russian. Read the Russian translation of this report here.

2) Russian re-education

Russia plans to send delinquent youngsters to military-patriotic re-education camps, the head of Russia’s Security Council said.

— This ideological education resembles a Soviet practice that once taught soldiers the tenets of Marxism.

— Special software that blocks banned websites has been installed across Russian schools.

Read more

3) London’s Russian wealth

A Russian oligarch has for the first time topped the list of richest Londoners, according to Forbes Russia.

— Mikhail Fridman, worth $15 billion, is one of 55 billionaire Londoners.

— In 2017, the “Trump Dossier” alleged Fridman had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections on President Vladimir Putin’s orders.

Read more

4) Meanwhile, fantasy came to life near St. Petersburg after an unusually strong snowstorm pushed sheets of ice to shore, creating a massive, “Game of Thrones”-esque wall of ice. Take a look at photos of the wall posted on social media here.

Editor’s picks

Five years after violence broke out in eastern Ukraine, Nikolaus von Twickel writes that Ukraine’s best option is to become a stable and prosperous democracy that will attract the “People’s Republics” back.

More than 15,000 people joined a protest in Moscow against a draft bill that would isolate Russia’s internet on Sunday. Evan Gershkovich reports.

After 14 months behind bars, Chechen human rights activist Oyub Titiyev will hear a verdict next week. Rachel Denber argues that his court case has been a farce from the start.

Save the date

On Sunday, ahead of the anniversary of Putin’s 2018 re-election, Russian opposition activists will hold a rally in Moscow's Suvorov Square in support of economic changes.
On Monday, a court in the republic of Chechnya is expected to deliver a verdict in the drugs possession case against human rights activist Oyub Titiyev.

Have a good weekend!

1) Russia reacts:

A money laundering network that funneled billions of dollars from Russia was exposed on Monday in an explosive investigation.

— The “Troika Laundromat” investigation showed that 70 offshore companies had moved $4.6 billion from Russia to Europe and the United States.

— The report sent shockwaves through Europe but was largely ignored by Russian officials and state media.

Here's how Russia reacted

2) Fake news ban:

Russian lawmakers passed a bill on Thursday seeking to punish those online who disrespect the authorities and spread “fake news.”

— Online news outlets will be fined up to 1 million rubles ($15,100) for spreading “false information.”

— Disrespecting the authorities, including President Vladimir Putin, and state symbols will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles and 15 days in jail for repeat offenders.

Read more

3) Hostel hell:

Travelers in Russia could soon have fewer budget accommodation options after lawmakers passed a new bill to ban hostels in residential buildings on Wednesday.

— “Living accommodations in an apartment building cannot be used to provide hotel services,” the bill reads.

— Hostel owners picketed against the legislation on Monday in central Moscow.

Read more

4) Meanwhile, photographs showed an unlikely pairing of ballerinas and servicemen armed with assault rifles posing in an empty Yekaterinburg metro station just in time for International Women’s Day. See the photoshoot for yourself here.

Editor’s picks

On Women’s Day, flowers, chocolates and champagne distract from Russia’s growing domestic violence rates. Ellie Holbrook takes a look at the young people raising awareness.

The rest of the world has hockey and curling. For Moscow’s expats, the winter sport of choice has become the “mad game” of broomball, Emily Ziffer writes.

Unpacking gender inequality in Russia is more complex than it may seem, writes Levada Center sociologist Alexei Levinson.

Save the date

On Sunday, Russia celebrates cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s birthday. Gagarin, the first human in space, would be turning 85.
On Monday, Igor Podporin, the man who vandalized Ilya Repin’s painting of Ivan the Terrible at the Tretyakov Gallery last May, will go to trial.

Every March 8, Russia gives praise to women of all ages. Throughout the rest of the year, Russian women work as members of the armed forces, bus drivers, factory workers and more. See our photo gallery here.

Have a good weekend! 


1) Whale prison break

Authorities have ordered the release of nearly 100 whales held captive in Russia’s Far East.

— The Federal Security Service (FSB) brought charges against four companies for breaking fishing laws on Monday.

— Photos of whales in poor conditions have sparked criticism from celebrities and President Vladimir Putin.

Read more

2) Calvey cold-shouldered

U.S. investor Michael Calvey is to be kept in custody for at least six more weeks after a court on Thursday rejected his bail appeal.

— Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied speculation that the president has any personal feelings on Calvey's arrest.

Read more

3) Media death

Russian media executive Igor Malashenko was found dead in Spain on Monday.

— Malashenko was the co-founder and president of NTV, an independent television channel. More recently, he briefly ran Ksenia Sobchak’s 2018 presidential campaign.

— A preliminary autopsy report indicated that he died by suicide.

Read more

4) Meanwhile, in South Korea earlier this week a drunk Russian sailor commanding a 6,000-ton ship crashed into a bridge, creating a 5-meter hole. Watch the nerve-racking video here.

Editor’s picks

Emma Friedlander takes a look at how members of the Mormon church are holding on to their faith amid increasing challenges for minority religions.

Moscow’s historic dwellings are under threat from developers. Christy Monet speaks to the people fighting to preserve the city’s legacy.

On the 75th anniversary of the deportation of Chechen and Ingush peoples, Neil Hauer argues the victims still haven’t found justice.

Save the date

On Saturday, Putin will open the 2019 Winter Universiade in Krasnoyarsk.
On Monday, it is the first anniversary of the Skripal poisonings in Britain.

Have a good weekend!


1) Putin’s domestic pivot

President Vladimir Putin gave his annual address to the Federal Assembly on Wednesday.

— His domestic policy oriented speech comes after reports of falling approval ratings and poor economic growth.

— “There are too many poor people [...] we, of course, should focus our attention on this and on fighting this phenomenon,” Putin said.

Check out our gallery

2) Calvey indicted

U.S. citizen Michael Calvey, the founder of major private equity fund Baring Vostok in Russia, was formally indicted for fraud, his lawyer said on Thursday.

— U.S. diplomats have said they were denied access to Calvey, while leading figures in Russia’s business and political elite have criticized his detention.

— Meanwhile, the Kremlin said the arrest shouldn't hurt the confidence of foreign investors.

Here is the latest on this case

3) Jehovah’s Witnesses allege torture

A Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesperson reported that Russian investigators have tortured at least seven members of the religious group who had been detained on extremism charges in Siberia.

— The victims were reportedly asked to disclose information about their meetings and leadership.

— Russia's Investigative Committee denied the claims, saying that investigators did not apply any physical or psychological pressure on the detainees.

Read more

4) Meanwhile, an intoxicated Russian woman in Ufa called the fire brigade to help put out her “burning soul.” Here’s some of the cursed footage.
Editor’s picks

As changing weather patterns bring increasingly severe floods, St. Petersburg is in a race against time to adapt to climate change, reports Daniel Kozin.

Evan Gershkovich profiles Michael Calvey, the respected U.S. investor who has been indicted on fraud charges.

The polar bear invasion in Novaya Zemlya is just a preview of the challenges to come if Russia doesn't start tackling climate change, argues Ellie Martus.

Save the date

On Saturday, Russia celebrates Defender of the Fatherland Day.
On Sunday, a march in memory of murdered politician Boris Nemtsov takes place in Moscow on the fourth anniversary of his killing.
On Thursday, a Moscow court will hear the case against Michael Calvey.

Have a good weekend!

1) Putin’s Sochi soirée

President Vladimir Putin, who is always ready to exhibit his physical prowess, spent Valentine’s Day skiing in Sochi with Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko.

— Lukashenko is currently in Sochi for multi-day talks with Putin and has already promised that his country would never export bad vodka or snacks to Russia.

See our gallery here

2) More U.S. sanctions

U.S. senators introduced a new sanctions bill against Russia that would target the country’s sovereign debt, banks and energy companies.

— Russian lawmakers derided the bill as “insane” and said it was equivalent to the U.S. shooting itself in the foot, while the Kremlin said Russia’s economy is well equipped to cope with new sanctions.

— Since the news, Russian stocks, government bonds and the ruble have tumbled, while the country's debt insurance costs jumped.

Read more

3) Isolating Russia’s internet

Russian lawmakers voted in favor of a bill that would allow the authorities to unplug the country's internet from the outside world.

— The bill seeks to protect the Russian-language section of the internet in case it is disconnected from the World Wide Web.

— Russia has reportedly conducted secret tests which showed that isolating the country's internet is possible.

Read our explainer here

4) Meanwhile, polar bears stormed the Arctic archipelago of Novaya Zemlya, terrifying its 3,000 residents and wreaking havoc by entering apartment blocks and ransacking garbage cans. The mass invasion of at least 52 polar bears has raised concerns over the effects of global warming, which have driven the Arctic mammals from their usual habitat to populated areas.

Read more

Editor’s picks

The social outcry following Reebok’s controversial “Sit on his face” ad campaign in Russia shows the country is not ready for this modern approach to feminism, argues Yulia Vakhonina.

Banned in the Soviet Union and sidelined in the 1990s, Ayn Rand is making a comeback among young Russians in St. Petersburg. Daniel Kozin has the story.

Vladislav Surkov’s latest open letter in praise of Putin is a way to distract the public, writes Sam Greene, while Mark Galeotti suggests that it is a sign that Putin is no longer essential.

Save the date

On Saturday, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev attends the Munich security conference.
On Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin will address the Federal Assembly.
On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Russia for talks with President Putin.


Following news that Russian authorities have reopened the notorious 60-year-old Dyatlov Pass case, Emma Friedlander explains the ins and outs of the investigation into the mysterious deaths of the nine hikers.

Have a good weekend!


1) Taliban in Moscow

Taliban militants and opposition politicians met in Moscow on Tuesday for talks about the withdrawal of thousands of foreign troops from Afghanistan and an end to more than 17 years of war.

— The push for peace comes as the Taliban, ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001, have staged near-daily attacks in the country.

Read more

2) Jehovah’s crackdown

A Russian court has for the first time convicted a Jehovah’s Witness on extremism charges and handed him a six-year sentence.

— Danish national Dennis Christensen was detained in May 2017, a month after Russia’s Supreme Court declared the Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist group.

— "If this verdict stands, our concern grows for the more than 100 other Jehovah’s Witnesses who are likewise facing criminal charges for their faith,” Jarrod Lopes, a spokesman for the group, told The Moscow Times.

Read more

3) Google censors

Google has given way to demands from the Russian authorities to remove certain entries from its search results, Russian media report.

— Google has reportedly removed at least 70 percent of pages blacklisted by the authorities.

Read more

4) Meanwhile, a group of self-proclaimed witches is casting spells in Putin’s support. On Tuesday, the mystics performed one of their most powerful rituals, “the circle of power,” to enhance quality of life in Russia and the whole world in general. Let’s see if it works.

Read more

Editor’s picks

By cracking down on Jehovah’s Witnesses, the authorities have sent a clear signal to all religious minorities in Russia, argues religious expert Roman Lunkin.

After pledging full support to embattled President Nicolas Maduro, Moscow is starting to show signs of doubt. Henry Meyer and Ilya Arkhipov untangle Russia’s position on Venezuela.

While DAU, Russia's genre-breaking revolutionary film project is taking the world by storm, it may never hit the screens in Russia, writes Michele Berdy.

Save the date

On Tuesday, a U.S. court will hold a status hearing on the case of Maria Butina, the Russian gun rights activist accused of espionage.
On Wednesday, Vladimir Putin will host his Belarussian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in Sochi.
A day later, on Thursday, Russia will welcome Turkish and Iranian leaders for a summit on Syria.

Have a good weekend!



1) Dramatic arrest

A Russian senator who is the son of a high-ranking gas official has been slapped with several charges, including two counts of murder.

— Rauf Arashukov, 32, was detained by security forces during the Federation Council’s weekly session on Wednesday.

— Investigators said Arashukov, who is from the North Caucasus, claimed to be “insufficiently proficient in Russian” and had asked for an interpreter during his court hearing.

Read more

2) ‘Unavoidable’ corruption

Russia’s Justice Ministry has submitted draft legislation that would exempt certain officials from having to comply with anti-corruption rules.

— “In certain circumstances, complying with restrictions and bans... to prevent or settle conflicts of interests... is impossible for objective reasons,” the bill on the government's legal portal says.

Read more

3) Gold or people?

The arrival of a Russian passenger plane in Caracas has social media abuzz with rumors about its mission and cargo.

— The Boeing 777, with room for some 400 passengers, was parked by a private corner of Caracas' airport after flying in from Moscow.

— Among the versions circulating online are that the plane had brought mercenaries, was there to escort President Nicolas Maduro into exile or was being loaded up with gold.

Read more

4) Jailed activist’s daughter dies

The 17-year-old daughter of an activist under house arrest died in a hospital from obstructive bronchitis.

— Her mother, Anastasia Shevchenko, a coordinator for the Open Russia NGO, last week became the first person to be prosecuted under a 2015 law against “undesirable organizations.”

Read more

5) Meanwhile, a Russian blogger has been fined by police for riding a traditional carpet through the snowy streets of Nizhny Novgorod, 400 kilometers east of Moscow. It’s not such a whole new world after all.

Read more

Editor’s picks

The dramatic arrest of a senator on murder charges says a lot about the state of Russia’s upper chamber of parliament, write Maria Zheleznova and Vladimir Ruvinsky.

Seventy-five years after the Leningrad Siege ended, the city’s residents are torn between whether to mourn or celebrate. Daniel Kozin has the story.

Headlines would have us believe that a Russian takeover of Belarus is imminent, but a merger between the two countries looks unrealistic for now, argues Artyom Shraibman.

Save the date

On Tuesday, representatives of the Taliban are expected in Moscow for talks with opposition Afghan politicians mediated by Russian officials.
On Wednesday, Dennis Christensen, the first Jehovah's Witness detained for extremism in Russia, is due to be sentenced.



1) Venezuela tug-of-war

After Washington backed Venezuela’s self-declared interim president Juan Guaido, Russia has stepped up its own support for Nicolas Maduro.

— Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has vowed Moscow will protect Venezuela’s sovereignty and the principle of non-interference in its domestic affairs.

— Moscow also warned the United States against a military intervention, saying it would trigger a catastrophe.

Read more

2) Long way down

Public trust in Vladimir Putin has fallen to its lowest level in 13 years, according to the results of a new survey.

— The poll by the state-funded Public Opinion Research Center found that only 33.4 percent of respondents trust the president.

Read more

3) Whelan denied bail

The former U.S. marine accused of spying by Russia this week appeared in public for the first time since his arrest.

— Paul Whelan’s lawyer told reporters his client had been misled and that he believed a thumb drive handed to him in a hotel room had contained cultural rather than secretive information.

Read more

4) Respect my authority

The State Duma on Thursday passed a package of highly contentious laws which would see individuals and outlets punished for “disrespecting” the Russian government or spreading fake news.

— The law recommends a fine of up to $15,000 for spreading information “disguised as authentic reports.”

— The bill will now have to pass two more readings and be cleared by the Federation Council and Vladimir Putin to be signed into law.

Read more

5) Meanwhile …

Air traffic controllers in Russia’s Far East said they had ordered pizzas for their American neighbors across the Bering Strait, who have been hit by the government shutdown.

Apparently, the Cold War can wait over a hot slice.
Editor’s picks

Both Japan and Russia are only interested in showing the public that they’re determined to negotiate over the Kuril islands while postponing an actual decision for later, writes Dmitry Streltsov.

If Nicolas Maduro loses, it will be a painful defeat for Putin. But it won’t stop him from funding other Maduros the world over at Russian taxpayers' expense, writes Leonid Bershidsky.

As costs of basic ingredients like sugar and eggs in Russia rises, bakers are feeling the pinch. Evan Gershkovich has the story.

Save the date

This weekend, St. Petersburg marks 75 years since the Leningrad Siege came to an end. On Sunday, a military parade will mark the occasion.
On Sunday, Kaliningrad will host a series of events as part of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov holds talks with his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed Hakim.

Have a good weekend!


1) Second gay purge

More reports of a gay purge in Chechnya have emerged after the Russian LGBT Network said that at least two gay men had been tortured to death there.

— Chechnya’s Information Minister Dzhambulat Umarov has dismissed the news as “utter crap.”