RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Dec 1, 2014

TODAY: Merkel breaks with Putin over gay rights; Kremlin grant to Orthodox Church will fund creation of spiritual centers; Novatek lobbying in U.S. to end sanctions, Foreign Minister urges E.U. to call off sanctions; ruble hits all-time low; Russian hand suspected in Bulgarian anti-shale protests; Danone and PepsiCo targeted; book review special.

A worsening anti-gay climate in Russia has led to a 34% rise in Russian asylum seekers in 2014.  The ‘pas de deux’ between President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is reportedly at an end, after Putin ranted at her about the West’s promotion of gay rights, calling it an example of a ‘decay of values; Merkel’s response apparently is to shift her efforts away from finding a common language with the Kremlin and urge the West to adopt ‘a policy of Cold War-style containment’.  The Orthodox Church will receive a $40 million grant from the federal budget next year to create spiritual enlightenment centers.  Energy company Novatek, partly owned by a friend of Putin, has spent at least $280,000 lobbying in the U.S. against a Senate bill that would extend current sanctions against Russia.  The Deputy Foreign Minister is urging the European Union to lift its ‘meaningless sanctions spiral‘ against Moscow, promising that Russia would waive its food import ban counter-measures.  The BBC explains how current sanctions are sending shockwaves through U.K. businesses.  The ruble reached an all time low at the end of last week, and saw its worst month in five years as the economy ‘teeter[s] on the brink of recession’, making it an interesting moment for the opening of Europe’s largest shopping mall in Moscow.  An estimated 1,500-3,000, 4,000, 5,000, or maybe just ‘hundreds of Russians marched in Moscow yesterday in protest against plans to shut down 28 hospitals and fire 10,000 doctors early next year.

The Moscow Times estimates that ‘about $2 billion is shaved off Russia’s revenues every year for every $1 decline in the oil price.’  Bulgarian sources believe that Russia has been stirring anti-shale gas protests in Sofia as a means of persuading Prime Minister Boyko Borisov not to reduce Bulgaria’s dependence on Russian energy.  ‘We never had protesters here and suddenly they were everywhere.’  The Economy Minister, Aleksei Ulyukayev, is optimistic that Russia will sign an oil-for-goods deal with Iran, rumoured to be worth up to $20 billion, ‘in the near future’.  Putin arrives in Turkey today to work on strengthening energy ties, trade, and relations.  Danone and PepsiCo are the latest targets of Russia’s crackdown on Western companies, after the agricultural minister slammed them for using cheap and synthetic ingredients.  Russia is currently experiencing an ‘epidemic’ in intravenous drug use and HIV-related illness.

The New York Times’ Book Review section yesterday dedicated to Russian materials, including a review of Karen Dawisha’s ‘Putin’s Kleptocracy; Julia Ioffe writing on Emmanuel Carrière’s biography of Other Russia party member and activist Eduard Limonov; and Miriam Elder on a part-memoir, part reportage piece by Peter Pomerantsov which ‘navigates the reality show that is Russia’.

PHOTO: Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin of Russia perform during the gale exhibition of the NHK Trophy figure skating in Osaka, western Japan, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)