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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept 1, 2015

TODAY: Putin and Medvedev breakfast together to boost ratings; Rotenberg to take ownership of major airport; new Internet surveillance law comes into effect; Khodorkovsky and Navalny supporting political prisoners; leaders support new Ukraine ceasefire; Matviyenko slams U.S. sanctions as undemocratic; oil companies benefitting from the devalued ruble.

The Kremlin’s state news agency Tass released footage of President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev sharing a morning session of weightlifting, tea-drinking, and barbecuing their own breakfast.  The Independent called ita bizarre attempt at bulking up their popularity by boosting their image as masculine and rugged’.  Putin’s approval rating has taken a hit this year, notes the Moscow Times.  Putin’s long-time judo partner, Arkady Rotenberg, is to take ownership of Sheremetyevo airport (a key infrastructure hub for the 2018 World Cup), following an order from the President to consolidate state assets with those of TPS Avia, owned by Rotenberg and his partner.  A new ‘vague and broad’ law, which comes into effect today, will allow the Kremlin expand its control of the Internet and surveillance of its citizens, sparking speculation that Moscow will push foreign companies to put their servers on Russian territory. ‘Nobody knows yet how the law will be used’.  Freedom House suggests that the law will aid the Kremlin in targeting opposition activists.  Former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky is teaming up with opposition leader Alexei Navalny to give financial support to convicts prosecuted for political reasons; Navalny’s brother Oleg will be among the first recipients.

The leaders of Germany, France and Russia held a three-way phone conversation on the weekend to ‘put some life back into’ the Minsk agreement, during which they back the call for a new ceasefire, commencing today.  The Washington Post speculates that Putin will tactically withdraw from the Donbas region, in eastern region, on his own terms.  Valentina Matviyenko, the Chairman of the Federation Council, says U.S. sanctions against Russian officials are a violation of the principles of democracy and freedom of speech, and are illegal.  A new VTsIOM poll indicates that Russians believe the U.S. is an immoral and racist country, with a majority seeing it as an enemy.

The head of hydropower producer RusHydro has resigned his post, leading to the anticipation of further high-level dismissals in line with a worsening economic outlook.  Russia’s oil companies are increasing ruble profits by raising production, with business protected by a weak currency, as shown by recent profit increases for Bashneft and Gazprom.  Clothing and footwear prices could rise by 20% in Russia, starting this month, thanks to ruble devaluation.  A zoo in Ussuriysk is being evacuated following a flood.

PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin, foreground, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev exercise during their meeting at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)