RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – May 3, 2018

TODAY: Military spending falls for first time in 20 years; Putin to re-appoint Kudrin to mend ties with West? Olympic Committee President not to run again; Ukraine will expand sanctions to match those of US; US extends divestment period for sanctioned company shareholders; En+ Group working on plan for Deripaska to cede control; PM spokeswoman post explains how to get around Telegram ban; Tomsk research centre reclassifies nurses as cleaners.

Despite a lot of military muscle flexing in recent years, Russian military spending actually fell 20% last year for the first time in almost two decades, according to a Swedish defence think tank. The Washington Post reasons that this is potentially good news for Russia’s concerned European neighbours, given that the easiest budget cuts come from cutting down on foreign operations. The FT blames the cuts on sanctions and economic stagnation, and revives the long-term rumour that Vladimir Putin is poised to re-appoint former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin to a “heavyweight post”, as part of an effort to repair relations with the west. “It would be a powerful message, because Kudrin is the only one in the top echelons with whom they will talk in the west and towards whom there is a certain trust.” The number of asylum applications by Russian citizens in the US hit a 24-year high last year, jumping 40% year-on-year. Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov will not be running for re-election next month, after his presidency coincided with this year’s doping scandal; he says he does not have time to fulfill his duties. 

Ukraine announced that it will expand its own sanctions against Russian companies and individuals to match those of the US. The US Treasury has given investors an additional month to divest or transfer their holdings in companies targeted by sanctions, a move that may “dramatically” reduce restrictions on Rusal. The chairman of En+ Group is working on a plan that would see Oleg Deripaska ceding his control stake before the new extension period is over. The company has already been approached by potential buyers. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, is the latest high-level official to endorse online tools for accessing the officially banned Telegram messaging service. In a Facebook comment to a State Duma deputy who said he was no longer able to access his Telegram messages, Timakova advised him to “Install VPN!” The New York Times charts the rise of Telegram’s popularity and the reason why Russia and Iran now want it banned.

A medical research centre in Tomsk has reclassified 167 of its nurses as cleaners, in order to avoid Kremlin-ordered pay rises. 

PHOTO:A demonstrator for Internet freedom holds an image of Telegram founder Pavel Durov in St. Petersburg, April 30, 2018. (Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)