RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Dec 3, 2013

TODAY: Protesters greet Putin on his Armenia customs union trip; Putin slams Kiev ‘pogrom’; Navalny testifies at Bolotnaya Square trial; RDIF seeking regional opportunities; Central Bank intervenes in Samara; Arctic to become navy priority; Uralchem buys Uralkali stake.

President Vladimir Putin was welcomed to Armenia yesterday by hundreds of protesters, who demonstrated against their country’s plan to join Russia’s customs union with banners such as ‘Putin Go Home’ and ‘No to the U.S.S.R’.  Putin’s attempts to woo Armenia included boasts of ‘tangible dividends’ for other members of the union, and the revelation that Moscow will drop Armenia’s 30% export duties on natural gas, oil, and diamonds.  Putin also denounced the weekend’s Kiev protests, saying opposition activists were staging not a revolution but a pogrom, and accused them of ‘attempt[ing] to shake the current and, I want to emphasise, legitimate authorities’.  He also blamed ‘outside actors.  Bloomberg wonders whether Putin is worried that ‘[t]he raw power of the Ukrainian protests could re-energize the Russian opposition movement, which he successfully quashed last year.’  Masha Gessen says the Kiev protests have inspired ‘envy’ in Russians.  Ukraine has agreed with the European Union that it will resume talks towards association and free trade.  This Guardian map shows Russia’s current actual and potential circle of influence.

Speaking as a witness, Alexei Navalny testified that organisers of the demonstration on Bolotnaya Square last May 6 did not intentionally orchestrate the riots that led to several arrests that day.  Russia’s Foreign Investment Fund, the RDIF, is struggling to find regional opportunities in which to invest its billions. ‘We do not have a shortage of capital.  But we have a shortage of the right, clearly structured projects.’  The Central Bank will intervene in two Samara region banks over payment issues.  The Arctic is to become a priority region for the Navy starting in 2014.  Russia’s overall oil output hit a new post-Soviet high last month (10.61 million bpd).  The findings of a new survey contradict the conservatism promoted by the Orthodox Church, revealing that most Russians are pro-sex education and abortion.  Uralchem has bought a 20% stake in potash producer Uralkali.

Martin Amis discusses his love of Russian literature.  The NYTimes has a piece on Mikhail Mordasov’s striking photographs of Sochi.

PHOTO: Protesters scuffling with police during an anti-Russia rally in Yerevan. (Karo Sahakyan / AP)