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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – April 6, 2017

TODAY: Medvedev’s approval ratings fall 10% in wake of fraud allegations; LGBT network receives appeals from men in Chechnya under persecution; Putin well accustomed to brushing off vulgarities; Jehovah’s Witnesses may be outlawed in Russia entirely; Kremlin considering overhaul of state television; Russia under fire at UN after Syria chemical weapons attack; Tillerson gearing up to meet Lavrov; no government plans to orchestrate mass anti-terror protests in wake of St. Petersburg attack.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s approval ratings fell by 10% last month following allegations of mass fraud and secret assets; the State Duma rejected a Communist Party proposal that the allegations against him be investigated.  The Russian LGBT Network says it is receiving appeals from homosexuals in Chechnya seeking to leave the republic under threat of persecution. Responding to the news that the image of a clown/drag Putin has been banned under extremism laws, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says the Presidentis quite resilient to these vulgarities and has learned to brush them off long ago”. The Russian Supreme Court is hearing a government request to outlaw the entire Jehovah’s Witness organisation (currently 175,000 strong in Russia) under the category of extremism. Thus far, the court has refused to recognise Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses as victims of political oppression. The Kremlin, aware of the unpopularity of its state television channels with its youth, is considering overhauling Russian television shows to shift their focus towards ordinary citizens, domestic issues, and the economy, rather than its current confrontational focus on foreign events.

Russia has come under fire from the UN Security Council over chemical weapons deaths in Syria. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow’s position on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains unchanged, and Russia denies that Assad was to blame for the poison gas attack. The Defence Ministry in fact tried to blame the attack on gas leaking from a rebel-held chemical weapons depot that had been hit by Syrian government forces. Lavrov will meet with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson next week to discuss global security, Syria, North Korean, and Ukraine. Tillerson says it is time for Russia to think carefully about its continued support for Assad. Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyaev completed a two-day visit to Moscow, during which he said he signed $12 billion worth of investment deals. The UK government has apparently made covert moves to improve ties with Russia.

The Kremlin denies reports that it is trying to urge people to take part in anti-terror demonstrations in various cities across Russia this weekend in response to the St Petersburg subway bombing. (Anti-terror rallies were organised by the Kremlin in 2004 after the Beslan attack, but this no longer seems an effective political tool, argues this piece.) The deputy chair of the State Duma’s Defense Committee apparently proposed placing a moratorium on all public protests in the wake of the attack, arguing that such a ban would be in the interests of public safety.

PHOTO: A protester holds up a sign showing Russian President Vladimir Putin wearing lipstick during a protest against Russian anti-gay laws in 2013. A similar image has been declared “Internet extremism.” (Denis Doyle/Getty Images)