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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Mar 7, 2016

TODAY: Yavlinsky says he will be next President; Putin’s approval ratings analysed and carefully monitored; Russians approve of Syria campaign, as explained by state television; Putin in Syria peace conference with EU leaders; ruble gains against dollar on oil price rise; Gazprom looking to bypass Ukraine; Georgia doesn’t want Gazprom’s gas; toddler murder sparks outrage  and a cover-up.

Grigory Yavlinsky, the co-founder of the Yabloko opposition party, says he expects to beat President Vladimir Putin in the presidential elections in 2018, and that Putin’s approval ratings are meaningless.  The Washington Post reports on this incredibly high approval rating and, more specifically, the ‘army of workers’ dispatched by pollsters to continually monitor this rating, as well as other key social issues. The Kremlin apparently reacts quickly to solve problems that pose a threat to the numbers. ‘How can you understand what to do if you don’t understand the people?’  Many of those polled admit to supporting none of Putin’s government officials. ‘More than 16 years into Putin’s rule, many Russians see him as having transcended politics, not someone who can be voted in or out of office.’  Most Russians approve of the Syria campaign, although as a Levada Center employee notes, they mostly judge the situation based on what state television tells them about it.  Putin took part in a joint telephone conference with British, German, French, and Italian leaders last week on the Syrian peace process and the plan to hold parliamentary elections in Syria this April.

The ruble made sharp gains against the dollar at the end of last week as the oil price revived. Gazprom reported that it has revived an old deal in progress with Italy and Greece to transport gas via the Black Sea for delivery to Europe, bypassing Ukraine; Italian officials denied Gazprom’s announcement of the new deal, and an analyst said that current political difficulties would make such a deal impossible.  Thousands of Georgians formed a 4-mile human chain in the capital yesterday to protest their government’s negotiations with Gazprom, fearing that their country could become dependent on Russia’s natural gas if it starts buying from them.

Russian lawmakers spoke out against an online British satire magazine for publishing a caricature of the nanny who murdered a young girl in Moscow last week.  Masha Gessen provides some background details, and notes the Kremlin’s use of propaganda, or in this case the suppression of the story, to avoid its potentially havoc-wreaking impact.

PHOTO: People hold pictures of Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko during a rally in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, March 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)