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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – July 9, 2018

TODAY: Russia exits World Cup after Croatia loss, Kremlin proud; Russia and China tactics are “sharp power”; Leave.EU team met Russian officials numerous times; UK woman dies after alleged novichok exposure, Russia sees incident as a smear attempt.

Russia lost its World Cup quarterfinal match against Croatia on Saturday in the penalties, disappointing leaders including President Vladimir Putin, who called the team’s coach to encourage him throughout, but defying expectations, as they had entered the tournament as the lowest-ranking team. Putin praised Russia’s World Cup hosting for helping to unpick negative stereotypes about the country, and proving it a hospitable, safe place, and said he was proud of the country’s soccer team; Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called them “heroes”. Now that the World Cup distraction is out of the way, Russians can get back to resenting Putin for his newly proposed pension reforms, says this piece. Russia and China’s tactics of interfering with democracies around the world, such as through attempts to influence elections, are being described as “sharp power”, says the FT: “Neither “hard” nor “soft” sharp power has the effect of limiting free expression and distorting the political environment.” It has been revealed that the UK’s Leave.EU campaign team met with Russian officials 11 times in the run-up to the EU referendum. The US is urging Russia to remove its media outlets from the foreign agents list. Trump and Putin don’t share a strategic vision, but the two are natural allies, given their political positions on so many issues, particularly given the former’s emerging stance on NATO, says Bloomberg.

A UK woman has died after allegedly being exposed accidentally to the novichok nerve agent that was used in the attack on former spy Sergei Skripal; despite lack of evidence, the UK government has suggested that Russia is to blame. Pro-Kremlin media are convinced that the entire incident is a ploy to damage Russia’s reputation in the West, particularly against its boosting from positive World Cup coverage; one report said the poisoning was likely due to ordinary narcotics, not novichok.

The Moscow Times profiles Yury Dmitriyev, the Gulag historian who has been hit with child pornography charges, and whose supporters say his persecution is political. The man who painted Vladimir Putin as an angelic being in the sky next to the Madonna denies that he added a halo over the President’s head. “It isn’t about saints; it is a slice of time. 

PHOTO: A ballerina at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St Petersburg catches a glimpse of Russia’s last World Cup game against Croatia. (Anton Vaganov / Reuters)