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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – March 10, 2015

TODAY: Putin admits made decision to annex Crimea before referendum, wanted to rescue Crimeans from nationalists; Nemtsov friends say Islamist theory of his murder is nonsense; Kadyrov praises Nemtsov suspect as true patriot; Putin gives Kadyrov state honour; Switzerland expands sanctions; bribe penalties decrease; Russians laundering billions into U.K?

In direct contradiction of the Kremlin’s earlier claims, President Vladimir Putin told an interviewer that he ordered Russia to take control of Crimea weeks before the referendum in which Crimeans voted to become part of the Russian Federation.  He also said he had decided to reunify with Crimea out of a sense of duty to rescue its inhabitants from being ‘throw[n[ under a steamroller of nationalists’ in the wake of Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster.  Associates of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was murdered last week, say the notion that Nemtsov’s death was spurred by Islamist extremism is nonsense: ‘Investigators’ nonsensical theory about Islamist motives in Nemtsov’s killing suits the Kremlin and takes Putin out of the firing line,’ said Ilya Yashin.  Intelligence expert Andrei Soldatov says it would have been impossible for radical Islamists to carry out such a killing in central Moscow.  Mark Galeotti says it is too convenient to blame Chechens for yet another high-profile murder of an opposition figure: ‘Ever since the 19th century the people of the Caucasus have been among the Russians’ favorite folk devils.’  Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said he knew Zaur Dadayev, the man who pleaded guilty to involvement in the murder of Boris Nemtsov, ‘as a true patriot of Russia’, praised his courage during his military service, and said that, despite his possible guilt, ‘he would have never taken a single step against Russia’.  Kadyrov’s comments suggest he is trying to ‘settl[e] a personal score on Kremlin turf’, suggests the Times.  In the wake of Kadyrov’s comments, it seems peculiar timing for Vladimir Putin to have awarded him with a state honour yesterday; he also gave one to Andrei Lugovoy, the man suspected of poisoning Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, ‘for services to the fatherland’.

Russia’s ongoing expansion in the arms market could be derailed by declining oil prices and Western sanctions.  Switzerland just expanded its anti-Russia sanctions list, adding 19 individuals and 9 new organisations.  Under new changes to the criminal code signed by Putin, fines for those caught taking or giving bribes will decrease.  State companies’ demands of the Sovereign Wealth Fund are quickly outstripping its available funds.  New research by Deutsche Bank claims that, of the almost £100 billion of ‘hidden’ capital that has entered Britain in the past ten years, a majority was laundered by Russian investors.

Forbes mocked Bloomberg’s headline about Russia’s ‘dark warplanes […] spooking Europe’, although jets are said to be ‘flying dark’ when their transponders are turned off to avoid detection, which puts civilian planes at risk, as Russia reportedly did in Ireland last month.  The notion that Russia’s long-term demographic outlook has anything to do with its conservatism is nonsense, says this piece.  ‘Russia is not so much an insecure superpower as it is a typical petrostate with a short-term horizon that gets aggressive and ambitious once it accumulates substantive oil revenues,argues Maria Snegovaya.  What does Putin being licked by a bear have to do with International Women’s Day?

PHOTO: A portrait of Russian politician Boris Nemtsov is placed at the site where he was killed, at the Great Moskvoretsky Bridge in central Moscow March 9, 2015. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin