RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Mar 10, 2016

TODAY: Ukrainian pilot Savchenko gives striking final statement to court, on fifth day of hunger strike; journalists attacked attempting to enter Chechnya; US to boost military presence in Europe; Sharapova was warned about banned drug, says report; MICEX recovering January losses; legal to keep airport owner under house arrest, says court.

Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko, who is on trial in Moscow for murder (seen by many as a political prisoner), gave a powerful final statement to the court yesterday, refuting its authority, predicting a new round protests in Russia, and saying that the Kremlin’s totalitarian regime ‘can be kept in check if you are brave and defiant’.  She finished by offering her middle finger to the judge. She is currently on day five of a hunger strike.  Thirty-five of Savchenko’s supporters were arrested at a rally in Moscow.  Brian Whitmore describes Savchenko as ‘a foreign hostage being held by a criminal regime’.  Both the European Union and US Secretary of State John Kerry are calling for her immediate release.  A group of journalists and human rights activists were removed from their bus, attacked by unknown assailants, and subsequently hospitalised, as they tried to make their way to Chechyna.  The US army will boost its presence in Europe next year with more tanks and helicopters, aimed at reassuring allies and boosting security against increased attempts by Russia ‘to constrain the foreign and domestic policy choices of neighboring countries‘.  A former defence secretary blames Washington’s contemptuous treatment of Moscow’s post-Cold War security concerns for the current hostility in US-Russia relations.

Tennis player Maria Sharapova apparently was warned at least five times in one month that meldonium would be added to a list of banned substances.  The athletics federation also says it repeatedly warned its athletes and coaches not to take meldonium.  Responding to a question about whether the Kremlin sees political motives behind the latest round of doping accusations, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the situation should not be allowed to cast a shadow on all Russian sports.  Vladimir Putin is ‘the world’s worst investor’, says the WSJ, going after Russia’s overly energy-focused portfolio (a quarter of Russian GDP is energy), and the plummeting value of state-controlled energy companies like Gazprom.  But the MICEX has recovered its January losses and is doing well among other emerging markets.  In response to Russia’s new regulation of credit rating agencies, Moody’s has announced that it is withdrawing from Russian domestic markets.

Russia’s dairy companies are threatening to stop supplying milk unless the government revokes a new administrative order.  The main owner of Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, Dmitry Kamenshchik, will remain under house arrest after Moscow’s City Court ruled that the decision to do so was legal.  A change to the law classifies motorcades and tent cities as forms of protest that must be approved by authorities in advance, part of an attempt to crack down on protests like those held by truck drivers last December.  Austria has ruled that it will not extradite the former head of Bashneft.

PHOTO: Students perform in a ballet class at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)