RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Mar 11, 2016

TODAY: Putin and rights ombudsman ask Interior Ministry to investigate journalist attack in Ingushetia, CPJ says part of larger problem; Kasyanov says Kremlin increasing pressure on opposition due to recession and in lead-up to elections; Prosecutor General names new ‘undesirable’; Lavrov speaks out against meldonium ban; autopsy of former Putin aide reveals violent death.

President Vladimir Putin called on the Interior Ministry to investigate this week’s attack on journalists and human rights activists in Ingushetia, calling it ‘an absolutely outrageous act of hooliganism’.  Human rights ombudsman Ella Pamfilova urged federal law enforcement agencies to personally take control of a probe into the attack.  The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) blames the inaction of Russian authorities in general in regard to hostility against those in the media industry.  A spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch commented, ‘It is meant as a signal to journalists, including international reporters, asking them to think twice about whether it’s really worth working with this organization, and going to Chechnya.’  Putin critic Mikhail Kasyanov accused the Kremlin of putting unprecedented pressure on opposition activists as it fights to sustain support for the President through Russia’s current recession and maintain United Russia’s majority in the Duma.  There are also an increasing number of legal actions based on social media activity, reports the Moscow Times, with websites blocked and individuals prosecuted.  In the lead-up to the elections, the Kremlin is sponsoring alternative opposition parties in order to divide support for independent politicians; there are also new restrictions on election monitors.

The Prosecutor General’s Office has found a new ‘undesirable’ organisation in the US-funded National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.  Analysts are concerned that the decision by ratings agency Moody’s to stop issuing credit ratings on Russian companies could pave the way for a Kremlin-promoted national ratings agency to dominate.  Russia’s outbound tourist flow dropped by 31.3% last year – its biggest drop since 1998.  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov believes that the drug meldonium, which prompted an admission of doping by tennis star Maria Sharapova this week, never should have been banned, and that it is ‘a normal method for supporting the body and its basic functions’.

In the wake of Nadia Savchenko’s dramatic final statement this week, Brian Whitmore comments on ‘the spectacle of the show trial’ as a staple of Putin’s rule.  Her performance led Russia to renege on its offer to allow her to be examined by Ukrainian doctors in connection to health complications arising from her hunger strike.  The autopsy of Mikhail Lesin, a former aide to Vladimir Putin and the founder of news service Russia Today, who was found dead in a Washington hotel room last November, revealed that his death was caused by blunt force trauma to the head – and not a heart attack, as Russian media had originally reported.

PHOTO: A human rights activist, who pickets Russian President’s Administration building in Moscow, Russia, holds a poster on Thursday, March 10. 2016. The poster reads: Journalist Oystein Windstad was attacked. I demand to find those who are guilty. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)