RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Jan 12, 2016

TODAY: Putin interviewed by German newspaper, discusses sanctions, economy, relationship with the West, Syria, NATO, and bringing a dog to his first meeting with Merkel; official’s son named Banker of the Year; Moscow Metro investigates No Pants event; Bowie Russia facts.

In a new interview with German newspaper Bild, President Vladimir Putin described European Union sanctions as ‘a theater of the absurd’, and said that they were ‘severely harming Russia’ on international markets; but that the ‘dangerous level’ of the current non-oil budget deficit would stir Russia to action, which would be ‘healthy’.  Russia’s main stock indices fell during yesterday’s first day of New Year trading, and the ruble is at a 13-month low.  The President attributes current unrest with the West to the collapse of the Soviet Union. ‘We’ve done everything wrong,’ he said, criticising NATO expansion toward Russian borders and arguing that NATO and the US ‘wanted to sit on the throne in Europe alone’. (A US Air Force commander says he is concerned about the build up of Russian missile defences that threaten NATO’s access to European air space.) Regarding Syria, Putin said that the country needs to start drafting a new constitution if it wants to end the civil war, and claimed that giving refuge to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would be easier than it was to grant asylum to Edward Snowden, although this does not seem to be an immediate plan. Putin denies that he brought his dog to his first meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2007 to intimidate her.  A new decree signed by the President declares 2017 the Year of Ecology, in a bid to draw public attention towards Russia’s ecological wellbeing.

Dmitry Patrushev, the son of Putin’s national security adviser has won a banking industry award for Banker of the Year – apparently despite the bank being on track to post record losses for 2015.  The city of Penza last week celebrated the opening of a new cultural center dedicated to Joseph Stalin.  A new law has come into force in Russia that will grant detainees the right to make a phone call no later than three hours after their arrest.  The Moscow Metro objected to and is investigating a No Pants Subway Ride, held yesterday on the underground, and has urged passengers to ‘follow the common rules of behaviour’.  RFE/RL’s Brian Whitmore defends the site against accusations of Russophobia.  Gazprom says natural gas exports to Europe increased by 8% last year, despite Western sanctions.

In celebration of the life of David Bowie, who died yesterday: some Russian-related Bowie facts.

PHOTO: The sun sets over the Moscow State University on a frosty winter day in Moscow, Russia, January 11, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov