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

TODAY: Kerry, Lavrov and world powers agree on temporary cessation of hostilities in Syria, excluding actions against IS; Medvedev’s delegation to Munich Security Conference hints at Russia’s search for compromise; Kirill and Pope Francis to meet today; Khodorkovsky on international wanted list; Navalny files conflict of interest lawsuit against Putin; Justice Ministry seeks ban on Golos; Kasyanov attacked again.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have agreed on the immediate delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria (which Russia has been providing since 2013), and that a ‘nationwide cessation of hostilities’ on the ground will be implemented within the next week (a ‘pause), ahead of a more formal cease fire agreement to come. ‘The real test is whether all the parties honor those commitments,Kerry said.  Crucially, the agreement, approved by world leaders, does not apply to the battle against Islamic State and the al-Nusra front, and Lavrov said that raids would continue, according to the BBC.  Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says Russia and the US must ensure that all sides agree to the cease fire, to avoid the threat of permanent war.  ‘Soft face’ Medvedev, ‘viewed in Moscow as the West’s Russian sweetheart’, will lead the official delegation to the Munich Security Conference this year, signaling that Russia may be ready to talk about sanctions relief.  Russian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis will meet in Cuba later today – the first ever papal meeting with a Russian church leader.

Interpol has declared former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky as internationally wanted in connection with a 1998 murder case.  Anti-corruption campaigner and opposition leader Alexei Navalny has filed a lawsuit against President Vladimir Putin in relation to alleged nepotism. Putin’s son-in-law, Krill Shamalov, is a major shareholder in petrochemicals producer Sibur, which was granted $1.75 billion in state support last year; Navalny says this constitutes ‘a classic conflict of interest. Straight out of a textbook‘.  A Levada Center poll revealed that 53% of voters would support Putin’s candidacy if the presidential elections were held next weekend.  The Justice Ministry is seeking to ban Golos, the independent election monitor, which has been classified as a ‘foreign agent’ since last year.  Last year was the first time in 18 years that Russians’ spending exceeded their income – by $5.3 billion – and real incomes fell 9.5% in 2015.

PARNAS opposition party leader Mikhail Kasyanov suffered a second attack this week, being pelted with eggs in the city of Vladimir.  State Duma Deputy Dmitry Gudkov is demanding an investigation into this week’s earlier attack on Kasyanov.  Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has been barred from entry to Montenegro, which is under pressure from the Kremlin to abandon its plans to join NATO, after saying that the country would ‘regret’ joining. He says he was referring only to ‘the small group of people who are making the decisions’, rather than to the population at large.

PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu attend a conference call with Russian military commanders involved in war games in southwestern Russia, in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016.(Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)