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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Jan 16, 2018

TODAY: Activist beaten for protesting illegal mansion build; state pollster says presidential voters trust election campaign; Justice Ministry seeks Navalny Foundation closure; banking industry causing ongoing problems; Kremlin planning spending spree; Lithuania implements Magnitsky Law as Russia plans retaliatory Olympic ban sanctions. 

Novaya Gazeta is reporting that prominent activist Andrei Rudomakha, the coordinator of the Environmental Watch on North Caucasus (EWNC) group was severely beaten for his work documenting the illegal construction of a mansion belonging to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev; the Krasnodar branch of the FSB is suspected. A cryptocurrency investor who bragged about his wealth online was attacked and robbed in his home. A social media attempt to praise the virtues of Vladimir Putin using the hashtag “RussiaNeedsPutin” was taken over by critics. Two thirds of Russians reportedly believe that the presidential election campaign is being conducted fairly and transparently, according to a state-backed poll by VTsIOM. The Levada Centre, an independent pollster, will prohibited from publishing data during the presidential election campaign due to its having been labeled a “foreign agent” in 2016. The Justice Ministry is keen to close the foundation through which former opposition candidate Alexei Navalny employs his campaign staff. The RAF intercepted two long-range Russian bombers over the North Sea yesterday. President Vladimir Putin noted Communism’s similarities with Christianity.

The failure of private banks is causing havoc for the banking industry; last year’s three rescues are expected to drive up inflation, and, some suggest, constitute a conflict of interests for the state. Sberbank saw net profit rising 35% last year thanks to issuing a record number of loans. The Kremlin is considering a proposal to unleash its biggest domestic spending spree since 2012, that would boost infrastructure, healthcare, and education, starting at the end of this year. Following the shrinking of the economy at the end of last year, which caused growth to fall short of the Finance Ministry’s forecasts, growth is expected to reach 2% this year (figures for 2017 were 1.4-1.8%). Imports from non-CIS countries increased by 24.3% in 2017, year-on-year. A criminal case has been opened, and school security measures are to be evaluated, following a knife attack at a school in Perm which injured 15 people.

Lithuania has begun implementing its Magnitsky Law, blacklisting 49 Russians who have allegedly violated human rights or engaged in corruption (including Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin, and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov). Russia will implement retaliatory sanctions against international officials who pushed for Russia’s Olympic ban, and is also threatening retaliatory measures for the US Treasury’s list of Putin-linked investors and elites. Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT says France’s presidency is not letting its journalists attend briefings, accusing President Macron of “protect[ing] the baguette instead of freedom of speech”.

PHOTO: Siberia is living up to its reputation as one of the world’s coldest regions with temperatures of minus 60 degrees Celsius recorded yesterday. (Anastasia Gruzdeva / Instagram @anastasiagav )