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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept 16, 2015

TODAY: Putin defends Russian actions in Syria; Yakunin turns down Federation Council post, raising eyebrows; information warfare with the West? Sweden and Poland form alliance over Russia concerns; Sir Elton John duped by fake Putin; Embassy taunts UK’s Cameron.

At the meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in Tajikistan yesterday, President Vladimir Putin defended Russia’s military support of the Syrian government, arguing that the Syrian refugee crisis has been caused by the actions of ‘terrorists’ and ‘radicals’, and not the government.  The former Finnish president says Russia proposed over three years ago that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down as part of a peace deal, but that the West ignored the proposal.  Is Russia’s increasing military presence in Syria a means to detract from the situation in eastern Ukraine? Vladimir Yakunin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, who was relieved of his duties as the head of Russian Railways last month, turned down the job in the Federation Council that the Kremlin had offered him, raising speculation about Kremlin power dynamics.  Alexei Navalny suggested that Yakunin wanted to avoid the senator’s duty of having to reveal his income.  RFE/RLs’ response is that ‘It’s hard to look at all this and not come to the conclusion that Yakunin is either leaving or being banished from the “collective Putin,” the dozen or so insiders who rule Russia.’  In an interview with the Washington Post, Yakunin says the economic downturn is likely to last for another two years.

The BBC says Russia is in ‘a new bout of information warfare’ with the West through its state news organ, Russia Today, which is facing new opposition from European media organisations.  Sweden and Poland, concerned about Russia’s military activity in the Baltic ‘sea of danger’, have signed a military cooperation agreement.  A couple of sources are reporting on Russia’s ongoing military buildup in the Arctic; the latest is that Russia has supposedly sent warships and marines to the region to conduct exercises in practice defence of the its Arctic border.  The Chief Financial Officer of Gazprom says the company expects the gas supply deal it made with China last year to be profitable, despite the global energy price slump.

Sir Elton John announced via his Instagram account on Monday night that he had spoken to Vladimir Putin on the telephone regarding a meeting about LGBT equality in Russia; but the Times is calling a hoax, after the Kremlin denied any such contact.  The Russian Embassy in the UK took to its Twitter account to mock UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s now infamous tweet calling the Labour party a threat to ‘your family’s security’.  (It was immediately mocked in return.)

PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, at the meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. (Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)