RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – March 18, 2015

TODAY: Rogozin to head new Arctic commission; Latvian military says Russian edging its territory; parliament refuses request to hold minute of silence for Nemtsov; Navalny says Nemtsov’s death has complicated the terrain for oppositionists; Crimea in economic hardship; Gazprom to have a challenging year. Lake Baikal drying up.

The Kremlin has set up a federal commission for developing the Arctic, to be headed by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.  The official Twitter feed for the Latvian military announced that a Russian naval ship was on the edge of its territorial waters.  Where is NATO and why isn’t it deterring Russia’s latest strategic threats?  There will be no decisions made by the European Union about renewing its sanctions this week, although a statement about Russia’s need to adhere to the Minsk agreement is forthcoming.  Italy may not have been hit by anti-Russia sanctions any harder than other E.U members, but there is a sense that they are damaging Italy’s business interests, and Italian exports to Russia fell from €10 billion ($10.5 billion) in 2013 to €8.8 billion in 2014, notes The Economist.  U.S. foreign policy adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski says Americashould tell Putin quite quietly, without seemingly trying to humiliate him, that if he does start military activities, we have no choice, politically or otherwise, but to give some weapons to the Ukrainians.’  Alexei Navalny says it would be a mistake for the U.S. to send weapons to Ukraine.  Navalny said the death of Boris Nemtsov has been a real blow to Russia’s opposition: ‘Nemtsov’s murder terrified people who are still hesitating between being silent or supporting me, for example.’  The speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament refused a request this week to hold a minute of silence in honour of Nemtsov, stating that the house had already sent its condolences to Nemtsov’s family.

Economic hardships in Crimea are increasing as prices rise and salaries fail to bridge the gaps.  Russia has unequivocally ruled out handing back the territory to Ukraine: ‘Crimea is a region of the Russian Federation and of course the subject of our regions is not up for discussion.’  Vladimir Putin is due to check in with regional leaders about Crimea’s economic development this week.  The year ahead is looking to be challenging for Gazprom, as it faces a drop in revenues and debt inflation thanks to a devalued rouble.  Rosoboronexport sold $13.2 billion worth of military equipment and weapons last year, and expects to maintain these levels in 2015.  Alexander Gorshkolepov, a high-ranking official at the Defence Ministry, is suspected of having accepted $259,000 in bribes.  Mikhail Fridman’s LetterOne energy group is considering selling the North Sea assets it is wrangling over with the U.K. government.

The reserves of Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake, are dwindling.

PHOTO: File photo of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan as they attend a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Ankara December 1, 2014. REUTERS/Umit Bektas