RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – July 20, 2018

TODAY: Protesters gather against passing of pension reform bill; Putin creates new journalist awards; Defence Ministry showcases new weapons as Putin urges extension of START treaty; villagers not warned of war games; Crimea compiles dossier of dissenters; GDP growth at just 1.1%; Kremlin dumps US debt; Trump invites Putin to White House.

Protests were held in various cities across Russia, with 14 detained in St Petersburg as a result, after the State Duma passed the first reading of a widely unpopular bill that would raise the retirement age from 60 to 65 for men and from 55 to 63 for women by 2028. Around 200 people gathered in protest around the State Duma during the reading. This chart shows how the pension plan has affected President Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings; they are currently as low as they have been since 2011, when allegations of ballot-rigging caused nationwide protests. Putin has created two new state awards for journalists. The Defence Ministry released “Hollywood-style footage” of the testing and operation of new nuclear and conventional weapons, just days after Putin discussed the avoidance of an arms race with Donald Trump. The same day, Putin in fact warned of the dangers of Russia and the US allowing the expiration of the START nuclear arms reduction treaty, urging both sides to start working on the extension now. No one remembered to warn Armenian villagers that Russia was going to hold war games in the village of Panic, “and panic indeed ensued”. Putin warned NATO against cultivating closer ties with Ukraine and Georgia.

Crimean officials have compiled a dossier of those who have publicly spoken out against Russia’s annexation. GDP growth, year-on-year, has slowed to just 1.1%, after a small surge in May. The Kremlin dumped a huge amount of US debt in the wake of sanctions, reports RFE/RL, with current holdings at $15 billion, down from $100 billion at the beginning of the year. Russia was able to boost crude production in June by using its stored supplies. The Foreign Ministry is continuing to use its Telegram channel despite the court ruling to block it. “I see no contradiction here. 

Not even the US Director of National Intelligence knows what happened during the Trump-Puin one-on-one meeting in Helsinki. Trump has rejected Putin’s proposal that Russia be allowed to question US citizens in exchange for the 12 Russians indicted by the US. The US President has apparently invited Putin to visit him in the autumn. Bloomberg offers some counter-theories to the notion that Trump is Russian puppet.

PHOTO: A woman is detained by policemen in St Petersburg at a protest against pension reforms, July 19, 2018. (Peter Kovalyov/TASS)