RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Mar 21, 2016

TODAY: Lavrov wants Russia to be seen as key part of global power balance; US defence secretary names Russia as number one threat; first meldonium case exposed in track and field; Syrian ceasefire generally holding, Russia wants more support from the US; police in southern Russia blaming increased crime on unrest in eastern Ukraine; 62 killed in plane crash in Rostov-on-Don, weather conditions tentatively blamed.

The Guardian responds to this article by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, posted earlier this month, in which  he sets out his vision for Russian foreign policy and Russia’s position in the world order, calling for it to be seen as an essential part of the global equilibrium; the responding analysis sees Lavrov’s piece as a call for fundamental change, and comments ‘it’s fascinating to see how Lavrov references European history to bolster his claim that without Russia’s cooperation the continent can only be exposed to chaos.’ The piece also perceives a threat in this positing of a new world order, in that President Vladimir Putin may be calculating that ‘the ultimate geopolitical prize will come not in the Middle East but in Europe‘. US Secretary of Defence named Russia as the number one challenge to US security, out of a list of top five threats (including China, North Korea, Iran, and terrorism).  The Washington Posts analyses Putin’s current grip on power, looking at recent research into typical scenarios that play out when an autocratic leader starts to lose power.  The first meldonium case has been exposed in Russian athletics, with a track-and-field athlete testing positive.

The death toll from Russia’s airstrikes on the Syrian city of Raqqa has climbed in the past 24 hours, including children and a pregnant woman.  According to the Defence Ministry, the Syrian ceasefire is holding, on the whole, but that the United States should be doing more to uphold it.  The outcome of Russia’s military intervention in Syria, says the FT, is that ‘the Assad regime has been saved from collapse and increased the territory it controls.’  Police in southern Russia are blaming an alleged increase in crime on the crisis in eastern Ukraine, with law enforcement agencies thwarting over 60 attempts to smuggle weapons into Russia from Ukraine last year.

All 55 passengers and 7 crew members, most of them Russian, were killed in a Boeing 737-800 plane crash at Rostov-on-Don airport yesterday.  One report says the flight recorder has been recovered and the records are apparently in good condition; it worked until the plane hit the ground.  Another report says the recorders were badly damaged and unlikely to reveal anything.  Poor visibility and wind are currently considered to be major factors, although the CEO of Flydubai, which operated the plane, said weather conditions were suitable for landing.

PHOTO: Russian Police and Emergency Ministry employees investigate the wreckage of a crashed plane at the Rostov-on-Don airport, about 950 kilometers (600 miles) south of Moscow, Russia, Sunday, March 20, 2016. (AP Photo)