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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Mar 22, 2016

TODAY: Russia threatens US with ultimatum: discuss its peace proposals or it will take unilateral action in Syria; Savchenko awaits sentencing as court prepares guilty verdict; poverty rate hits 9-year high; Putin’s perceived trustworthiness drops 10% from last year; 40 athletes tested positive for meldonium this year; Kirill slams global heresy of choice; Rosneft increasing its debt with Indian refinery purchase; black box data recovered.

Russia says it is prepared to act unilaterally in Syria against groups that are breaking the cease-fire, and will do so unless the US agrees to discuss its proposal for maintaining peace.  President Vladimir Putin has effectively showed the world that ‘modest military inputs can decisively tilt the balance of power’, says the Washington Post.  The sentencing of Ukrainian military pilot Nadezhda Savchenko has begun, and will take two days to complete, as the court prepares to declare her guilty of complicity in the premeditated murder of two journalists, a charge widely seen as trumped-up and politically motivated; prosecutors asked for a 23-year sentence.  The FT calls her a hostage, one of 20 Ukrainians currently being held in Russia ‘on bogus grounds’.  The Moscow Times compiles highlights of the case, which began in 2014.  The poverty rate in Russia is currently at a nine-year high – a 20% increase, year-on-year – as the country struggles through the economic crisis and recession.

Putin’s approval ratings remain high, but a new poll from the Levada Center shows a 10% year-on-year drop in perceptions of the President as trustworthy; not that this impacts the high percentage of voters that would re-elect him.  Around 40 Russian athletes across more than ten disciplines have tested positive for meldonium this year.  Orthodox Church head Patriarch Kirill says that certain human rights are heresy because they contradict the Bible, such as the right to choice, and said that the world is currently suffering from a ‘global heresy of worshipping the human’.  Rosneft’s debts, which currently stand at $24.5 billion, are looking likely to rise following its announcement that it will buy a stake in Essar Oil, the Indian refinery.

The wife of murdered former spy Alexander Litvinenko is calling on the UK government to seize the assets of top Kremlin officials and allies.  Investigators were able to recover data from the black boxes of the plane that crashed over the weekend, killing all 62 passengers; it will take several weeks at least to decode them.

PHOTO: Ukrainian military pilot Nadezhda Savchenko looks out from a defendants’ cage during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia, May 6, 2015. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin