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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Oct 26, 2015

TODAY: Russia says will help U.S.-backed Syria groups in exchange for rebel position info; Moscow can easily afford Syria strikes; military renaissance in popular culture; Lavrov calls for new Syria elections, talks with Kerry; Russians trust television; Axel Springer’s new Russia owner to axe titles; Putin’s daughter gives interview; Ukraine and Russia flight ban comes into force.

Russia is now saying that it will help U.S.-backed groups in Syria, such as the Free Syrian Army,  to battle Islamic State, in exchange for information about rebel positions.  Moscow can afford its military action in Syria thanks to ’17 consecutive years of funding’, and even at its current level of air strikes, a further full year of the same would use less than 3% of its 2016 defence budget (of $51 billion), the Financial Times has calculated.  Unsurprising, then, that Russia’s army is seeing ‘a renaissance’ in domestic popular culture; a recent bill would send non-violent criminals to the military instead of prison.  Russia is calling on Syria to hold new presidential and parliamentary elections; President Bashar al-Assad says his priority is to defeat terrorists before holding elections.  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the Syrian crisis on the phone yesterday, somewhat unremarkably.  Vladimir Frolov says Putin is ‘angling for a quick exit’ from Syria now that his show of power has succeeded.  A road in the Ural Mountains which badly needs repairs has been named ‘Putin Strassein an attempt to get authorities to fix it.

Over half of Russians think that television is the most trustworthy news source, says the Levada Center.  The new Russian owner of former German media group Axel Springer is to discontinue three of its titles.  The Huffington Post looks at the mechanisms behind Vladimir Putin’s control of the Russian media, and talks to an ex-pat expert, who says ‘the Russian media portrays anything going on from the point of view of Vladimir Putin‘.  The Sunday Times has published the first chapter of Garry Kasparov’s new book, in which he accuses the West of failing to curb the rise of Putin’s power.  Putin’s reclusive daughter Yekaterina has given an interview to Interfax about her work on a land project at Moscow State University.  Roskomnadzor is angry with Twitter over comments made online by one of its executives.  Russia’s HIV epidemic could be out of control by the end of the decade, says the Health Minister.

The Dutch ambassador to Russia talks to the Moscow Times about a difficult year of relations.  Russia’s ambassador to London says there is no political dialogue between Russia and the U.K. at this point, and all that’s left is ‘culture’.  The ban on flights between Russia and Ukraine came into effect yesterday.  Ukraine says it won’t pay its Russia debts unless Moscow agrees to have the sums reconstructed.

PHOTO: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani as they meet after a session of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi, Russia, October 22, 2015. REUTERS/Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY