RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – December 1, 2021

Today in Russia: Putin says his “right” to run again in 2024 gives stability, but too early to say; COVID-19 restrictions in Russia increased; Russia says Ukraine massing troops; Some US Embassy staff in Moscow to be forced to leave by 31 January in retaliation; US professor deported from Russia after his home institution declared undesirable; Russia to develop an AI-powered ‘protest detector”

Stable genius. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with RIA Novosti that the recently obtained constitutional right to run for re-election in 2024 will grant Russia stability, declaring, “…the very existence of this right in itself stabilizes the domestic political situation.” But the Russian President refused to say for sure if he would run or not, adding that “Having the right to be elected is enough for now. It’s premature to say who is planning what in 2024.”

She says, Kyiv says. Russia’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Ukraine of massing tens of thousands of troops near the Donbas region, where fighting is ongoing with pro-Russian separatists. The accusation comes as the US and NATO countries have accused Russia of a similar troop buildup near its border with Ukraine, and accusations by Kyiv that Russia was behind an alleged attempted coup plot in the country.

Clamping down. Russia continues to suffer some of the highest caseloads in Europe as the country suffers from widespread anti-vaccine sentiment and a vaccination rate hovering in the 40% range. From 1 February, a system of QR codes is set to be fully implemented, which will restrict public spaces, planes, trains, and restaurants to the vaccinated or holders of a recent PCR test.

Speaking of PCR tests, this week the regulator has proposed moving the validity of a PCR test from 72 hours to 48 hours, further inconveniencing the unvaccinated (and, incidentally, non-resident foreigners who also must rely on PCR tests since only Russian-administered vaccines are recognized). President Putin has also called for mutual recognition of vaccines, and those arriving into Russia from countries where formal flight connections have not been resumed by Russia will be forced to quarantine for 14 days.

Yankee go home. Russia’s Ambassador to the US has said the US State Department is forcing many Russian diplomats to return home by 27 Jannuary, leaving the embassy with severe understaffing issues. Now the Russian side appears to be making the same demands on the US Embassy in Moscow: Any US diplomat that has been in Russia for more than 3 years will be forced to leave by 31 January. Poisonous relations between Moscow and Washington continue to affect everyday consular and diplomatic relations in both countries. The US missions in Moscow have entirely stopped the issuance of non-diplomatic visas which they have blamed on Russian government restrictions on employing non-US nationals leading to a staffing shortage.

Professor Yankee go home. The Russian authorities have found ample use for the designation of entities as “undesirable” or “foreign” agents, as it has hampered the operations of independent news outlets, NGOs, and political entities, and other groups. But one especially stood out: Bard College, the private liberal arts university in upstate New York found itself labeled as undesirable over the summer. The label effectively ruined the long-running exchange program with St. Petersburg State University’s Smolny College, where Bard participated in a degree-granting partnership in place since the 1990s.

This week, American professor Michael Freese, who taught at St. Petersburg State and ran an exchange program with Bard before it was labeled as undesirable, was detained by police who canceled his visa and work contract and informed him he would be deported for “cooperating with an undesirable organization.”

Protest-sniffing robot. Russia is developing AI-powered software which will be able to detect and prevent mass unrest, Kommersant reported. The project is being spearheaded by Rostec which “will analyze messages in the media, data from social networks, “smart” cameras and other sources. If riots have already begun, artificial intelligence will analyze the behavior of the crowd and recommend the order of action to the security forces.” Apparently, the system will also be able to distinguish between politically-motivated protests, anti-police protests, and religious rallies.

PHOTO: New restrictions are being put in place for those arriving from a country with which Russia has not formally resumed flight connections (Sergei Kiselev / Moskva News Agency).