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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Jan 19, 2010

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TODAY: Demonstrations to mark anniversary of Markelov and Baburova murders; activist tried for ‘hate speech’ voting leaflet; military code of honor at odds with poor treatment of recruits; Health Minister announces no population decline in 2009, calls for abortion cuts; Russians celebrate Epiphany; Yanukovych’s current lead ‘illusory’?
Health Minister Tatyana Golikova says new data suggest that Russia’s population did not decline this past year, and advised that Russia could boost its birthrate by 20-30% by reducing its high number of abortions – 2008 saw one abortion for over two thirds of every birth.  Two demonstrations will be held today to mark the anniversary of the murders of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, after authorities reversed an initial decision rejecting a request to allow the gatherings to go ahead.  Activist Roman Zamurayev is currently being tried on grounds that his voting leaflet, containing the fragment ‘if you are a person and not only an organism‘, constitutes hate speech.  The St Petersburg NGO, Soldiers’ Mothers, says two Russian conscripts died last month as a result of failing to receive proper medical care. ‘They said some soldiers received onions in lieu of medicine.‘  Alexander Golts writes on Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov’s order that Russia’s military leadership must create a code of honor: ‘They never tire of waxing eloquent about recruits who selflessly defend the Motherland, but in reality it is an army in which officers often treat recruits like serfs. Unfortunately, even the most brilliantly conceived and accurately worded honor code cannot change this environment.‘   

Liquid de-icing chemicals used on Moscow streets make the roads ‘dirty and slippery‘ and rust people’s cars?  As temperatures sit well in the minus numbers, Russian Orthodox believers are celebrating Epiphany today by bathing in icy water.  Epiphany also marks ‘the high point of pilgrimages from Russia that are now enjoying a post-Communist revival‘.  
The New York Times reports that Viktor Yanukovych’s initial lead could prove illusory in the second round of voting in the Ukrainian presidential elections, due to take place on February 7, because Yulia Tymoshenko will likely pick up ‘most of the first-round votes cast for the 16 other candidates who ran‘.  The BBC reports that current president Viktor Yushchenko won just 5% of the initial vote.  Bloomberg has the numbers.  Whatever the result, Ukraine’s current financial trouble means that ‘any Russian bailout of Ukraine should be seen as a natural development‘, says the Moscow Times.  
Resurrecting the 19th century Russian pastime of the imperial hunt.  
PHOTO: A man prepares to dip in icy waters during an Orthodox Epiphany celebration, with air temperature at about -24 degrees Celsius in the ancient town of Suzdal, some 200 km northeast of Moscow January 19, 2010. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov