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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2001

Russia's ISIS-first strategy in Syria;
Another social media site targeted

Edited by Ilan Berman
September 8, 2015


August 8: 

As Russia's economy continues to suffer as a result of Western sanctions and low world oil prices, so-called "reforms" being implemented by the Kremlin are exacting a heavy toll on Russian society. Vladimir Putin’s "optimization" of Russia's health care system has become "a euphemism in bad taste for cutbacks that have left many Russians without access to necessary medicines, experts or even medical care altogether," 
writes Paul Goble in his Window on Eurasia blog. He notes that, according to a recent Russian Accounting Chamber report, "Russia has been left with 90,000 fewer medical workers than it had only a year ago even though the number of people seeking medical treatment grew by 152,700, a scissors crisis that has reduced access to medical care and reduced its quality." 

The outcome has been a spike in mortality across the country. As a result of the trend line cited above, in the majority of the 61 federal regions examined by the Chamber "the number of those who had died in hospital had increased 3.7 percent over the same period even though the number of those hospitalized had declined." 

August 10:

Russia is seeking to reshape the contours of the Syrian conflict. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently proposed the creation of a "united front" against the Islamic State terrorist group, and Kremlin officials are now busy promoting the idea abroad. 
In an interview with state media carried by the state-owned television channel RT, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov outlined the approach, which would give the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad - a major Russian ally - a freer political and strategic hand. "Our American partners and some countries in the region persistently refuse to recognize Assad as a partner, which is rather strange," Lavrov said. "Assad was a fully legitimate partner in destroying chemical arms but somehow he is not when it comes to fighting terrorism." Instead, Putin's proposed coalition would "bring together all those already fighting on the ground" against ISIS - the Syrian and Iraqi armies, the Kurds and "the part of the armed opposition that represents Syrians" - in a common effort to root out the group. "Instead of settling their scores with one another, first one must deal with the common threat, and then seek to agree on how to live in their own country," Lavrov argued. 

August 11:

Russia's fiscal fortunes continue to deteriorate. 
CNN Money reports that Russia's economy shrank by 4.6 percent in the second quarter of 2015. That decline constitutes "the biggest drop" for Russia "since the global financial crisis in 2009." An attendant casualty has been the value of the Russian ruble, which has lost nearly a quarter of its value against the dollar over the past three months. 

August 12:

Russia's state censor is taking aim at social media website Reddit. 
Business Insider reports that the popular social media site, which contains newsgroups and lists on various topics of interest to users, has been banned by ROSKOMNADZOR because the forum contained threads with advice on how to grow psychedelic "magic mushrooms," which are prohibited in Russia. The decision was reportedly made after the country's Federal Drug Service identified the online material as "promoting" interest in the drug among Russian citizens. 

August 13:

The Kremlin has widened its embargo on European foodstuffs, 
reports the Agence France-Presse. Russia's government formally announced that it would heretofore include Iceland, Montenegro, Albania and Lichtenstein to its list of banned countries of origin beginning on January 1, 2016. According to a Russian government spokesman, the reason for the ban - which would prohibit food from those countries from being sold within the Russian Federation - is the "degree of involvement of these countries in the sanctions regime" imposed to date against Russia for its policies in Ukraine.


Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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