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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2107

Reinforcements for Russia's wars in Syria and Ukraine;
Internet censorship expands... with public approval

Edited by Amanda Aznheira
December 28, 2016

November 15: 

Alexei Ulyukaev, Russia's Economy Minister, has been arrested on charges of graft, 
reports the BBC. Officials claim that Ulyukaev was caught receiving a $2 million bribe in order to provide a positive assessment of state energy firm Rosneft's planned fifty percent buyout of Bashneft. Ulyukaev was later dismissed by President Putin, who cited a "loss of confidence" in the minister as a result of the charges. 

The Ulyukaev affair is significant, not least for its high profile nature. The disgraced minister is the highest ranking Russian official arrested in a quarter century. Naturally, therefore, his downfall has sparked speculation over the political reasons behind his fall from grace. One theory in particular has risen to the fore: that Ulyukaev, a well known economic liberal who was against increasing state control of the economy, was sacked as a signal to Russia's liberal politicians not to oppose the Kremlin's centralization of power. 

November 16:

In a move that could significantly widen Russia's already extensive military footprint abroad, the State Duma has officially backed a bill permitting the Kremlin to offer "short-term contracts" for action in foreign theaters. 
According to information agency Rosbalt, the draft law proposes to provide active duty servicemen and citizens in the reserves who wish to enter into military service the right to participate in the hostilities under short-term contracts of up to one year. The measure will allow Moscow to bolster troops already active in Syria and Ukraine with supplemental contract volunteers. 

November 17:

Russia has found LinkedIn, the world's largest professional online network, guilty of violating a data storage law. 
According to Reuters, Russia's communications regulator has ordered public access to the website shut down, making it the first major social network to be blocked by Russian authorities. The government cited LinkedIn's failure to store the personal data of citizens on servers based in Russia as the reason for the shutdown. 

November 18:

Internet censorship appears to be widely popular in Russia. 
According to The Moscow Times, a new survey by independent pollster Levada has found that some 60 percent of Russians believe that online censorship is "necessary," while only 25 percent disagreed. In addition, almost half of respondents did not believe that restrictions on certain websites could be utilized to infringe on civil liberties, while an astonishing 90 percent revealed that they trusted news "distributed by Russia's main news channels." 

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Given the effect of Russia's increasingly authoritarian political climate on pollsters and respondents alike, the results of public opinion surveys in Russia should be viewed with some caution.] 

Russia's regions are increasingly feeling the economic pinch, a prominent Russian lawmaker has warned. 
The Moscow Times reports that Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov has told the country's Finance Minister, Anton Siluanov, that 43 of Russia's 85 regions are now on the verge of bankruptcy, thanks to the Kremlin's unsustainable economic spending and ruinous domestic policies. "You piled all the social programs on the regional budgets... if you take all of the regional budgets, 43 are on the verge of bankruptcy," Zyuganov has said. "They have no money left. That's the tragedy." According to Zyuganov, as much as 70 percent of regional budgets now go to pay the salaries of officials and functionaries - leaving precious few funds for spending on infrastructure and social services.

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program

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