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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2120
Cyber spy scandal deepens;
Russia's ongoing population problems
Edited by Amanda Azinheira and Kaitlyn Johnson
March 1, 2017
More than 2,000 Russians have gathered to protest the return of St. Isaac's Cathedral, which has been preserved as a state-owned museum since the 1917 revolution, to the possession of the Russian Orthodox Church. The protest is the first stage of a civil campaign against the move as the debate over the relationship between church and state intensifies within the country. According to the Washington Post, the handover of St. Isaac's to the Orthodox Church is indicative of the growing power of the latter in Russian politics and society, especially amid the current climate of rising social conservatism.
The Philippines and Russia are continuing to strengthen their military ties. Sputnik reports that the Philippine Secretary of Defense, Delfin Lorenzana, and the country's president, Rodrigo Duterte, are currently preparing for a state visit to Moscow - one that will include the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on military affairs between the two countries. But the visit is liable to yield another outcome as well; while in Moscow, President Duterte and Secretary Lorenzana are expected to discuss the purchase of a variety of weapons (including small arms, airplanes, helicopters and submarines) that Russia has offered for sale to the Philippines.
Russia is expanding its military capabilities in the Arctic anew. According to Reuters, the new push includes the reopening of abandoned Soviet bases, the construction of additional nuclear icebreakers, and the conduct of training drills in the region. Military analysts estimate that, as a result of the Kremlin's ongoing focus on the area, Russia's capabilities in the Arctic have now surpassed those of the Soviet Union during the Cold War era.
In the latest wrinkle in what is shaping up to be a major domestic scandal, two of the four Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officers who have been arrested to date for hacking and treason are said to have given secrets to the CIA. According to The Moscow Times, Sergei Mikhailov and Dmitry Dokuchaev have both been accused of conspiring with the CIA, either directly or through intermediaries. The other two suspects allegedly worked solely on the hacking aspect of the suspect operations, and were not involved in passing information to the U.S. intelligence community.
The Russian government has called for interested students at the Moscow State University to participate in building the Kerch bridge from Crimea to mainland Russia. The Moscow Times notes that the move constitutes a throwback to the Cold War, insofar as involving university students in state infrastructure-building projects was a key aspect of Soviet higher education, though it was largely discontinued in the late 1980s. Eighty-seven Russian university students have already participated in the construction of the 19-kilometer, $4 billion auto and railway bridge, which is slated to be completed in December 2018.
Despite ongoing government efforts, Russia's population has continued to decline, and the Kremlin is beginning to rethink its population policies. To wit, notes The Moscow Times, the ten-year-old Russian "maternity capital" program, which gives families with more than one child earmarked stipends, will be discontinued in 2018.
That policy, a brainchild of Russian president Vladimir Putin, saw modest success, with the the Russian birthrate rising slightly from 1.42 children per woman in 2007 to 1.77 in 2015. But the overall number of maternal-age women has continued to fall, while the national mortality rate is still rising - thereby perpetuating the country's adverse population trends. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has announced that the government is now considering new ways to increase the birthrate, such as property tax exemptions for larger families.