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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2174

A nuclear accident after all, perhaps;
The Kremlin gears up for war with Google

Edited by Ilan Berman
December 14, 2017

November 19:

After months of disruption, consular relations between Russia and the United States could soon be back on track. Jon Huntsman, the Trump administration's envoy to Moscow, has signaled that American consulates in Russia may resume visa consultations "in the near future."
Reuters reports. Such consultations have not taken place since this summer, when the U.S. scaled back its personnel in Russia - and consequently its consular services - as part of a tit-for-tat diplomatic row with the Kremlin.

Moscow has put on a show of military force in its Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad.
Newsweek reports that Russia's navy has showcased a number of missiles in Kaliningrad's Victory Square. The display, part of a larger military parade and associated activities, reportedly involved "coastal defense arms such as the Bal and Bastion missile systems, Russia's newest S-400 Triumf air defense missile system, the truck-mounted Grad missile system and the anti-aircraft artillery gun Pantsir-S1."

November 20:

Who is responsible for Russia's political and economic woes? The culprit,
according to a new poll by the Levada Center, is President Putin. The survey, carried out by Levada last month among some 1,600 respondents, found that an overwhelming number of those polled (some 76%) ascribed at least some measure of responsibility to the country's president for its current ills. Only 19 percent of respondents absolved Putin of responsibility for the current hardships facing the country.

[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.]

Russian authorities are working to eradicate the Ukrainian language from schools in the country's newest territorial holding, a human rights watchdog organization has charged.
According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, local authorities in Crimea are pressuring parents to accede to the elimination of Ukrainian language instruction from the curricula of local schools on the Peninsula. The effort, the group alleges, is part of a systematic effort by the Kremlin to "try to assimilate the population [there] to make it easier later to hold on to the territory it is illegally occupying."

November 21:

The Kremlin has belatedly confirmed that a spike in nuclear radiation - a telltale sign of a possible nuclear accident - did in fact occur on Russian soil earlier this month. "The Russian state weather service Roshydromet said it had found what the Russian news media described as 'extremely high pollution' at two monitoring facilities within a 62-mile radius of the Mayak nuclear reprocessing and isotope production plant,"
the New York Times reports. The cite of the purported accident was in the Chelyabinsk region, close to Russia's border with Kazakhstan - and near the location of the infamous 1957 nuclear accident at Mayak that was subsequently covered up by the Soviet Union for decades.

Nevertheless, Russian officials maintain that there is no cause for concern, despite the elevated levels of radioactive isotope ruthenium 106 that have been registered in several European nations. ROSATOM, Russia's state atomic agency, has categorically denied that an accident had taken place at all, while local officials in Chelyabinsk maintain there are no plans to evacuate the area or to take special precautions to protect nearby citizens.

The Russian government is lashing out at Google's recent decision to "de-rank" stories from Russian-origin media sources such as Sputnik and RT. In response to Google's decision, the Kremlin could consider banning the web giant from advertising inside the country altogether, a top lawmaker has warned. "Here in Russia we're also concerned about the situation with undesirable, dangerous promoted information reaching social network users," Deputy Duma Speaker Petr Tolstoy has told a conference on youth media in Moscow
in remarks carried by RIA Novosti. "And if global companies like Google and Facebook are telling the U.S. Congress that they can't separate the bad ads from the good ads, and the dangerous ads from the harmless ads, then we, too, are worried about this." According to Tolstoy, Russia's first priority is "protect[ing] Russian citizens from dangerous content," and while this might be accomplished via dialogue with Google and other internet firms, "if this isn't possible, then let's just shut off all advertising with new legislation."