Russia Monthly Digest: Communists Clash on May Day Holiday, and President Putin Slips up in Sochi4 min read

 In News, Politics, Russia

– May Day, a popular holiday celebrated around the world on May 1st, saw protests and clashes with police across Europe, notably trade-unionist and anti-capitalist groups. In Russia, over 100 people were arrested, mostly in Saint Petersburg, for opposition to Putin and the current government. Supporters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny bore placards that read “Putin is not immortal”. They also complained of being manhandled by the police, which RFE/RL have video footage of here. Moscow police estimated that around 100,000 people marched in Moscow, mostly from the Communist Party.

Amidst the celebrations and arrests, Putin quietly signed into law a bill that gives the Kremin greater control over the internet in Russia, primarily by forcing internet traffic to go through servers based in the country. Read more about this here.

– On May 3rd, Russia’s health ministry proposed a ban on HIV/AIDS denialism in an effort to counter-act one of the largest epidemics on the continent. The Ministry of Health, headed by Veronika Skvortsova, is attempting to curb the amount of disinformation around the topic, such as the denial of its existence andthe  claim that doctors are unable to treat the virus. About 1.2 million Russians are currently infected with HIV, with about 100,000 new cases confirmed in 2018. Low treatment numbers are common, and related to the overtaxed medical system and lack of outreach by the Russian government to target those infected and encourage them to get treatment. The anti-LGBTQ+ agenda that the Russian Government has also been pursuing has also been linked to the cause of the epidemic increasing, but the primary cause for the spread of HIV is related to intravenous drug use. Russian NGOs are delivering leaflets to doctors and other healthcare professionals with advice on how to deal with HIV denialists, and the government has said that it wants to reach a 90% treatment level by 2020.

– On a visit to Ankara on the 6th of May, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg tried to bridge the deepening divisions between Turkey and other NATO member states over Turkey’s decision to purchase a Russian missile system (read more about this in last month’s edition of What’s Up Russia?). Stoltenberg encouraged the “ongoing dialogue” between Turkey and the United States, along with “talks about Turkey’s possible acquisition of a U.S Patriot missile system” – however, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said that he would not withdraw from the Russian deal despite mounting pressure from NATO and especially the United States.

– On the same day, an Aeroflot plane caught fire on an emergency landing in Moscow, resulting in the deaths of 41 people. The majority of the casualties were reported to have been suffered in the tail end of the aircraft. The plane had initially tried to land, but could not as it was still travelling at speed. On the second attempt the emergency equipment failed, forcing the pilot into a hard landing. Although the investigation is still ongoing, there’s evidence that the incident was caused by either a pilot error, technical malfunction or adverse weather conditions – referring to multiple accounts that the plane was struck by lightning. However, it has been suggested that the plane did not manage to survive the fire was primarily due to pilot error and technical error, such as the plane landing with an almost full fuel tank (pilots should circle to dump fuel before a hard landing) and reports of landing gear malfunctioning. Russia’s transport minister, Yevgeny Dietrich, has said that there is no reason to ground the fleet of Sukhoi Aircraft, the largest and most successful Russian aircraft brand since the Soviet Union collapsed, which makes up one fifth of national carrier Aeroflot’s fleet.  

– On May 7th, a member of Pussy Riot, Veronika Nikulshina, was detained together with four of her friends, who reportedly are not members of Pussy Riot. The official reason for the detention was related to “damage to an unspecified state property”. A close friend of Nikulshina was taken into custody the next day, on May 8th, along with her boyfriend in Moscow without explanation. Pyotr Verzilov, affiliated with Pussy Riot wrote in a tweet on May 9th “Sasha [Albova] has never had anything to do with [Pussy Riot’s] actions, politics, or the theater, she is just a close friend of Nika [Veronika Nikulshina].”

Due to claims of “harassment and death treats” in Russia, a Swedish court earlier this year granted political asylum to two other members of Pussy Riot, Lusine Djanyan and Aleksei Knedlyakovsky, and their two children.

– On May 11th, president Vladimir Putin scored eight goals in an exhibition match with his hockey team “Hockey Legends”, however he was victim to a blunder after the game. In the Bolshoi Ice Arena in Sochi,  whilst on a victory lap of the ice rink, the President – who was busy waving to fans – accidentally ran over the red carpet and fell to his knees. President Putin has often played in televised exhibition matches, and regularly is the highest scoring member of the team and usually the Most Valuable Player. Although most of the Western media was keen to make fun of the president, a collection of responses here from the pro-Kremlin Sputnik news agency was has arguedthat Putin only recently took up ice-hockey, and that the event was to promote sport across Russia.

Main Sources: BBC (EN), RFE/RL (EN), The Guardian (EN)

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