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The anniversary of the Georgian war sparks attacks and diplomatic barbs. A cyber onslaught against a Georgian blogger brings down Twitter. Moscow bans student trips to England over flu concerns. The business lobby proposes a Skype ban. Russia’s mobs prepare for war. The Politkovskaya retrial begins, without the gunman. Putin signs South Stream gas deal with Turkey. Plus, Putin’s topless photos, Russia’s Obama, and a U.S. diplomat busted with a prostitute.
Top News: Russia and Georgia are marking the first anniversary of their war over South Ossetia last August. Both sides have claimed an increase in attacks, and rhetoric is running wild. Russia will hold a series of events on Saturday to mark the start of the war. Patriotic images, films and music have filled the television airwaves already.
What’s brought attention to the anniversary in the West is Thursday’s attack on Twitter, which also affected LiveJournal and Facebook. Facebook’s chief security officer Max Kelly said the disruption of service attack originated with an onslaught against a Georgian blogger and Twitter user known as Cyxymu. The blogger, critical of Russia, said he thought the order came from the Russian government.
One observer notes the attacks on Cyxymu started long ago, and posits that they are intended to deter people from blogging openly. A New York Times story from last August explores how cyberattacks preceded the Russia-Georgia war.
The war has worked to sour Russia’s relations with its Central Asian neighbors, but Russia did win a tentative deal this week to open a second military base in Kyrgyzstan, which also hosts a US base for operations in Afghanistan.
Russia’s chief doctor said he will seek to ban student trips to England over swine flu concerns, and Moscow’s top doctor already instituted the ban in the city.
After adopting a new decree that gives Russia’s intelligence services the right to read all mail, a new move was floated to ban Skype, one of just two means of communication that are impossible to spy on in Russia. Russia’s main business lobby proposed the move, citing national security concerns as well as competition concerns.
It was a heavy couple of weeks for Russia’s infamous mafia. Vyacheslav Ivankov, known as Yaponchik (The Little Japanese), was shot and badly wounded in an assassination attempt. Days later, 80 Russian crime bosses gathered in Barcelona to discuss the implications and potential of an all-out cross-border mob war.
A retrial of alleged accomplices to the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya got underway in Moscow, despite her family’s attempts to put it off. The family says the trial, which does not include the alleged gunman, who remains on the run, is a distraction from finding those who ordered the hit.
Money: President Dmitry Medvedev announced a surprise move to investigate the country’s “state corporations.” He ordered Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, usually tasked with high-profile criminal cases, to probe whether the corporations are useful. The state corporations are mainly massive holdings like Russian Technologies, led by Putin ally Sergei Chemezov. Some have interpreted the move as a means to boost budget funds.
Russian Technologies includes among its holdings Avtovaz, the country’s largest carmaker. Around 2,000 employees held a protest in Tolyatti this week against plant idlings and unpaid wages. Rumors continue to swirl that Avtovaz is planning on firing 27,000 workers, or one-fourth of its workforce. Chemezov, accompanying Putin on a trip to Turkey, said this wasn’t true.
Putin was in Turkey to seal an energy deal, giving Russia access to Turkish territorial waters to build the South Stream pipeline, a project meant to rival the EU-backed Nabucco pipeline that will bring Central Asian gas to Europe.
The Russian ruble took a hit this week after a prominent Duma deputy said a 30-40% devaluation would be needed to pull the economy through the crisis. Russian firms are due to pay a host of debts in the autumn, spurring worries of bad loans and a bank collapse.
Despite a projected budget deficit, Putin said that spending on defense orders from state firms would rise by 1.2 percent next year.
Russia’s construction and real estate market continues to wither, with one estimate saying 80 percent of all construction projects in the country have been frozen as a result of the crisis. Also, a leading European expert said one-third of Russia’s 42,000 clothing retailers would close by the end of the year as a result of the crisis.
Elsewhere: In case you didn’t drool enough over the latest photos of Putin’s bare chest and macho cavorting in Siberia, click here for a slideshow. Western media went crazy for the story, but the award for worst headline goes to AP: “K-G-Beefcake.”
Another man getting a lot of press is “Russia’s Obama.” Joaquim Crima, a native of Guinea Bissau, is running for local office in southern Russia, but widespread racism means he stands little chance.
It’s been a bad couple of weeks for foreign diplomats in Russia. First, a UK diplomat in Ekaterinburg was caught on tape with two prostitutes. This week, a high-ranking American diplomat did. Video of the two incidents have been leaked to Russian press, and can be viewed online. The Daily Mail takes a look at “The Return of the Honey Trap.”