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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2214

Tit-for-tat economic sanctions from Russia;
Target: Telegram

Edited by Ilan Berman and Margot Van Loon
May 16, 2018

April 12:

High-level deconfliction efforts continue as the United States considers a military response to the suspected chemical attack in Syria.
The Moscow Times reports that the Russian military is maintaining contact with the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and has requested the coordinates of any planned air strike targets. Russia backs the Syrian government's denials that chemical weapons were used in the town – even claiming that the attack was staged – and has warned of "catastrophic" results should Russian servicemembers or air defense systems come under fire from a U.S. response.

Russia is mulling a different kind of government service. The country is now contemplating requiring graduates of public universities to complete several years of compulsory government service in a range of state institutions after finishing school.
According to Rossiyskaya Gazeta, a measure just submitted to the State Duma envisions this sort of compulsory administrative service in a range of potential institutions, including "the federal state body, the regional government body of the entity, the local government, the state (municipal) institution, the unitary enterprise, the state corporation, the state company" or in companies that are at least 50 percent publicly-owned.

The bill is being touted as a jobs-creation measure by its architect. "52.6 percent of specialists who have received diplomas on programs for training highly qualified personnel can not find a job because they do not have any work experience. 31 percent - because they offer a low salary (again due to lack of experience), for 25.9 percent of graduates there are no suitable places at all," notes Sergei Vostretsov, who sits on the Duma's Committee on Labor, Social Policy and Veteran Affairs. "Thus, it turns out that at present there is a rather large percentage of graduates of higher education institutions who have diplomas of specialists in this or that branch, but who could not find a job in their specialty for three years or more since the end of the university." Ostensibly, the proposed bill would help bridge that employment gap by providing opportunities to new graduates in the public sector.

April 13:

Russia is poised to retaliate for new U.S. economic sanctions.
The Moscow Times reports that members of the State Duma have introduced legislation that would grant the Kremlin power to ban a broad assortment of U.S. imports – including consulting services, alcohol and tobacco products, pharmaceuticals, and software. The list also extends to several areas of bilateral cooperation, including atomic energy and manufacturing, as well as potential restrictions on U.S. citizens who work abroad in Russia.

The potential effects are significant. Although the Russian stock market did not react to the announcement, the country imports roughly $12.5 billion in goods from the United States, and the scale of the proposed restrictions would severely impact Russian consumers. The Times, notes, however, that the Kremlin has not explicitly voiced support for the draft - something that could mean that the proposed restrictions are intended as a signal, rather than "concrete measures" to be implemented by the Russian government.

A popular messaging platform has lost its battle with the Kremlin over privacy concerns. ROSKOMNADZOR, the Russian agency responsible for media oversight, has sued social media app Telegram for refusing to turn over encrypted content to the country's Federal Security Service in accordance with a 2016 law that mandated backdoors in encrypted communications applications.
According to the Financial Times, the courts have ruled in ROSKOMNADZOR's favor, empowering the regulator to enforce a ban on Telegram across all of the country's internet service providers. The lawyer for Telegram founder Pavel Durov called the proceedings "a blatant farce."

April 15:

The strange circumstances of a Yekaterinburg reporter's death have raised suspicions among his friends and colleagues,
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports. Maksim Borodin, an investigative journalist whose work focused on domestic crime and corruption, fell from his fifth-story apartment on April 12th. Shortly before his death, Borodin covered the early February U.S. airstrike in Syria that killed as many as 200 Russian mercenaries. In his work, he publicly identified several of the casualties. While the Sverdlovsk police are investigating the death as a suicide, Borodin's editor denies that the journalist killed himself. A close friend has added that Borodin called him the day before his death, saying that his building was surrounded by "security forces" and that he feared he was about to be searched and would need a lawyer.