Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2220

Protesting Russia's Telegram ban... and more;
Putin's policies driving minority groups abroad

June 6, 2018

April 30:

The United States is making good on its pledge of concrete backing to Ukraine in its ongoing struggle against Russia and Russian-supported separatists.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that the State Department has confirmed the delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. The delivery is part of a $47 million aid package approved by the U.S. government last year as part of lethal aid designed to bolster Kyiv in its four-year standoff with Russian and Russian-supported forces.

May 1:

The New York Times reports that thousands of Russians have gathered in Moscow to protest the Russian government's efforts to block the popular social messaging app Telegram. But the paper notes that what began as a demonstration against specific Kremlin policy quickly metamorphosed into a more broad-based rally against the Russian government and its repressive practices. "The key demand of the rally," which was represented by hashtag #DigitalResistance, "was that the Russian internet remain free from government censorship," the Times reports.

May 2:

For the first time in twenty years, Russia's military spending is trending downward under the weight of domestic economic woes.
The Washington Post cites new data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) showing that Russia decreased its military spending from $69.2 billion in 2016 (4.3 percent of its GDP) to $66.3 billion in 2017, with further plans to reduce expenditures to below three percent of GDP by 2022. The budgetary reversal runs counter to the overall increase in global military expenditures seen during the same timeframe. After recent aggressive military modernization efforts and international adventurism on the part of the Russian government, "this should come as a relief for Europe and NATO," commented senior SIPRI researcher Siemon Wezeman.

Russians are seeking asylum in the United States in record numbers, and
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) believes that government persecution of sexual minorities and political opponents is to blame. According to data obtained by RFE/RL through a Freedom of Information Act request, 2,664 first-time Russian asylum seekers filed U.S. applications last year – a 40 percent increase over 2016 and a 268 percent increase since President Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency in 2012. A major driver of this trend, experts say, is the discriminatory platform pursued by the Kremlin during Putin’s third presidential term, including the infamous law passed by the Duma in 2013 that banned all forms of gay "propaganda."

The propaganda law was recently condemned in a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights for "reinforc[ing] stigma and prejudice and encourag[ing] homophobia," and RFE/RL's sources say the law has made it impossible for members of the LGBT community in Russia to live normal lives or – for HIV positive individuals – obtain vital medication and treatment. Another major demographic in the application boom are entrepreneurs who have found themselves or their businesses at odds with the Kremlin and have been increasingly targeted for "antigovernment" behavior as a result.

Of major Western destination countries, only Germany received more first-time Russian applicants than the United States. Most of Germany's applicants were ethnic Chechens, who reportedly had difficulties obtaining U.S. visas when fleeing the semi-autonomous region's violent crackdown on the LGBT community last year. RFE/RL notes that the reported asylum applications likely do not fully capture the numbers of Russians escaping persecution at home, as many opt for more discreet exit routes, such as educational programs abroad, to hide their intentions to leave Russia permanently.

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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