Woman Holds Severed Head of Child at Metro

After an hour of parading back and forth in front of Subway and KFC cafes near the October Fields Metro station, Moscow police have arrested an Uzbek woman who severed the head of a child she was babysitting.

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Photo credit: ruposters.ru

Muscovite Alyona Kuratova told TV “Rain” reporters, “I came out of the shopping center and they would not let me through. There were people running and screaming “bomb, bomb.”  

The woman paced back and forth while holding the child’s severed head and witnesses say that she shouted slogans like “Allahu Akbar.” The woman shouted that she had a bomb, causing residents to stand back and wait for police.

Moscow police closed off the Metro exit prior to rushing out from the Metro stairway and wrestling her to the ground. Street surveillance cameras show the child’s head rolling on the sidewalk as the woman was tackled.

In a released statement Russia’s Investigative Committee said it was believed that the woman is a nanny in her 30s who was babysitting the 4 year old girl for her parents. Another child is normally in the home, but investigators say that the older child left in the morning with the parents as they went to work.

Russian television network LifeNews has tentatively identified the woman as Gyulchekhra Bobokulova,  a 39-year-old native of Uzbekistan. Investigators say that the killer waited for the parents to leave, then killed the girl and removed her head before setting the apartment on fire.

Investigators who arrived at the apartment with fire crews reported finding the headless body of a small girl.

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A Year Without Boris Nemtsov

Thousands of latent opposition members came out of the woodwork on Saturday (27 February 2016) to honour the memory of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. The well-known opposition figure, a former prime minister during the early years of Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union, was a frequent critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

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It was the first anniversary of Nemtsov’s murder and Moscow police estimated the number of marchers at 7,500. Various various media sources, including the Kremlin operated Russia Today television, estimated the crowds at closer to 30,000. Critics frequently accuse Moscow police officials of miscounting opposition numbers.

Marchers included other leaders from the Russian opposition who came to honour the slain leader, and to remind authorities that the government has failed to name the person(s) responsible for his senseless murder when he was gunned down from behind, just steps from the Kremlin while crossing a bridge over the Moscow River.

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Opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his wife, Yulia.

Police were out in full riot gear and made certain that marchers followed the government approved protest march route. It was the largest gathering of the Russian opposition since exactly one year ago when citizens gathered to protest Nemtsov’s killing.

Boris police

Nemtsov was 55-years-old when slain. He was walking home from a restaurant with his girlfriend late on 27 February 2015, just days before he planned to release a book detailing Russian military involvement in Eastern Ukraine. Authorities searched his residence the day following his murder and Nemtsov’s materials were confiscated.

Boris fight on
A play on words as the “soft sign” at the end of the name Boris in Cyrillic gives the word a new meaning: “Fight on.”

A group of Chechen men have been charged with his murder but Nemtsov’s supporters claim that the men are nothing more than hired killers and that the government seems uninterested in naming whoever was responsible for his murder. Chechen leader Roman Kadyrov denies a role in the killing, but has frequently said that the suspects are “true patriots of Russia”.

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“Nemtsov Most” means Nemtsov bridge.

Although not official, the name of the bridge where Nemtsov was murdered is often called “Nemtsov Most” which translates as Nemtsov bridge. Citizens have petitioned the city to erect a commemorative plaque at the spot, but the government denied the request saying that such a memorial would be too negative.

Times have been rough for the opposition. They have been hounded and pressured to go underground again, just like as in Soviet times. In 2015 authorities barred opposition candidates from running in most local elections and at present there is no coherent structure or leadership among those willing to risk opposing those currently in power.

(Photo credits: Ilya Varlamov and George Malets.)

Are Sanctions Against Russia Working?

If sanctions were not working, the Russians would not be so desperate to end them. A key message from President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev to their European neighbors is the plea to end the Western sanctions.

President Putin’s imposition of “reverse sanctions” was logical, and understandable as to why he ordered them, but over the longer term they have come to hamstring the economy even more. Ironically, the Western sanctions hurt wealthy individuals and businesses the most, while the reverse sanctions banning many products from Europe have hurt the Russian “little people” most.

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Grocery stores still are overflowing with food, mainly because Eurasian Union partners Belarus and Kazakhstan are cheating by mislabeling products. The Kremlin knows it, and is frustrated by it, but also understands that these products serve as a safety valve to hold discontent in check given the inflation and poorer quality of products available. The higher prices for truly less than ordinary goods hurts the folks who can least afford the economic pain.

In past years it was rare to see shoppers read food labels. That is a common reaction in an emerging economy as shoppers are thrilled with the expansion of choices. These days aisles are more clogged as shoppers in supermarkets whip out their reading glasses and spend time pouring over every ingredient, trying to decipher whether a product is really as good as labeled, or just another misrepresented pretender.

Who Is Russia’s Number 2?

In answering the question of who is Russia’s number 2 leader, up to last year most Kremlin watchers would have suggested it to be prime minister Dmitry Medvedev. The two have been close confidants and friends for decades.

It was Medvedev who maintained wireless communications when Mr. Putin rode an underwater submersible in August to explore a shipwreck in Crimean waters. But the Putin tour also included someone who usually remains in the shadows–security chief Sergei Ivanov, Russia’s chief of the presidential administration.

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Sergei Ivanov at a Security Council meeting.

Kremlin watchers understand that Putin and Ivanov, like Putin and Medvedev, share a long history. Ivanov and Putin came from the foreign services of the KGB, and Putin appointed Ivanov as his deputy in 1998 after then-president Boris Yeltsin had named Putin to head the FSB, the new name for the KGB. They have been together ever since.

Since last August, Ivanov has been given a more visible role in the government. Not only do the security services answer to him, but he has begun to represent the government at public events and in official meetings with foreign leaders. Last Wednesday, former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger traveled to Moscow. Kissinger is a long time friend of Vladimir Putin and the two met that afternoon at the presidential residence outside Moscow. Kissinger had come to Moscow as a guest for the opening of the Primakov Center for Foreign Policy Cooperation. However, the official meeting between Kissinger and the government was with Sergei Ivanov.

Kissinger and Sergei Ivanov Moscow 4 Feb 2016

Last May, Russia Insider, a publication which attempts to appear independent, but is in fact owned, operated, and bankrolled by the Kremlin media structure (in this case RBTH), introduced Ivanov among several other new faces of Russian leadership. Then, in November 2015 the publication seemed to suggest that Ivanov, although not elected, holds the number two position in the Russian government.

Russia Insider led that edition with the headline: Key Interview Confirms Sergey Ivanov, Putin’s Chief of Staff Is Russia’s #2. The publication went on to say that the interview by the Russian news agency TASS (Kremlin controlled), was designed to “explain Ivanov’s role and to make him better known to the Russian public. No other Russian official apart from Putin himself talks in such a wide ranging way.”

Some may ask if this is the security forces way of reigning in and keeping Mr. Putin in check? That might be doubtful, as Ivanov is as much a hardliner, and perhaps even more than Putin. A very intriguing statement by Ivanov in the TASS interview was this one: “Don’t think the Kremlin always decides everything, sometimes it doesn’t.”

Could it be a signal that Putin will retire, and forego another term? Again, we do not know, but it was interesting that a Kremlin controlled publication such as Russia Insider would venture to write “if Putin does decide to go, then Ivanov looks like an obvious potential successor.”

Putin’s Choice for Next USA President

Count on the Kremlin to be watching the current American election cycle very closely. A lot is at stake for the Russians–especially in normalizing relationships and bringing to an end the crippling sanctions that Moscow so desperately craves.

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Mr. Putin in the Kremlin during a summit with leaders from India, December 2015.

While they will never admit it openly, the folks in the Kremlin understand that American politics, for all its imperfections, is far more honest and transparent than anything the Russians have yet to experience in their long history. To paraphrase a running Russian joke, “The Americans are only a year away from their election, and they still don’t know who is the winner!”

Vladimir Putin must certainly be enjoying the debates, as both parties have allowed these events to descend into something that more resembles a barroom brawl instead of a spirited airing of the issues. During the 2012 Russian elections, Mr. Putin stayed above the fray of campaigning and debates. Instead of participating in debates with his challengers, of whom everyone already understood the eventual outcome, he claimed that he was too busy running the country as prime minister. He had no time for silly things like answering questions from the media or the opposition.

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Photo: Gage Skidmore

Of all the remaining candidates, both Republican and Democrat, there is one individual who Mr. Putin has described as “outstanding and talented,” and “undoubtedly a very colourful, talented person.” If you guessed that to be wealthy businessman Donald Trump, you may now proceed to the head of the class.

Mr. Putin has experienced the chilliness of Hillary Clinton, and heard the fiery rhetoric from most of the Republican candidates. Trump is different, a least in Putin’s estimation. Following his most recent national press conference, Mr. Putin opined about Trump by saying, “He is the absolute leader of the presidential race, as we see it today. He says that he wants to move to another level of relations, to a deeper level of relations with Russia. How can we not welcome that? Of course we welcome it.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has said some things that surely sound like music to Putin’s ears. Trump has said that the world might be a better place had Saddam Hussein and Moammar Qaddafi been left in power. He has questioned the American effort to dethrone Syria’s Assad.

In a statement from the Trump campaign, Trump waxed eloquent about the Russian leader. “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond. I have always felt that Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace, not to mention trade and all of the other benefits derived from mutual respect.”

The mutual admiration of Putin and Trump has not been lost on other American candidates. Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican candidate, went so far as to create a spoof website that promotes a Trump/Putin ticket.

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Spoof website: http://trump-putin2016.com

The Kasich spoof includes a video promising that, if elected, the duo would soon “Make Tyranny Great Again.”

Among some there is a suspicion that Trump has an affinity for the women of Eastern Europe. His first wife, Ivana Marie Zelníčková, was born in Czechoslovakia. They had three children together. Wife number two, Marla Maples Trump, gave “the Donald” a daughter, Tiffany. Currently, wife number three is Melanija Knavs Trump, born in Slovenia. Trump has a young son from this third marriage.

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Donald and Melania.

Given the Soviet history of the region which gave Trump two of his wives, one might easily come to think of why he might wish to get along with Vladimir Putin. But, there may be more to it than simple geography. Both men see themselves as strong leaders. Both respect strength and fail to countenance weakness.

Critics claim that neither man seems to have a strong resolve to adhere to constitutional principles as laid out in their respective nations. Could they get along? Maybe. But, at what level? That, as Mr. Putin said in a news conference, is something for American voters to decide.

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