AM News: MinFin Warns of Depletion of Reserve Fund; Supreme Court to Review Removal of Opposition Parnas

September 9, 2016
Russia's Ministry of Finance. Photo by Roman Galkin


Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

Recent Analysis and Translations:

– What Has Ramzan Kadyrov Been Up To? Quietly Cultivating Regional and Kremlin Officials, Now He Meets with Putin
– RBC Publishes Report Sourced in FSB and Military on Wagner Private Military Contractor with 2,500 Fighters in Syria
– Russian Parliamentary Elections Round-Up: Open Russia’s Baronova Registered; Shevchenko Disqualified
– The Kremlin is Working Hard to Make Donald Trump President


AM News: MinFin Warns of Depletion of Reserve Fund; Supreme Court to Review Removal of Opposition Parnas

The Russian ruble is trading at 64.67 to the dollar and 72.54 to the euro. Brent crude is selling for $48.78 per barrel. 

The following headlines have been taken from RBC, Gazeta, Kommersant and Novaya Gazeta.

What We’re Reading

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Kremlin Asked Russian News Agencies to Remove Photos of Meeting with Eton Students
The Kremlin asked Russian news agencies to remove pictures of President Vladimir Putin meeting with Eton students last week, RBC reported.
The photos, featured in a story in The Guardian  and The Telegraph, about the schoolboys’ long-awaited meeting on September 1, went viral after publication.

In addition to The Guardian photos, showing the students shaking hands with Putin and sitting with him at a round table in an ornate room at the Kremlin, photos by the students posted on Facebook also generated a lot of comment.

One photo of the meeting was made by Mikhail Klimentyev, Putin’s personal photographer. It was then submitted to TASS after which it was purchased by Getty Images.

But now neither TASS, RIA Novosti, the state wire service, nor Getty Images have the photo any more, RBC reports.

Four photos of the meeting can be found on the site of Leta, the Latvian news agency, but with a notice from TASS to remove all photos with the label “President Putin meets with students of Eton College” dated August 25, 2016.

As RBC is a subscriber to TASS’ photo bank, it requested a photo from the meeting but discovered there weren’t any in the database.

A TASS employee told RBC that the president’s press service had demanded that the photos be removed. An official representative of TASS then refused to comment. The TASS employee whom RBC originally contacted said that RIA Novosti had also requested the photo. But a representative of RIA Novosti said they had no information about the Kremlin’s request to remove the photos.

A source familiar with the preparations for the meeting said that the reason the request had gone out to remove the photos was because they were “unofficial”. Originally it was planned that Putin would have a formal meeting with the students, but then this was changed, and the photo services were not warned in time. 
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told RBC: “This was a closed meeting, and the photo ended up at TASS by mistake. At our request it was removed.”
RBC reported that Peskov had earlier described the meeting as “private,” and confirmed that it was organized by Fr. Tikhon (Shevkunov), an archimandrite or abbot in the Russian Orthodox Church who is often described as Putin’s dukhovnik, or father confessor. Neither Fr. Tikhon nor the Kremlin confirm this, according to the Financial Times.

We wonder if there is a more mundane reason for the withdrawal of the photos.

Trenton Bricken, one of the Eton students who is now in the 2020 class of Duke, wrote on his Facebook page that Putin was “small in person but not in presence.”

Set as default press image
Photo by Trenton Bricken
2016-09-09 11:29:49

The Russian state media generally avoids showing how short Putin is, either photographing him with close-ups, seated, or alone so that he doesn’t contrast with others.

It is only when he goes abroad and can’t control the photo ops that the contrast between Putin’s height and other world leaders, especially tall ones like US President Barack Obama, become evident.

Set as default press image
Putin and Obama in China at the G20 summit. Photo by AP/Getty Images
2016-09-09 11:31:28

There was much speculation on social media about the reason for the meeting. Was Putin trying to pre-empt a scheduled meeting with the new British Prime Minister Theresa May, trying to show he could make his own connections to the most influential people in British society? Was Putin, an old KGB officer, consciously echoing a scene reminiscent of the recruitment of  the infamous “Cambridge Five”, some of whom were graduates of Eton?
David Wei, the organizer of the meeting wrote that the organization of the meeting had required 10 months, 1,040 letters, 1,000 text messages and endlessly sleepless nights,” suggesting that it was very hard to come to the Kremlin’s attention. According to the Russian Service of the BBC, the boys approached Fr. Tikhon themselves, not visa versa.
While likely we will never know the real reason for making the meeting closed and removing the photographs, there could be a mundane reason: Putin may have been offended at seeing himself appear shorter next to the tall Eton students he was trying to influence.

In a book of interviews published in 2000 titled First Person, Putin described how he was bullied as a child in the schoolyard because he was short, and he mastered judo as a way to defend himself.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick