As the writer of Russian politics and international relations on the Mulgrave Gazette, my main focus is on Russia’s movements on the political stage of Europe and the world. However, the key manipulator of Russia’s politics is none other than its horse-riding strongman president, Vladimir Putin. Hence, I have decided to start a series that will be updated at the end of each month to summarize What’s Putin been Up To. But before I continue, I would like to make a disclaimer: although these updates will be comprised mostly of factual news, I will be providing my own analyses. However, I am not a political analyst and I am not in any way affiliated with anything Russian, although I would like to say, for the record, I like my potatoes and carbs just as much as your average Slav.

So without further ado…

BREIF MEETING BETWEEN DONALD TRUMP AND PUTIN IN VIETNAM—On November 9, the two presidents briefly met at a summit in Vietnam. They were photographed shaking hands. The meeting was not scheduled or planned.

Trump is under intense scrutiny at home due to having been accused of associating with the Russians during his election; White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has responded that even though Trump and Putin’s meeting was not formal, it did not mean they could not “bump into each other and say hello”.

SYRIAN PRESIDENT BASHAR al-ASSAD PAYS SURPRISE VISIT TO PUTIN IN SOCHI—Early on Tuesday morning, the Kremlin revealed through their website that President Bashar al-Assad has paid a surprise visit to Putin. The details of the visit seems to centralize around Russia’s infamous involvement in the Syrian civil war—a conflict that saw more than 6 million Syrians displaced and ignited the refugee crisis in the Levant and Europe.

Russia is known to back the Syrian president in the war against the many faction of insurgents and terrorist groups. Like Putin, Assad has been labeled by the West as a ruthless dictator; he will use any means to secure his power. While Putin has proved this by poisoning his critics, Assad is known for using chemical weapons in civilian areas that saw the heart-breaking deaths of thousands of innocent children.

In the visit, Assad thanks Putin for “defending the territorial integrity of [his] country”. After more than 6 years of fighting, the Syrian president claims he is “ready to work with everyone wanting peace”. While Putin points out that there is “still a long way off fully defeating terrorism,” he believes that Russian military operations in Syria will soon “come to an end”.

AMERICA AND THE 2018 RUSSIAN ELECTION—The Kremlin has pointed a finger to the US, accusing the country of trying to turn Russia’s oligarchs against Putin. This comes months before the 2018 Russian election to be held in March which may hand Putin another 6-year term. Should he win, this will be his 4th term as president of Russia.

Oligarchs are the most wealthy elite of the country and possess a great deal of political influence; their wealth was mostly accumulated during the dissolution of the USSR, when the state was in a disarray. When Putin rose to power, he made a deal with the oligarchs to gain their support—long story short: Putin would not interfere in their business and dealings as long they backed him.

On November 30th, Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitriy Peskov took to the podium and one of the questions posed was: “Do you agree with the opinion that the U.S. authorities are using sanctions [against Russia] in order to set wealthy supporters of the Russian president against him?”

Peskov immediately answered that he was “sure that this is the exactly the case.”

Russian is no stranger to economic sanctions put into place by Western nations. Especially after Putin’s seizure and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, which killed more than 10,000 people. Due to the sanctions, gas prices and the Rouble, the Russian currency, has plunged and there was great inflation. In response, Putin has banned many Western food products.

Peskov was then asked if he “thinks that such U.S. efforts are linked to the presidential election”. Putin’s spokesperson firmly replied that he is “convinced of this”.

Despite the hardship Russia has faced in its economy, I think Putin will not relinquish his power any time soon. His prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, has told reporters that the party—United Russia—will support Putin if he seeks reelection. This is answer enough that Putin will return to take up another term as the Russian president.

Recently, the White House has decided on new sanctions—more personal than economic. Drawn up by the Treasury Department, it will put people loyal to Putin onto a list, based on their closeness to the president, and interestingly, their net worth. And although the consequences are unclear, it puts many of Russia’s elites on edge; several unnamed billionaire businessmen were said to have expressed concerns, however Peskov claims otherwise—that he was “not aware”, if there were any. In fact, oil mogul Gennady Timchenko has called his inclusion on such a “blacklist” in 2014 “an honour” for him. Not surprising, since he is very close to Putin. What are friends for, right?

The list will be sent to Congress in January 2018, shortly before the Russian elections are to take place. Until then, we will have to wait and see how loyal Russia’s business elites truly are to their president.

PUTIN CALENDAR FOR 2018 RELEASED—Here at the Gazette, I like to end things on a lighter note. Recently, the infamous Putin Calendar for 2018 has been released.

This year, the calendar feature pictures of the Russian president cuddling with kittens, judo-slamming an opponent to the ground, and on podium of the United Nations, just to name a few.

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