Progressive Russia Analysts See 2024 Putin Succession Battle — or Lifetime Rule

With the results of Russia’s presidential elections now nearly a week old, Russia’s domestic political analysts and foreign observers alike have largely arrived at the same conclusion: The March 18 contest brought few surprises for Russians and Westerners alike.

While the Kremlin insists the elections were fair and transparent, a number of Russia’s leading political analysts are voicing concerns and predicting a succession crisis in the country in 2024, when Russian constitutional terms limits say Putin, now 65, will be ineligible to seek another consecutive term.

The Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which sent hundreds of election observers to monitor polling, said the election was conducted in an orderly fashion but lacked real choice. Putin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov, however, said the results were highly significant — and that they speak for themselves.

“Elections that took place on March 18 demonstrated that our society is fully consolidated,” Peskov said in a statement to the press. “And it is not consolidated because of someone’s attacks, but, rather, thanks to the plans of further development of the country, which the election results demonstrated.”

Compared to Soviet elections

However, a number of Russian political scientists disagree with this assessment. Among them is Dmitry Oreshkina, a political scientist, journalist and the 2001 Person of the Year, according to the Rambler web portal — Russia’s largest.

“[Putin] won. What am I unhappy about? The elections resemble Soviet elections,” Oreshkina said in an interview with VOA’s Russian Service on Thursday.

“Firstly, there was no alternative to Putin,” he added, referring to the fact that although Putin won his fourth term, with 77 percent of the vote from a field of eight candidates, numerous news outlets have reported that his campaign was exempt from most election laws and restrictions.

“Similarly, Soviet ballots only had one name on them,” Oreshkina added. “Secondly, the electorate was [coerced into going] to the polls. People can’t risk taking a political stance. Their bosses tell them they need to go, so they go.”

No real transparency

Ekaterina Shulman, senior lecturer in public policy at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, said polling results reported by Kremlin officials lack any real transparency.

“One of the post-elections scandals [in Russia] is the statement of Russia’s internal affairs minister [Sergey Shoigu] that 99 percent of the military and their family members have voted, and 89 percent of those supported Russia’s commander-in-chief,” said Shukman, who is also a host for Echo of Moscow radio. “That is crazy, because the military personnel vote at the same polls as everyone else — with the exception of military communities and military bases abroad — and there’s absolutely no way to know who they voted for. This makes this statement either deeply speculative or proof of fraud.”

Succession crisis?

As for Russia’s future, Kirill Rogov, a political expert and journalist who has championed Russian independent media, believes that the country will face an intractable succession crisis.

“Everything will be focused on what happens in 2024,” he told VOA. “The elites are going to find the succession issue unacceptable, because whoever Putin’s successor is, [this successor] would have to — despite staying loyal to Putin — reshuffle the elites in order to maintain power.”

Oreshkin challenged the notion of any succession within Putin’s lifetime, saying the former KGB spy will continue to lead the country in whatever capacity he sees fit, for as long as he sees fit.

“Who is going to be Putin’s successor? Putin himself. We don’t know yet in what capacity, whether he’ll be prime minister or the leader of a new state, but he’ll find it hard to leave,” Oreshkin said. “And each year it’ll only become harder.”

This story originated in VOA’s Russian Service.

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Turkey’s Ruling Party Extends Control Over Media

The sale of one Turkey’s largest media conglomerates to a pro-government businessman is being seen as the ruling AKP party strengthening its control of the media.

The sale came as parliament on Thursday passed legislation widening government control of the internet, one of the last remaining platforms for critical and independent reporting.

Dogan Media Company, owns a chain of prominent newspapers and TV channels. The company was reportedly sold to Demiroren Holding, whose owner, Erdogan Demiroren, has close ties to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Demiroren will probably do to Dogan media what he did when he bought independent newspapers Milliyet and Vatan, and turn it into a government mouthpiece,” analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners predicted. “With this sale, there is nothing left in the mainstream media for a guy or girl out there who is seeking independent information, that period is now over in Turkish media.”

“The process of gathering the Turkish media industry in one hand according to the Putin model is completed,” Kadri Gursel, a leading Turkish journalist, tweeted.

​Bitter struggle ends

The sale of Dogan Media ends a prolonged bitter struggle between owner Aydin Dogan and Erdogan.

For decades, Dogan was Turkey’s most powerful media tycoon. With most of Turkey’s media gradually coming under the direct or indirect control of the ruling AKP party, Dogan media remained one of last sources mainstream independent reporting, observers said.

In 2009, Dogan’s Hurriyet newspaper provoked Erdogan with a report on a German court linking prominent AKP party officials to a charity fraud. Shortly afterward, tax authorities placed a multibillion-dollar fine on the media company, nearly bankrupting it.

A series of court cases have also been launched against the media tycoon and other family members, with prosecutors demanding heavy prison sentences for the alleged crimes.

“The prospect of spending rest of his life in jail is what I think finally forced his decision to sell,” analyst Yesilada said. “It’s symbolic because AKP has this mentality of conquest of its enemies. In the end, Dogan surrendered and this should serve as a lesson as to whatever enemies Erdogan has left, if he has a grudge against you, you should run.”

The government denied such allegations, insisting the judiciary is independent.

Internet gains

There are still a number of critical newspapers and satirical magazines, but Dogan media is the only newspaper distributor outside government control. Observers suggest publications critical of the government could face distribution problems in the future.

In Turkey, the internet is increasingly becoming a platform for independent journalism. Many journalists who’ve been fired for reporting critical of Erdogan have continued working on the growing numbers of web publications.

Some news stations have also begun broadcasting on the internet to maintain independence.

New controls on internet, broadcasting

But Thursday’s action by the Turkish parliament put sweeping new legislation in place to control broadcasting on the internet.

“Now considering Dogan Media is being sold, there is not much of the mainstream media let alone independent media, the only area is left is the internet,” law professor Yaman Akdeniz, an expert on cyber freedom at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, said. “People follow not only local produced news media on (the) internet, but also Turkish broadcasts by the BBC, VOA and DW, as news sources. So the government is trying to take action to control these before the elections, which might be early this summer.”

Among the new reforms: the powers of the state regulator for radio and television have been extended to internet broadcasting.

The regulator is controlled by representatives of the ruling AKP party. Under the new legislation, internet broadcasters will have to apply for a license from the regulator.

“Hypothetically, they (the regulators) could declare these programs incite terrorism, so they could close down the programs or revoke their licenses. They could ask (for) the blocking of the website,” professor Akdeniz said.

Observers point out that a growing number of Turkish reporters working overseas are broadcasting internet programs, particularly Germany. The ability of Turkish authorities to impose controls on these is likely limited, observers said.

Well-informed public

Recent surveys found more than 70 percent of Turks have access to the internet, and 70 percent of Turkish youth rely solely on the internet for news.

“The underlying truth (is) these media takeovers and current internet censorship will be completely ineffective,” analyst Yesilada said. “The Turkish public intends to remain well-informed, and despite these shocks within a few years, different networks and ways will develop for them to remain informed.”

Turkish authorities have already banned more than 170,000 websites, but observers point out that Turks have become increasingly savvy on the internet, using various means to circumvent restrictions, such as by using virtual private networks (VPN).

But authorities are quickly becoming adept, too.

“Fifteen VPN providers are currently blocked by Turkey,” cyber rights expert Akdeniz said. “It’s becoming really, really difficult for standard internet users to access banned content. It’s not a simple but a complex government machinery now seeking to control the internet.”

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Tangled French Relations with Libya Forms Backdrop of Campaign Financing Scandal

Allegations of illicit Libyan campaign financing now grabbing French headlines are also revisiting — and potentially revising — the tangled, roller-coaster relationship between Paris and Tripoli.

Once centered on arms and oil sales, France’s strategic interests toward the North African country have since morphed to concerns about security and migration flows to Europe, following the chaotic aftermath of Libya’s 2011 uprising.

From welcoming former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to Paris, to leading a NATO campaign that helped to unseat him, Paris has taken a more proactive policy toward Libya and other parts of the Middle East in recent years, some analysts say — starting under the centre-right presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Today, Sarkozy is under formal investigation over allegations he received more than $60 million in illegal campaign financing from late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to fund his successful 2007 run for president. Now 63, the ex-leader forcefully denies the accusations, saying they have made his life “hell” and cost him re-election five years later.

Behind the claims are a raft of shady characters, a twisting narrative and hazy facts. Sarkozy’s accusers include French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine, who allegedly delivered the Libyan funds to Sarkozy and his chief of staff in briefcases stuffed with big bills.

A turning point

They also include a number of top former Gadhafi officials, including the Libyan leader’s son, Saif Al-Islam Gadhafi.

To be sure, the Libyan probe is not the first judicial investigation involving a former French president — Sarkozy himself has faced two others. But it is particularly striking given the source of the financing and its broader fallout.

“It’s a very important turning point,” said geopolitical analyst Philippe Moreau Defarges and author of a new book on globalization. “In France a president of the Republic is untouchable. And now, he can be indicted like anybody else.”

Sarkozy lost his re-election bid to Socialist Francois Hollande in 2012. His subsequent run for president in 2016 died in the center-right primaries. But his five years in office were marked by a frenetic governing style and a dramatic shift in France’s Libyan policy — reflecting some say, the start of a more assertive French foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere.

“When it comes to Africa and the Middle East, Paris has come a long way from the freedom fries’ dovishness of the mid-2000s,” Foreign Affairs magazine wrote last year, referring to France’s refusal to support the US-led intervention in Iraq in 2003, under Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac.

A controversial visit

Shortly after taking office, Sarkozy’s dispatched his then-wife Cecilia to Libya, on a mission to rescue five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, accused of deliberately infecting Libyan children with HIV.

In December 2007, Sarkozy invited Gadhafi to Paris, a visit marked by the Libyan leader pitching an enormous Bedouin tent in the French capital and blocking traffic as his motorcade tooled around the city. The visit translated into billions of dollars of contracts and French jobs. But opposition politicians and rights activists were outraged.

So was Sarkozy’s then-secretary of state for human rights, Rama Yade. France was “not a doormat for a leader — terrorist or no terrorist — to wipe his feet of the blood of his crimes,” Rama Yade said.

Then came the Libyan uprising in March 2011. Sarkozy became the first Western leader to support the rebel opposition. France and Britain headed a NATO military campaign that ultimately helped to bring about Gadhafi’s death. Shortly after Sarkozy switched alliances, just days after the uprising began, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi first came out with allegations about the campaign financing.

In an interview with Africanews channel this week, the younger Gadhafi reportedly said he and other key witnesses were willing to testify against Sarkozy. He said the former director of Libya’s intelligence services had a recording of the first meeting between Gadhafi and Sarkozy, before Sarkozy’s election bid.

In Le Figaro’s report of Sarkozy’s statements to investigating magistrates, the former president argues Gadhafi had plenty of time to deliver proof of any alleged wrongdoing.

During the seven months in 2011 when the Libyan leader was still alive, “nothing prevented him to hand over the documents, photos, recordings, bank withdrawals,” that he and his aides claimed to possess, Sarkozy reportedly said.

Meanwhile, Libya tipped into chaos. A 2014 British parliament report partly faulted both Sarkozy and former UK Prime Minister David Cameron for being overly hasty and using faulty intelligence to push for the 2011 military intervention that helped to seed the subsequent turmoil.

It cited claims by a US official that Sarkozy pushed for the campaign to get a bigger share of Libyan oil, increase France’s position in the Middle East — and for his own political interests.

“Sarkozy is a showman, he likes to be seen, he likes to be talked about,” analyst Moreau Defarges said.

Caution toward Libya

To be sure, French-Libyan relations have been marked by plenty of other rocky moments. Ties fed on French weapons deals in the 1970s frayed in the 1980s as France and Libya backed opposing sides in Chad’s civil war.

In 1989, French operated UTA Flight 772 was blown up over the Sahara desert, killing all 170 people on board. Paris blamed the Libyan government. Only in 2004 did Libya agree to pay compensation to families of the victims, as part of Gadhafi’s bid to end Libya’s international isolation.

Sarkozy’s successors, Socialist Francois Hollande and now Emmanuel Macron, have since wrestled with a fractured and turmoil-torn Libya that has become a magnet for both Islamic State militants as well as Europe-bound African migrants.

Last July, Macron hosted a summit in Paris gathering both the UN-backed government in Tripoli and the eastern commander Khalifa Haftar in a bid to reach peace. But critics claim the initiative only made the situation worse by giving Haftar legitimacy.

Macron also announced a plan to rescue African migrants in Libya, following reports some were being sold as slaves. But he and other European governments have been faulted for also supporting the Libyan coastguard in turning back migrants at sea.

Sarkozy’s presidency also casts a long shadow, analyst Moreau Defarges believes.

“The problem with Sarkozy is he wanted to be so high profile, so important,” he said. “And I think Hollande and Macron did not forget that lesson; that with Libya, one must be very, very cautious.

“Libya can be a trap,” Moreau Defarges added. “And there’s a chance that Sarkozy can be destroyed by this trap.”

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Cosby Wants Judge Ousted Over Wife’s Sex-Assault Advocacy

Bill Cosby’s lawyers on Thursday asked the judge in his upcoming sexual assault retrial to step aside, arguing the judge could be seen as biased because his wife is a social worker who has described herself as an “activist and advocate for assault victims.”

Cosby’s lawyers contend some of Judge Steven O’Neill’s recent pretrial rulings could give the appearance he’s being influenced by his wife’s work, particularly his decision last week to let prosecutors have up to five additional accusers testify when he allowed just one at the first trial.

O’Neill did not immediately rule on the request. He and his wife, Deborah, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Prosecutors called the recusal request “a thinly veiled attempt to delay and pollute the jury pool.”

Deborah O’Neill is a psychotherapist at the University of Pennsylvania and coordinates a team providing care, support and advocacy for student sexual assault victims. In 2012, she wrote her doctoral dissertation on acquaintance rape, the type of assault at issue in Cosby’s criminal case.

Last year, Cosby’s lawyers said, Deborah O’Neill gave money to a group linked to an organization that’s planning a protest outside the retrial.

Cosby has pleaded not guilty to charges he drugged and molested former Temple University athletics administrator Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.

Cosby’s first trial ended in a hung jury last year. Jury selection in his retrial is scheduled to start April 2.

Seeking a new judge is the latest attempt the 80-year-old Cosby’s retooled defense team has made to push back the start of his retrial.

O’Neill rejected a request last week to delay the retrial at least three months so Cosby’s lawyers, led by former Michael Jackson lawyer Tom Mesereau, could have more time to prepare for the five additional accuser witnesses.

Cosby’s wife, Camille, blasted O’Neill after the first trial as “overtly arrogant and collaborating with the district attorney,” but his lawyers back then never objected to him presiding over the case.

Lawyers’ arguments

Making the case that Deborah O’Neill’s work should disqualify her husband could be tough.

Cosby’s new legal team cited just one relevant case. But in that case, a judge’s spouse worked as a deputy district attorney. The team also referenced judicial rules that bar judges from letting family interests influence their conduct.

If O’Neill refuses to drop out, Cosby’s lawyers said he should let them appeal the decision right away.

The lawyers argued in their filings that O’Neill first gave an appearance of bias at the first trial when he refused to let jurors hear from a woman who claimed Constand told her she wanted to falsely accuse a famous person of sexual misconduct so she could sue and get money.

They also cited O’Neill’s insistence that the retrial go on, despite telephone records, travel itineraries and other evidence showing the alleged assault could not have happened in January 2004, when Constand says it did, and thus falls outside the statute of limitations. O’Neill said he would leave that for the jury to decide.

The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, which Constand has done.

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У 2017 році до України навчатися найбільше студентів приїхали з Індії – МОН

В Україну сьогодні майже 30% іноземних студентів приїжджають з пострадянських держав, але у 2017 році навчатися найбільше приїхало молоді з Індії, повідомляє прес-служба Міністерство освіти і науки. 

За даними міністерство, зараз в Україні навчається понад 66 тисяч іноземних студентів, у 2011 році їх було понад 53 тисяч.

«Це для нас позитивний та знаковий сигнал – нам вдається вийти за межі пострадянської зони комфорту. Лише упродовж двох минулих років кількість українських вищих навчальних закладів, де навчаються іноземні студенти, зросла зі 185 до 228. У 2017 році було видано майже 40 тисяч (39905 – ред.) запрошень на навчання. І це удвічі більше, ніж ще у 2015-му», – повідомила міністр освіти і науки України Лілія Гриневич. 

У МОН стверджують, що бренд «Study in Ukraine» стає впізнаваним, в 2017 році можливість навчання в Україні для іноземних абітурієнтів представили в Індії, Марокко, Лівані, Азербайджані, Туреччині, Польщі, Туркменістані.

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Sea Lions Feast on Fragile Fish in US Northwest Survival War

The 700-pound sea lion blinked in the sun, sniffed the sea air and then lazily shifted to the edge of the truck bed and plopped onto the beach below.

Freed from the cage that carried him to the ocean, the massive marine mammal shuffled into the surf, looked left, looked right and then started swimming north as a collective groan went up from wildlife officials who watched from the shore.

After two days spent trapping and relocating the animal designated #U253, he was headed back to where he started — an Oregon river 130 miles (209 kilometers) from the Pacific Ocean that has become an all-you-can-eat fish buffet for hungry sea lions.

“I think he’s saying, ‘Ah, crap! I’ve got to swim all the way back?’” said Bryan Wright, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife scientist.

It’s a frustrating dance between California sea lions and Oregon wildlife managers that’s become all too familiar in recent months. The state is trying to evict dozens of the federally protected animals from an inland river where they feast on salmon and steelhead that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The bizarre survival war has intensified recently as the sea lion population rebounds and fish populations decline in the Pacific Northwest.

The sea lions breed each summer off Southern California and northern Mexico, then the males cruise up the Pacific Coast to forage. Hunted for their thick fur, the mammals’ numbers dropped dramatically but have rebounded from 30,000 in the late 1960s to about 300,000 today due to the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act.

With their numbers growing, the dog-faced pinnipeds are venturing ever farther inland on the watery highways of the Columbia River and its tributaries in Oregon and Washington — and their appetite is having disastrous consequences, scientists say.

In Oregon, the sea lions are intercepting protected fish on their way to spawning grounds above Willamette Falls, a horseshoe-shaped waterfall about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Portland. Last winter, a record-low 512 wild winter steelhead completed the journey, said Shaun Clements, the state wildlife agency’s senior policy adviser.

Less than 30 years ago, that number was more than 15,000, according to state numbers.

“We’re estimating that there’s a 90 percent probability that one of the populations in the Willamette River could go extinct if sea lion predation continues unchecked,” he said. “Of all the adults that are returning to the falls here, a quarter of them are getting eaten.”

Clements estimates the sea lions also are eating about 9 percent of the spring chinook salmon, a species prized by Native American tribes still allowed to fish for them.

Oregon wildlife managers say sea lions are beginning to move into even smaller tributaries where they had never been seen before and where some of the healthiest stocks of the threatened fish exist. The mammals also have been spotted in small rivers in Washington state that are home to fragile fish populations.

California sea lions are not listed under the Endangered Species Act, but killing them requires special authorization under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which was changed to address the issue of fish predation.

Biologists this spring started trapping the sea lions in the Willamette River and releasing them at the coast. They also have applied with the federal government to kill the worst offenders to protect the fish runs.

Native tribes, which have fished for salmon and steelhead for generations, support limited sea lion kills because of the cultural value of the fish, said Doug Hatch, a senior fisheries scientist with the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission.

“You’re pitting this protected population that has been fully recovered against these Endangered Species Act-listed fish,” Hatch said. “We think it’s an easy choice.”

If U.S. officials grant the request, the trap-and-kill program would expand a similar and highly controversial effort on another major Pacific Northwest river. Oregon and Washington wildlife managers are allowed to kill up to 93 sea lions trapped each year at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River under certain conditions.

In the past decade, the agency has removed 190 sea lions there. Of those, 168 were euthanized, seven died in accidents during trapping and 15 were placed in captivity, according to state data.

The Humane Society of the United States sued over the trap-and-kill program and may sue again if it’s allowed on the Willamette River, said Sharon Young, the organization’s field director for marine wildlife.

The animals are not the only problem facing wild winter steelhead and chinook salmon, she said.

Hydroelectric dams that block rivers, agricultural runoff, damage to spawning grounds and competition with hatchery-bred fish have all hurt the native species, Young said. And new sea lions will take the place of those that are killed, she added.

“It’s easier to say, ‘If I kill that sea lion, at least I keep him from eating that fish.’ But if you don’t deal with the cause of the problem, you’re not going to help the fish,” she said. “It’s like a treadmill of death. You kill one, and another one will come.”

While Oregon awaits word on the sea lions’ fate, wildlife managers are trapping them and hauling them to the ocean, which can sometimes seem futile.

Five days after his 2 ½-hour drive to the Oregon coast, #U253 was back at Willamette Falls, hungry for more fish.

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Sealed and Delivered: Royal Wedding Invitations Dispatched

Time to check that mailbox.


Kensington Palace said Thursday that invitations for the wedding between Prince Harry and his American fiancée Meghan Markle have been dispatched.


Some 600 people have been invited to the May 19 nuptials at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. All 600 have also been invited to a lunchtime reception given by Queen Elizabeth II at St George’s Hall.


The invitations, which are beveled and gilded in gold along the edges, feature Prince Charles’ three-feather badge. They were made by Barnard & Westwood, which has held the Royal Warrant for printing and bookbinding since 1985.


Harry and Markle will also celebrate with some 200 guests at a private evening reception given by Prince Charles.


The palace declined to comment as to who is on the list.

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Turkey’s Key Media Group to be Sold to pro-Erdogan Business

Turkey’s largest media group said Thursday it is in talks with a business group close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the sale of its outlets, a development that further curtails independent journalism in the country that has taken an increasingly authoritarian turn under his leadership.


In a notice to Turkey’s capital markets board, Dogan Holding said it was negotiating the sale of outlets — including flagship Hurriyet newspaper, the mass-circulation daily Posta, CNN-Turk and Kanal D television channels and Dogan New Agency — to Demiroren Holding. Dogan Holding said the sale was worth $890 million.


Dogan news outlets were among the few relatively independent media in a landscape that is dominated by TV stations and newspapers allied to Erdogan. If a deal is reached, Dogan-owned media would be the latest outlets to end up in the hands of businesses close to the leader.


The possible sale is widely seen as a culmination of a long-standing battle between the government and Dogan Holding’s owner, Aydin Dogan, who also has business interests in energy and real estate.

The media magnate was slapped with a multi-billion tax fine in 2009 that forced him to sell Milliyet and Vatan newspapers to Demiroren Holding. The fine largely served to intimidate media organizations, which, keen not to fall afoul of the government, fired journalists critical of the government and trimmed critical reporting.


The Turkish leader has further tightened his grip on media since a failed military coup in 2016 blamed on a network of followers of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.


More than 150 journalists are in jail, mostly on terrorism-related charges, while over 150 media outlets, from broadcasters to newspapers and magazines, have been shut down for alleged links to terror groups, leaving thousands unemployed.


The government insists the journalists have been jailed for criminal activity, not journalistic work.


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In Russia’s Dying Arctic City, Residents Plead for Putin to Offer Lifeline

A little more than 40 hours after leaving Moscow’s Yaroslavsky station, the Vorkuta Express pulled into its terminus after a 2,000-kilometer journey through the taiga forests and tundra of Russia’s far north. The city lies 150 kilometers inside the Arctic Circle, seemingly at the edge of human habitation.

Its monochrome extremes overwhelm the senses: vast Arctic ice fields punctured with the scars of creaking coal mines.

The city is dying. The fall of the Soviet Union left Vorkuta vulnerable to market forces. In the 1990s, eight of the 13 coal mines closed, and two-thirds of the residents have left in the past 30 years. In 2016, a series of explosions in one of the largest mines killed 36 people and dealt another blow to Vorkuta’s future.

WATCH: In Russia’s Dying Arctic City, Residents Plea for Putin to Offer Lifeline

Largely cut off from the rest of Russia, 70,000 people remain in the decaying city. Amid the decline, Nadezhda Kozhevnikova is trying to run a clothing store. She said Vorkuta has been forgotten.

“As far as I understand, we have enough coal reserves for another 50 years. There is demand for coal. So, why are mines not being set up? None are being developed. Nothing is being done,” Kozhevnikova said.

Politics haven’t helped

And yet, few Vorkuta residents voted for change. Seventy-three percent backed President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party in an election Sunday that international observers said was neither free nor fair.

As his students practiced on miniaturized drills and machinery, Victor Telnov wasn’t interested in debating democracy. As director of the Vorkuta College of Mining and Economics, he’s teaching the next generation the skills that will be vital to Vorkuta’s survival. He said Russians must put their faith in Putin.

“As a well-known public figure recently said, ‘Do not have any illusions. This time, we do not elect a president, but a commander-in-chief.’ This election is emblematic, for Russia and for the world community. We show how much we are united as Russians.”

​Built by Stalin’s gulag labor

Vorkuta rose from the ice-bound wastelands in the 1930s, built by the forced labor of Josef Stalin’s gulags. Up to 200,000 political prisoners are buried in the permafrost. Gulag prisoners also built the railway, Vorkuta’s only land link with the outside world. The small airport is often closed because of the weather.

Deep beneath the ice, Anatoly Vorobyov and his colleagues mine the same seams of coal that once powered the Soviet Union. He has a short wish list for Putin.

“At the very least, I hope the current standards will be preserved — wage stability, a steady supply of workers who are given everything they need. I mean a social package and all that,” Vorobyov said. “As an improvement, we would certainly like a salary increase. And maybe a new highway to Vorkuta. That would be cool for all the residents.”

A craving for stability, and yet a longing for a faster escape route from this decaying town.

In the 1990s, miners’ wages in Vorkuta went unpaid for 10 months. Memories of that trauma are frozen in the minds of many voters. Life in Vorkuta may seem bleak under Putin’s Russia, but the people here know it could get a lot worse.

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First Responders Learn Lessons from Mass Shootings, Acts of Terror

Tommy Mcilhon is a college student and enjoys attending large music festivals around the United States. The latest event he has attended is the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, Texas. Besides thinking about music, he thinks about the mass shootings in crowds over the last few years.

“It does cross my mind every time I go to a show or large size or anything like that, that something like that could happen because it is a concern that is possible.” Mcilhon added, “It makes me more aware of what’s going on around me. I pay more attention to the people around me.”

Being more alert does not mean being more afraid, many SXSW attendees said.

“If I look around, are there cops around? Are there guardrails up? Do they have exit signs that are clearly posted? But does it ever deter me from going somewhere? No,” said Marilyn Sitorus, festival attendee from New York.

WATCH: First Responders Learn Lessons from Mass Shootings, Acts of Terror

Season for festivals

SXSW is one of many large festivals, fairs and outdoor concerts that will be taking place in the U.S. as the weather warms. 

First responders, such as police and paramedics, are preparing to make such events more secure. The mass shooting at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas last year and the 2016 Pulse night club shooting in Orlando are not the only events on the minds of Austin police officers.

“There have been some incidents around the globe and around the country where vehicles have been used as weapons in crowds, so we do have a lot of intersections that we’re using vehicles to block, and we also use dump trucks to block some of these intersections,” said Ely Reyes, assistant chief of police of the Austin Police Department.

In addition to police officers in uniform at the festival, there are also undercover officers that keep watch over the event. Festival attendees have special badges that are scanned before they can enter a venue.

​Prepared for the unexpected

If something catastrophic were to happen, paramedics are also prepared with portable mini hospitals on wheels.

“So we deploy medics on Polaris Rangers and motorcycles because they’re able to access the patient” and then move them to a waiting ambulance, said Wesley Hopkins, division chief for Austin Travis County EMS.

The Polaris Rangers are vehicles that look like miniature two-seat Jeeps with a cargo bed in the back for first aid supplies and a stretcher. They can get patients from inside a crowded environment to an ambulance nearby quickly.

“In context of mass shootings, whether it be the Las Vegas incident or the Pulse night club shooting, we know that having medics at a forward position so that they’re able to treat patients immediately so that we can be proactive as opposed to reactive and access those patients very quickly,” Hopkins said.

Tools onsite also help reduce the number of people who need to go to a hospital.

“So we set up basically a mini emergency room. It’s complete with shelter, water, power, we do a Wi-Fi network that’s kind of a higher band so that we’re able to monitor patients with an EKG or cardiac monitor.” Hopkins added, “The patient collection point allows us to treat patients on site. A lot of those patients will never see the emergency room.”

First responders say after every mass shooter event or act of terrorism, they learn from it and try to improve on security. Attendees are also becoming more security smart.

“Now it’s raising a lot more awareness that people are taking (paying) attention to it which is very important, and I can only see things getting better from here,” Mcilhon said.

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