Putin Gets a Black Belt, Pussy Riot, Greenpeace, and a Surrogacy Ban: This Week in Russia

All eyes are on Russia now, as we approach the 2014 winter Olympics in the [summer] resort town of Sochi. We’ve heard about the first Olympic torch space relay (only in Russia), and how Maria Sharapova will be an NBC commentator for the games. There’s also confusion over how journalists may — or may notbe barred from using social media during the Olympics. All that, and we’re still months away from the games.

But believe it or not, the Olympics aren’t the only things happening in Russia. Below, we bring you five other Russian news bites from the last week not to be missed.

1. Vladimir Putin upped his black belt level

Say what you want about Vladimir Putin, but I want his time management skills. How does he find time to run a country, persecute his enemies, AND to practice martial arts? The most powerful man alive was awarded an (honorary) 9th level black belt in taekwondo by the head of the World Taekwondo Federation. He was humble about it, too, saying that he didn't think he had earned such a high level belt. The only thing that makes this slightly less impressive is the fact that apparently President Obama, a mere mortal, was awarded honorary martial arts belts as well. Did Putin's actual athletic prowess earn him the belt? We may never know.

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2. Pussy Riot member Nadya Tolokonnikova reappears

Weeks after she went missing after asking for a prison transfer, Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, affectionately known as "Nadya," reappeared in a Siberian prison near Krasnoyarsk. Under Russian law, prisoners should be housed near their place of residence, but, unlike in the U.S., your address is not merely where you get your mail. Rather, Russians have to register their place of residence with authorities under a Soviet-esque system, and re-register every time they move. The system is widely ignored (because of Soviet-esque bureaucracy that makes re-registering a pain) but that loophole was used to put the young punk across the country from Moscow, where her husband and young daughter live. She hasn't lived in Norilsk, where she is legally registered, in more than half a decade.

3. Greenpeace activists relocated

The 30 passengers of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise were relocated to St. Petersburg this week, from the Siberian city of Murmansk where they were formerly being held. The international crew is reportedly no longer being charged with piracy, a rare charge that carries a 15-year sentence. (Greenpeace disputes that the charge has formally been dropped.) Meanwhile, Paul McCartney has appealed to Putin on behalf of the crew, though his words are likely to fall on deaf ears.

4. Deputy Mizulina wants to ban surrogacy

Yelena Mizulina is Russia's Rick Santorum. Though Russia's liberal intelligentsia has stopped short of redefining her name to mean a frothy sexual byproduct, the anti-gay deputy has been the butt of many a joke about her supposed obsession with oral sex. But worry not, she's not done: Mizulina announced this week a plan to ban surrogate motherhood in Russia. Comparing surrogacy to nuclear weapons that threaten the planet's survival, Mizulina said that it is “a most frightening phenomenon that threatens not only Russia but all of mankind with extinction.” Extinction, that is, brought upon us by surrogates bringing more babies into the world.

5. Neo-Nazi Gay Basher Flees for Thailand

Russian neo-Nazi Maxim Martsinkevich, the man behind the anti-gay witch hunts of the last few months, has fled frigid mother Russia in favor of the warm beaches of Thailand. He left the country Sunday fearing prosecution over one of his recent “Occupy Pedophilia” videos.

In the videos, Martsinkevich and his acolytes pose as just-underage boys and lure gay men just a few years older than them into meetings, where they are then humiliated and beaten on camera. For months, these videos have been surfacing with no repercussions to the unmasked men involved. Of course, because it’s Russia, he’s not being prosecuted for his anti-gay views but rather for racial hatred: one of the men he trapped and abused was of Iraqi descent.

(Warning: graphic video)

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