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Monday 22 October 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Margarita Simonyan, the chief editor of RT: "We won’t let you change him."

There was plenty of Champagne and wine flowing in Moscow in the hours after Russia’s polls closed on March 18, as supporters of Vladimir Putin celebrated his reelection to another six-year term as president.

Among those unabashedly singing Putin’s praises was the chief editor of one of Russia’s most prominent news organizations: RT.

In a series of posts to Twitter late on March 18 and early on March 19, Margarita Simonyan, who has headed the state-funded TV channel formerly known as Russia Today since its beginning, made little effort to maintain any sort of journalistic distance from politics.

One post featured a screenshot from state TV, showing Putin speaking to supporters, along with Simonyan.

“Here we are congratulating Putin. And he us,” she wrote.​

Another, posted around the same time, shows Simonyan and Putin’s election campaign spokesman, Andrei Kondrashov, raising glasses of prosecco and wine in celebration of Putin’s victory.

Later posts focused on her interpretation that the results -- which showed Putin winning 76.7 percent of the vote -- showed that Putin was no longer merely Russia’s president but the country’s leader, or chief, she said, using a Russian word often associated with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

“Earlier he was simply our president and it was possible to replace him,” she wrote in one post, directed at the West. “And now he is our leader. We won’t let you change him. You have done this with your own hands.”

When she wasn’t praising Putin, Simonyan was burying the West.

She lit into Western leaders, Western reporters, and backers of more financial sanctions against Russia. She castigated supporters of banning Russian athletes from international competitions due to the state-orchestrated doping campaign uncovered during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

She railed against Western liberal ideals, asserting that Russian voters had rejected them and instead had rallied to something she called “conservative-patriotic, communist and nationalist ideas.”

“We don't want to live like you anymore. For 50 years, secretly and clearly, we wanted to live like you, and we no longer want this. We don't respect you anymore. And everyone you support,” wrote Simonyan, who studied in the United States as a high-school student on a U.S.-government-funded exchange program.

Simonyan has long been known for sharp-tongued barbs directed at the Western media, Kremlin critics, and Putin’s opponents.

The brainchild of Putin’s first press minister, Mikhail Lesin, RT has grown from an upstart, offbeat broadcaster into a sizable TV operation, with programming and publishing in English and five other languages and a $316 million budget from the Russian government, according to its latest figures.

Last year, the outlet’s U.S. division was forced by the U.S. Justice Department to register under a decades-old law known as the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

At the time, the division stated that its parent corporation, known as ANO TV-Novosti, is ”financed by a foreign government, foreign political party, or other foreign principal.”

A Russian regional health minister has this bit of medical advice for women: be careful that you don't have too many male partners before trying to bear children, otherwise you won't be able to give birth.

"If a woman has seven men before the birth of her first child, then that means 100 percent she will be infertile," Vladimir Viktorov, Chuvashia's top health official, said during a February 19 conference attended by regional head Mikhail Ignatyev and other officials.

The 48-year-old Viktorov is a dentist by training who was appointed in March 2017 as health minister of the Volga region located about 700 kilometers east of Moscow. Audio of his comments published by the local news portal Pravdapfo and by Dozhd TV caused a stir on social media and have since been defended by the region's top physician.

The audience of an estimated 200 can be heard murmuring loudly in response to Viktorov's claim, prompting the father of two to say: "This information is a fact. It's an interesting subject, yes? Everyone's getting worked up now. Think about it."

Viktorov's comments, made during a review of achievements made last year in the region's second-largest city, Novocheboksarsk, elicited mockery and outrage on Russian social media, with some questioning his medical qualifications.

Chuvashia's Health Ministry, however, came to Viktorov's defense on February 20, issuing a statement by the region's head physician noting the dangers that some sexually transmitted diseases pose to women's reproductive systems.

The doctor, Sergei Milayev, concludes that even a small number of sexual partners -- and the frequent changing of them -- "can lead to tubal peritoneal infertility."

"We do not advise playing roulette [with your body]. You may not be lucky," Milayev says. "Our main task as parents is to educate our children about chastity, which is the most reliable guarantee of health, including reproductive health, because any disease is easier to prevent than to treat."

The comments follow other dubious medical claims made by prominent health and social-welfare officials in Russia -- particularly about sexuality.

In 2016, Russia's national children's rights commissioner, Anna Kuznetsova, came under fire for an interview she gave three years earlier in which she discussed abortions and telegony, or "womb memory", a widely debunked theory that every sexual partner a woman has ever had can physically and emotionally influence a child she gives birth to.

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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