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"I am a good boy," 2-year-old Timur says as he blows out another cloud of tobacco smoke.

VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia -- The uncle of a 2-year-old shown smoking in a viral video says he gave the cigarette to his nephew in good fun, but authorities in southern Russia aren't laughing.

After police in the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz received numerous complaints from fuming residents who had seen the video online, they tracked the family down and fined the uncle, Aslan Dzavlayev.

The video, which has been removed from the video-sharing site YouTube for "violating community guidelines," shows young Timur picking up a lit cigarette from an ashtray at the family's home and taking a puff.

The 2-year-old confidently blows out smoke as Dzavlayev's hand is seen, from the point of view of the cameraman, flicking ashes into the ashtray from another cigarette.

Dzavlayev asks the toddler whether he is a “good boy,” to which Timur replies: "I am a good boy,” as he blows out another cloud of tobacco smoke.

At least one other unidentified person can be heard laughing in the room during the nearly two-minute video but is not seen by the camera.

As the cigarette ash grows, Dzavlayev tells Timur: ‘That's enough. Put out your cigarette,” and the toddler complies by reaching to stamp his smoke out in an ashtray.

Dzavlayev tells RFE/RL that it was "just a joke, to make fun," but police took the complaints seriously enough to investigate the family for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

After questioning the boy's parents at their home in a middle-class neighborhood along the Moscow highway on Vladikavkaz's west side, they determined on January 24 that neither the mother nor father were home when the video was shot. But police accepted Uncle Dzavlayev's admission that he was responsible for encouraging the 2-year-old to “consume tobacco products.”

Dzavlayev was issued an administrative fine of 3,000 rubles, or about $50. The parents, whose names were not released by police, declined to comment to RFE/RL about the circumstances surrounding the video.

Recent studies show that underage smoking is common in Russia, where the legal smoking age is 18.

In 2015, Tobacco Atlas reported that 51 percent of Russian males over the age of 15 smoke cigarettes daily, and 16 percent of Russian males aged 13 to 15 regularly use tobacco products.

But there is a big difference between 2 and 13. Artur Kokayev, North Ossetia's ombudsman for children, described the case as “out of the ordinary.”

The video from North Ossetia is not the first to go viral with images of a 2-year-old smoking a cigarette, however.

In 2010, Ardi Rizal, a 2-year-old boy from a remote village in Indonesia became an Internet sensation and shocked the world as the “chain-smoking toddler” when photographs and videos appeared online showing him as he smoked 40 cigarettes a day. (Oddly, the video of Ardi has not been removed by YouTube.)

Ardi eventually went through years of rehabilitation with a leading child psychologist.

At first, he reportedly replaced his tobacco cravings with food and became obese from overeating -- a habit that required another round of rehabilitation.

If the reports are true, Russian Interior Ministry employees might have to travel to old Soviet-era resorts, such as the Cheleken Peninsula in Turkmenistan, rather than flocking to the beaches of Egypt. (file photo)

Russian police officers who'd dreamed of vacationing in the West or hitting the beaches of Turkey and Egypt in 2018 may have to wait another year.

But they still have Turkmenistan.

A Russian tourism association has published what it says is a list of approved vacation destinations for Interior Ministry employees, a move that comes amid broad restrictions on foreign travel for Russian security officers since Russia seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in early 2014.

The Interior Ministry has yet to comment on the list published by the Association of Russian Tour Operators (ATOR) that was originally released just before the new year but only grabbed headlines in Russia on January 12.

But the 13 destinations on the list are consistent with images of a purported decree on the matter signed by Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev in late December that have been circulating on Russian social-media sites in recent weeks. The authenticity of these images could not be immediately confirmed.

The ministry and other Russian security agencies in recent years have reportedly issued similar lists for their respective employees since Russia's takeover of Crimea in March 2014, which was followed by the outbreak of a war between Kyiv's forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The United States and the European Union remain off limits for Russian Interior Ministry employees in 2018, according to the list published by ATOR. But it says eight former Soviet republics -- Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- are fair game.

'Safe' Destinations

More Westward-looking former Soviet republics Ukraine and Georgia are excluded, as is Moldova, which has a pro-Western government, but a president who seeks closer ties with Moscow. The list also includes the breakaway Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are recognized only by Russia and a handful of other states.

Outside the former Soviet Union, Interior Ministry employees are only allowed to travel to Vietnam, Cuba, and China, according to the ATOR report.

Other popular destinations for Russian tourists like Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Thailand reportedly didn't make the cut, though they had been approved in 2015-16, the Russian news agency RBC noted.

According to images of Kolokoltsev's purported directive posted on social media, the list of 13 approved destinations are considered safe in terms of military, politics, crime, ecology, climate, and health.

One commenter on a police-themed social-media profile posted a purported image of an analogous directive from the federal National Guard showing the same approved destinations as the reported Interior Ministry list, but adds the Maldives as well.

The authenticity of that document also could not be immediately confirmed.

RBC reported on January 12 that Palestinian areas were approved as a travel destination for Russian Interior Ministry employees last year, but that they were excluded from this year's list.

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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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