Russia appears to have taken one giant step closer to turning into North Korea as problems pile up at home, even as the Russian military tries to keep its flailing grip on Ukraine.
The Russian news outlet Baza on Wednesday reported that male members of Russia's presidential administration have been banned from taking trips abroad-after one staffer apparently failed to ever return.
Citing unnamed sources, the outlet said an order had been issued within the administration that says such a ban will be in effect until restrictions tied to the "mobilization" are lifted.
Even vacations abroad are now reportedly prohibited for those within Vladimir Putin's circle. "It's possible that this is a precautionary measure, since there is a rumor among officials in the administration that such a requirement appeared after the 'escape' of an employee from one of the departments," the outlet reported.
The Kremlin has denied the claims, with Dmitry Peskov telling RIA Novosti the report was "downright untrue."
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But the report came as Moscow appeared to take further steps at reining in dissent at home-and ratcheting up the crazy in its war rhetoric.
As the results of a closed opinion poll conducted at the Kremlin's behest leaked Wednesday-showing a more than two-fold drop in support for continuing the war among ordinary Russians, according to Meduza-Putin's spy chief appeared to try to up the stakes.
"The information received by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service indicates that Warsaw is boosting preparations for the annexation of Western Ukrainian land: the territories of Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and most of the Ternopil region of Ukraine," Sergei Naryshkin claimed in an interview with RIA Novosti, reupping a Kremlin hoax that experts say is aimed at stoking mistrust among Ukraine's allies and stoking NATO fears in Russia.
Poland has long denied having any designs on parts of Ukraine.
The claim, if anything, appeared to be a much-needed distraction from Russia's own failures on the battlefield, as more and more families of Russian draftees speak out publicly against the bungled war effort more than nine months after it started.
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A report prepared by the British security think tank RUSI on Wednesday put the Russian military's setbacks in stark perspective: "Russia planned to invade Ukraine over a 10-day period and thereafter occupy the country to enable annexation by August 2022," researchers said.
Long after that fantasy deadline, Russian officials now appear hell-bent on keeping public support afloat.
The Russian Culture Ministry on Wednesday unveiled its "priority" themes for filmmaking in the country, promising state financing for movies that focus on "traditional values" in Russian culture; "Russia's peacekeeping mission"; "Popularization of the heroism and selflessness of Russian soldiers during the special military operation": and the "degradation of Europe."
And while Russian families and troops alike have been outspoken in the media about military screw-ups plaguing new draftees recently, that may all change when new legislation comes into force Friday effectively muzzling any would-be critics even more than current laws do.
The decree by the Federal Security Service effectively bans the release of any information about the military, deeming any disclosures a risk to national security.
"This is a scourge for all authors of videos and statements about bad conditions for the mobilized [troops] that are now appearing on the Internet. The authorities are tightening the screws yet again," Sergei Krivenko, the head of human rights group Citizen.Army.Law., told Radio Free Europe.
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