Corey Flintoff | St. Louis Public Radio

Corey Flintoff

Russians became enthusiastic travelers after the Soviet Union broke up, and two of their most cherished winter getaways were the sunny resorts of Egypt and Turkey.

But those countries are now off-limits, and Russia's sagging economy and sinking currency are also keeping many at home.

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Russia seems to be building up its military force in Syria, especially after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane along the Turkish-Syrian border late last month.

In his State of the Nation speech on Thursday, President Vladimir Putin warned the Russian people that the fight could be a long one.

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Throughout the week, Russians have been watching scenes of destruction on the evening news.

It's part of Russia's war against so-called contraband foods, as authorities crush, burn and bury Western food products.

Russian authorities are enforcing a ban on many foods from the European Union, the United States and other nations that have sanctioned Moscow for its aggression in Ukraine.

Last month, the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan made the news, as it competed with Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

Kazakhstan lost its bid, but the effort drew attention to the problems faced by the country's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Human rights campaigners were hoping that if Kazakhstan were chosen, the country would face international pressure to improve conditions for people with different sexual and gender orientations.

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Fighting surged again this week in eastern Ukraine, where government troops are battling separatist militias and their Russian allies.

NATO is responding by sending troops and equipment to eastern Europe, and it's also giving defensive training to Ukraine's beleaguered army.

First, you need to know how bad things were for the Ukrainian army when separatist militias and their Russian allies began the fight in eastern Ukraine in April 2014.

Miroslav Gai volunteered for the army last winter.

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As war rages in eastern Ukraine, European Union foreign ministers are preparing to meet Thursday to consider drastic new sanctions against Russia.

The EU and the United States say Moscow's troops and weapons are directly involved in an offensive by anti-government militias in Ukraine's eastern provinces.

The offensive is the latest phase in a war that has racked the region since last April — and it's grinding hard on the civilians who are caught in the middle.

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Our own Russian correspondent, Corey Flintoff, spends much of his time reporting on the activities of Vladimir Putin in Russia. But sometimes it's what's outside his own window in Moscow that captivates him.

Russia's economy has taken a series of heavy hits in the past few months, and now it seems to be in the midst of a perfect storm.

The country depends heavily on oil exports, and prices are down sharply. The Russian currency is losing value fast. And U.S. and European sanctions, imposed after Russia's takeover of Crimea, are biting hard.

President Vladimir Putin remains defiant, saying sanctions will never bring Russia to its knees.

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Now, in the radio business, we think a lot about sound and what it means. Sound is not always what it seems, as NPR's Corey Flintoff reminds us from Moscow.

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Secretary of State John Kerry spent a lot of time on TV yesterday, laying out what he says is extraordinary circumstantial evidence that rebels in Eastern Ukraine shot down the Malaysia Airlines jetliner. Kerry said on NBC's "Meet The Press" they did it with Russian help.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: It is clear that Russia supports the separatists, supplies the separatists, encourages the separatists, trains the separatists and Russia needs to step up and make a difference here.

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