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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Feb 3, 2016

TODAY: Oil production at post-Soviet high amidst talk of cooperation with OPEC; Venezuelan Oil Minister’s visit yields no agreements to cut production; Kremlin’s purchases 40% more expensive thanks to protectionism; Putin supports Medvedev’s government consolidation plan; oligarchs likely to take privatised stakes; flu epidemic spreads; EU ambassador demands Kremlin response to Kadyrov threat; Merkel says Ukraine fighting needs Putin influence.

Oil production hit another post-Soviet high last month, even as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indicated that Moscow would be open to coordinating with OPEC on curbing production to shore up oil prices, indicatinga fierce struggle for market share’. Russia has a history of increasing oil output whilst OPEC cuts it, notes this Bloomberg piece.  The Venezuelan Oil Minister spoke to several major Russian oil exporters to cut production but with no conclusive agreements; an oil analyst said it would be premature for Russia to collaborate only with Venezuela.  The Kremlin’s protectionist restrictions on foreign purchasing have apparently made its purchases 40% more expensive.  President Vladimir Putin gave his support to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s plans to consolidate certain government agencies in a bid to conserve budget revenues.  Putin’s newly-announced privatisation plan is likely to see oligarchs taking the lion’s share of the stakes offered, according to officials who suggested that the Kremlin would limit foreign participation.  As the Russian economy worsens, sales of luxury car brands like Porsche and Rolls-Royce, are increasing.  90% of Russia’s regions have been hit by the current flu epidemic – 74 out of 85 have surpassed the epidemic threshold.

The EU ambassador to Russia is demanding that Russian authorities respond to Ramzan Kadyrov’s threatening video targeting opposition leader Mikhail Kasyanov – the ambassador called the video a ‘disgusting unveiled murder threat’. Vladimir Putin’s All-Russia People’s Front has released a series of bizarre cartoons in which officials accused of corruption meet gruesome ends as the President looks on; the endings have been spliced together to ‘underscore the ruthlessness of the cartoons’. German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked Putin to use his influence to ensure that separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine adhere to the ceasefire.

Performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky will be kept in custody until March. Lieutenant General Igor Korobov is the new Chief of Military Intelligence.  Leonardo DiCaprio will play the role of Vladimir Putin in an upcoming movie about the President’s life.

PHOTO: People walk along a bridge across the Moskva River during a snowfall, with St. Basil’s cathedral seen in the background, in central Moscow, Russia February 2, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov