RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – April 5, 2016

TODAY: Russian responses to Panama Papers range from aggressive denial to ignorance of their existence, media blocks the story; Peskov and VTB head defend Putin; Navalny says $2bn is just ‘petty cash’; majority of Russians support Syria withdrawal; Russia increasing nuclear arsenal despite reduction treaty; domestic banks named for major privatisations; poet Mayakovsky’s daughter dies.

Responding to the Panama Papers, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the reports as part of an international campaign to distract attention away from Russia’s military success in Syria, and pointed out that none of the reports contained any mention of President Vladimir Putin.  VTB head Andrei Kostin denied allegations that his bank had made unsecured loans, and aggressively defended Putin. ‘Some people who know Mr Putin have certain offshore business, so what?’  (The ICIJ had said that ‘when Putin’s closest confidants privately discuss his financial dealings, they use pseudonyms for him or simply gesture to the heavens rather than utter his name’.)  Peskov hit out at ‘Putinophobia’, and alleged that the International Committee of Journalists, which released the initial story, is comprised of former CIA and US government officials; in response, the Guardian focused on the Panama Papers’ allegations regarding Peskov’s wife, which claims both she and her husband were benefiting from an offshore company.  Russia’s television stations failed to broadcast news of the allegations, instead drawing attention to a doping scandal in London, with the result that, when RFE/RL went out on the streets to ask Muscovites whether they had heard the story and what they thought, most respondents had no idea what they were talking about.  The Moscow Times collected the few Russian media responses to the report.  Alexei Navalny quipped, ‘The reaction in Russia is “Ha ha, they only found two billion?” It’s petty cash for personal expenses.

A new Levada Centre poll found that 81% of Russians are now in support of the partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria.  In spite of a 5-year-old nuclear arms reduction treaty with the US, Russia is actually increasing its arsenal of strategic warheads.  Oil producer Lukoil’s cash pile has tripled in the past year, largely thanks to successful share holdings, despite sinking profits.  Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukayev believes that Russia will come out of its current recession this year, and return to growth next year.  Russia has chosen the domestic banks that will organise its privatisations of major state companies this year (VTB for Bashneft, Sberbank for Alrosa, and Renaissance for VTB).  German and Russian officials agree that relations are at their worst since the early days of the Cold War.

The daughter of poet Vladimir Mayakovsky has died, aged 89, in America.  Russia’s meldonium doping scandal has hit the judo world, with four wrestlers being the latest to test positive for the banned substance.

PHOTO: In this Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009 file photo, Russian cellist and House of Music Director Sergei Roldugin, left, escorts then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, center, and President Dmitry Medvedev as they tour a restored House of Music, a former palace of Great Prince Alexei Alexandrovich Pomanov, in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Dmitry Astakhov/Sputnik, Government Pool Photo via AP, File)