RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Feb 19, 2016

TODAY: UN envoy says Assad not in sync with Russia’s diplomatic efforts in Syria; Peskov rejects Merkel’s no-fly zone suggestion; Deputy Prime Minister has head in sand on oil price freeze; Energy Ministry predicting oil production slump in coming years; VimpelCom to pay bribe penalty; Pavlensky video banned.

Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s envoy to the United Nations, says Russia has urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to take account of Russia’s political and diplomatic investments in the civil war, and that Assad’s recent remarks ‘do not chime’ with Russia’s efforts towards a ceasefire.  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the current escalation of military activity in Syria will derail a political solution.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel had suggested that Assad and Islamic State could create a no-fly zone over Syria to protect civilians; Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the idea, saying it would not help the fight against terrorism. Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich insists that moves to freeze oil output at January levels will prevent the price from falling further (despite the price already having fallen since the deal was announced). Ukraine is looking to prove that its $3 billion loan from Russia, which it has since failed to repay, was a bribe.  Turkey says it will consider Russia responsible for any terror attacks on its own soil.

The Energy Ministry’s worst-case scenario outlook for the next 5-10 years predicts a possible 14% slump in oil production if demand slows in Asian nations.  The Finance Ministry’s current anti-crisis plan will cost around $11.7 billion.  Mobile phone operator VimpelCom has agreed to pay $795 million to US and Dutch authorities as penalty for paying $114 million in bribes to a government official in Uzbekistan in a bid to win telecom licenses.  The economic downturn is putting ordinary Russians at risk of being left without affordable medical drugs, as pharmaceutical companies cut production.  Real incomes fell sharply in January, by 6.3% year-on-year.

A video of Pyotr Pavlensky’s performance, in which he set fire to the entrance of the FSB headquarters in Moscow, has been banned from the Innovation art award.  The Investigative Committee is looking into the alleged torture of a prison inmate in Yekaterinburg after disturbing footage was released by a local news station.

PHOTO: Russian Patriarch Kirill with the penguins in Antarctica. (Russian Orthodox Church)