RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – May 21, 2018

TODAY: Putin officially unveils new cabinet, adds officials with intelligence expertise; meets with Merkel, vows to defend Nord Stream 2; Navalny launches new political party; Deripaska resigns from board of sanctions-hit EN+; Putin response to Skripal’s release from hospital; Crimea’s beaches being bought up and blocked off to locals since annexation. 

President Vladimir Putin has officially announced his new cabinet for his fourth presidential term, and it is almost exactly the same as his previous one; the FT reports that the news disappoints those who expected reform and more capitulation to the West. “The most notable new faces are agricultural minister Dmitry Patrushev, whose father Nikolai chairs Russia’s security council, and Konstantin Noskov, a presidential aide who will head up a newly created digital development ministry.” Putin also promoted his former bodyguard to the cabinet, underscoring what Reuters calls the ‘siloviki’ component. Bloomberg calls the repeat cabinet members “veterans of default”. Putin met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week, vowing to stand up to US attempts to block the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The Kremlin’s response to US comments on the project is that they are “rather challenging”, given that the pipeline, it says, is being constructed in the interests of European countries. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny has launched a new political party, titled Russia of the Future; though had to miss its founding convention as he was in prison due to his role in organising nationwide anti-inauguration protests earlier this month.  Moscow has been seeing a number of Monstrations of late, an artist’s twist on the demonstration in which participants’ slogans make no sense; the main goal of the protests is “to have fun”. 

Sanctions-hit Oleg Deripaska has resigned from the board of directors of EN+ in a bid to alleviate sanctions on the group. Oligarch Viktor Vekselberg’s Renova Group announced that it has paid off all of its Western-owed debts in advance of sanctions against it coming into effect next month. Morgan Stanley is predicting that Russia will see another recession this year, despite strong oil prices, if the US imposes any new sanctions against state companies. A report by the British Foreign Affairs Committee claims that corrupt Russian money is undermining UK criticism of the Kremlin’s foreign policy and national security. Putin responded to media reports of former spy Sergei Skripal’s discharge from hospital, taking the opportunity to point out that, had a military-grade poison been used against him, as the UK has been claiming, Skripal would surely have died. Several sources are reporting that British authorities have yet to renew the expired visa of billionaire Roman Abramovich, although there does not appear to be any reason to expected a denial.

Russia will not abandon its OPEC deal next month, says Bloomberg, because it gives Russia the weight in global issues that it has lacked since its alienation following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Public access to most of Crimea’s beaches has been shut off since the annexation, as private investors – and, it seems, well-connected, Russia-installed officials – have been snapping up prime real estate. 

PHOTO: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin presents German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a bouquet of flowers, May 18, 2018. (Kremlin Press Service)