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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept 28, 2017

TODAY: Putin heralds early destruction of chemical weapons stockpile, challenges US; Russia and US to cooperate on lunar space station; VIM Avia collapses, Putin blames ministers; demographic crisis posing workforce problems; social media execs asked to attend Senate hearing on Russian influence of elections; no end in sight for Gazprom monopoly; Council of Europe says Russia only country not to comply over human rights.

President Vladimir Putin heralded the “historic event” of Russia’s destroying its last supplies of chemical weapons three years ahead of schedule, and compared this with the US’ failure to fulfill its own obligations regarding chemical weapons. Russia and the US have agreed to cooperate on a long-term, NASA-led programme to build a lunar space station. Putin responded to the news that the VIM Avia, Russia’s tenth largest airline, needs state support to continue operating, by slamming his transport and deputy prime ministers, saying that the collapse is their fault. The airline’s co-owner has reportedly fled Russia on the heels of an investigation into the collapse. The recent Central Bank nationalisation of B&N Bank – the second banking rescue in a month – is not likely to prevent a “domino effect” in the sector, as had been initially claimed, according to the FT. Rather, “It will leave almost two-thirds of banking assets in state hands — reducing competition and reinforcing the model of state capitalism that has taken hold under Putin.” Russia’s declining demographic is leaving the Kremlin with the problem of how to fill jobs with a workforce that is shrinking by 800,000 people every year. Executives from Facebook, Twitter, and Google will appear at a public Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in November to discuss Russia’s use of social media to influence the US election.

Energy Minister Alexander Novak suggested that the current OPEC oil production limiting agreement should expire next summer, when oil demand will grow. Perhaps he was inspired by this week’s news that oil prices have hit a 2-year high – “a blessing for Russia”. Novak thinks that compliance with a European Commission request of a mandate for talks with Russia regarding its Nord Stream 2 project would set an undesirable precedent. Gazprom has promised to fully fund the project. The Energy Ministry does not foresee a near future end to Gazprom’s monopoly; the company will increase its gas exports to Europe and Turkey in the long term. As part of its wider role as lifeline to Venezuela, Russia will supply around 600,000 tons of wheat to the country between now and next June.

A Crimean dissident who made public statements calling for an end to Russian control of Crimea has been sentenced to two years in a prison colony. The Council of Europe’s human rights chief says Russia is the only country (of 47 members) that is not cooperating with his office. Sergei Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador to the US, has joined the State Duma.

PHOTO: President Vladimir Putin outside the Yandex office. Mikhail Metzel / TASS