RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – April 20, 2020

Today in Russia: Oil suffers its worst day in history; Anti-quarantine protests in North Ossetia; Deripaska calls COVID-19 a “biological Chernobyl”; Russian court to consider the country’s first case via web video link; Visas and residence permits extended for foreigners; Russian economic measures could cost banks 400 billion rubles; Journalists being caught up in Moscow quarantine measures; Putin and Maduro discuss COVID-19 response, condemn foreign interference.

Oil prices collapsed further. The US benchmark, West Texas Intermediate is hovering around $4 per barrel, and Brent crude also fell today. The international benchmark, Brent crude, fell 6% thus far in day trading and is hovering around $26 per barrel.

Anti-quarantine protests broke out in the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz. Reports put the number of protests between hundreds and 1.5 thousand [in Russian] people gathering to protest the “lies of the authorities about the coronavirus.” Kommersant reported [in Russian] that Vadim Cheldiev, a former opera singer-turned public figure, was a key figure behind the organization of the protests. Cheldiev called for the resignation of the North Ossetian regional government in a Telegram post.

Oligarch Oleg Deripaska compared COVID-19 to a “biological Chernobyl” [in Russian] in a Telegram post, and said that similar to the Chernobyl, an investigation into the cause and origin of the coronavirus should take place. Deripaska echoed voices such as those of US commentator and former Trump Administration official Steve Bannon, stating “More and more people around the world are beginning to listen to versions like the one that was voiced by Stephen Bannon. And they will agree that the UN, under its auspices, initiate a thorough investigation of this Wuhan Chernobyl.”

A Russian will consider its first case by video-link [in Russian]. A Krasnodar court will consider a complaint from a prominent family from the Volgograd region in a case submitted to the fourth cassation court in Krasnodar. It will be “one of the first” instances of video software used in this manner in Russian judicial practice.

Foreigners’ visas and residence permits due to expire have been extended through June 15. Those visiting Russia on a visa-free basis are also included in the order.

Andrei Kostin, head of state-lender VTB said that the government’s measures to keep the economy afloat during COVID-19 could end up costing Russian banks 400 billion rubles. Kostin insisted that this was a cost that the banks could bear.

The new electronic pass system to regulate who is permitted to go out in Moscow during COVID-19 was supposed to exclude journalists. However, some reports indicated last week that the kinds had not been worked out and journalists were being prevented from travelling about the city, and police were demanding to see digital passes from journalists. It seems that the issue has been resolved as of Friday evening.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had a call with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro where they discussed responses to the COVID-19 epidemic. Putin condemned “foreign interference” in Venezuelan affairs, and the Kremlin’s press service stated, “Russia has reaffirmed its support of Venezuela’s legal government on peaceful regulation of domestic policy disputes based on national dialogue. [Russia] has stressed that destructive foreign interference in Venezuelan affairs is unacceptable.”

PHOTO: Oleg Deripaska has called for an investigation into COVID-19, comparing it to the Chernobyl disaster. (Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)