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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – April 22, 2020

Today in Russia: Vedomosti new editor ‘bans criticism’ of Putin; Oil prices volatile; US General says Russia testing US for weaknesses during COVID-19; Communists parade on Red Square despite COVID-19; Kremlin says COVID-19 a “very problematic” situation for Russia; GOP-led Senate intel report says Russia helped Trump in 2016; Fitch says Russian economy to shrink 3.3. percent;COVID-19 cases continue to climb; Sobyanin proposes electronic pass system extended outside Moscow.

Russian business outlet Vedomosti’s new editor Andrei Shmarov has reportedly banned criticism of proposed constitutional amendments which would allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in office for another two terms, making it a firing offense at the newspaper. This comes after the editor deleted an article critical of Rosneft head Igor Sechin, raising fears that the respected outlet’s editorial independence is under threat.

Oil prices continued their slide in Asian trading hours, but then spiked after US President Donald Trump threatened to destroy Iranian gunboats “if they harass our ships at sea.” Brent crude futures climbed 10.7% to $21.39 a barrel., and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) climbed 28.8% to $14.90.

The head of US Northern Command warned that Russia is testing whether the U.S. military has developed any weaknesses during the novel coronavirus crisis, after three close calls in the past two months. Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy added, “We just want to make it very clear to them … there are no vulnerabilities as a result of COVID-19…We are postured and maintain that ability to respond at a moment’s notice.”

Communists paraded in Red Square in celebration of 150 years since Lenin’s birth. Led by Gennady Zyuganov, the head of Russia’s Communist Party, a small group of marchers headed to Lenin’s mausoleum in the square. A police officer guarding Red Square told the New York Times that the marchers gained special permission to hold the event.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNBC that COVID-19 is “very problematic.” Peskov said, “It’s a huge challenge and a huge danger for every nation in the world. It’s not only about Putin or about Russia, every country is facing this challenge and it’s quite unprecedented, we have never faced it before… For him [Putin] it’s a challenge because we know that besides the danger for human life and health, this pandemic crisis will open the gates for a huge economic crisis in the world and this will be another challenge.” Peskov also said he expects COVID-19 to peak in mid-May in Russia.

A US Senate intelligence report confirmed that US President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign had the support of Russia. The Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman, Republican Senator Richard Burr said of the US intelligence community’s findings of Russian interference that “The committee found no reason to dispute the intelligence community’s conclusions.”

Ratings agency Fitch said that Russia’s economy is likely to contract 3.3 percent, Kommersant reported [in Russian].

COVID-19 cases climbed to 57,999 confirmed cases in Russia, with 547 deaths.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin proposed [in Russian] that the electronic pass system rolled out in Moscow this month to regulate who is permitted to go out during COVID-19 should be brought to other regions, emphasizing especially regions neighboring Moscow.

PHOTO: Supporters of the Russian Communist Party attend a procession on celebrating 150 years since Lenin’s birth. The event drew criticism given the coronavirus outbreak. (REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov)