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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – April 24, 2020

Today in Russia: Central bank cuts rates; Central Bank head opposes cash handouts, fearing inflation; COVID-19 cases climb by nearly 6,000; China and Russia aligning on COVID-19 issues; Peskov denounces censorship at Vedomosti; Putin signs new Russian citizenship law, proposes reduction in visa red tape; Russian oil sector suffering; Meddling in North Macedonia?

Russia’s central bank cut its key interest rate by 50 basis points to 5.5 percent, with the possibility of further cuts forthcoming. The bank said that “The dynamics of economic recovery will largely depend on the scale and effectiveness of measures taken by the Government and the Bank of Russia to mitigate the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.” 

The head of Russia’s Central Bank Elvira Nabiullina voiced her opposition [in Russian] to proposed cash handouts as a stimulus measure during the coronavirus, fearing an “explosion” in inflation. She added [in Russian], “If we imagine that we, as the Central Bank, will print money and give it out at a zero rate, What will it lead to? I recall the 1990s. This will lead to an ‘explosion’ of inflation, and the people who receive these banknotes will find it’s hard for them to buy anything.”

Russia added 5,849 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total to 68,622 with 615 reported fatalities. In a sign that the coronavirus is severe in the country, of the 1607 reported imported cases in neighboring China, 636 have come from Russia [in Chinese]. This week, over two dozen people on a flight from Moscow to the central Chinese city of Xi’an tested positive for the virus.

Despite the large number of imported cases and the closure of the China-Russia border, the two countries appear to be aligning on COVID-19 issues. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia cannot support a US-led investigation into the origins of the virus, and Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang praised Russia’s position that artificial origins of the coronavirus are groundless, stating yesterday, “We appreciate Russia’s position on the origin of the virus, which is objective, fair, science-based and rational.”

Yesterday, the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily wrote an editorial [in Chinese] praising Sino-Russian cooperation and mutual understanding as both countries fight COVID-19 outbreaks, writing “China and Russia not only have to work together to deal with the unprecedented coronavirus, but also to jointly guard against more dangerous ‘political viruses.‘” The editorial concluded that “[t]his epidemic will only bring China and Russia closer together and make the strategic cooperation between the two countries more solid.”

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov denounced censorship, in a new twist to the saga at Russian business outlet Vedomosti. Peskov said [in Russian], “Indeed, there are rules of the law that do not allow censorship. This is our law. We are not familiar and cannot be familiar from the inside with the situation in the editorial office of the newspaper Vedomosti. We hope that this situation will be resolved. We are interested in the newspaper Vedomosti to continue its activities at a high professional level, as it has been so far.”

Putin signed a new citizenship law which will allow for dual citizenship. Foreign nationals taking up Russian citizenship will no longer be required to renounce their other passport.

Rostourism, the federal tourism agency, proposed sweeping changes to Russia’s visa policy, which currently is complex and can often take weeks to for foreigners to be issued a visa to enter the country. Noting that COVID-19 is decimating the tourism economy, the agency proposed that visa processing times be reduced to three days, and that multiple-entry visas be issued for up to five years. Currently, most foreign nationals are eligible for single or double-entry visas valid for one month, with the exception of US citizens, who are eligible for three-year multiple-entry visas owing to a 2012 agreement between the two sides.

Bloomberg writes that Russia’s oil sector is reeling from the collapse in oil prices and collapse in demand, saying that many producers are “increasingly desperate.”

North Macedonia, which joined NATO at the end of March, may be a “ripe target for interference” by Russia, according to Foreign Policy. It wrote, on March 27, the Western alliance admitted North Macedonia as its newest—and weakest—member. In so doing, it has given Russian President Vladimir Putin a terrific opportunity to expand his influence, further erode NATO’s unity, and test the bloc’s commitment to defend a member of the alliance.

PHOTO: Russian Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina (Kirill Zykov / Moskva News Agency).