RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – April 27, 2020

Today in Russia: Study suggests up to 10 percent of Muscovites may have been infected by COVID-19; Putin and Trump issue joint statement; A Russian operative and poison in Prague?; Economic problems “will clip Vladimir Putin’s wings“; On US-Russian relations; Kremlin says it does not expect oil to rebound anytime soon; Russia passes grim milestone, overtaking China in COVID-19 cases; More trouble at Vedomosti.

Reuters reports that up to 10 percent of Muscovites may have been infected with COVID-19, citing a study from Moscow’s International Medical Cluster which tested antibodies in patients exhibiting no symptoms.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump issued a joint statement commemorating the meeting of US and Soviet forces at the Elbe River in Gemany on April 25, 1945. The statement said the meeting was “an example of how our countries can set aside differences, build trust and cooperate in the name of a common goal.”

A Prague newspaper is reporting that Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib is under special protection after a Russian operative allegedly traveled to the country armed with ricin poison. Hřib, who has irked Moscow by renaming the square in front of the Russian Embassy after slain Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, confirmed that he is under police protection but would not confirm the reason. Asked about the reports, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said [in Russian] “We don’t know about this investigation at all, we don’t know who investigated it, it looks like another ‘duck.’”

The Financial Times wrote in an editorial today that the state of the Russian economy will be damaging to the President. It wrote,

Vladimir Putin’s reputation as a master tactician has always been exaggerated. By any standards, however, his decision to trigger an oil price war with Saudi Arabia last month was disastrously timed. It came days before the coronavirus pandemic began forcing economies around the world into lockdown, cutting crude demand. Russia then succumbed to the virus itself. The Russian president has had to cancel a referendum to approve constitutional changes that would allow him to rule for another two presidential terms after 2024, and a Victory Day parade in Moscow next month where he hoped to host other world leaders.

Brookings answered the question, “Why are US-Russia Relations so challenging?”, and looked at the most pressing issues for the next US administration. They write, “The most immediate issue is the fate of the New START Treaty on strategic offensive weapons, set to expire on February 5, 2021. This is the latest iteration of the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) Treaty signed by President Richard Nixon in Moscow in 1972. These treaties have for 50 years set limits on the numbers of warheads and delivery vehicles each side can have and they allow for on-site verification to ensure compliance.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia does not expect oil prices to rebound anytime soon, but expressed hope that the OPEC+ cuts set to take effect on May 1 could dampen any further collapse. He noted, “Yes, there are no grounds to expect price to return to high levels, but nevertheless, based on the results of the consensus, that is the OPEC++ deal, there are grounds to expect that after it enters into effect on May 1, it will make it possible to dampen or make price fluctuations smoother and avoid a price collapse.”

Russia passed China in confirmed COVID-19 cases, marking a grim milestone as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus. The total confirmed cases reached 87,147 in the country with 794 deaths.

Vedomosti’s new buyers may be backing out [in Russian] of their recent purchase of the troubled newspaper, according to a letter leaked to The Bell in which one of the buyers, Arbat Capital founder Alexey Golubovich says he may be backing out of the deal. Meduza also cited sources saying that the controversial new editor Andrey Shmarov was selected by the Kremlin, writing “‘The agreement’s terms were this: you buy the business and handle the business, but your editor-in-chief will come from the presidential administration,’ says a source close to Vedomosti’s senior management. ‘They picked Shmarov as a compromise figure,’ says a source close to the newspaper’s sale.” Last week, Kremlin Spokesman Peskov appeared to criticize [in Russian] Shmarov’s moves toward censorship.

PHOTO: Vedomosti acting editor-in-chief Andrei Shmarov. His recent moves clamping down on editorial independence at the respected outlet has raised eyebrows (Alexander Makarov / PhotoXPress).