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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – April 28, 2020

Today in Russia: Record levels of new cases and COVID-19 deaths, lockdown extended; Coronavirus in closed nuclear cities; Putin approval rating collapses; Saudi-Russian market share battle for oil; Russia doubles down in Iraq; Wheat and grain exports cut off; Senior FSB official connected to MH-17 disaster.

Russia added a record 6,411 reported COVID-19 cases and 72 deaths, bringing the total reported cases to 93,558 cases and 867 deaths, overtaking Iran and China in total reported cases.

President Vladimir Putin extended the state-mandated holiday through May 11 as the coronavirus continues to ravage the country. Putin remarked, “Ahead of us is a new stage, perhaps the most intense stage of the fight against the epidemic…The risks of getting infected are at the highest level, and the threat, the mortal danger of the virus persists”

The Guardian wrote that “The head of Russia’s state-run nuclear corporation has expressed concern about the spread of the new coronavirus to three “nuclear cities”, including one that houses a top-secret research institute that helped develop the Soviet atomic bomb.”

Trust in President Putin has plummeted to its lowest level [in Russian] in 14 years. RFERL wrote, “The poll, taken last month by Russia’s Public Opinion Research Center, or VTsIOM, and released on April 27, showed those who chose Putin when asked to name a politician whom they trust, dropped to 28.3 percent in March from 29 percent the previous month and 30.6 percent in January.” However, head of VTsIOM Valery Fyodorov said that such open-ended questions result in dramatically different findings than simply asking a “yes/no” question as to whether they support the President. Fyodorov told Forbes Russia that [in Russian], “The open-ended question is more about memory and information activity than about trust, unfortunately…In general, I would stop asking this question at all, but if I stop asking it, they will start suspecting me of some terrible things.”

Saudi Arabia and Russia are battling over market share for their oil in a period of overcapacity and struggling demand. Reuters reported that Chinese oil imports from Saudi Arabia fell 1.6 percent year-on-year, while imports from Russia rose by 31 percent.

Russia cut off exports of wheat and grain, affecting wheat, corn, rye, barley, and meslin. Russia is the world’s largest wheat exporter, and saw its exports surge during the period of the coronavirus over fears of food security. Russia will continue to export to Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) countries.

Al-Monitor reports that Russia has “doubled down” on its involvement in Iraq, with diplomatic efforts and oil production continuing despite the coronavirus and a political crisis in Baghdad, writing “Moscow and Baghdad continue to plot a course for bilateral relations, though the process is being complicated by Iraq’s precarious political situation and the global coronavirus crisis.

A senior FSB official has been connected to the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 over Eastern Ukraine in July 2014, according to an investigation carried out by Bellingcat and The Insider [in Russian]. Meduza wrote, “According to the report, the figure — who appears under the pseudonym “Vladimir Ivanovich” in intercepted telephone conversations from the eve of the crash — is Colonel General Andrey Ivanovich Burlaka, the first deputy head of the FSB’s border service.” The claims were independently investigated by the BBC Russian service [in Russian] which reached the same conclusion. Russia has long denied responsibility for the downing of the civilian airliner by Russia-backed Ukrainian separatists. Bellingcat has previously published investigations looking into the separatists that shot down the civilian airliner.

PHOTO: Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 was downed over Eastern Ukraine by Ukrainian separatists. An investigation has linked a senior Russian security official to the July 2014 incident (Antonio Bronic/Reuters).