RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – April 29, 2020

Today in Russia: Reports that Putin’s daughter may head the “Russian ‘Genome Project'” is met with lawsuit; Russia nears 100,000 cases, Moscow Region reaches plateau; DoD redirects Russia deterrence funds for Trump’s border wall; Gazprom workers protest over conditions; Vedomosti sale delayed; WSJ editorial criticizes clampdown at Vedomosti; Entry ban for foreigners extended; The diplomatic game of embassy addresses; Russia says Iran must not give in to US “provocations”; 70 percent of cafes and restaurants may not survive.

BBC Russia released [in Russian] a report that Maria Vorontsova, Putin’s alleged eldest daughter “is set to work with Russian energy giant “Rosneft” to create a new center for genetic research in Moscow and that energy giant Rosneft is to invest between USD 500 million and 1 billion in the project through 2027. Votontsova is an endocrinologist who specializes in pediatric growth disorders, has been reported to be involved in Russia’s development of genetic technology, including its development of controversial gene-editing technology. Rosneft announced last month [in Russian] that it would be funding such a project, but quickly responded to the BBC Russia report with a lawsuit, claiming the report “contains an unfounded lie” and stating it will seek compensation and a retraction.

Russia has reported 99,399 cases of COVID-19, with 972 deaths. The Governor of the Moscow Region Andrei Vorobyov said that the region in and around the capital has reached a plateau [in Russian]. He added, “Probably, this is a plateau. Regarding growth, this is 5-7%. I think that we will stand on it for some time. Then the decline will continue,” while conceding that hospitalizations are continuing at a high rate.

Workers at a Gazprom gas facility in the far northwestern region of Yakutia working on the Chayanda field – which feeds the Power of Siberia gas pipeline to China – have protested in large numbers over their conditions during the coronavirus outbreak. Local media released a video [in Russian] with protesters chanting ““They’re feeding us animal feed. We’re being held like pigs, are we pigs?” The workers also published an open letter [in Russian] in local media which said, “Avoiding physical contact is absolutely impossible in such living conditions. We eat from the same dishes, wash in communal baths and showers and change the same bed linens.” Authorities say that by April 28, all 10,000 workers had been tested but results have not been released yet. Gazprom has said that despite the protests, it does not have any plan to demobilize its workers and production at Chayanda field.

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has redirected $545 million in Department of Defense (DoD) funds intended for Russia deterrence activities to fund the border wall between the US and Mexico, long a pet project of President Donald Trump. The Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith (D-WA-9) said in a statement, “Our partners and allies rely on the support of EDI funds to prevent Russian aggression in the region and these cuts will have real, lasting effects on our national security.”

After reports last week [in Russian] that one the buyers of Russian business outlet Vedomosti were planning to withdraw, it was reported today that the sale is still on track [in Russian], but will be delayed [in Russian]. The two parties cited the coronavirus as a reason for the delay, but questions about the paper’s editorial independence and a resulting collapse in subscribers has made big headlines since the sale was announced last month.

A Wall Street Journal editorial heavily criticized the clampdown at Russian business outlet Vedomosti, writing, “A crucial part of Vladimir Putin’s consolidation of power in Russia has been his erosion of the country’s free press. Few publications remain outside Kremlin control, and now the country’s leading business daily is on the brink of losing its independence.

Russia extended its entry ban for foreigners due to the continuing coronavirus outbreak, which was supposed to expire this Thursday. It has now been postponed indefinitely, until the virus is “under control.”

The American Interest asked Why Won’t Russia Commemorate Its Own Statesman? in reference to Prague’s decision to rename the square outside the Russian embassy after slayed politician Boris Nemtsov. They write that Russia’s criticism of such renaming efforts – which also took place outside of its embassy in Washington, DC – is because the state is to blame for his death despite official denials of responsibility and President Putin calling it a politically-motivated “brazen murder.” The article continues,

Indeed, nothing else can explain the Russian government’s reaction to the commemorations—or its consistent refusal to cooperate with international oversight procedures concerning the investigation into Nemtsov’s murder. Last year Russian authorities blocked the rapporteur from the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe from accessing the Nemtsov case files—on the grounds that they contain state secrets.

Russia told Iran that it must not give in to “provocations” by the US. “We are urging maximum restraint and caution, not to give in to provocations and aggressive rhetoric,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Seventy percent of cafes and restaurants in Russia may not make it [in Russian] to July 1, according to the President of the Federation of Restaurateurs and Hoteliers of Russia (RFiO) Igor Bukharov. He said that currently 77 percent of food and drink establishments are not currently operating, while 23 percent are operating on a limited, take-out and delivery basis only.

PHOTO: Protesters at Gazprom’s Chayanda field demonstrating over dangerous conditions and lack of information about the COVID-19 outbreak. Gazprom has refused to halt or curtail operations despite the protests. (Video screenshot, Yakutia.info).