RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – April 3, 2020

Today in Russia: Russia suspends international flights evacuating its nationals back home. Russia’s widely-publicized shipment of masks and ventilators to aid New York may have violated US sanctions. Russian businesses and elites fret about new taxes and paid holiday, while Moscow goes into lockdown and confirmed coronavirus cases in the country surpass 4,100. The EU releases a report alleging a Russian disinformation campaign during the COVID-19 epidemic, and oil prices jump over 20 percent following Trump’s claims that Russia and Saudi are closing in on a deal – initially denied by the Kremlin but maybe in the works.

Russia announced that international flights arriving at Russian airports evacuating its citizens from abroad will be suspended from April 4. 500 million rubles will be allocated to the Foreign Ministry to arrange emergency accommodation for nationals stranded abroad, and the Russian government will work to extend visas and travel documents for those affected.

On Wednesday, a Russian military aircraft touched down at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport carrying Russian-made ventilators, masks, and antiseptics. The shipment was first announced in a tweet from the Russian Mission to NATO, tweeting “[No] politics, just saving lives!” The Russian aid shipment was praised by President Donald Trump but has triggered negative reactions from Russia-experts and other observers in the United States over fears that it will hand Russia a “propaganda victory.” Meanwhile, Russian outlet RBC has suggested that the Russian shipment may have violated US sanctions.

After speculation that Russia was understating the severity of the coronavirus within its borders, the country has unveiled far stricter measures, including a lockdown of Moscow, jail time for quarantine offenders, and a mobile application to be used in Moscow to track those infected with the virus. Russia currently has 4,149 confirmed cases and 34 deaths from COVID-19.

President Vladimir Putin also announced measures help its citizens weather the economic impact of the coronavirus, including 5,000 rubles per month for those with small children, increased unemployment benefits, and deferral of credit payments for those most affected. The measures also included a half-year tax holiday for small and medium businesses. However, the raft of measures also included a 13 percent tax on the interest earned on bank deposits and bonds worth over 1 million rubles, a 15 percent tax on interest and dividend payments headed to offshore accounts, and a nationwide paid holiday which was extended to April 30 likely to hit businesses hard, but will play up the Kremlin’s narrative that it is “redistributing wealth in a time of crisis.”

The oil wars between Russia and Saudi Arabia coupled with a collapse in global demand due to the coronavirus has sent oil prices plummeting. On April 2, President Trump tweeted that Russia and Saudi Arabia were in negotiations to cut back on oil production, sending crude prices soaring by over 20 percent. While Trump’s claims were initially denied by the Kremlin and provoked skepticism that he was simply talking up the price of oil to help US domestic “shale oil” producers who have been hit hard by the slump in oil prices, President Putin has signaled that they are open to talks with the Saudis [link in Russian], and both Russia and Saudi Arabia may be looking for US assistance in brokering talks as well as coordination with US producers in any cuts in output.

The European Union’s European External Action Service (EEAS) released a report on Wednesday alleging a disinformation campaign on the part of Russia and China as the world grapples with COVID-19. The EEAS wrote, “[t]he overarching aim of Kremlin disinformation is to aggravate the public health crisis in Western countries, specifically by undermining public trust in national healthcare systems—thus preventing an effective response to the outbreak[.]”

PHOTO: A Russian military plane arrives at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport delivering ventilators, masks, and other medical equipment. April 1, 2020. (TASS)