RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – April 8, 2020

Today in Russia: Up to half of Russian companies cut salaries after the announcement of a paid holiday; The “budget rule” may prevent the government from unleashing sufficient emergency funding during the shutdown; Flip-flopping over COVID-19 testing; Confirmed coronavirus cases continue to climb; Pessimism ahead of the OPEC+ meeting; Russian citizens stranded abroad receive financial assistance; Putin authorizes maximum unemployment benefits.

RBC reported [in Russian] that half of Russian companies surveyed cut salaries after President Vladimir Putin ordered that companies continue to pay their employees during a national holiday implemented as a result of COVID-19.

The Russian government has some 18 trillion rubles [in Russian] in liquid financing available, but the “budget rule” – imposed in 2017 and mandating that all oil profits beyond a certain oil price be channeled into the National Wealth Fund (FNB) rather than the budget. If the oil price is below the set amount, FNB funds can only be used to cover the gap in oil profits.

Pessimism is rising that a deal between Russia and Saudi Arabia can be agreed ahead of the planned OPEC+ meeting to be held on Thursday. Given the importance of US “shale” oil producers – US production was at 13 million barrels per day last week – analysts have suggested that the US must be a party to any agreed production cuts. The US has suggested that “market-driven” cuts which have already taken place could count towards its output reduction, and idea that was quickly rejected by Russia.

Russia has flip-flopped on allowing COVID-19 tests developed by the private sector. Several major private laboratories set up their own testing systems to be administered for a fee, before receiving official guidance on April 2 that led them to halt testing. The government developed its own test – also for a fee. Then, on April 8, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced an expansion of private sector testing, leaving labs “in limbo” over testing policy.

Confirmed COVID-19 tests in Russia jumped by a record 1,175 bringing the total to 8,672 with 63 total deaths from the virus. The head of Russia’s Federal Biomedical Agency estimated [in Russian] that Russia will reach its peak infection rate in the next 10-14 days.

2,300 Russian citizens stranded [in Russian] abroad will receive 2,400 rubles per day in financial assistance. Children under 14 will receive 1,600 rules per day. Inside Russia, President Putin authorized [in Russian] unemployment payments of the maximum allowed 12,130 rubles per month for the next three months.

PHOTO: As COVID-19 cases surge, Russian authorities are taking more stringent measures to curb its spread. (Sergei Vedyashkin / Moskva News Agency)