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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 11, 2020

Today in Russia: Tikhanovskaya leaves Belarus for neighboring Lithuania, Internet blocked for third straight day; Russia sees opportunity to expand influence in Belarus election chaos; Russia presses ahead with vaccine registration, industry condemns premature release but Putin’s daughter already given vaccine; Philippines signs up for Russian vaccine; Russia backs away from full crypto ban; Germany not liking the heat from the USA on Nord Stream 2; German state utility Uniper says sanctions may thwart Nord Stream 2; Russian petroleum exports to USA reach record levels

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the primary opposition candidate in Belarus’ Sunday’s election against strongman Alexsander Lukashenko, has fled to Lithuania, the country’s foreign minister Linas Linkevicius wrote on Twitter. Tikhanovskaya shared a video suggesting her children had been threatened and she left the country for their safety. She has said that the election which saw Lukashenko take over 80 percent of the vote despite mass protests against his rule were rigged.

For the third straight day, Belarus has essentially shut down the internet [in Russian]. Users in Belarus report that they are unable to access messaging apps and social media sites, and “.by” websites – Belarus’ web domain – are inaccessible from outside the country, which your author has confirmed through testing multiple official and unofficial Belorussian sites. Lukashenko blamed “foreign cyber attacks” for the website blocks, but IT specialists have said these are the signs of an internet shutdown carried out by the state.

Belarus’ controversial election may be just the magic Russia needed top repair ties with its renegade ally. Lukashenko had accused Russia of interfering in its elections and of sending mercenaries to the country in the run-up to the vote, and other issues have severely strained ties between the two countries. But as the Wall Street Journal noted, “now Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to detect an opportunity to re-establish its influence in Belarus by shoring up Mr. Lukashenko after an unprecedented wave of protests following Sunday’s vote. In his message to Belarus’s leader, Mr. Putin said he hoped the two countries would expand their integration, building on already strong economic and security ties.

President Vladimir Putin announced that a vaccine has been registered, production will begin in September, and a mass vaccination campaign will begin in October despite only 100 people being injected with the vaccine and clinical trials not having been fully carried out. Bloomberg wrote, “The government plans to give a vaccine developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute conditional registration as early as this week, which would open the door to civilian use. Yet less than 100 people had officially received the inoculation against the epidemic by early August and its widespread use could be dangerous, the Association of Clinical Trials Organizations said in a letter sent to Health Minister Mikhail Murashko on Monday.” Putin said his own daughter had been given the vaccine already.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte accepted Russia’s offer of its hastily developed vaccine and offered to be the first to receive it. “When the vaccine arrives, I will have myself injected in public. Experiment on me first, that’s fine with me,” the bombastic president declared. Duterte has also approached the Chinese for help getting access to an early vaccine.

Russia passed a new law restricting cryptocurrency use, but stopping short of an outright ban as initially proposed. “Starting January 1st, 2021, cryptocurrencies will be allowed in Russia, though they will not be allowed to be used in exchange for any goods or services. There may be more regulation coming in upcoming sessions, but as of now, it seems that Russians can mine, trade cryptocurrencies for other cryptocurrencies on exchanges, and own cryptocurrencies without any legal issues — so long as they don’t spend it on other goods and services within the domestic economy.”

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas expressed “displeasure” to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over Washington’s threats to sanction the Nord Stream 2 project and the companies involved. Last year US President Donald Trump signed legislation against contractors working on Nord Stream 2 and another Russian gas project, TurkStream, which goes through the Black Sea, and Germany was critical of this move as well. The project is exposing a rift within the EU, however, with Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic states viewing the project as a dangerous extension of Russian influence in the bloc, Germany sees the pipeline as a greener and more sustainable source of energy over coal and nuclear alternatives.

German state utility Uniper said in its first-half report that US sanctions may thwart the Nord Stream 2 project, writing “With the U.S. intensifying their efforts on targeted sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 project the probability of a delay or even non-completion of the pipeline is increasing.” Uniper said it may have to impair a loan issued for the project should severe delays or the entire scuppering of the project take place. RBC interpreted [in Russian] Uniper’s semi-annual report as predicting that the project will never take place, writing, “Uniper, which is one of Gazprom’s financial partners in the Nord Stream 2 project, admitted that the pipeline under the Baltic Sea would never be completed. This is stated in the company’s report for January-June.

Russian petroleum exports to the USA hit a 16-year high, with more than 9 million tons of petroleum products, totaling $2.2 billion, RBC reported [in Russian].

PHOTO: A laboratory of BIOCAD biotechnology in Saint Petersburg, Russia (Anton Vaganov/Reuters).