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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 13, 2020

Today in Russia: Crackdown continues in Belarus; Renowned Russian violinist Spivakov writes blistering open letter and returns award from Lukashenko; Duterte changes his mind on being Russian vaccine "guinea pig"; Yandex shares reach a record high; Armed men at Minsk offices of Yandex and Uber; Russian Youtuber detained for exposing state secrets; Record low arrests in Russia; Rusal reports disappointing numbers; Budget woes during COVID; Iranian FM Zarif writes in Kommersant blasting the US and its "Return to the law of the jungle"

Today in Russia: Crackdown continues in Belarus; Renowned Russian violinist Spivakov writes blistering open letter and returns award from Lukashenko; Duterte changes his mind on being Russian vaccine “guinea pig”; Yandex shares reach a record high; Armed men at Minsk offices of Yandex and Uber; Russian Youtuber detained for exposing state secrets; Record low arrests in Russia; Rusal reports disappointing numbers; Budget woes during COVID; Iranian FM Zarif writes in Kommersant blasting the US and its “Return to the law of the jungle”

The crackdown continues in Belarus. “Women have formed human chains in Belarus to condemn a crackdown on protests over the disputed election. Many dressed in white and carried flowers as they called for an end to police brutality.” Over 700 women were detained in today’s demonstration, bringing the total number of detained protesters to 6,700.

Vladimir Spikalov, a renowned Russian violinist and conductor published an open letter in Russian investigative outlet Novaya Gazyeta to Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko in which he renounced a 2014 prize awarded to him. The letter began [in Russian],

Alexander Grigorievich!

In 2014, you awarded me the Order of Francisk Skaryna for special merits in the field of humanitarian and charitable activities, success on the basis of national-state revival, in protecting human dignity and the rights of citizens of Belarus. Apparently, at that time these concepts were still close to you. Today I still share these values, but not with you, the ruler, who created living conditions for his people that are incompatible with humanism and democracy.

Today, your “celebration” is dominated by obscurantism, tyranny, violence and endless examples of extreme cruelty, with which the authorities suppress the will of many citizens throughout the country.

Rodrigo Duterte, the bombastic president of the Philippines seems to have had a change of heart in being the “guinea pig” for the Russian COVID-19 vaccine. His office announced that he will not in fact be the first to take part in vaccine trials for his own safety.

Shares in Yandex, the Russian technology giant have reached a record high of 4,519.4 rubles per share, Kommersant wrote. “The value of Yandex shares began to rise 15 minutes after the opening of the trading day, the mark of 4,500 rubles. she arrived at 10:24 am. By 10:51, the securities were trading in the range of 4500 to 4550 rubles. At 10:51 a deal was made at a Yandex share price of RUB 4,532.2, up 5.68% on the previous day.

A Russian YouTuber famous for exploring abandoned sites was arrested and charged with obtaining state secrets last week, authorities and activists said Wednesday. Andrei Pyzh has uploaded hundreds of videos showing his visits to industrial sites and abandoned bunkers to his YouTube channel, which has about 800,000 subscribers. He faces up to eight years in jail if found guilty of illegally obtaining and disseminating state secrets.”

Today searches are taking place in the Minsk offices of Yandex.Taxi and Uber, Onliner.by reported [in Russian]. Meduza wrote [in Russian] that “Unknown armed people came to the Minsk office of Yandex. This information was confirmed to Meduza by the company’s press service.” On Sunday after the presidential elections Yandex’s ride sharing service and Uber were suspended in Minsk as the city underwent a lockdown. The two companies operate together in Belarus in addition to several other countries in the region, RBC noted [in Russian].

For the first time in modern history, the number of convicts, suspects and accused in custody has dropped below 500 thousand people, the press bureau of the Federal Penitentiary Service of the Russian Federation reported. Kommersant wrote,

“The number of convicts, suspects and accused in prison has reached a record minimum. For the first time, this figure has become less than half a million, ”the message says (quoted by RIA Novosti).

Currently, 496 791 people are held in the institutions of the penal system. Of these, 391 614 convicts are in correctional institutions, and at the beginning of last year there were at least 463 thousand. In addition, the number of repeat offenders decreased by a third in five years and the number of people who violated the Criminal Code for the first time decreased by 26%.

Rusal reported a $124 million loss in the first half of the year due to low aluminum prices. Earnings before interest more than halved to $ 219 million. Kommersant wrote [in Russian] that “Rusal’s results increase the company’s need to receive dividends from its stake in Norilsk Nickel and thereby exacerbate the conflict with Norilsk Nickel’s largest shareholder, Interros, owned by Vladimir Potanin. On August 12, Interros said that the aluminum company was unable to create a sustainable business model that would be competitive in the global market.”

RBC reported [in Russian] that Russia has become a “net debtor” during the COVID-19 crisis due to collapsing oil prices, the state’s purchase of Sberbank, and increased costs owing to the pandemic. The Sberbank state was purchased using funds from the National Wealth Fund (NWF). RBC noted, however, that the asset to debt ratio is still favorable since last year, and “This change does not pose a threat to fiscal stability, but is a symbolic consequence of the current crisis, which coincided with low oil prices, a record decline in domestic oil production, coronavirus and a sharp increase in budget spending to support Russian families and businesses.

Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, blasted the US and its unilateral withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or the Iran Nuclear Deal) in an op-ed in Kommersant. Zarif wrote [in Russian],

What we have seen in Iran, the target of the most vicious and blind US sanctions, shows that the American government has no clear vision of the future of the international community. Washington has no other plans than to ineffectively manage COVID-19 at home or undermine peace and stability overseas by attacking all those who support the rule of law.

PHOTO: Yandex’s share price reached a record level today on the Moscow Stock Exchange. At the same time, its offices in Minsk were raided and surrounded by unknown armed men (EPA/Maxim Shipenkov).