RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 24, 2020

Today in Russia: Belarus protests continue to draw enormous crowds, Lukashenko defiant; Tens of thousands of Lithuanians form human chain in solidarity with neighboring Belarus, Belarus thwarts the the threat of incoming anti-government balloons; Navalny in Germany receiving treatment, under 24 hour security as a “guest of the Chancellor;” Omsk doctors claim no poisonous substance found in Navalny; “Russia’s murderous Adhocracy”; Austria expels Russian diplomat

Belarus protests have remained massive, with estimates of up to 150,000 people marching [in Russian] this weekend despite a ban on gatherings and a defiant Lukashenko. The strongman president, for his part, has responded to the massive show of defiance by calling protesters “rats,” and appearing in a video where he emerges from a helicopter [in Russian] with automatic rifle in hand as he thanks the police who are gathered in full anti-riot gear.

Tens of thousands of Lithuanians formed a human chain in solidarity with ongoing demonstrations in Belarus. “The participants formed a human chain stretching 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the Baltic EU state’s capital Vilnius to the border with Belarus, with many holding the Belarus opposition’s red-and-white flag as well as the Lithuanian national tricolor.”

Balloons with anti-government slogans were also launched from Lithuania, and after straying into Belarus, Minsk sent an Mi-24 jet to intercept them [in Russian], with the Defense Ministry calling the operation a “suppression of provocation.” The Foreign Ministry also sent a complaint to Lithuania over the balloons. Vilnius sent a diplomatic note in response stating that the balloon-intercepting Mi-24 fighter jet strayed into Lithuanian airspace.

Alexei Navalny is being treated in Berlin, where he is officially being treated [in Russian] as a “guest of the Chancellor” – which Berlin emphasized was not a political statement but a pretext to allow 24-hour security to ensure his safety as he is treated for what is believed to be a poisoning attempt. The evacuation flight was paid for by Boris Zimin [in Russian], the son of telecoms billionaire Dmitry Zimin. Navalny remains in a coma and in critical condition.

“Navalny will survive the poison attack, but will be incapacitated for months as a politician,” [Jaka] Bizilj, the head of the Cinema for Peace foundation that brought Navalny to Berlin’s Charité hospital in a chartered air ambulance, said Sunday, according to Reuters and German tabloid Bild.

Doctors in Omsk claim that no evidence of poisoning [in Russian] was found after having conducted tests on the incapacitated opposition leader prior to his Berlin evacuation flight. “The diagnosis ‘poisoning’ was one of the first, and the ambulance also had it. Therefore, the patient was taken to the toxicology department. If we found the poisoning, something confirmed, then it would be much easier for us. But we received a final answer from two laboratories that no chemical and toxicological substances that could be regarded as poisons or products of the action of poisons have been identified,” Anatoly Kalinichenko, The Omsk No. 1 Hospital Deputy Chief Physician said. Proekt wrote [in Russian] that the Kremlin received the results from Omsk and shared them with outsiders.

Despite the uproar over doctors – under apparent political pressure – attempting to block Navalny’s evacuation to Germany and its questionable conclusions regarding the cause of his critical condition, RIA Novosti, a state-owned outlet, ran an article blasting Navalny’s wife [in Russian] for not thanking the doctors in Omsk for providing treatment to her husband. The head of the hospital where he received treatment declared [in Russian] that they, “with great efforts saved the life of Alexei Navalny, there is no doubt about it.”

Mark Galleoti wrote of Russia’s dangerous turn towards an “adhocracy,” where “political murder is no longer a monopoly of the state.” He notes that Navalny’s poisoning could have been orchestrated by the Kremlin, but “Navalny’s own claim — that he was alive because he was more of a problem for the regime dead — probably still holds true. Besides which, the state seems to have been caught off guard.” Galleoti further wrote of the official reaction to Navalny’s apparent poisoning,

First the doctors were admitting some kind of poisoning, then it was just a blood sugar imbalance. First the police were saying it was nothing, then they were admitting the presence of unexpected chemical traces. First Navalny could not fly because it would be unsafe for others, then that it wasn’t safe for him. First the news said he wasn’t poisoned, then propagandist-in-chief Dmitry Kiselev was claiming he was poisoned by the Americans or the British.

Austria expelled a Russian diplomat [in Russian] for the first time ever over allegations of industrial espionage. The unnamed Russia diplomat was apparently outed after an Austrian citizen working in the company of interest confessed to passing industrial secrets. Russia has reacted furiously, “This is undoubtedly an extremely unfriendly step that poisons bilateral relations,” Leonid Slutsky, head of the State Duma’s international affairs committee declared. Interfax reported that the Russian embassy in Vienna has vowed retaliatory measures, stating “We are sure that Moscow’s mirror reaction will not be long in coming.”

PHOTO: Women form a chain of solidarity. Protesters continue to fill the streets in Minsk, but strongman President Alexander Lukashenko is showing no signs of wavering despite massive protests and international condemnation (Natalia Fedosenko / TASS).