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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 27, 2020

Today in Russia: Russia blames US for clash in Syria; End of an era: No more trolleybuses for Moscow; Prigozhin vows to ruin Navalny, despite the opposition leader’s severe medical condition post-poisoning; Navalny poisoning may be same substance as 2015 poisoning of arms dealer; Belarus Foreign Minister gathers EU ambassadors in closed-door meeting; Lithuania says EU response to Belarus slow and lackluster; Fitch: Risks of further sanctions to “paradoxically” increase Russia’s gold production

An altercation took place in Syria between Russian and US troops. Videos show speeding Russian and US military vehicles in an open field which ram one one another, and a low flying Russian helicopter which appears to have been trying to disperse US forces. “Two U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss operational details, said the injuries were a result of a collision between Russian and American vehicles, and not any exchange of fire. The officials said four troops were showing mild concussion-like symptoms and were receiving medical attention at their base in Syria.

Russia blamed the US side for the altercation. AFP wrote, “Russia’s Defense Ministry released a statement saying that it had warned the Defeat-ISIS Coalition in advance that a column of its military police would pass through. “In spite of this, in breach of the existing agreements the U.S. troops attempted to block the Russian patrol” it said, adding that Russian military police took “necessary measures” to end the incident and carry on their mission.”

Trolleybuses – electric buses powered by overhead power lines above the streets – will be retired in Moscow, to be replaced by battery-powered electric and standard buses. The trolleybus is a feature of post-Communist cities, from Russia and Eastern Europe, to China and Mongolia. “The decision to gradually abandon the [city’s] trolleybus service was not easy for us, but we understand that this is a step forward. The future belongs to innovative electric transport,” the head of Mosgortrans, the city’s transit agency told TASS. Your Russia News Blast author has had the opportunity to sample many trolleybuses worldwide – including, for a time, in his daily commute to work.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, dubbed “Vladimir Putin’s chef” because his company has done catering for the President and a suspected financier of Wagner Group, has vowed to ruin Alexei Navalny, the incapacitated and poisoned opposition leader. Despite Navalny’s severe condition, Prigozhin is still seething over a video report linking Prigozhin to the Moskovsky Shkolnik foodservice company, which Navalny’s foundation alleged provided poor quality meals and had monopolized the market. Reports have linked Prigozhin to the company but he denies owning it. A court in October ordered Navalny’s foundation to pay 88 million rubles ($1.2 million at the current exchange rate) in damages over the video. “I intend to strip this group of unscrupulous people of their clothes and shoes,” Prigozhin fumed. Putin’s chef has payed the damages to Moskovsky Shkolnik himself and he will pursue the damages against Navalny and his now-dissolved foundation.

German daily Der Spiegel, in cooperation with Bellingcat reported [in German] that poison used and the symptoms experienced by Navalny may be the same as that used in the 2015 poisoning of Emilian Gebrew, a Bulgarian arms dealer whose poisoning was linked to the Sergei Skripal poisoning in the UK. Spiegel writes that an organophosphatic substance [in Russian]- from the same family as Novichok – was used on both. In Gebrew’s case, he suffered from a month-long coma but survived the ordeal.

Belarus’ Foreign Minister held a closed-door meeting with EU ambassadors in Minsk, RBC reported [in Russian]. “‘The meeting is closed, it is held on the initiative of the Foreign Ministry. But, as they say in diplomatic circles, the European ambassadors have long asked to arrange a meeting with Vladimir Makei to discuss the situation in the country,’ writes Tut.by.

Lithuania’s Foreign Minister says the EU is too slow in its response to the Belarus crisis. Linas Linkevičius told Politico that “It is not enough to judge, to assess, to condemn, there should be actions…We have to speed up.”

The consultancy arm of Fitch, the ratings agency, wrote that “The ongoing and expanding US sanctions on Russia will paradoxically support gold production in the country in the short term.” Fitch cited the rising risk that state-owned Russian banks could be blocked from doing business in dollars and the continuing tension between the US and Russia will lead to a continuing increase in gold holdings by Russian banks, keeping gold demand humming.

PHOTO: Trolleybuses are a feature of post-Communist states the world over, from Russia, much of Eastern Europe, and even China (Moskva News Agency).