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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 5, 2020

Today in Russia: Devastating blast in Beirut believed to be caused by ammonium nitrate seized from a Russian-owned ship in 2014; Fires rage in Siberia during heat wave; Stranded Central Asian migrants pushed back at border; LDPR head Zhirinovsky says Ukraine and Belarus are getting global attention while Khabarovsk is falling by the wayside; Woolly mammoth skeleton found in Siberian lake; Lukashenko says Russia lying about mercenaries in Belarus, says more are found as country gears up for election

Mediazona reported [in Russian] that the devastating blast at a Beirut port on Wednesday night that has destroyed large parts of the city, led to many deaths and scores injured was caused by ammonium nitrate that was seized from a Russian ship in 2014 and stored at the port in an unsafe manner by Lebanese authorities. Moscow Times wrote,

Lebanese authorities in 2014 confiscated 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate from a Moldovan ship called the Rhosus, the country’s LBCI television channel reported overnight, citing sources at a Supreme Defense Council meeting. 

The Rhosus is owned by Igor Grechushkin, a Russian national and resident of Cyprus, Mediazona cited the ship’s crew members as saying.

 The ship had been traveling from Georgia to Mozambique in 2013 when it experienced a malfunction and made an unscheduled stop in Beirut. Soon after, Grechushkin reportedly declared bankruptcy and “abandoned” the ship there, leaving its crew stranded on the vessel for months before the ammonium nitrate could be offloaded.

The ammonium nitrate had been stored in a warehouse in the port of Beirut since then. The MarineTraffic website last recorded the Rhosus’ location near this warehouse in 2014.

Fires are raging in Siberia in the midst of an unprecedented heat wave, EuroNews reproted. “Firefighters in Russia are battling to contain bush fires stretching across 60,000 hectares of land, which have been exacerbated by a recent heatwave in the country. The fires are currently raging in the Chukotka autonomous area, the Yekaterinburg region and the Amur region. “Ecology”, a national project to restore lost green spaces throughout the country, is also threatened by the rising temperatures.”

Dozens of Central Asian migrants trapped in Russia amid the coronavirus pandemic were pushed back by guards when they tried to cross the border into Kazakhstan. This is a continuing problem since borders shut during the pandemic.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the head of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), lamented to Meduza [in Russian] in an interview that “Ukraine, Belarus – they are constantly shown, but there is no Khabarovsk!” referring to the ongoing mass protests in the far eastern city after the LDPR mayor Sergei Furgal was removed and arrested.

A wholly mammoth skeleton was found in a lake in the remote Yamal regio. The Washington Post wrote, “Russian scientists are poring over the stunningly well-preserved bones of an adult woolly mammoth that roamed the earth at least 10,000 years ago, after local inhabitants discovered its remains in the shallows of a north Siberian lake. Part of its skull, several ribs and foreleg bones, some with soft tissue still attached to them, were retrieved from Russia’s remote Yamal peninsula above the Arctic Circle in July. Scientists are still searching the site for other bones.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko, Belarus’ strongman president, accused Russia of lying about the 33 alleged mercenaries arrested in Minsk and claimed that more were found in the south of the country. “‘Today we heard of another unit sent into the south,’ he said in an address to the nation. “We’ll catch them all.” Russia has denied that the 33 Russians held were plotting terrorism and were linked to anti-Lukashenko activists.” Belarus will hold a contentious presidential election on August 9.

PHOTO: The aftermath of the deadly explosion in Beirut on Wednesday night, believed to have involved seized cargo from a Russian-owned ship in 2014 (Wael Hamzeh / EPA / TASS).