RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – December 1, 2020

Today in Russia: Navalny being investigated for “extremism” – or maybe not?; More protests and arrests in Belarus; A Wikipedia fake quote tars Biden’s SecState pick in Russia; $500 million windfall for Russian oligarchs; Investigation of businessman for embezzling $13 million on Putin’s mansion; Kommersant: Central Bank to “completely change” licensing structure for financial institutions; Aliyev says Nakhchivan corridor is priority issue for Baku

Alexei Navalny may be under investigation for ‘extremism.’ The Moscow Times wrote, Moscow investigators are reportedly examining whether Navalny’s April 27 interview with the liberal Ekho Moskvy radio station contained calls for a violent overthrow of the Russian government. Charges of “public calls for terrorism” carry a prison sentence of five years.

However, Russian officials from the Investigative Committee have denied [in Russian] that Navalny is being investigated for extremism, despite TASS [in Russian] and Interfax [in Russian] reporting that authorities are looking into his April 27 interview.

More than 300 protesters were arrested on Sunday across Belarus, with Minsk seeing the largest demonstrations. On Monday, a demonstration of elderly citizens and pensioners also took the streets in Minsk.

Doctors in Belarus have also taken to their own form of protest. Meduza wrote, “A new type of solidarity protest has sprung up in Belarus, in support of a journalist and a doctor who were arrested on charges of divulging confidential medical information about Raman Bandarenka — an opposition protester who died after being hospitalized on November 12. The solidarity action, called “Nol promille” (Zero per mill), was initiated by doctors at the Minsk Emergency Hospital and has quickly been picked up by other opposition protesters, including journalists and students.”

According to some Russian media, Antony Blinken, US President-Elect Joe Biden’s Secretary of State said some nasty things about Russia. As it turns out, the quote was made up by an anonymous Wikipedia editor and picked up by the Russian press. “The edit included a quote, purportedly from Blinken, referring to American sanctions against Russia and claiming that they, among other things, are meant to “demonstrate to the Russian people that there is a very hefty fine for supporting international criminals like [Putin].” Allegedly, Blinken uttered this phrase during a speech at the Brookings Institution back in 2014, when he was the United States Deputy National Security Advisor.”

“Russia’s ultra-wealthy have increased their net worth by nearly $500 million in 2020 thanks to a historic stock market rally in November, according to the Bloomberg list of billionaires. Altogether, the 22 Russian billionaires added $486 million to their net worth between the start of the year and Dec. 1.” Unfortunately for Russia’s uber-wealthy however, their gains pale in comparison to that of their German, Chinese, or American counterparts: “Russia’s 102 billionaires are the fourth-wealthiest cohort in the world behind Germany, China and the United States, with a combined $468 billion, the consultancy PwC and Swiss bank UBS said in a report last month.

Businessman Stanislav Kyuner was convicted of embezzling $13 million in the construction of a presidential palace, according to Russia’s Federal Protective Service. “Kyuner, the former director general of a construction company Stroyfasad, was sentenced to eight years in a maximum-security prison in June 2020. He was found guilty of charges of involvement in an organized criminal group and embezzlement of funds. The trial was held behind closed doors.”

The Bank of Russia plans [in Russian] to completely change the licensing mechanism for all financial institutions – from banks to investment advisors. A number of players have already been sent questions on the future reform. It is planned that it will affect not only financial organizations, where changes are already overdue, but also non-financial areas of business that are part of banking ecosystems. Financial market participants generally support this approach, but many consider it sufficient to simply remove unnecessary restrictions from a number of licenses.”

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said a corridor linking Nakhchivan [in Russian] to Azerbaijan proper – part of the November 10 agreement inked with Armenia under Russia’s watchful eye – is a priority for Baku. During his speech, Aliyev drew attention to the clause of the agreement on the settlement of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia in early November. This paragraph refers to the creation of a transport corridor between the western regions of the Azerbaijan Republic and the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic. It also says that by agreement of the parties in the region, ‘”the construction of new transport communications linking the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic with the western regions of Azerbaijan will be ensured.‘”

PHOTO: Over 300 people were arrested in Belarus on Sunday as demonstrations against strongman Alexander Lukashenko continued months after the disputed election (AFP / Scanpix / LETA).