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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – July 14, 2020

Today in Russia: Russia delays $360 billion spending plan; 14-day quarantine for international arrivals to be lifted; More arrests of journalists supporting Safronov in protest; Tens of thousands protest in Khabarovsk in support of their arrested governor; Russia forces “reduced access for aid to Syrians” at UN; Demographer who questioned COVID-19 figures fired; Russia says clinical trials completed for COVID-19 vaccine; “The myth of Putin’s World”

The Kremlin has delayed a $360 billion spending plan by six years to 2030. The “National Projects” plan which includes “13 projects, [and] strategic spending goals ranging from infrastructure to education and healthcare” is being pushed back due to pressure on state spending due to the pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn.

Russia will lift its 14-day quarantine on international arrivals as the country plans to resume regular international flights and travel, despite Russia’s continuing struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meduza wrote that 18 journalists were arrested who protested against Ivan Safronov’s arrest and treason charges. “During the afternoon of Monday, July 13, former investigative journalist and Roscosmos communications advisor Ivan Safronov was formally charged with treason. To support Safronov, the independent journalists’ union organized a “rally” outside of Moscow’s Lefortovo Pretrial Detention Center, where Safronov is being held. Even though hardly any of the participants were picketing or yelling slogans, law-enforcement officers considered the meeting a “mass rally” and arrested 18 journalists. Meduza special correspondent Kristina Safonova shares her eye-witness report from outside of the pre-trial detention center.

Tens of thousands have continued to protest the arrest of their governor, Sergey Furgal, who was arrested for allegedly ordering contract killings as a businessman over a decade ago. The protesters – and many other observers – believe there is a political explanation for Furgal’s downfall, given that the Kremlin did not endorse nor anticipate his election to the governorship. Furgal comes from the LDPR party. Protesters chanted “Freedom!” and “Furgal is our choice.” The police only made one arrest on Monday and generally allowed the demonstrations to continue peacefully. The first protest, on Saturday, was the largest protest Russia’s far eastern region had ever seen.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the head of the LDPR party, said that his party should be allowed to put forward candidates for replacement of Furgal as interim governor of Khabarovsk Krai. Zhirinovsky also said that his party’s faction in the State Duma could resign in protest of their governor’s arrest in Khabarovsk. Vedomosti wrote [in Russian] “Among them, he [Zhirinovsky] named the chairman of the State Duma Committee on Industry and Economic Policy Sergey Zhigarev, the chairman of the State Duma Committee on Sport, Tourism and Youth Affairs Mikhail Degtyarev, the State Duma deputy from the Far Eastern Federal District (FEFD) Andrei Andreichenko. ‘We are ready to give from the Far East and from other regions. But everyone is connected with the Liberal Democratic Party,’ Zhirinovsky said on television.”

NPR wrote thatA divided United Nations Security Council approved a resolution on Saturday to allow just one border crossing — instead of the current two — to remain open for U.N. aid convoys into Syria, dealing another blow to a humanitarian assistance program for millions of displaced people.” A series of Russian and Chinese vetoes on UN efforts to keep UN aid routes from Turkey open thwarted the effort and left many aid workers – and the US ambassador to the UN, Kelly Kraft, bitterly disappointed.

Aleksei Raksha, a health demographer at state statistics agency Rosstat, called into question the way Russia classified COVID-19 deaths was fired earlier this month. “For health demographers like Aleksei Raksha, employed by the state statistics agency Rosstat, something hasn’t been right for months, and in May, he spoke out publicly: The low death toll wasn’t due to a superior state response, he said, it was due to how coronavirus statistics were being counted.

Russian scientists said Monday they hope the world’s first coronavirus vaccine will be distributed to patients as soon as next month after a medical university in Moscow said it completed clinical trials using human volunteers,” Moscow Times wrote.

The Atlantic Council wrote about Eastern Ukraine’s “European roots” and the “myth” of Putin’s world:

Since spring 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been waging a hybrid war against Ukraine to prevent the country’s departure from the Kremlin orbit. This unconventional campaign involves military, economic, diplomatic, and informational components. Underpinning it all are Russia’s historic claims to much of present-day Ukraine. Putin makes little effort to disguise his contempt for Ukrainian statehood. Instead, he argues that Ukraine has always been part of Russia’s traditional heartlands and is destined to remain so, whether Ukrainians like it or not.

Throughout the past six years, Putin has repeatedly asserted that the Russian-occupied Donbas region in eastern Ukraine is an important element of Russia’s national inheritance. In a notorious April 2014 speech that followed the seizure of Crimea and signaled the next stage of the war against Ukraine, he claimed the Donbas had never actually been Ukrainian and was inexplicably handed over to Soviet Ukraine in 1920. “God knows why,” he commented. More recently, in December 2019, Putin used his annual press marathon to refer to the Donbas as “ancestral Russian lands that had never had anything to do with Ukraine”.

Putin’s selective reading of the past may suit his political objectives, but it does not stand up to closer scrutiny. In reality, the Ukrainian presence in the contested Donbas region of eastern Ukraine stretches back for centuries, while the area’s European roots make a mockery of Kremlin attempts to portray it as sacred Russian land.

PHOTO: Khabarovsk’s third straight day of large-scale protests in support of their arrested governor, Sergey Furgal on July 13. (Yevgenia Pustovit/TASS)