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

Today in Russia: Germany rejects Trump proposal to let Russia back into G7; “Our American ‘Baidushka”; Ex-Vedomosti reporters launch new outlet; Spotify starts selling ads in Russia; New Khabarovsk governor says protests organized from abroad; Novaya Gazyeta digs up Furgal’s old rough and tumble business history; Kadyrov is really angry about being sanctioned by the US; US DoD says Wagner Group still up to no good in Libya

Germany rejected the proposal from US President Donald Trump to allow Russia back in the G7 (formerly G8) group. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that unless Russia resolves the Crimea dispute and the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Germany would continue to oppose such a move. Maas also indicated German opposition to inviting other countries to the G7, saying “G7 and G20 are two sensibly coordinated formats. We don’t need G11 or G12 anymore.”

Kommersant wrote [in Russian] about a potential Joe Biden Presidency and its implications for Russia, writing that they “decided to figure out what the potential victory of Joseph Biden could turn out to be for Russia. The conclusions were disappointing.” Kommersant noted that Biden’s supporters see him as a blast to the past of the Obama years, his support “essentially built around the idea of ​​’back to the great days of Barack Obama’s presidency,’ which resonates with many voters who have not come to terms with Donald Trump’s victory.”

Kommersant further noted that should Biden become President, they predict that little will improve in US-Russia relations beyond the renewal of the START treaty. They note that Biden has declared that Vladimir Putin hopes he does not win, and Kommersant agreed, noting that “few people liked the conversations with the then vice-president in Moscow,” with particular disgust given to a March 2011 visit when:

The high-ranking guest then [Biden], during a meeting with Russian opposition members at Spaso House, the residence of the American ambassador in Moscow, openly said that Vladimir Putin should not go for a third presidential term. “I don’t know if he means this now by ‘frank and direct conversations’ [something he has recently called for], but the Russian side perceived it as an open and shameless interference in the internal affairs of our country.

Kommersant further noted that Michael Carpenter, currently managing director at the University of Pennsylvania Biden Center, is a top advisor for the candidate, and Carpenter is a Russia hawk, noting that “[i]n 2018, Joseph Biden and Michael Carpenter published a joint manifesto article “How to Resist the Kremlin” in Foreign Affairs magazine.” Furthermore, Biden will face pressure to be strongly anti-Kremlin, as Trump is viewed as pro-Russia despite not doing much to help Russia out:

A tougher policy toward Russia is expected from Joseph Biden and many of his supporters in Washington. For some reason, it is customary there to call Donald Trump a “pro-Russian president” and “a puppet of the Kremlin,” despite the fact that he has done virtually nothing good for Moscow. An illustrative example of this attitude is the recently published column of The Washington Post staff writer Jennifer Rubin entitled “Joe Biden would stop Trump’s policy of putting Putin first

Ex-Vedomosti reporters have launched a new independent media outlet as their former employer increasingly comes under the sway of pro-Kremlin forces. VTimes, the new outlet [in Russian], declared that “The refusal of the new leaders of Vedomosti from the principles of quality journalism forced us to leave the publication in which we worked for many years.” The new online outlet will begin publication in the autumn. Derk Sauer, the Dutch journalist who founded both Vedomosti and the Moscow Times, will be an advisor and consultant to the new project, but not an owner or investor, the VTimes’ new home page wrote.

Spotify began selling advertisements in Russia, Vedomosti reported [in Russian].

Khabarovsk’s new governor sees a foreign hand in the protests that continue to rock the far eastern Russian city since their governor was removed and jailed in a move that many believe was at the behest of the Kremlin. Meduza wrote, “On Friday, July 24, the Khabarovsk Territory’s newly appointed acting governor, Mikhail Degtyarevtold reporters that foreign citizen flew in from Moscow to help organize local demonstrations against his appointment. Khabarovsk has seen sustained mass protests in response to the arrest of now ex-governor Sergey Furgal since July 11.

Meanwhile, Sergei Furgal’s business past was put under scrutiny by Novaya Gazyeta [in Russian]. Meduza summarized the complex investigation in English, writing that “Sergey Furgal, until recently the duly elected governor of Khabarovsk, is now suspected of involvement in four murders committed in 2004 and 2005. While many observers have assumed openly that the allegations are plausible, given the rough and tumble of the Far East’s business world at the time, Novaya Gazeta special correspondent Irina Tumakova’s reporting suggests otherwise.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman leader of Chechnya, is not taking well to becoming a victim of US sanctions. The US State Department wrote “This designation is due to Kadyrov’s involvement in gross violations of human rights in the Chechen Republic.  The Department has extensive credible information that Kadyrov is responsible for numerous gross violations of human rights dating back more than a decade, including torture and extrajudicial killings.” But Kadyrov posted a photo on his Instagram with a slew of weapons, captioned “[Mike] Pompeo, we accept the fight. Things are about to get more interesting.” Then Kadyrov wrote in a separate post an outcry over the sanctioning of his family as well: “So maybe I’m a human rights violator a hundred times over, but how do you explain the sanctions against […] my wife and my daughters??? What crimes have they committed, and whose rights have they violated?” At the end of the post, Kadyrov wrote that “the people will vouch” for him.” A flashmob was organized in Grozny in support of Kadyrov, and Chechnya’s parliament demanded the US Congress conduct an investigation while calling the State Department “terrorist organization number 1.”

The US Defense Department wrote on Friday that the Wagner Group, the quasi-private security company that often does the bidding of the Kremlin overseas, continues to position military equipment in Libya capable of conducting kinetic operations there, according to US West Africa Command, also accusing Russia of violating U.N. Security Council Resolution UNSCR 1970 “by actively providing military equipment and fighters to the front lines of the conflict in Libya.” The Defense Department also released satellite imagery (see below) to support these claims.

The US Defense Department has alleged that Russia – through the Wagner Group – continues to provide weaponry in Libya in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

PHOTO (at top): Russia looks towards a potential Joe Biden Presidency and does not quite like what it sees. Trump and his administration, for their part, haven’t done much to help Russia out either, despite his rhetoric (Reuters).