RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – July 28, 2020

Today in Russia: 5,300 new COVID-19 cases as pandemic continues to rage; Cryptocurrency fraud; Jailed journalist Safronov put into quarantine for suspected COVID-19 infection; Putin and Erdogan discuss Armenia and Azerbaijan standoff; Degtyarev’s disastrous first week in Khabarovsk; US and Russia in new negotiating format in Vienna; New scooter scheme by Sberbank and Mail.ru; China overtakes Ukraine as Russia’s largest buyer of meat exports; Prosecutors might get back their right to initiate cases

Russia reported 5,300 new COVID-19 cases as the pandemic continues to rage in Russia despite the country re-opening at the end of last month during the run-up to the July 1 constitutional referendum.

Kommersant reported on [in Russian] a new form of cryptocurrency fraud sweeping Russia. The scheme revolves around an unsuspecting customer being “lent” space on a cryptocurrency mining computer to mine bitcoin. The unsuspecting buyer is asked to pay a “commission” and undergo verification, after which the customer’s bank details are stolen and the account being drained. This was found by Kaspersky Labs. The scheme typically uses little-known payment processors which lack the security infrastructure to prevent fraud. Kaspersky found that such fraudulent schemes have proliferated to levels never before seen in Russia.

Ivan Safronov, the former journalist and aide to Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin who is currently jailed facing espionage charges was put into quarantine [in Russian] after showing symptoms of coronavirus. Safronov is currently in the infamous Lefortovo prison in Moscow.

Vladmir Putin and his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the ongoing hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia in a phone call. The Kremlin press service wrote, according to TASS: “The presidents exchanged views on the situation in the South Caucasus in the context of the aggravation of the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Vladimir Putin stressed the importance of prevention of any actions promoting further escalation. Both sides said they are interested in settling the conflict situation only by peaceful means, through talks.

The new mayor of Khabarovsk Krai Mikhail Degtyarev has had something of a disastrous first week [in Russian] since being parachuted in from Moscow to replace Sergei Furgal, who is not in jail on charges of contract killings dating back to 2004. Khabarovsk has been rocked by the largest protests the region has ever seen. Online, the new governor has found himself a victim of online memes [in Russian] and other ridicule, in one instance the governor is seen attempting to do pull-ups before giving up after the first one. Meduza wrote about the new governor’s unwillingness to engage with protesters – only doing so at 10pm on July 26 after even the Kremlin press secretary said protesters had a “right to be heard.” Degtyarev has taken to claiming the protesters are from outside Khabarovsk and even foreigners flown in to sow unrest.

On his Instagram, Degtyarev said that he “had no time” to communicate with the protesters: “I have a lot of tasks, a stack of documents a meter high has accumulated. <…> There is no need to shout “Degtyarev, come out” under my windows, this is uncivilized. Many respected people are waiting: ministers, officials of the apparatus.” Instead of rallies, he suggested that the Khabarovsk residents do volunteer work and promised that if Furgal was free and wanted to participate in the elections, he would not compete with him and would leave immediately

Kommersant wrote [in Russian] that the US and Russia are entering their most important phase of negotiations in Vienna, and have adopted a new negotiating format: “Russia and the United States are testing a new negotiating format: three interdepartmental working groups will discuss the problems of strategic stability for four days. On the agenda of the consultations, which will end on Thursday, security in space, military doctrines and capabilities, transparency and verification measures. In recent years, the parties have not made such serious attempts to resolve the existing differences. However, this does not mean that Moscow and Washington really want or can agree on something.

Sberbank and Mail.ru are planning to buy stakes in URent, a scooter rental service. Initially launched by Uber, the pair plan to bring URent into the “Citimobil” application that is currently used to hail taxis. RBC notes many are pessimistic [in Russian] about the plan, however, noting that such schemes typically struggle to turn a profit: “Experts interviewed by RBC reacted ambiguously to the possibility of a joint venture of Sberbank and Mail.ru Group entering the scooter rental market. According to VTB Capital analyst Vladimir Bespalov, such projects have unobvious prospects for recoupment. At the same time, he noted that since the market is still at the stage of formation, large companies have an opportunity to take leading positions in it.

China has overtaken Ukraine as the largest buyer of Russian meat exports. RBC wrote [in Russian] that in the first six months of 2020, Russia has increased its meat export 2.2 times, and China (including Hong Kong) made up 54 percent of all exports. Ukraine became a buyer of Russian meat when the Donbass conflict heated up; prior to this, the country did not import a large amount of Russian meat. China’s share of exports have surged largely in poultry exports. RBC further noted that this is the culmination of a long battle to open up China’s market to Russian meat producers:

The increase in supplies is the result of the long and painstaking work of Russian officials to open the Chinese market for domestic meat producers, Yushin explains. In January of this year, domestic producers obtained the right to export not only poultry, but also chilled beef to China. Negotiations on opening the country to pork producers are underway.

Prosecutors in Russia may get back the right to independently initiate criminal cases, if a proposed change in the State Duma is successful. In the late 2000s, supervisory and investigative powers were separated, depriving the prosecutor of the ability to launch cases. The Ombudsman for Human Rights Tatyana Moskalkova “explained that in the current situation, Article 37 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Russia has a big flaw. She cited as an example a dispute between the investigation and the prosecutor’s office, when an employee of the supervisory department sees grounds for initiating a criminal case, but the investigator does not. In this case, the prosecutor will not be able to oblige an investigation.”

PHOTO: Khabarovsk Krai Governor Mikhail Degtyarev comes out at least on July 26 to speak with a small group of protesters after insisting he was far too busy “signing thousands of documents” among other essential tasks to engage with the largest demonstration the city has ever seen (Press service of the Khabarovsk Territory / TASS / Scanpix / LETA).