RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – July 7, 2020

Today in Russia: “The most fraudulent vote in Russia” lets Putin stay until 2036; Government demands $2 billion from Norilsk Nickel for spill; RFE/RL reporter found guilty of “justifying terrorism” but no jail time; Charges against former Kommersant journalist for treason; Lowest number of new cases since April 29; Putin not sure when Russians allowed back into EU; Torrent downloading off the charts during self-isolation period

Russia’s plebiscite which effectively allowed President Vladimir Putin to stay in office indefinitely was marred by concerns over fraud and procedure. Meduza wrote,

The recent vote on amendments to Russia’s constitution, including reforms that “zero” Putin’s presidential terms, saw the strangest voting procedure in the country’s recent history. Rather than being regulated by federal voting laws, it took place under a special law “On amendments to the constitution,” which was adopted in March 2020. According to this new legislation, the voting procedure was completely left up to Russia’s Central Election Commission.

Meduza also wrote that statisticians are suggesting that the referendum was marred by fraud, noting that, “According to official data from Russia’s Central Election Commission, a little more than half of the country’s eligible voters supported the changes to the constitution. But if you exclude all of the “excess” votes from precincts that don’t pass statistical “tests,” it turns out that less than a third of Russia’s voters supported the amendments.

Norilsk Nickel may be on the hook for $2 billion due to its spill of diesel fuel into waterways in Norilsk. “In a statement issued Monday, Russia’s environmental agency Rosprirodnadzor assessed [in Russian] the cost of the spillage of 21,000 tons of diesel at 148 billion rubles ($2.1 billion).”

A journalist working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on a freelance basis was convicted of “justifying terrorism” but escaped a jail sentence. Moscow Times wrote, “Svetlana Prokopyeva, who is based in the northwestern city of Pskov, was charged with publicly justifying terrorism over a column she wrote about a bombing attack that targeted the FSB security service in the north of the country in 2018. The 40-year-old walked out of a Pskov courtroom a free woman after the judge found her guilty and ordered her to pay a fine of 500,000 rubles ($6,950).”

Ivan Safronov, a former Kommersant journalist and current advisor tho the head of space agency Roscosmos has been charged with treason [in Russian] for allegedly passing information to NATO intelligence. Kommersant denounced the charges and came to Saffronov’s defense in a strongly worded editorial [in Russian]:

To the case of Ivan Golunov and the case of Svetlana Prokopyeva, the case of Ivan Safronov has now been added. We insist on the maximum publicity and publicity of the proceedings in this case, and also demand the immediate admission of lawyers. Kommersant will monitor every action of the investigation and every court session. Kommersant thanks in advance colleagues from other publications who support Ivan Safronov with their work, and everyone who understands how public attention is important in such situations.

Russia reported 6368 new COVID-19 cases [in Russian], the lowest figure since April 29. Russia still lags behind Europe in controlling the outbreak.

President Vladimir Putin saidIt is not clear what our partners will do in many countries of the world, including in Europe, they cannot understand each other yet. And it is not clear when they will open their borders and territories to third-country citizens, including Russian citizens, even during the summer holidays,” in reference to the EU’s decision not to include Russia in the bloc’s July 1 opening to countries which have comparable or better COVID-19 figures to the EU average.

Russians flocked to pirated content [in Russian] online during the lockdown. On April 4, the day President Vladimir Putin announced an extended holiday and self-isolation, 17 million torrents were downloaded that day – some 25 percent of the global total – and the high numbers continued throughout the self-isolation period. The torrent download rates in Russia have since stabilized.

PHOTO: Ivan Safronov, a former Kommersant journalist who worked at the paper for a decade before becoming an advisor to the head of Russia’s space agency, was charged with treason. Kommersant denounced the charges in a fierce editorial calling on other outlets to join in support of Safronov