RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – July 8, 2020

Today in Russia: COVID-19 deaths surpass 10,000; Gulag historian faces jailtime; On Ivan Safronov, ex-journalist now accused of espionage; Medvedev “awaits his toga;” Norilsk Nickel to challenge the $2 billion figure for its diesel spill; Russia to “reiprocate” against UK for Magnitsky sanctions; Mastercard CEO: Russia has one of the most advanced payment networks in Europe

Russia reported 6562 new COVID-19 cases [in Russian], bringing the total number of cases in the country above 700,000 with over 10,000 deaths.

Yury Dmitriyev, a historian of Soviet gulags, “spent decades locating and exhuming mass graves of people killed under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s rule.” But now, “Russian prosecutors demanded Tuesday that a respected Gulag historian be sentenced to 15 years in prison over alleged sexual assault in a case his allies say has been trumped up to silence him.

Ivan Safronov, a former Kommersant reporter now working as an aide at Roscosmos, is accused of espionage. Safronov was fired from Kommersant in 2019, which many believe was at the behest of the Kremlin, through the newspaper’s pro-Kremlin owner Alisher Usmanov. At Kommersant, Safronov wrote much about the space and defense industries Ivan Sukhov wrote in Kommersant [in Russian] that “To believe in the charge of treason against Safronov is approximately the same as to believe that tomorrow the Earth will fly on the celestial axis.” Meanwhile, Meduza compiled a long list of former Kommersant colleagues of Safronov as well as other journalists decrying the charges against him, with the general consensus being that he is “being persecuted for his journalism.” Meduza also compiled a list of Safronov’s key stories published over the years in Kommersant.

Safronov currently awaits his fate [in Russian] in the infamous Lefortovo pre-trial detention center. Eight journalists were arrested protesting his arrest.

Dmitry Medvedev, the former President and Prime Minister, “awaits his toga” as a permanent Senator, which he is eligible for under the new constitutional changes. Kommersant wrote [in Russian],

Under the updated Constitution, Dmitry Medvedev can obtain the status of a lifelong senator as the president of Russia in 2008-2012, but he has the right not to use this opportunity…Kommersant’s interlocutors believe that Mr. Medvedev will most likely be able to combine his current position as deputy chairman of the Security Council with senatorial status.

Norilsk Nickel, a subsidiary of which caused one of the world’s largest Arctic fuel spills in history, was slapped with a $2 billion bill by the Russian state. Now, the company is challenging the figure. RBC wrote [in Russian], “The company believes that the calculations made by Rosprirodnadzor are based on principles that led to distorted results and need to be adjusted. At the same time, Norilsk Nickel is ready to eliminate the consequences of the accident at its own expense.

The Guardian wrote, “The Kremlin has said it will take countermeasures against the UK after the British government imposed sanctions on Monday against senior Russian officials including a close ally of Vladimir Putin…Putin’s press spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Moscow would respond to the decision by the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, to put 25 Russians on a new sanctions list. One of them is Alexander Bastrykin, Russia’s top prosecutor and the head of the investigative committee.

Mastercard’s CEO Mark Barnett told Vedomosti [in Russian] that “Russia is one of the most advanced payment markets in Europe,” as part of a wide-ranging interview about Russia’s payment market and the effects of COVID-19. Barnett said,  

Russia has a very developed payment system, has its own payment system. Also in Russia, the services that we call “shares” are very well represented: Apple Pay, etc., the acceptance of contactless payments is widespread. I would say that Russia is one of the most advanced and developed payment markets in Europe. If you look at the percentage of non-cash and cash payments, some large countries with developed economies do not even stand close to Russia in this regard. Of course, there are markets, for example in Northern Europe, with which I worked, where the level of development of electronic payments is even higher. But I believe that Russia is a very progressive, modern and efficiently operating market.

PHOTO: Yury Dmitriyev, a historian of Stalin’s gulags, may go to prison for 15 years on what activists say are trumped-up charges (Igor Podgorny / TASS).