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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – July 9, 2020

Today in Russia: Russia to US: “Mind your own business” on media freedom; Journalist and Pussy Riot member arrested; Lithuania bans Russia Today; Spotify to launch in Russia next week; Russia looks to build another pipeline to China; Khabarovsk governor detained over contract killings, LDPR party distances itself; India and Russia will remain tight; China overtakes Russia as key foreign power in Serbia

Russia’s Foreign Ministry tweeted in response to US criticism “mind your own business” over a worrying string of arrests of journalists, a historian, and other public figures in Russia in recent weeks – including Ivan Safronov, a former Vedomosti and Kommersant journalist detained on alleged espionage charges.

A journalist and Pussy Riot band member has been arrested. Pyotr Verzilov, publisher of the Mediazona news website, had been detained and interrogated in June over a series of protests in the lead up to 2019 Moscow

Lithuania banned Russia Today, saying that station was controlled by Dmitry Kiselyov, a Kremlin “spin doctor” sanctioned by the EU in 2014 for leading the propaganda campaign in favor of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The country’s media regulator “decided today to suspend the 5 RT group TV channels… controlled by Kiselyov.” Latvia also banned RT on the same grounds last week.

Spotify will launch in Russia next week, according to reports. The Swedish streaming service will likely form a partnership with mobile phone operator MTS. “Russia was the fastest-growing major market globally for the record industry in 2019, with a 50.3% revenue increase year-on-year.

Russia is looking to build another pipeline to China. In addition to the $400 billion Power of Siberia project, “Gazprom and Moscow have been pushing for the ‘Power of Siberia-2 pipeline’ from Western Siberia to China’s Xinjiang region. The proposal has been met with a lukewarm response from Beijing because the region is already well-supplied with Central Asian gas. However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic and Gazprom’s adjusted plan, the Power of Siberia-2 project is gaining momentum.

Sergey Fugal, the sitting Governor of Khabarovsk Krai, in Russia’s far east, was arrested on suspicion of orchestrating the murder of several entrepreneurs in the region between 2004 and 2005. Officials from Russia’s Investigative Committee and Federal Security Service are reportedly cooperating in the case.” The LDPR, a “nominal” opposition party headed by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has distanced itself from Fugal and has not ruled out the possibility of expelling Fugal from the party [in Russian].

Russia and India are going to stay friends,” despite the potential of India growing closer to the U.S. in the wake of border clashes with neighboring China. Emily Tamkin writes in Foreign Policy, “being friendly with Washington does not mean New Delhi can’t maintain important ties with Moscow. The world has changed, but India and Russia have found ways for their relationship to hold firm, standing steady for each other at times when the rest of the world wouldn’t, maintaining largely consistent foreign policies despite changing leaderships, and refusing to bury a historic partnership.

Serbia, a country with close cultural ties to Russia, has welcomed Chinese influence with open arms under the country’s increasingly authoritarian leader, Alexander Vucic. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Vucic complained that its partner and neighbor the European Union had failed to deliver help to his country during the pandemic, a void gleefully filled by China and reported on by Chinese state media.

As a result, Russia’s relative influence in Serbia vis-a-vis both China and the EU has declined, assisted by state-controlled media in Serbia to quickly shift the narrative. Balkan Insight wrote that during the COVID-19 pandemic, “Almost overnight, China became the greatest friend of Serbia and was presented as its lifeguard during the pandemic crisis.” One structural reason beyond the pandemic is that the West is increasingly prioritizing China over Russia as the larger threat: “If Serbia now praises China to the heavens, it may be because Belgrade has judged that the West now takes China much more seriously than Russia.”

PHOTO: The governor of Khabarovsk Krai was arrested over alleged contract killings over a decade ago (Investigative Committee of Russia).