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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – June 1, 2020

Today in Russia: Constitutional amendment set for July 1; Claims of Russian involvement in US protests “dirty manipulation”; SpaceX historic launch could cost Russia, Musk taunts Russia; Vedomosti new owner will not remove controversial editor; Trump plans expanded G7 meeting including Russia in September; The Ruble is “saturated with oil”; OPEC and Russia in talks of continuing cuts as oil prices fall again; Russia and Turkey risk a “new Syria” in Libya; Russian stimulus falling short; A ranking of Russian allies

Russia set the date for its constitutional amendment on July 1. The plebiscite could allow President Vladimir Putin to rule through 2036. Putin said, “Indeed, July 1 looks like quite a suitable date to hold the Russian vote on the constitutional amendments.”

Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said claims that Russia has a hand in the protests taking place in the United States is “dirty manipulation.” Zakharova focused on former National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s remarks on CNN that Russia may have a hand in the unrest by stoking divisions. Zakharova said, “You are repeating this mistake today together with a CNN reporter, using dirty methods of information manipulation, such as fake news and absolutely no facts to prove your allegationYour interview with CNN is a perfect example of barefaced propaganda.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov echoed Zakharova, stating that Russia had nothing to do with events in the US, and said it is an American internal affair. Peskov said, “We are certainly very carefully watching what is going on in the United States. But everything what is happening there is this country’s domestic affair…We have never meddled in US affairs and we are not going to interfere now.”

The historic SpaceX launch in Florida could spell bad news for Russia’s space industry, depriving it of a lucrative source of income in the form of selling seats to NASA astronauts on its “aged but reliable” fleet of Soviet-era Soyuz spacecraft. Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos once ridiculed the US for its lack of a space program, saying the US might as well “deliver its astronauts to the ISS [International Space Station] by using a trampoline.” Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, said after Saturday’s launch that “The trampoline is working.” Rogozin tweeted after the successful launch and Musk’s comments, “Please convey my sincere greetings to @elonmusk (I loved his joke) and @SpaceX team. Looking forward to further cooperation!”

Izvestiya quoted Ivan Moiseev, head of the Space Policy Institute in Russia as saying, “The flight equalizes the space power of Roscosmos and SpaceX, whereas Elon Musk employs 6,000 people, Roscosmos employs 240,000. I think that as a result, Russia will lose the money that it was receiving for transporting Americans to the ISS – in the best years, this amount ranged from $300 mln to $500 mln at today’s prices.

Vedomosti’s new owner Ivan Yeremin will not fire its controversial editor. In remarks to Vedomosti staff leaked to Meduza, Yeremin reportedly said, “I respect Andrey Igorevich [Shmarov] and believe that he can make world-class business publications…I will not fire him only on the basis that you couldn’t accept him as one of your own.AFP wrote that the saga at Vedomosti is a sign of oil giant Rosneft “wielding growing influence” over independent media in Russia after an investigation unearthed that Rosneft controls massive amounts of Vedomosti’s debt and may have had a hand in the Shmarov’s appointment as editor.

US President Donald Trump is preparing an in-person G7 meeting in September after his proposal for a meeting over the summer was rebuffed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Trump said he wants Russia, Australia, India and South Korea to join the meeting and called the G7 “outdated” in its current form. Russia was kicked out of the G7 in 2014 after its unilateral annexation of Crimea, and its in vitation is likely to prove controversial. Trump did not propose inviting China, but a White House Spokeswoman said that the future of China would be on the agenda.

The ruble is “saturated with oil,” Kommersant wrote [in Russian] as the ruble strengthened against the euro and dollar. Kommersant continued, “For the first time since the beginning of March, the dollar exchange rate at the exchange auctions fell below the level of 70 rubles / $. Over the past month, the American currency has fallen in price by 5 rubles. The rise in European oil prices to $ 37-38 per barrel against the backdrop of the expected recovery in demand, less severe than expected, the confrontation between China and the United States supports the demand for risky assets. The expectation of a further reduction in the Bank of Russia key rate adds to the attractiveness of the Russian currency.

OPEC and Russia are moving closer to a compromise on extending current oil output cuts and are discussing a proposal to roll over supply curbs for one to two months,” Reuters reported.

CNBC reported that “Benchmark Brent crude was down 46 cents, or 1.2%, at $37.38 a barrel, while U.S. crude fell $1.04, or 2.9%, to $34.45 a barrel” due to “worries about renewed tensions between the United States and China.” Speculation that cuts would be continued by OPEC and Russia helped buoy prices.

Russia and Turkey may be replaying a similar scenario in Libya to what happened in Syria. BBC wrote,

The proxy wars in Libya have become, in many ways, a continuation of the proxy wars in Syria. Both sides have flown in Syrian militias to apply the skills they have gained in almost a decade of war in their homeland.

It is possible that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin have applied in Libya a version of the deals they have made in Syria.

The Russian mercenaries who have fought with Gen Haftar are from an organisation known as the Wagner Group, run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of President Putin. The Wagner fighters have also been used in Syria.

It is significant that the Russian pullback from Tripoli has not been harassed by Turkey’s highly efficient military drones. The Russians have also moved advanced warplanes into Libya.

Russian stimulus is falling short to stem the economic crisis caused by coronavirus despite a “$123 billion plan”, Bloomberg reported.

Kommersant spoke with [in Russian] Russian analysts to break down Russian allies by their importance and loyalty. Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) were analyzed. Belarus topped the list as “The main ally of Russia in the mass consciousness” but analysts noted that the military relationship is slowly deteriorating and there have been numerous scandals in Russia-Belarus relations, leading them to write, “In general, Belarus can be described as having high importance and only an average level of allied loyalty.” Kazakhstan was similar characterized as a country of “high importance” but an “average level of loyalty,” while Armenia was described as of being moderately important but highly loyal. Kyrgyzstan, for its part, “is not very important, but very loyal” and “Tajikistan is not important and not loyal.”

PHOTO: SpaceX launches its Falcon 9 rocket carrying its Crew Dragon spacecraft on Saturday with two NASA astronauts onboard. A triumph for SpaceX and NASA, the launch could spell trouble for Russia’s Roscosmos as it faces the specter of losing its largest source of revenue: selling seats on its space shuttles to NASA crew (NASA/Bill Ingalls).