RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – June 12, 2020

Today in Russia: COVID-189 cases keep climbing but country emerges from lockdown anyway; $145 million in “prizes” to entice voters on July 1 referendum; Putin says “absolute majority” support his referendum keeping him in power; Norilsk mayor charged for handling of fuel spill disaster; Russia pushes hard for COVID-19 vaccine; Twitter purges tens of thousands of Russian and Chinese coordinated accounts; NATO recognizes Ukraine as “Enhanced Opportunities Partner”; Support for jailed journalist in Dagestan; 12 world leaders confirm attendance at Victory Day, mostly from CIS; Vedomosti staff offer replacement for controversial editor

Russia reported 8,987 new cases of COVID-19, a figure not much lower than a month ago when the country was still in lockdown (see graph below).

Moscow Times

$145 million in various prizes will be distributed to Moscow voters in the July 1 constitutional referendum in an effort to entice voters to come out. A high turnout is viewed as an essential indicator of the legitimacy of President Putin’s bid to remain in power until 2036. Moscow Times wrote,

The Moscow mayor’s office will begin rolling out its “Million Prizes” program on June 25, promising to give away 2 million vouchers to voters that can be exchanged for goods or services until the end of 2020. 

The program continues a Soviet tradition of offering food to voters at polling stations. More recently, most Russian regions held giveaways and contests at voting sites during the 2018 presidential election.

President Vladimir Putin said that an “absolute majority” of Russians support the constitutional referendum in his first public appearance since the lockdown. Putin attended an open-air flag raising ceremony in celebration of Russia Day, where he also delivered remarks.

The mayor of the industrial Siberian city of Norilsk was charged with criminal negligence over the city’s handling of the spill of 20,000 liters of diesel fuel from a power station owned by Norilsk Nickel. Rinat Akhmetchin was charged by the Investigative Committee for failing to coordinate and organize emergency measures to mitigate the effects of the spill. Three managers at the power station have also been charged. If convicted, the mayor could be jailed for up to six months.

Russia is trying to keep up in the “global race” for a COVID-19 vaccine. The Wall Street Journal wrote that being first to develop a vaccine “would provide Putin more economic and political leverage as ‘vaccine nationalism’ spreads.”

Twitter has removed 32,242 accounts linked to propaganda efforts originating in China and Russia, describing them as  “state-linked information operations.” While China was the source of the vast majority of these accounts, 1,152 were linked to Russia and “were part of a network promoting the pro-Kremlin United Russia party and attacking dissidents. The accounts were associated with a media site known as Current Policy that publishes “state-backed political propaganda within Russia,” according to Twitter.

NATO announced that Ukraine has been recognized as an “Enhanced Opportunities Partner.” The Organization wrote, “This status is part of NATO’s Partnership Interoperability Initiative, which aims to maintain and deepen cooperation between Allies and partners that have made significant contributions to NATO-led operations and missions.”

Two newspapers in Dagestan have published identical front pages in support of a jailed journalist. Meduza wrote, “On June 12, the Dagestani newspapers “Chernovnik” and “Novoe Delo” published identical front pages in support of jailed journalist Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev.The front pages have the headline “I/We Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev” (in Russian, «Я/Мы Абдулмумин Гаджиев»).” Gadzhiyev, who was an editor of Chernovnik, was arrested in 2019 on charges of financing terrorism and involvement in a terror organization. Reporters Without Borders said these charges are “baseless.”

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov proposed [in Russian] providing insurance for election committee staff who will be responsible for the July 1 constitutional referendum.

TASS wrote that 12 world leaders have accepted invitations to attend the Victory Day parade in Moscow, normally held on May 9 but postponed to June 24. Most world leaders are from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a grouping of former Soviet states.

Vedomosti’s staff “have put forward a candidate to replace the current editor-in-chief, whose editorial decisions have ignited a censorship scandal at the leading independent publication, the paper reported Thursday,” Moscow Times wrote.

PHOTO: President Vladimir Putin delivers an address at an open-air flag raising ceremony in celebration of Russia Day. He declared that an “absolute majority” of Russians support his controversial constitutional referendum (Kremlin.ru)