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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – June 15, 2020

Today in Russia: American sentenced to 16 years for espionage; Vedomosti team quits as editor confirmed; Russia expels Czech diplomats in tit for tat; Putin says US struggle with COVID-19 and protests reflect crisis; Russian gold to overtake China’s by 2029; Navalny faces new charges, this time for defamation; Russia clamps down on “fake news”; Russian Arctic scientist charged with spying for China

Paul Whelan, an American ex-Marine who was arrested in 2008 on espionage charges was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Russian prosecutors claimed that Whelan was in Russia “on a spy mission” and that he held “at least” the rank of Colonel in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Whelan says the trial is a “sham” and that the key evidence against him – a flash drive – was part of a set-up. The U.S. State Department demanded Whelan’s release [in Russian]. TASS wrote that Whelan could become a part of a spy swap for incarcerated Russians convicted of espionage in the US.

“Senior editors at Russia’s leading business newspaper quit en masse Monday in protest against what they say is censorship under new management as a long-running dispute between journalists and management came to a head,” AFP wrote. The resignations come after Vedomosti confirmed the appointment [in Russian] of the controversial Andrei Shmarovas the respected business outlet.

Russia expelled two Czech diplomats in a tit-for-tat after the Czechs sent two Russians home over spreading rumors about the imminent poisoning of Prague officials, which the Czechs say was a fabrication cooked up at the Russian Embassy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the “U.S. coronavirus pandemic and protests reflect ‘deep domestic crises.’”

Russian gold production may overtake China’s by 2029. A report from Fitch read, “We forecast global gold production to increase from 106moz in 2020 to 133moz by 2029, averaging 2.5% annual growth,” the document states. “This would be an acceleration from the average growth of just 1.2% over 2016-2019.”

Alexei Navalny faces new charges of “defamation” [in Russian] against a veteran of World War II. The Investigative Committee stated, “It was established that on June 2, 2020 A.A. Navalny posted this video on his social media accounts, posting a comment containing deliberately false information discrediting the honor and dignity of World War II veteran I.S. Artemenko. According to the investigation, Navalny in this way pursued the goal of spreading slander among a wide range of people”

Russia is clamping down on “fake news” about COVID-19. The Financial Times wrote, “After implementing strict lockdown measures in late March, several weeks after most other countries, Russia has sought to keep information about the pandemic under equally tight control. The government coronavirus task force has a special “fake news” division, while the Investigative Committee, an FBI-like law enforcement agency, tracks the coronavirus on messaging apps.”

Russia has joined the “anti-annexation chorus” against Israel’s planned annexation of the West Bank. “At the Russian National Day reception that he hosted in Jaffa last week, Russian ambassador Anatoly Viktorov stated: “We believe that the realization of intentions to apply Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank would be a very dangerous development. Israel’s annexation of part of the Palestinian territories would cross out the prospects of a Palestinian-Israeli settlement and provoke a new round of violence.”

Valery Mitko, president of the Arctic Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg was charged with treason and placed under house arrest in February for passing secrets to China. Reuters reported, State prosecutors have charged a prominent Russian scientist with treason after accusing him of passing state secrets to China, his lawyer said on Monday, adding that his client could serve up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.”

“French police said Monday that dozens of reinforcements were being sent to the eastern city of Dijon after it was rocked by a weekend of unrest blamed on Chechens seeking vengeance for an assault on a teenager.” AFP wrote.

PHOTO: Paul Whelan (Sofia Sandurskaya, Moscow News Agency)