RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – June 15, 2021

Today in Russia: Biden-Putin meeting – don’t expect any breakthroughs; Dozhd banned from Kremlin press pool for Navalny protest coverage; Corona back with a vengeance; Kremlin unhappy with vaccination progress; Central Bank governor says banking secrecy should not be turned into a “sieve”; Mordashov to heed Putin’s call for more corporate help for state spending; Biden frets about “best friends” Xi and Putin working together;

Just don’t make it worse, please. Hopes are not particularly high ahead of the Biden-Putin meeting set for tomorrow. Vladimir Putin gave an interview to NBC News last week, describing his US counterpart as a “career man” who will avoid “impulse-based movements” in US-Russia policy, unlike Donald Trump who was “colorful”. Putin added that the term “killer” – which Biden said he believed described the Russian president – was a “macho” term commonly used in Hollywood. Putin dismissed it as just another attack against him which does not come as a surprise while claiming that actions against Navalny “are not made by the president.

On the Biden-Putin meeting, Putin said “We will discuss bilateral relations, to try to find a way of regulating tensions.” But there are not high hopes that the meeting will be anything more than trying to keep relations from falling even further. Putin added that the US was a “worthy adversary,” while Biden has had to defend his administration against critics who say he should not even meet with Putin. The US President has also had to contend with wary allies such as Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic States who “worry that Washington could scale down support for its allies in the region in a bid to secure a more stable and predictable relationship with Russia.”

You’re not invited. Dozhd, an independent TV channel critical of the government was removed from the Kremlin press pool. After weeks of Dozhd’s absence from press briefings, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the TV station was removed from the list because of its coverage of pro-Navalny rallies earlier this year, declaring “Yes, unfortunately it’s connected. In those days the channel supported illegal actions.”

Keep it secret or lose it. Russia’s central bank governor Elvira Nabiullina warned that banking secrecy laws should be treated with caution, warning that it should not be turned into a “sieve.” She noted that prosecutors and security officials can gain access to banking information to fight corruption and for other reasons, but if such access is allowed to grow it could lead to deposit rates falling as Russians lose trust that their financial information will be treated with privacy.

Corona is back. Moscow declared a non-working week” from June 15-19 in an effort to curb surging infection rates, a tactic employed frequently early in the pandemic last year. New restrictions such as the closure of bars, clubs, and restaurants are also in effect through June 20. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said there is an “explosive” rise increase in cases in the city of 80 percent.

Vaccines are working but not enough people want them. The Kremlin said it is not happy with the pace of vaccinations, emphasizing that new measures to incentivize getting the jab are needed but any effort will be voluntary. Just 11 percent of Russians are vaccinated, despite being the first country to develop and roll out an effective vaccine against the virus.

Oligarch falls in line. Russia’s richest man Alexei Mordashov (who is planning a re-listing IPO in London for his gold miner, Nordgold), supported Vladimir Putin’s call for private companies enjoying record profits during the current crisis to support state spending efforts. Mordashov declared that he would “definitely take up Putin’s call for companies to provide support, adding “It’s important to acknowledge that Mr Putin is our president and the leader of our nation, and he reflects pretty much what every average Russian has in mind.”

Break up the friendship! The White House worries about what Russia and China could achieve through their growing partnership as both powers increasingly have frosty relations with the West. A “senior official” in the White House told Politico on the growing ties, What we’ve seen over the course of the last decade is something much deeper and, frankly, more concerning…I think you’d have to say that on some level that this operates as almost a quasi-alliance.” Not everyone is so confident that Russia and China are forming as close an alliance as some more alarming views in the White House may suggest, however. There remain numerous potential hiccups and policy disagreements, but as hostility with the West grows for both Beijing and Moscow, at least in the short term growing cooperation seems almost inevitable.

PHOTO: Putin gave a 90 minute interview to NBC News last week in which he discussed relations with Biden, his predecessor Trump, and the still lingering accusation from the White House that the Russian president is a “killer” (NBC News).