RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – June 18, 2020

Today in Russia: Russia unblocks Telegram; 489 medics have succumbed to COVID-19; Putin is not smiling; Forced voter registration in Moscow and fake voter accounts; Supreme Court rejects lawsuit against Putin; Moscow looks to Washington for help in Libya; Crimean sanctions extended one year by EU; Tax service fears capital flight if currency controls eased

Russia has unblocked Telegram, a nod to the challenges media watchdog Roskomnadzor has had in enforcing the block. Roskomnadzor says Telegram’s “stated readiness to counter terrorism and extremism” was a reason for unblocking the service, which has been used continuously by Russian officials and the public despite the official block. In April, the State Duma proposed a lifting of the ban because its failure “damages the prestige of state power,” as we wrote about in the April 23 Russia News Blast.

489 medics have died from the coronavirus, according to Roszdravnadzor watchdog chief Alla Samoilova. The figure is far higher than authorities had admitted to previously.

Putin is Not Smiling” despite protests and unrest in the U.S. declared an article in Foreign Affairs:

Schadenfreude is a staple of propaganda, and so one might expect that Russia’s state media is enjoying the spectacle of the most serious American unrest since the 1960s. Surely, one might assume, Russian pundits are seizing the opportunity to tap into American grievances, foment conflict, and call out U.S. hypocrisy.

There has indeed been some of that. But far from delivering any unified message to the world or to its domestic audience, Russian state media, through some of its popular television talk shows, has been airing debates about Black Lives Matter that betray a great deal about how the Kremlin views itself and the fragility of state power.

Meduza wrote that opposition politician Alexey Navalny has exposed an effort to pressure Muscovites to register for the upcoming constitutional referendum. “Moscow’s Department of Information Technology (DIT) is using an online system to track how many government employees have registered to vote in Russia’s July 1 plebiscite on constitutional amendments. Now, opposition politician Alexey Navalny has published copies of tables containing this data, claiming that the documents were sent to him from the Moscow DIT...In addition to the tables, Navalny published people’s stories about how they themselves or their family members were forced to participate in voter registration. Judging by these anecdotal reports, civil servants aren’t the only ones being forced to vote — it’s happening in the private sector too.”

Dozhd TV reports [in Russian] that people are being offered money to create fraudulent voter accounts to vote in the July 1 constitutional referendum. “Would-be participants are being promised 75 rubles for each registration (about $1), and another 50 rubles (about $0.70) for voting through the created account. According to Dozhd, the organizers of the scheme recommend registering a minimum of 20 accounts per day,” Meduza wrote.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov called Dozhd’s report [in Russian] “absolute nonsense,” adding, “In this context, it is appropriate to once again recall and recall the responsibility for disseminating false information.”

Russia’s Supreme Court has rejected an administrative claim regarding President Vladimir Putin’s decree to hold a constitutional referendum, Kommersant wrote [in Russian].

Russia is seeking Washington’s help in Libya. Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said Wednesday that he would welcome any efforts by Washington to use its influence on Turkey to help fashion a truce in Libya, where Ankara and Moscow are backing opposing sides and appear to be at increasing odds.

The European Union is set to renew sanctions on Russia over the illegal annexation of Crimea. Reuters wrote, “European Union leaders are expected on Friday to back extending the bloc’s main economic sanctions against Russia over the turmoil in Ukraine until the end of January 2021, diplomatic sources and officials said.

“It would be dangerous to radically weaken currency control in order to support a business in a crisis, according to the Federal Tax Service. Removing barriers when injecting budget funds into the economy is fraught with a massive flight of capital, tax officials fear,” according to RBC [in Russian].

PHOTO: Telegram was unblocked by Russia’s regulator today (Aleksey Zotov) /TASS).