RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – June 21, 2021

Today in Russia: New US sanctions connected to Navalny; Belarus might face “Venezuela sanctions” as EU looks to hit Minsk where it hurts; Blowout in Armenian elections; Looming COVID-19 disaster, vaccine mandates, and vaccine skeptics

Here’s some more. The US announced that they will unveil a new round of sanctions against Russia over the poisoning and jailing of Alexei Navalny. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan announced, “We are preparing another package of sanctions to apply in this case, as well. We’ve shown along the way we’re not going to pull our punches.” Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova fumed in response, “The illegal actions of the United States have always been followed by a legitimate response from us…it is strange that some people in Washington like to go around in circles and be confronted by the same obstacles endlessly.”

Where it hurts. The EU has unveiled punitive sanctions on Belarus, targeting potash fertilisers and petroleum and petrochemical products – two mainstays of the economy. Belarus is the world’s second largest exporter of Potash after Canada, and the country is a major producer of petrochemicals thanks to its preferential import prices from Russia.

But wait, there could be more. Belorussian dollar-denominated bonds took a major tumble as investors fear that the EU may target not just the primary bond market (as recent US sanctions against Russia did); rather, the EU may target the secondary market as well, which would prevent EU investors from exiting their positions in Belorussian bond assets. One portfolio manager told the Financial Times that such a measure Would basically make them [Minsk-issued bonds] untouchable.”

Pashinyan wins big, despite his big loss. Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his Civil Contract party won with a decisive blowout in snap parliamentary elections held on Sunday, taking over 58 percent of the vote, compared with the second largest party which took 21 percent. It came as a big surprise to those who were following opinion polls (which showed a neck and neck race), and indeed, those who followed the last 7 months in Armenian politics since Yerevan’s defeat in the brief war with Azerbaijan). EurasiaNet wrote, “According to an analysis of the results by elections expert Harout Manougian, Civil Contract was slated to get 71 seats in parliament, Armenia 29, and the I Have Honor bloc seven seats. That would allow Civil Contract to maintain the decisive two-thirds majority it currently enjoys in parliament (along with other partners in a bloc called My Step, though that bloc is being disbanded for the next parliament).”

Fortunately for Pashinyan, his biggest challenger, former President Robert Kocharyan remained extremely popular among Armenians. As a result, one might view the surprising results as “less a strong mandate for Pashinyan than a repudiation of his would-be replacements, dominated by figures from the widely hated former regime.” But the election saga may not be over just yet as Kocharyan intends to bring a Constitutional Court challenge alleging irregularities, RBC reported.

You’ll get vaccinated and you’ll like it. As Russia threatens to become entirely engulfed by the Delta variant of COVID-19 rapidly spreading through a very unvaccinated population, the issue of mandatory vaccination mandates – which are rapidly spreading around the country nearly as quickly as the Delta variant – is dividing the very vaccine skeptical country. The Moscow Times noted.

Even as Europe and North America have seen cases and mortality in steady decline amid wide-ranging inoculation, in Russia daily case increases have returned to last year’s peak, with Moscow authorities warning that the capital is running out of hospital beds. Despite over 60% of Russians opposing obligatory vaccinations, according to a poll released Thursday, authorities in other regions have announced similar moves, and President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has backed the policy.

PHOTO: Nikol Pashinyan cruised to an unexpected blowout victory in Armenia’s snap parliamentary elections on Sunday (Getty Images).