RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – June 22, 2020

Today in Russia: 7,600 new COVID-19 cases; US pressing China as nuclear talks resume; Putin might run again (but he’s not quite so sure despite changing constitution to do so); Anti-fascist activists jailed; Nordic militaries “rekindle” alliances as Russia encroaches; Trump loses fourth NSC Russia director; Mail.ru ready for Moscow Exchange listing; Police Lt Colonel suspected of passing secrets to Ukrainian intel service; Two reasons for Telegram unblocking; “The end of the road for Vedomosti”; Putin’s defense in the…National Interest?; The Kremlin on Bolton’s analysis; Budget carrier Pobeda denied state aid

Russia confirmed 7,600 new COVID-19 cases, a 1.3 percent increase in cases.

China is “overshadowing” the nuclear talks currently ongoing between the US and Russia as Washington insists China is a signatory to any new START treaty. NBC reported that Russia is doubting American sincerity:

As U.S.-Russia talks on the future of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals begin in Vienna on Monday, diplomats and experts warned that President Donald Trump’s insistence that China join the discussions could obstruct the renewal of a crucial treaty and might even precipitate a new nuclear arms race.

Russia’s lead envoy in the talks has told NBC News that the Kremlin does not currently believe the United States will extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, ratified by President Barack Obama in 2011 and due to expire in February.

Moscow Times wrote, “Marshall Billingslea, the U.S. envoy, has ramped up pressure on Beijing, saying that its role will be a factor in determining if the Vienna session is constructive….China — whose nuclear arsenal is rapidly expanding but is still far smaller than the U.S. and Russian programs — has repeatedly declined to take part, amid tensions with the Trump administration on multiple fronts.”

President Vladimir Putin is not quite so sure he’s going to run for President again, but he will certainly consider it. “I do not rule out the possibility of running for office, if this (option) comes up in the constitution. We’ll see,” the President said. Putin further noted that if he didn’t run, “the normal rhythm of work of many parts of government will be replaced by a search for possible successors,” which would not be good for the country. The July 1 referendum is widely viewed as a referendum on Putin’s ability to rule for life. It was, however, the first time Putin has openly suggested he might run for office again should the constitutional referendum be successful.

A court in St. Petersburg has sentenced two members of an anti-fascist activist group on terrorism charges, the final verdicts in a case the authorities say has prevented high-profile attacks and rights groups condemn as fabricated, the Mediazona news website reported Monday,” Moscow Times wrote.

Nordic militaries are rekindling their relationships as Russia grows more aggressive in the region. “The Nordic countries are pushing to deepen trans-Atlantic defense collaboration with the United States in the High North amid fears that the Trump administration’s mixed messages on NATO could lead to a diminished presence by the alliance in Northern Europe,” Defense News wrote.

US President Donald Trump has lost his fourth Russia director of the National Security Council. Axios wrote, “Tom Williams, who had been serving as the acting senior director for European and Russian Affairs at the National Security Council, will be returning to the Pentagon, according to national security adviser Robert O’Brien. “After two years of service detailed to the NSC, Tom Williams is returning to the Pentagon when his detail ends, as is customary,” O’Brien said in a statement.”

Mail.ru will list its shares on the Moscow Exchange in the coming weeks.

A Lieutenant Colonel in the police is facing an investigation over passing information to the Ukrainian intelligence service, SBU. RBC wrote [in Russian], “A criminal case on treason has been opened. The regional department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs said that this person would be fired “for committing an offense defaming the honor of an employee of the internal affairs bodies.”

The telecommunications regulator cited two reasons for last week’s official unblocking of Telegram: the first was the difficulty in actually carrying out the blocking; the second was because the messaging service “collaborated with the authorities in the fight against terrorism and drugs, said Deputy Communications Minister Alexei Volin during an online discussion of the Valdai international discussion club.”

Vedomosti may have reached “The end of the road” as its independence appears to have decisively come to an end. The Bell wrote, “This week saw the end of Vedomosti’s editorial independence after 20 years as one of Russia’s most respected business newspapers. The media outlet’s new owner, Ivan Yeryemin, confirmed Tuesday the appointment of chief editor Andrei Shmarov, who is deeply implicated in censorship and closely tied to state-owned oil giant Rosneft. Most of the newspaper’s senior editors resigned in protest, and almost every other employee is now on their way out.”

President Vladimir Putin penned an article in the right-wing National Interest magazine in which “The Russian president offers a comprehensive assessment of the legacy of World War II, arguing that “Today, European politicians, and Polish leaders in particular, wish to sweep the Munich Betrayal under the carpet. The Munich Betrayal showed to the Soviet Union that the Western countries would deal with security issues without taking its interests into account.”

The Bell wondered if the President was misinformed about the National Interest’s actual influence in selecting a publication for his piece, writing, “The biggest surprise was where the Kremlin chose to publish the article — U.S. outlet The National Interest, which is owned by second rate conservative think tank Center for the National Interest that was once led by ex-U.S. president Richard Nixon. It is now run by the Soviet-born Dmitry Simes, who has his own show (Rus) on state-owned Channel One. The National Interest often quotes (Rus) Russian state media outlets. More well respected publications would certainly have been prepared to print Putin’s article, but it appears someone convinced Putin that The National Interest is actually influential.”

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov had some thoughts about former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton’s assessment of Vladimir Putin. Peskov said, “Regarding his [Bolton’s] assessments of our president, there are various ones, one can agree with some of them, and one can disagree with some of them, that’s why you need to look at individual messages here,” the Kremlin official said. In his opinion “one cannot give it a general evaluation.” He also refused to comment on whether Bolton’s perception of Putin is positive or negative.

Russian budget airline Pobeda has been denied state aid [in Russian], the only Russian airline denied a bailout, despite the regulator previously stating that Pobeda was eligible. The airline has been the most successful as the country emerges from lockdown, enjoying higher load factors than its competitors. Pobeda is 100 percent owned by Aeroflot.

PHOTO: Russian budget airline Pobeda was unexpectedly denied a bailout (Maxim Stulov/Vedomosti).