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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – June 23, 2020

Today in Russia: Putin declares COVID-19 under control; Putin announces tax increase for those making over 5 million rubles and other measures in address; Front-line health workers ordered to vote in referendum; Calvey diagnosed with cancer but kept under house arrest; Russia looks to defuse China-India tensions; Arms control talks between US and Russia held without China; Russia moving closer to Mongolia; Whelan won’t appeal, will angle for prisoner swap; Toy protesters not tolerated by Russian authorities, face investigation

President Vladimir Putin declared that COVID-19 was under control as the all-important constitutional referendum approaches. Nevertheless, Russia confirmed 7,425 new cases on today.

In an address to the nation [in Russian], President Putin made a number of important announcements. Starting January 1, 2021, the personal income tax rate will be increased from 13% to 15% for those who earn more than 5 million rubles a year. Another payment of 10 thousand rubles for each child up to age sixteen will be dispersed, and supplemental payments to doctors will be extended through August. Payments to social workers are extended until mid-September. On the issue of the referendum, Putin declared “They will come into force, of course, I have said many times, only if citizens support them.”

Front line health workers are reportedly being forced to vote in the upcoming constitutional referendum. Moscow Times reported one doctor saying, “‘We simply don’t have a choice,” a doctor at the Syktivkar Republic Infectious Diseases hospital in Russia’s remote northern republic of Komi told The Moscow Times on condition of anonymity. The health worker — whose region was one of the country’s first coronavirus hotspots —  said staff were called in for a meeting last week where it was “made clear” that voting was “obligatory.‘”

A court in Moscow on Tuesday upheld U.S. investor Michael Calvey’s house arrest on fraud charges despite the revelation that he has a malignant tumor. Calvey faces embezzlement charges that he says are being used to pressure him in a business dispute. A Moscow court had ruled last month to extend the house arrest of Calvey, his French business partner Philippe Delpal and three others until Aug. 13,” Moscow Times wrote.

Russia is aiming to diffuse tensions between China and India through the organizations that it chairs. India’s Economic Times wrote, “Russia holds the current presidency of Russia-India-China (RIC) trilateral, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics), and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). India and China are members of all three groupings, and Moscow is worried that prolonged Sino-Indian tensions could undermine these groupings, people aware of the matter told ET.”

Russia and the United States held arms control talks without China on a new START treaty. The current START agreement is set to expire next February. The Wall Street Journal reported,

Marshall Billingslea, the top U.S. envoy on arms control, tweeted that his daylong meeting in Vienna with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has been constructive. Technical working groups, he added, had been established, and the two sides had agreed in principle to hold a second round of negotiations.

One major obstacle, however, immediately came to the fore when the U.S. and China exchanged barbs over Beijing’s decision not to join the negotiations.

China is moving closer to Mongolia. The Diplomat wrote that “Russia’s approach to Mongolia is about more than countering China’s influence.

Paul Whelan, the ex-US Marine sentenced in Russia to sixteen years in prison for espionage, will not appeal his sentence and will instead look to be part of a prisoner swap between the US and Russia.

Criminal investigators in St. Petersburg have attempted to question an activist who used children’s toys to protest against a vote on constitutional amendments that would allow President Vladimir Putin to extend his rule into 2036. Sonya Ulyasheva, a spokeswoman for the Vesna democratic movement, had posted photographs of the toy protests as on offshoot of the #MiniProtest social media campaign in which participants post photos of fruits and vegetables holding anti-amendments posters in public spaces,” Moscow Times reported.

PHOTO: Miniature toys are the new front of protest as the referendum approaches on July 1. Authorities have launched an investigation into the figurines (spb_vesna / Twitter).