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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – June 25, 2020

Today in Russia: Belarus accuses Russia of election manipulation; Head of Dozhd TV says he could vote twice on referendum; Watchdog decries “manipulative” referendum process; All sorts of election malfunctions; US official: China and Russia on “road to dystopia” if they don’t extend Iran weapons ban; Tver bans all negative news?; Russia steals from US shale oil playbook, and may end oil import ban early; Tourists heading to space in 2023; Kremlin sees rainbow flag flying at US embassy as unlawful “propaganda of untraditional sexual minorities“; Kremlin vows to support Venezuela amid US “regime change” efforts

Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’ long-ruling president, accused Russia of election manipulation as he faces a challenge to his leadership. “It’s clear that the puppeteers are behind them. They are on the one side and the other side. They live in Poland and are supplied from Russia…We will talk about this with President Putin in the near future at a meeting,” the strongman stated. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov fired back that Russia has done no such thing, adding “There can be only an unequivocal answer Russia has never intervened, does not intervene and will not ever intervene in any country’s electoral processes, let alone electoral processes in our ally Belarus.” 

The head of Dozhd TV Pavel Lobkov said he managed to vote twice for the constitutional referendum, once online and again in person. The Deputy Chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC) Nikolai Bulaev said the commission will “deal with” the issue raised by Lobkov, Vedomosti reported [in Russian].

Grigory Melkonyants from election monitor Golos said the constitutional referendum will be the “least transparent” in years, in an interview with the Moscow Times.

The constitutional referendum has also seen other irregularities, such as online voter registration rates for certain polling stations which are higher than the actual registered number of voters. Meduza wrote that one polling station head called it “some kind of technical error.” The referendum is being secured using a blockchain system developed by crypto firm Bitfury, and it has been off “to a rocky start,” suffering from outages during early voting in addition to other irregularities.

Russia and China will be isolated at the United Nations if they continue down the “road to dystopia” by blocking a U.S. bid to extend a weapons ban on Iran, U.S. Iran envoy Brian Hook told Reuters ahead of his formal pitch of the embargo to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday,” Reuters reported.

Tver, a city located between Moscow and St Petersburg where your Daily News Blast author spent time as a Russian language student, has reportedly banned the dissemination of all “negative” news. Meduza wrote, “For the week and a half before July 1, when Russia finishes its nationwide plebiscite on constitutional amendments that could extend Vladimir Putin’s presidency to 2036, mass media outlets in the Tver region are prohibited from reporting any “negative news,” according to local journalists at Politver.”

Russian oil producers have taken a page out of US shale producers playbook, continuing to drill untapped wells so they will be ready to quickly ramp up production when demand picks up. Sberbank and VEB plan to lend $6 billion to carry out the drilling program at near-zero interest rates. Reuters reported, “A geologist advising Russian oil firms said the new wells would add at least 200,000 barrels per day to output based on average flow rates but if their assumptions about large reserves pan out the wells could boost output by 2 million barrels.

The Federal Anti-Monopoly Service also advocated ending early a ban on foreign fuel imports imposed due to the collapse in oil demand from the coronavirus, Kommersant reported [in Russian].

Tourists have signed up to go to the International Space Station in 2023 with the Russian company Energia Space Rocket Corporation, TASS reported.

The US is flying the rainbow flag in recognition of Pride Month. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov wasn’t quite feeling the pride and instead saw a violation of Russian laws against “gay propaganda,” remarking “We don’t see the building of the US Embassy from the Kremlin. But our Foreign Ministry definitely does. In any case, the propaganda of untraditional sexual minorities [among youngsters] is prohibited by law in our country.”

Russia vowed to support Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro against US efforts at “regime change.” Russian Foreign Ministry Sergei Lavrov met his Venezuelan counterpart Jorge Arreaza yesterday, and vowed stronger cooperation. Lavrov said, “Venezuela is a friend we can count on in Latin America and on the international stage. We value our strategic partnership developed based on the agreements between Russian and Venezuelan Presidents Vladimir Putin and Nicolas Maduro. Our bilateral relations are progressing in such spheres as energy, industry, agriculture, high technology, pharmaceutics and military-technical cooperation.

PHOTO: Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko accused Russia of election meddling as he faces internal challenges (Reuters/V. Fedosenko).