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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – June 29, 2020

Today in Russia: Russia denies Afghanistan bounty payments while Trump denies knowing about it; EU extends Russia sanctions over Ukraine; Simplified e-visas to Russia starting 2021 – for some; Russian medical system unequipped for COVID-19; “The China-Russia-Iran arms alliance”; More environmental destruction found at Norilsk Nickel; Gref sees coming ruble appreciation against the dollar; Scandinavian radiation linked to Russian nuclear plant; Russian opposition flounders amid referendum

The New York Times’ bombshell report about alleged Russian bounty payments in Afghanistan to kill U.S. and NATO troops has been met by denials in Russia, but further confirmed reports from other US outlets. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “These claims are nothing but lies.” US President Donald Trump claimed he was not briefed on the bounty payments, and yesterday tweeted that it was “[p]ossibly another fabricated Russia Hoax,” something that Russian-state owned TASS was quick to report on.

The EU extended its sanctions regime on Russia for another six months, citing Russia’s failure to live up to its responsibilities in upholding the Ukraine peace agreement. AP wrote, “The measures target Russia’s financial, energy and defense sectors, as well as goods that can be used for both civilian and military purposes They are part of a raft of sanctions slapped on Russia in 2014 after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, and are tied to respect of the 2015 Minsk peace deal.”

Russia will roll out an e-visa regime starting in 2021 for 53 nations. The US, Canada, and the UK were not included in the scheme. “Under the new regulations, citizens of 53 countries, including EU member states, China, Japan, India and Turkey, will be able to obtain 16-day, single-entry tourist visas online from Jan. 1, 2021, Kommersant reported.

Russia’s health system is a Soviet holdover and is unequipped for the COVID-19 crisis. The Wall Street Journal wrote that “Doctors, equipment and basic supplies run short as cases climb; some facilities lack running water.”

China and Russia have opposed the UN extension of Iran’s arms agreement. The Wall Street Journal wrote in an editorial about the “China-Russia-Iran arms alliance,” writing that “China doesn’t want to destroy global institutions so much as remake them in its image. The current fight over the Iran arms embargo at the United Nations shows what a Beijing-dominated world order would look like. It’s something for American allies frustrated with President Trump’s leadership to keep in mind.

Journalists have uncovered more environmental destruction at Norilsk Nickel, after a subsidiary of the company spilled thousands of tons of diesel fuel into a waterway in the Arctic city. Meduza wrote, “The Talnakh Concentrator Plant, which belongs to industrial giant Norilsk Nickel, has been dumping industrial wastewater into the tundra in the Russian Arctic, reported the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta [in Russian] on June 27.” Another report noted that the company continues to try to cover up the diesel spill. Meduza noted, “Journalists from the media association Syndicate-100 have issued a statement condemning attempts to cover up the scale of the ecological damage resulting from the massive fuel spill that took place at a Norilsk Nickel subsidiary in the Russian Arctic at the end of May.

Vedomosti reported [in Russian], “Sberbank Chairman German Gref in an interview with TASS [in Russian] suggested that by the end of 2020, the Russian ruble could strengthen to the level of 60–62 rubles. for one dollar. He came to this conclusion, based on the forecast of analysts that a barrel of oil by the end of the year will rise in price to $ 60. At the same time, the top manager noted that in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, making forecasts is difficult.”

RBC, for its part, wrote that experts view [in Russian] Gref’s ruble predictions as overly-optimistic. “According to the chief economist of Alfa Bank Natalia Orlova, the likelihood of strengthening the Russian currency is high. True, in her opinion, the growth potential will be more modest. Orlova’s forecast for the end of the year is ₽65 per dollar. “Honestly, it’s hard for me to imagine a return to the levels of $ 60-62 per dollar. It seems to me that we do not have enough capacious financial markets to attract such a scale of capital. But I agree with the idea of ​​strengthening, ”said the expert.

Increased radiation levels across northern Europe may be linked to a malfunctioning Russian nuclear plant, while Russia said radiation levels in Russia were normal.. Moscow Times wrote,

The Associated Press cited the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) as saying Friday that the spike could be traced to Russia. Russian nuclear operators deny the claims, and Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish authorities did not speculate about the source of the radiation. Radiation-monitoring sensors in northern Europe said last week that they recorded higher-than-normal amounts of radioactive isotopes that are harmless to humans and the environment

AFP wrote that “Russia’s opposition is denouncing this week’s vote on President Vladimir Putin’s constitutional reforms as a joke, pointing out that copies of the amended basic law are already on sale in Moscow bookshops. From liberal reformers to Communists, Kremlin critics say the vote — which started last week and ends on Wednesday — is a thinly veiled attempt to keep Putin, 67, in power for life. But other than tepid calls to boycott or vote “No”, the opposition has done little to actively fight the changes.

PHOTO: Evgeny Razumny / Vedomosti / TASS