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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – June 4, 2020

Today in Russia: Russia to begin testing COVID-19 vaccine with paid participants; Europe nears tipping point with Russia while Russia continues to deny Bundestag hack; Norilsk environmental disaster continues, was “avoidable”; Russia sends more fighter jets to Syria; State pollster says 61 percent of those planning to vote will support referendum; Sberbank to buy online retailer Ozon; Sobyanin says most COVID-19 restrictions to be lifted by July 1

Russia plans to start clinical testing of a coronavirus vaccine on paid volunteers from the general public from next week, Vadim Tarasov, the director of the institute in charge of the study told The Moscow Times on Thursday.

Politico wrote that Europe faces a “tipping point” regarding its relations with Russia as the EU prepares to sanction Russia over its alleged hacking of the German Bundestag. Politico noted that the hack has forced a reckoning in Germany, which has long adopted a more measured approach in its relations with Russia. Politico wrote, “European countries have weighed sanctioning foreign nationals and entities involved in hacking for months, but talks were mired in secrecy as governments weighed their options. That changed when Chancellor Angela Merkel — previously reluctant to chide Russia over hacking — said last month that Berlin could not “simply ignore” an “outrageous” attack, and her government called for an EU response.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova continued to deny that Russia was behind the Bundestag hack, stating, “We strongly reject Germany’s proofless allegations about the involvement of Russian government entities in a hacker attack on the German Bundestag in 2015,” while alleging that, “[s]ince 2015, the German side has not only failed to furnish any proof of Russia’s guilt, but it has also failed to explain even once what the accusations hurled at our country are based on.”

The spill of 20,000 liters of diesel into waterways around the arctic city of Norilsk continues to unfold. Yesterday, President Vladimir Putin declared a state of emergency which has triggered a federal response to the disaster. Vedomosti wrote today [in Russian] that “The disaster in Norilsk could have been avoided,” revealing that there was no monitoring system in place at the power plant to observe cracks in tanks and other risks. Norilsk-Taimyr Energy Company, owned by the large nickel company and the city’s largest employer Norilsk Nickel, was allegedly in the process of procuring such a monitoring system when the disaster occurred.

Russia flew a batch of advanced MiG-29 fighter jets to Syria, Moscow’s embassy in Damascus said, with Syrian pilots already using the planes to conduct missions within the country’s airspace,” Reuters reported.

A state pollster said that of those who said they will vote in the July 1 constitutional referendum, 61 percent will vote in favor of the measure.

Sberbank is in talks to buy a “large stake in” the online retailer Ozon. The move comes days after Sberbank and Yandex split off their joint ventures, with Sberbank taking control of Yandex.Money and Yandex controlling Yandex.Market, a platform with goals of becoming the “Russian Amazon.” “The proposed deal [with Ozon] is part of Sberbank boss German Gref’s plan to create a one-stop technology platform offering a wide range of online financial services.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said that by July 1 most COVID-19 restrictions are to be lifted, adding that a schedule for re-opening may be published on June 8. TASS reported, “Starting Monday June 1, 55% of all shops closed due to the coronavirus have been opened. The rest is set to open next week, Sobyanin said. Besides, two thirds of the service industry enterprises have reopened after receiving the corresponding permit.

PHOTO: Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin. He said that by July 1 nearly all COVID-19 meassures are to be lifted (Mikhail Dzhaparidze/TASS).