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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – May 13, 2020

Today in Russia: More condemnation over FT report about understating COVID-19 deaths but new revelation; Legislation passsed to allow remote voting; Merkel says Russia behind 2015 Bundestag hack; Putin criticizes Ministry of Communication for benefits website failure; Arkhangelsk Oblast and Nenets Autonomous Okrug to merge; Ventilator model causing fires is banned – the same ones Russia sent to USA last month; 100 year old woman recovers from COVID-19.

The Financial Times’ report that Russia had vastly understated its deaths related to COVID-19 drew condemnation in Russia. Today, the Moscow Times reports that “[m]ore than 60% of deaths among Moscow’s coronavirus patients are not being included toward the city’s official virus death toll” because health officials are only counting deaths which are directly attributable to coronavirus. The city’s health department said in a statement, “Over 60% of deaths occurred from obvious alternate causes, such as vascular accidents, stage 4 malignant diseases, leukemia, systemic diseases linked to organ failure and other incurable deadly diseases.” The Moscow authorities strongly denied that this amounted to an understating of COVID-19 deaths.

The State Duma passed legislation [in Russian] allowing for voting remotely and by mail. The legislation does not obligate the election commission to allow remote voting – it simply gives them the option to do so in case voting in person is not feasible due to COVID-19 or other factors. The law allows such remote voting on elections or referenda on all levels, including the constitutional amendments plebiscite which had been postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there is hard evidence linking Russia to the 2015 hacking of the German Bundestag. The attack also targeted her own personal emails and she called it “outrageous” while saying it “pained” her that Russia would carry out such an action “while I’m striving every day for a better relationship with Russia.” Merkel also said her government reserves the right [in Russian] to take actions in response, stating “Of course, we always reserve the right to take measures, including against Russia.

President Vladimir Putin criticized [in Russian] the Ministry of Communications for issues with a website set up to distribute childcare benefits. The website crashed and was only accessible intermittently. The childcare benefit was announced by the President on May 11.

Ankhangelsk Oblast and the Nenets Autonomous Okrug (NAO), two far-northern regions of Russia, will merge[ in Russian]. The acting head of the NAO Yuri Bezdudny said that “the economic situation that has developed today in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug can only be called catastrophic,” noting that the NAO’s budget is calculated assuming an oil price of $57 per barrel. The collapse in oil prices have wreaked havoc with the remote and sparsely populated arctic region.

The move to merge Arkhangelsk and NAO comes after a series of personnel shifts. Arkhangelsk governor Alexander Tsybulsky was previously head of the NAO until April, when then-Arkhangelsk governor Igor Orlov resigned his position. Orlov was very unpopular, largely due to the proposed construction of a landfill to house waste from Moscow. Tsubulsky was shifted from NAO to Arkhangelsk, and Bezdudny was appointed interim governor of NAO, but reports early last month indicated that the merger would go ahead. The merger is set to be put to a referendum this year [in Russian]. The merger is also politically beneficial [in Russian], RBC reported, noting that it will make negotiations with oil and gas companies easier with a larger governmental entity, and it will simplify the formation of a Northern Sea Route, since NAO makes up a tenth of the coastline of the route and Arkhangelsk could serve as a hub.

Two deadly incidents involving Russian-made ventilators has set off alarm bells. Roszdravnadzor — Russia’s state health watchdog said [in Russian] it would ban the use of all Aventa-M ventilators from the Ural Instrument Engineering Plant (UPZ), a subsidiary of state-owned, U.S.-sanctioned Rostec. Fires at hospitals in St Petersburg and Moscow which led to deaths of COVID-19 patients led to Roszdravnadzor’s move. These are the same ventilators which were sent to the New York City as part of a delivery of personal protective equipment and other

A 100 year old woman has recovered from the coronavirus in Russia. Pelagia Poyarkova is believed to have contracted the virus during a hospitalization for a previously planned operation. Poyarkova was widowed during the Second World War with an infant.

PHOTO: Pelagia Poyarkova, a 100-year old coronavirus patient in Moscow after her successful recovery from COVID-19 – the first patient over 100 in Russia to do so (Valery Sharifulin / TASS / Scanpix / LETA).