RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – May 27, 2020

Today in Russia: Moscow self-isolation regime extended to June 14; COVID-19 information chief: “It’s All Bullsh*t”; Sen. Rubio zeroed in on Russian disinformation; Russia cutting or ramping up oil production?; Illegal European cheese seized; Russian fighters make “unsafe” maneuvers on US spy plane over Mediterranean after accusations fly in Libya; US can’t “win” arms race against Russia and China; Unemployment up 2.5 times since before pandemic; Kadyrov declares himself “absolutely healthy”

Moscow extended its self-isolation period to June 14, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced [in Russian].

Russia’s coronavirus information chief Alexander Myasnikov, who was previously in hot water first for allegedly asking for a bribe from a journalist for an interview, and later proclaiming that “those meant to die” will die from COVID-19 (as we reported last week in our News Blast). This time, Myasnikov said of the coronavirus that, “It’s all exaggerated. It’s an acute respiratory disease with minimal mortality…It’s all Bullsh*t.” He did add that the biggest concern should be of a second wave of the virus, which he said Russia and the world was unprepared for.

US Senator Marco Rubio, who is taking over as Acting Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee after Sen Richard Burr was forced to step down due his spontaneous sale of millions of dollars of stock after attending an intelligence briefing, is concerned about Russian disinformation. Politico wrote that Rubio is not interested in fighting President Trump’s “political battles,” and has expressed fears that investigations into Joe Biden’s son Hunter in Ukraine “could aid the Kremlin’s efforts to sow chaos and distrust in the U.S. political system.” Rubio said “On that front, it’s important to remind everyone that [Vladimir] Putin is not a Republican or a DemocratWhat he seeks more than anything else is to put us at each other’s throat. And nowadays that’s not a very hard thing to do.

Conflicting reports in Reuters and Bloomberg have suggested that Russia is either planning to further cut production or raise it. Reuters wrote yesterday that “Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak met with domestic major oil companies on Tuesday to discuss the implementation of global oil production curbs and the possible extension of the current level of cuts beyond June.” Today, Bloomberg reported that “While Saudi Arabia and other major producers have sought to prop up the market by cutting production more deeply than required under the OPEC+ supply-curb deal, Moscow wants to scale back curtailments as soon as the current agreement expires, according to people familiar with the matter.” Fears that Russia will ramp up production led to a slump in prices.

Illegal imports of cheeses from Europe were seized. The cheeses in question have been under sanctions since 2014 and were found at a port in St Petersburg in a box falsely labeled to contain a component used to produce rubber. The Moscow Times noted that Russia’s domestic cheese-making industry has grown by a third from 2013-2018, helped by the embargo on European cheeses. However, mass-produced Russian cheese tends to be of low quality, and artisanal Russian cheese very expensive.

Russian fighter jets made “unsafe” maneuvers on a US Navy P-8 surveillance aircraft in the Mediterranean Sea. An image (above) showed a Russian jet coming dangerously close to the US surveillance aircraft and the incident comes a day after the US military accused Russia of deploying fighter jets to Libya in what would be a significant heating up of Russian involvement in the war-torn country. The US Navy 6th Fleet based in Naples, Italy said in a statement, “The unnecessary actions of the Russian Su-35 pilots were inconsistent with good airmanship and international flight rules, and jeopardized the safety of flight of both aircraft.”

Ankit Panda, an editor at The Diplomat, wrote that President Trump’s “jingoism” could “end arms control as we know it. Panda is highly critical of statements made by Trump officials about the US’ ability to outspend its Russian and Chinese rivals in an arms race and justifying US pull-outs from treaties with Russia.

Unemployment is up 2.5 times the level it was at before the pandemic began, Meduza reported [in Russian].

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov declared that he is “absolutely healthy.” In an interview with a local TV station, he added rhetorically, “Even if I got sick, the world has millions of people infected with the coronavirus, tens of thousands have died, am I not a person? Do I not have the right to get sick? Do I not have the right to put in an IV and [build] immunity? I am an absolutely healthy person.”

PHOTO: A Russian SU-35 jet comes dangerously close to a US Navy P-8 surveillance aircraft over the Mediterranean (US Navy 6th Fleet).