RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – May 28, 2020

Today in Russia: Journalists arrested for protesting the arrest of a journalist who protested the jailing of a whistleblower; Russia finds new way to lower cases – stop counting asymptomatic; US Military: Russia sent 14 MiG 29s and Su-24s to Libya; Russia could face 7.5 percent drop in GDP; Moscow Mayor says restrictions to stay in place until vaccine; Libya to fall under “spheres of influence?”; Roscosmos chief believes SpaceX and Musk are up to no good on Mars; New Nordstream 2 sanctions from US possible, Russia says no affect on plans

Multiple journalists were arrested for staging solo protests. Ilya Azar, a reporter for Novaya Gazeta (and a former reporter for Lenta.ru and Meduza) and municipal deputy in the Moscow government was detained for protesting the jailing of Vladimir Vorontsov, a former police officer who founded the “Police Ombudsman” website that reported on wrongdoing inside the Interior Ministry. Then, Mediazona chief editor Sergei Smirnov and Ekho Moskvy journalists Tatyana Felgenhauer and Alexander Plyushchev were arrested for protesting the arrest of Azar. The result is a chain of arrests of journalists for staging solo protests over the arrest of other journalists. Kommersant reported [in Russian] on the arrests, as did Vedomosti, although the former did not feature it on its home page.

Russia will no longer include asymptomatic coronavirus patients in its daily count of new infections and deaths,” the Moscow Times reported and the Health Ministry said in new guidelines issued [in Russian]. The guidelines stated, “If the virus is detected alongside an absence of complaints, the condition should be considered a virus carrierSuch cases are not included in sickness and mortality statistics.” Russia currently has 379,051 confirmed cases and 4,142 deaths.

In a more detailed explanation of Russian military moves in Libya, the US military said that Russia sent 14 MiG 29 and Su-24 fighter jets in support of General Khalifa Haftar and the Libyan National Army (LNA). The LNA denied that Russia had sent any fighter jets, with a spokesman insisting they are “media rumours and lies.” The 14 jets, according to the US, were unmarked, having been repainted in Syria to remove any Russian military markings.

Izvestiya reported that Russia may see a 7.5 percent drop in GDP this year due to the coronavirus, acccording to a “conservative” scenario of the Ministry of Economic Development’s 2020-2023 forecast. The forecast also estimates an average price of Urals crude oil at $30.2 and the USD-Ruble exchange rate to hover around 72.9 with inflation at 3.8 percent. Izvestiya wrote that an “optimistic scenario to the government at all.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said that “I’m afraid that the regime of self-preservation, these are sanitary restrictions, it will last long until we get the vaccine.” Sobyanin said that this did not mean that Muscovites will remain “locked up” the whole time, adding that “We must live a normal life.”

AFP is reporting that analysts are seeing a carving up of Libya into spheres of influence by Russia and Turkey, rather than direct confrontation in the conflict-ridden state. They wrote, “In recent days, hundreds of Russian mercenaries belonging to the Wagner Group, a shadowy paramilitary organization seen as close to President Vladimir Putin, have withdrawn from combat zones south of the capital.” During the withdraw, Government of National Accord (GNA) forces carried out a 72 hour cease-fire and Turkey, which supports the GNA, ceased drone strikes during this period. Some analysts see Russia’s sending of 14 jets to Libya as a way to “now appear to serve as a deterrent against any attempts by GNA forces to advance” rather than to serve in an offensive capacity.

Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin believes that Elon Musk’s floating of a plan to bomb mars to make it suitable for human life is in fact a secret plot to launch nuclear weapons into space. Rogozin fumed, “We understand that one thing is hidden behind this demagogy: This is a cover for the launch of nuclear weapons into space.”

The US is considering additional sanctions against the controversial NordStream pipeline, which recently has run into EU regulatory issues. US Senators Ted Cruz, a Republican, and Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat proposed the measures. A Cruz spokesperson said all options are on the table to stop the pipeline, and “There are still sanctions options that were drafted and discussed in 2019, which would significantly broaden the scope of sanctions.” Interfax reported that Russia has reacted “extremely negatively” the the proposed ramping up of US measures on the project, but Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that it will not change plans for the pipeline. Peskov stated, “First of all, the plans for Nord Stream 2 have not changed. Second of all, our attitude to any sanctions is well known – it is extremely negative.”

PHOTO: Prominent journalists staged solo protests in Moscow over the arrest of another journalist, Ilya Azar, who himself was protesting the jailing of a prominent police whistleblower (Igor Ivanko/Kommersant).