RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – May 6, 2020

Today in Russia: Fourth straight day of over 10,000 new infections, but Russia plans gradual relaxation of restrictions; Coal baron Bosov commits suicide; Culture minister infected with COVID-19; Saakashvili may head Ukraine reform council; Tax revenues fall 30% year-on-year in April; Russian economy to contract 5 percent, will tap into rainy day fund and raise debt; Levada Center poll shows Putin approval rating drops to historic low; Russia skeptical of U.S. virus origin claims.

Russia experienced another day of over 10,000 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 165,929 cases with 1,537 deaths. Russia has overtaken both France and Turkey in reported cases.

Despite the continuing climb in coronavirus cases, Russia outlined a plan [in Russian] to gradually relax restrictions. President Vladimir Putin cautioned against moving too quickly in re-opening, and Anna Popova, the head of the consumer protection watchdog Rospotrebnadzor advised a three-step re-opening process:

1. First, people and families should be allowed to leave their homes for outdoor exercise and small shops and service establishments should open in a limited space.
2. Next, families should be allowed to walk outside, larger shops should open with limits on visitor numbers and schools should re-open.
3. Third, parks and squares should open under social-distancing restrictions, along with all shops, educational facilities, hotels and dining establishments.

Billionaire Dmitry Bosov, Chairman and major shareholder of the Alltek group which controls numerous coal producers and other firms, was found dead in what is believed to be a suicide [in Russian]. Bosov reportedly had fired one of his main business partners and was preparing to sell off his assets, before discovering that it would not cover all his debt. Bosov also faced a lawsuit from an employee of his American legal marijuana business among other difficulties, according to RBC [in Russian].

The Russian Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova tested positive for the coronavirus. Her spokeswoman said [in Russian] “The disease proceeds in a mild form, there is no talk of hospitalization.”

Former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili may chair the Executive Committee of Ukraine’s National Reform Council. He had previously served as the Governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region. The former Georgian President is wanted by his home nation for abuse of power, has an icy relationship with neighboring Russia, and was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship which he was granted in 2015 prior to taking up his Odessa post, which led to a loss of his Georgian citizenship. Ukraine stripped him of his citizenship in 2017, but Saakashvili “barged through” a checkpoint from Poland to Ukraine, and last year Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy reinstated his Ukrainian citizenship. The Ukrainian President’s press service was quoted [in Russian], “Zelensky believes that Mr. Saakashvili has the potential to support the Ukrainian government, and invited him to share his vision and developments with the Ukrainian government and parliament.”

Tax revenues have fallen by over 30 percent year-on-year in April, said [in Russian] the head of the Federal Tax Service Danil Egorov. Vedomosti wrote, “Mineral extraction tax revenues fell the most – by more than 50% to 270 billion rubles. Income from income tax decreased by 41% – to 438 billion rubles., And from VAT – by 27% to 220 billion rubles. Earnings from personal income tax decreased only by 14%, Egorov noted, adding that the tax is paid simultaneously with the calculation of salaries.

Russia’s economy is set to contract by 5 percent this year as a result of the coronavirus, the worst since 2009 which saw a contraction of 7.8 percent as a result of the global financial crisis. Russia will use funds from the National Wealth Fund (NWF) and will also raise money on international debt markets. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov cautioned that Russia must be financially prudent in dealing with the economic crisis, highlighting that the $157 billion NWF should be used cautiously and not squandered. Siluanov said that borrowing will double this year to 4.0-5.5 billion rubles.

The Levada Center released a poll [in Russian] showing that support for President Putin dropped to a historic low of 59 percent. The poll showed the lowest approval rating since 1999, when the independent polling agency found that Putin had a 53 percent approval rating shortly after his appointment as Prime Minister.

Russia is skeptical of US government claims that the coronavirus originated in a lab in Wuhan, China. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “Without proof, we consider it wrong to attack third countries in this, let’s say, humbly speaking, non-diplomatic way.” 

PHOTO: Coal baron Dmitry Bosov died on May 6. It is believed to have been a suicide. He is pictured here at a conference in 2017 (Alexander Ryumin/TASS).