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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – May 8, 2020

Today in Russia: COVID-19 shows no signs of slowing down; Quarantine measures could be in effect until vaccine found; 20 years of Putin: experts weigh in; Doctors falling out of windows during COVID-19; Putin accepts Trump’s offer of ventilators; Central Bank considering big rate cut; Top official handling COVID-19 reportedly demands payment for interview; Breakdown of trust between church and state; A regional airline on the brink of collapse?; Russia says 19 spy aircraft have been detected in the past week; Italy PM thanks Russia.

Russia added yet another 10,699 cases bringing the COVID-19 total count to 187,859. Rospotrebnadzor head Anna Popova said that the lockdown could last through the end of 2020 – and perhaps until a vaccine is developed.

Foreign Policy published a compilation of articles from leading experts on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 20 years at the helm of the Russian Federation, writing “President Vladimir Putin has transformed his country and its relations with the world. We asked 11 leading experts to look back at his 20-year reign and predict what the future may bring.”

The Wall Street Journal wrote about the extreme pressure doctors on the front lines in Russia are facing, and highlighted three cases which have made headlines in Russia involving doctors who have fallen out of windows – two of whom have died. The Journal noted that “Russian social media has reacted with a mix of sympathy, shock and suspicion over the circumstances around the incidents.”

President Putin accepted an offer from US President Donald Trump for ventilators, returning the favor after Russia sent medical equipment to New York City last month.

Central Bank head Elvira Nabiullina said [in Russian] the Bank is considering a rate cut of 100 basis points (1 percent), the largest cut since 2015. Nabiullina said, “I admit that if the situation develops, as it is now, the option of reducing by 100 bp will also be considered – certainly among other alternatives. When making a decision, we, as always, will evaluate the whole complex of factors, the entire current situation, our forecasts for the dynamics of the economy, inflation. And in particular, we will evaluate how the financial system, banks can adapt to larger changes in the key rate, given that they have a large share of loans and deposits issued and received at fixed rates.” Nabiullina also said [in Russian] that she sees no issue with cutting rates below inflation levels if it allows the Central Bank to achieve its policy goals.

A journalist has claimed that an assistant of Dr. Alexander Myasnikov, a top official in the coronavirus information center demanded a payment of 88,000 rubles ($1,200) for an interview with the doctor. Myasnikov said he had no knowledge of such demands for payments. Journalist Irina Shikhman said “'[Myasnikov] transferred us to his assistant, and he, in turn, said that a 30 minute Skype interview will cost us 88,000 rubles. In response to my question [of] what are we paying for, this person in a government position told me: ‘For his time.’ We saved a recording of the conversation,’ Shikhman says in the documentary.

There is a breakdown in trust between church and state in Russia as “apocalyptic-minded priests balk at state restrictions on public worship.” The New York Times wrote,

Around the world, religious believers of many faiths have been among the most resistant to restrictions on public gatherings, seeing it as an infringement on their right to worship. But the clash between faith and public health has been particularly divisive in Russia, where memories of religious persecution in the Soviet Union have made priests and their flocks highly sensitive to any limits on their rituals.

The split has gone beyond routine ecclesiastical feuds between liberals and conservatives, expanding to corrode a defining feature of Russian Orthodoxy under President Vladimir V. Putin: its trust in and support for the Russian state.

Ural Airlines may be on the brink of bankruptcy [in Russian]. The Presidential Envoy to the Urals Federal Region head Nikolai Tsukanov told a local outlet [in Russian] Tsukanov said he was told by the airline that both Sberbank and VTB refused to offer loans so it was forced to turn to him. Tsukanov floated the possibility of state support during the crisis. Ural Airlines, for its part, denied that it was on the brink of collapse and said its financial situation was under control.

Russia said it has detected 19 spy aircraft and five unmanned aerial vehicles along Russia’s borders. None of the flights intruded into Russian airspace.

Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte thanked Russia for its assistance during the country’s coronavirus outbreak, according to a Kremlin readout and reported by state news agency TASS. It noted that “The sides discussed successful cooperation between Russia and Italy in combating the coronavirus pandemic. Giuseppe Conte thanked the Russian side for timely assistance during the difficult period of the infection spread in Italy.” 

PHOTO: Leader of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill at a procession in Moscow in April. (Patriarchal Press Service via Reuters).