RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – October 1, 2020

Today in Russia: Navalny accuses Putin of poisoning him, declares his intention to return to Russia, while Duma speaker says Navalny should thank Putin for saving him; Peskov accuses Navalny of working for CIA, Navalny intends to sue Peskov; What is Russia’s role in Nagorno-Karabakh dispute?; The sad story of historian Yuri Dmitriev; Moscow says 1/3 of companies’ employees should work from home as COVID-19 spikes again; 8945 new COVID-19 cases in Russia; Putin’s impenetrable quarantine bubble; Russian takes on Biden-Trump debate debacle; The ruble beholden to American elections; Russia inks another updated double taxation agreement; Lavrov on Russia-Germany relationship

Poisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of culpability for his poisoning. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov fired back that Navalny such accusations are “absolutely baseless and unacceptable,” before launching an accusation of is own: that Navalny works for the CIA. Navalny announced his intention to sue Peskov [in Russian] over his CIA allegations. Vlacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the Duma, said [in Russian] that Navalny should thank Putin for saving his life, and insisted that Navalny is acting for foreign powers.

Russia is in a difficult position in the Caucasus as Armenia and Azerbaijan are on the precipice of all-out war and defy calls from Russia and the West for a ceasefire. Moscow Times wrote of Russia’s position, “Russia, a major powerbroker in the region, maintains close economic ties with both Armenia and Azerbaijan and has adopted a cautious stance toward the recent flare-ups. However, Armenia is deeper within Moscow’s orbit as a member of Russia-led regional military and economic blocs CSTO and EEU, while Azerbaijan is not. Russian support and military guarantees are critical to Armenia, whose defense budget is overshadowed by Azerbaijan’s arms spending. Additionally, Armenia hosts a Russian military base near its second-largest city.”

On September 29, a considered an appeal in the case of historian and human rights activist Yuri Dmitriev. The court ended up overturning his previous three and half year sentence and sentencing him to 13 years in prison. This decision is unprecedented, even among Russian courts. On July 22, a court handed down a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence to Yuri Dmitriev for allegedly sexually assaulting his underage foster daughter. The historian maintained that he took the photos to track his foster daughter’s physical health amid a chronic illness. Had this ruling been allowed to stand, Dmitriev — a historian and activist who led the Karelian chapter of the human rights group Memorial — would have gone free in November.” The case started in 2016, and in April 2018, a court acquitted Dmitriev on two charges and sentenced him to three and a half years in prison for illegally possessing a firearm But on September 29.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said that at least 30% of employees at Moscow companies should switch to remote work from October 5, as well as all employees over 65 years old. The Moscow authorities noted [in Russian] that there is a rapidly rising positivity rate and that the level of public transportation is still too crowded, noting that there is currently a “very dangerous’ coronavirus spike”

Speaking of rising virus cases in Russia, since June the authorities have been encouraging Russians to go back to their daily lives (albeit in a masked and socially-distanced fashion. However, for one Russian – President Vladimir Putin – the quarantine bubble around him has remained impenetrable. The New York Times wrote yesterday that Putin has seen very few visitors, and those he has met have to undergo a strict two-week quarantine before meeting the Russian leader. For instance, “Dozens of World War II veterans joined Mr. Putin on the risers in Red Square in June when he presided over a military parade commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany. But before being allowed within breathing distance of Mr. Putin, the veterans had to spend two weeks in quarantine at an isolated health resort.” Such measures are a step further than those taken by most other world leaders.

Russia watched the Biden-Trump debate closely, and the consensus appears to be that Trump lost, but would be most beneficial for Russia if only for the consistency with the last four years and lack of uncertainty that a continued Trump presidency offers Russia. Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch who has seen no small part of his fortune wiped out by US sanctions, wrote [in Russian] on his Telegram “Based on the nightly debate, the US will have a new president in November.”

Kommersant headlined [in Russian] its article about the Biden-Trump debate with the former vice president’s memorable quote, “Man, will you ever shut up?” Kommersant also noted [in Russian] the shock and horror of American political analysts at the spectacle on display, and concluded that “The first debates in the series were for Donald Trump one of the few chances to change the dynamics of the race unfavorable for him. Indeed, from the very beginning of the confrontation between Messrs. Trump and Biden, the Democrat took a leading position: according to the data summarizing the results of national polls, there was not a day when the incumbent president bypassed his rival in popularity.”

The ruble is also closely affected by the US elections. The Bell wrote [in Russian], “The American elections are now the main factor affecting the ruble exchange rate, analysts interviewed by The Bell noted. The dollar at 79 rubles instead of 67 is the result of a premium for geopolitical risks, analysts at Citigroup told Bloomberg. The future dynamics of the Russian currency will largely depend on who wins on November 3, and even on expectations. For Russia, Trump’s victory is preferable, because it is known from him that Biden’s presidency can bring new sanctions risks to the Russian economy and alienate investors, believes Natalia Orlova , chief economist at Alfa Bank.

Russia and Malta signed a new double taxation agreement, following a similar revision made with Cyprus as Russia grows more aggressive in clawing back offshore funds. Under the new agreement, offshore funds will be taxed at the same rate that they would be at home – 15 percent. “‘A protocol was signed on amending the double taxation agreement between Russia and Malta in terms of increasing the tax to 15% at the source of income in the form of dividends and interest,’ the statement said. The ratification of the protocol should take place before the end of this year, and the changes will come into force on January 1, 2021.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke of Russia’s relationship with Germany, and said the full potential of the relationship had not been met, largely placing the blame at Germany’s feet. Kommersant wrote, “The crisis of confidence in Europe, according to Lavrov, came ‘as a result of a short-sighted policy of NATO-centricity and geopolitical games in the search for unilateral advantages. Moreover, Berlin is now taking a course to contain Russia. There are unfounded accusations, ultimatums, threats against us,’ the Foreign Ministry said as quoted by Mr. Lavrov. Oleg Krasnitsky, deputy head of the 3rd European Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, added that relations between Russia and Germany are undergoing strength tests. ‘There is a threat of their collapse,’ said Mr. Krasnitsky (quoted by Interfax [in Russian]).

PHOTO: Alexei Navalny is not getting along with Russian officials after recovering from his poisoning. He has accused Putin of direct involvement in the attempt on his life, while the Kremlin accused him of working with the CIA (Sergei Fadeichev / TASS).