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

Today in Russia: COVID-19 new cases reach near-record; Kyrgyzstan election and protests; “The Kremlin takes on a Resurrected Navalny”; Russia faces imminent surge in bankruptcies; The “unequal triangle” between Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijana look at the numbers

Russia is suffering from a new wave of coronavirus cases, reporting a daily increase of 11,615 new cases and 188 deaths yesterday – nearly a record high [in Russian]. The current record high was on May 11, when the country recorded 11,656 new cases. Moscow again leads the country in new cases, yesterday reporting 4082 new infections.

Kyrgyzstan went to the polls on Sunday in an election that was marred by vote-buying and other fraud. The president, Sooronbai Jeenbekov insisted that the election was free and fair. The two major parties, Birimdik – closely associated with the president, and Mekenim Kyrgyzstan, funded by the shadowy former customs chief Rayimbek Matraimov suspected of running a massive smuggling operation. Mekenim Kyrgyzstan and Birimdik took a dominant victory in the polls, but last night massive protests broke out demanding a re-vote which were met with water cannons, tear gas, and stun grenades and a strong police presence.

As dawn broke last night, however, the protesters stormed the main government building, the White House, and “[a] crowd of around 2,000 people then forced their way into the nearby National Security Committee building, where former president Almazbek Atambayev was jailed. Atambayev was serving an 11-year sentence for freeing a convicted mobster. The ex-president’s attorney said that a judge ordered Atambayev’s release, although this is yet to be confirmed. Atambayev was once close with the current president Jeenbekov, but had a falling out after Jeenbekov won the presidential election in 2017.

Both Jeenbekov and Atambayev are close to Moscow and favor a close relationship with Russia. A former Bishkek mayor, Albek Ibraimov, also came out of prison. Birimdik says it is open to a new election, and The Central Election Commission has acceded to the main demand [in Russian] of the protesters for a re-run of the election. Supporters of Birimdik and the president gathered in the southern city of Osh [in Russian], a stronghold for the ruling party.

Russia’s strategic position in the country is unlikely to be affected by the unrest, given both Atambayev and the current president Jeenbekov favor a close relationship with Moscow.

Alexei Navalny has faced vitriol from the Kremlin since recovering from his poisoning. Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin accused Navalny of working for the CIA, and Kremlin Spokesman echoed these claims while condemning Navalny’s remarks blaming President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning. Navalny said today he hopes to return to Russia “within months.”

The Moscow Times noted that Navalny’s poisoning “has elevated Navalny to a special place, making him at least temporarily above criticism from the Russian intellectual circles with which he previously often bickered.” In addition, Moscow Times noted that Navalny has not served an extended prison sentence, unlike previous prominent opponents of the Kremlin such as Mikail Khodorkovsky. This “fits in with this logic of marginalization,” and “the Kremlin doesn’t want to turn Navalny into some kind of hero, and has said so openly. This also explains why Putin and other senior officials hardly ever refer to Navalny by name. Recent events, however, have turned Navalny into something more than a hero. After all, he was nearly killed and then resurrected, which takes his messianic mission to a whole new level.”

The number of individuals filing in Russia from January to September this year shot up by 65 percent to 77 thousand, while September alone saw a 94.6 percent year-on-year increase. But the number of company bankruptcies fell 19 percent over this same nine-month period. The Bell wrote [in Russian] that “[t]he number of corporate bankruptcies fell due to the government announced and recently extended moratorium on bankruptcy in the affected industries.” This moratorium was one of the few effective coronavirus measures applied to aid the economy. However, today, October 6, the moratorium for many companies will expire and may trigger a wave of bankruptcies for companies.

Kommersant wrote of an “unequal triangle” between Russia and Armenia and Azerbaijan, which are currently locked in a conflict that risks spiraling out of control over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. The ties that bind Russia with the two feuding neighbors are deep and cut across people-to-people ties, defense cooperation, and deep bilateral economic relationships, giving Moscow a very strong incentive to halt the fighting and prevent a more prolonged hot war.

Looking at the relationships and the numbers behind them, the newspaper wrote that “According to the 2010 census, there were almost twice as many Armenians in Russia as Azerbaijanis – 1.18 million and 603 thousand, respectively. Armenians ranked 7th among all those who indicated their nationalities, and Azerbaijanis – 11th. There are over 180,000 Russians, Tatars, and Dagestanis in Azerbaijan, making them the second largest group after Azeris themselves, while there are ten times fewer Russians in Armenia.

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and In 1992, Russia and Armenia co-founded the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Azerbaijan joined it in 1993, but left in 1999 and in the same year joined the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development (GUAM) along with Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.

In 1997, Armenia and Russia signed the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance. In the same year, an Agreement on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Security was concluded between the Russian Federation and Azerbaijan. The 1997 agreement commits Russia to defending Armenia in case of “in any actions or measures of a military, economic and financial nature, including through third countries.” Russia and Azerbaijan signed a 2003 agreement on military-technical cooperation, “which provides for the supply of Russian weapons and equipment, training of personnel and the participation of Russian specialists in the repair and modernization of equipment.”

Since 2015, Armenia has been a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), a customs union allowing free access to the Russian market. However, despite Azerbaijan not being an EEU member, the trade turnover between Russia and Azerbaijan in 2019 due to exports was $600 million more than with Armenia. The volume of Russian investments in the Azerbaijani economy is estimated at more than $5 billion, and at the end of 2019 it was reported that 950 companies with Russian capital are operating in the country – 10 percent of all companies with foreign capital investment. Last year, Vladimir Putin estimated the volume of Russian direct investment in the Armenian economy at $2 billion. And it was estimated this year that some 2.2 thousand Russian companies are operating in the country.

PHOTO: Kyrgyzstan saw unrest after fraudulent parliamentary elections on Sunday. The electoral commission has accepted the primary demand of protesters to hold a re-run of Sunday’s vote after the main government office, the White House, was stormed by demonstrators and the country’s former president was freed from prison by over 2,000 protesters (Vyacheslav Oseledko / AFP).