RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – September 14, 2020

Today in Russia: Putin meets Lukashenko, integration on the menu; Tikhanovskaya blasts Putin for meeting “usurper”; 100,000+ protest in Minsk – again; elections in Russia; NordStream 2 trouble continues; French and Swedish tests also find Navalny poisoned by Novichok; Record mortgages in August

Belarus’ strongman Alexander Lukashenko traveled to Russia’s Black Sea resort town Sochi to meet Vladimir Putin today. On the agenda will be talks of greater integration between Belarus and Russia – an idea long pushed by Moscow but rejected by Minsk. It appears that Lukashenko, backed into a corner and needing Russia’s help, might be forced to integrate.

Exiled opposition leader blasted Putin for meeting with an “usurper” rather than with the Belarusian people. She declared, “No agreements made in Sochi will be considered legitimate,” because the people did not vote for Lukashenko in last month’s fraudulent elections.

On Sunday, at least 100,000 demonstrators marched through the streets of Minsk yet again to demand an end to Alexander Lukashenko’s rule. Reuters wrote, “A vast column protesters marched through the capital Minsk towards a government district on Sunday, chanting ‘Long live Belarus’ and ‘You’re a rat,’ a taunt that has frequently been used against Lukashenko during demonstrations.

Russia’s regional elections over the weekend led to “landslide” wins for United Russia, in most places, except in Novosibirsk and Tomsk, two Siberian cities where Alexei Navalny was campaigning before being poisoned in the Tomsk airport. Meduza wrote,

In Tomsk, two members of Alexey Navalny’s local office — Andrey Fateyev and head of operations Ksenia Fadeyeva — won seats in the city council. In Novosibirsk, voters elected to their city council Sergey Boiko, Navalny’s local coordinator and a candidate from the “Novosibirsk 2020” coalition (created in opposition to United Russia and the Communist Party).

In Irkutsk, where many observers saw a possible run-off for the governor race, Communist Party challenger and State Duma deputy Mikhail Shchapov failed to win enough votes to stop acting Governor Igor Kobzev from taking a first round victory. In Arkhangelsk and Komi, United Russia looks on track to hand on to governorships, despite predictions of close races there.

NordStream 2’s difficulties could spell trouble for Europe’s gas giants, too. “Russian state group Gazprom is building the pipeline, with half of the €9.5bn cost funded by loans from Royal Dutch Shell, Austria’s OMV, Engie of France and German groups Uniper and Wintershall. All have found their investment imperilled by political woes and controversy,” the Financial Times wrote. When the US imposed sanctions on the project in December, Swiss pipe-layer AllSeas was forced to halt work with just 6 percent left before completion. In July sanctions were extended to all entities working on the project, threatening the gas companies which extended billions in financing for the project.

French and Swedish lab results also found that Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned by a nerve agent from the Novichok family. Three labs from three countries have now found the same result, raising international pressure on Russia to properly investigate the incident.

Vladimir Putin told [in Russian] his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in a call that the accusations related to poisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny were groundless. “Vladimir Putin emphasized the inappropriateness of the unfounded, groundless accusations of the Russian side in this context,” read a Kremlin statement of the call.

Russian banks issued a record number of mortgages [in Russian] last month, a total of 375 billion rubles. This was a 38 percent rise in real terms and a nominal increase of 59 percent. Kommersant wrote, “This happened due to the restoration of consumer confidence of citizens and the implementation of a preferential mortgage program for new buildings at 6.5%, explains Mikhail Goldberg, head of the DOM.RF analytical center.”

PHOTO: Another Sunday, another day of mass-demonstrations against Lukashenko in Minsk (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images).