RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – September 22, 2020

Today in Russia: Pompeo says US will respond to Navalny poisoning once “all the the facts are available”; Navalny says Novichok was found “in and on” his body; Zelensky accuses Russia of trying to divide the world; Dmitry Trenin on Russia’s relationships with allies; Russia’s censor wants to make it easier on itself by banning latest encryption tools; Russian patients show no symptoms in Chinese vaccine trials; FinCEN tracking Russian domestic banking transactions; Putin may appoint Senators using presidential quota for first time

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told German tabloid Bild [in German] that the US will respond to Alexei Navalny’s poisoning when all facts are known, adding “The United States has made it clear that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. When chemical weapons were used against the Skripals, we reacted unequivocally. There is no reason to believe that the United States will not react appropriately to what could have happened once all the facts are available.” Donald Trump, when asked who is to blame for Navalny’s poisoning, replied “We’ll talk about that at another time.”

Poisoned – and recovering – opposition leader Alexei Navalny said that Novichok was found “in and on” his body. He wrote in his first blog post [in Russian] since his poisoning, “Two independent laboratories in France and Sweden and the Bundeswehr specialized laboratory confirmed the presence of Novichok in and on my body.”

Ukraine’s president Volodymr Zelensky blamed Russia [in Russian] for its attempts to divide the world into “spheres of influence” in an address to the UN General Assembly (UNGA). Criticizing Russia’s takeover of Crimea and the continued conflict in the Donbass, the Ukrainian president said “Let me remind you that this is not only a war in Ukraine. This is a war in Europe. And this is not just an encroachment on the sovereignty of an independent state, it looks like an attempt to return to the division of spheres of influence in the world.”

Dmitry Trenin, the head of the Carnegie Moscow Center, gave an interview to Kommersant [in Russian] in which he explained why Russia has so many challenges dealing with ostensible allies. Trenin remarked that Belarus is currently Russia’s most pressing foreign policy concern, adding that “The opposition and its Coordinating Council tried to establish contact with the Russian embassy in Minsk, but were refused in order not to irritate Lukashenka. This, in my opinion, is a mistake.” Trenin also criticized Russia’s wider strategy with allies, noting that the Kremlin tends to view the former USSR as “part of a single state” while failing to recognize that post-1991 “independence” meant “independence from Russia.” He added,

Firstly, Russia does not have a coherent and clear strategy in relation to its allies. However, it is not in any other direction. The ball is ruled by personal relationships at the top, a pragmatic approach (common sense) and special operations. Secondly, in Moscow, many are accustomed to looking at the countries of the former USSR as part of a single state – in the past and, to some extent, in some form, in the future, and at their population – as former and, possibly, future compatriots…This was especially true of Ukrainians and Belarusians, who are considered by many to be parts of a single Russian people. Nationalism in these countries is viewed by domestic politicians as something unnatural, brought in from the outside, and independence, self-sufficiency, as a form of anti-Russian separatism. There is no understanding of the changed realities, and there is no serious study of these countries, no work with their elites and societies, especially with young people. It is assumed that memories of the USSR are enough to establish allied relations.

Russia’s Ministry of Digital Development, Communications, and Mass Media (Minkomsvyaz) wants to help out Russia’s censor, Roskomnadzor, by proposing a ban of the latest encryption tools on “.ru” websites. A proposed bill “bans the use of encryption protocols allowing for hiding the name (identifier) of a web page or Internet site on the territory of the Russian Federation.” The bill references TLS 1.3, ESNI, DNS over HTTPS, and DNS over TLS, internet security tools which are widely used, especially since Edward Snowden’s revelations. These security tools, however, make Roskomnadzor’s job of blocking websites more technically difficult.

Patients in Russia participating in Chinese vaccine trials have so far reported no abnormal symptoms. “Russia approved Phase 3 trials of the Chinese vaccine developed by CanSino Biologics and the Chinese military’s research arm last month. Russia’s Petrovax pharmaceutical company said it has received more than 3,000 applications to get the Ad5-nCoV vaccine so far.”

The US Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which saw thousands of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) leaked to investigative journalists over the weekend, “received data on almost 200 bank operations in Russia,” RBC reported. Of the transactions involving a Russian party, five percent were domestic transactions between Russian banks, but conducted in US dollars. RBC further noted, “The largest domestic Russian transactions identified as suspicious in the leaked documents are operations from Rosbank to Vnesheconombank (VEB) – by $ 116.7 million in 2012 and by $ 102 million in 2010. FinCEN notified Bank of New York Mellon about them. RBC sent inquiries to Rosbank and VEB.RF.”

On September 23, President Vladimir Putin will hold [in Russian] a meeting with the entire Federation Council in the Kremlin. Meduza wrote [in Russian] that “important changes await the Federation Council: Putin may, for the first time, appoint senators under the presidential quota. In addition, discussions began again on the possible change of the chairman of the upper house of parliament – and Meduza’s sources again name Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, as a possible successor of Valentina Matvienko.” Since 2014, the head of state has the right to appoint 17 senators, but he has never availed himself of this right in the past. The 2020 constitutional amendments increased this number to 30.

PHOTO: Russia’s Federation Council (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).