Staunton, February 24 – Vladimir Putin says that foreign intelligence services are preparing new provocations against Russia in connection with the coronavirus pandemic and that the country must be ready to counter them. He said over the past year, the FSB had blocked 495 foreign intelligence operatives and their recruits in Russia (echo.msk.ru/news/2795616-echo.html).
Also today, the Accounting Chamber reported that Russia has spent more than 2.8 trillion rubles (40 billion US dollars) countering the pandemic, a figure greater than 10 percent of the state budget and one of the reasons government debt increased by 39.9 percent over the last year (regnum.ru/news/3198657.html, echo.msk.ru/news/2795238-echo.html and forum-msk.org/material/news/17018775.html).
Although there are still some hotspots and restrictions remain in place in many locations, the pandemic eased across Russia, with both new cases of infection and new deaths over the last 24 hours falling to 11,749 and 383 respectively (regnum.ru/news/society/3195444.htmlt.me/COVID2019_official/2513).
On the vaccine front, the Russian vaccination program at home continued to expand and sales abroad did as well, with the latter, in the words of one commentator, becoming because of its safety and effectiveness like a red flag in front of a bull (svpressa.ru/politic/article/290763/).
On the business front, new figures showed that employment in small enterprises fell to a new low last year while employment in large enterprises actually grew slightly over the course of the pandemic year (finanz.ru/novosti/aktsii/chislo-zanyatykh-v-malom-biznese-rossii-rukhnulo-do-istoricheskogo-minimuma-1030118842).
Income from oil and gas exports fell by 30.4 percent in 2020, reducing the share of those among all Russian exports from 39.3 percent to 28 percent (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/83894). Businesses hope that the spread of vaccination programs will lead to the reopening of borders and the expansion of trade (regnum.ru/news/3199276.html).
Meanwhile in other pandemic-related developments in Russia today,
· The health ministry says that the pandemic has increased stress and mental illness in Russia and led to significant rises of roughly 30 percent in the number of people turning to psychologists and psychiatrists for help (versia.ru/v-rossii-za-sutki-zaregistrirovano-11-749-sluchaev-zarazheniya-koronavirusom-i-383-letalnyx-isxodov).
· Researchers say that coronavirus infections are having an impact on the mental abilities of some who have had particularly serious forms of the illness (versia.ru/covid-19-mozhet-vyzvat-obshhee-ogluplenie-chelovechestva).
· Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko says that Russia has entered “the ‘post-covid’ period” (ura.news/news/1052473196).