- Press review: Will Putin, Biden extend New START and Russian airlines seek bailout
- Press review: Biden’s inaugural address calls for unity and Iran may form ‘Shiite NATO’
- New START Treaty extension meets US national security interests
- Press review: What comes next after Navalny's arrest and Telegram may face Big Tech's ire
Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, January 31, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: WHO declares coronavirus outbreak to be global health emergency
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus a global health emergency. Experts interviewed by Izvestia pointed out that the WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee took the same action during the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003.
"The declaration of a global health emergency usually entails border restrictions, as well as restrictions on the movement of goods and services. The WHO insisted on that in similar situations. Measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases need to be as people-friendly as possible so that they don’t cause any unnecessary inconvenience," former chief of Russia’s consumer watchdog Gennady Onishchenko told the newspaper.
Head of the Infectious Diseases Department at the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia Galina Kozhevnikova, in turn, pointed out that WHO experts always specified the steps required to be taken in such situations. "There are a number of measures to control the situation in countries where no infection cases have been reported so far. We have already taken these steps and now other countries need to do the same. A global health emergency also means that the WHO and other international organizations will allocate funds for the development of a vaccine," the expert added.
No coronavirus cases have been identified in Russia yet, the consumer watchdog says. The Health Ministry has drawn up recommendations for treating cases if needed. The list of recommended medicines particularly includes a drug called lopinavir/ritonavir, which is used for HIV. The coronavirus and the retrovirus have enzymes with a similar structure so medics assumed that medicines targeting the HIV protease could be effective in fighting the 2019-nCoV strain, Infectious Disease Physician at H-Clinic Yekaterina Stepanova noted.
Meanwhile, Russia has temporarily suspended ground passenger transportation to China. In addition, tour operators have stopped the sales of tours to China, and organized Russia tourists are returning home. The situation with inbound tourism remains difficult since 1.5 mln Chinese visit Russia every year, Vice President of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia Dmitry Gorin emphasized.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Israeli PM discusses ‘deal of the century’ with Putin on visit to Moscow
Talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have taken place in Moscow. The parties particularly discussed a peace plan for the Middle East, dubbed the ‘deal of the century,’ which had been proposed by US President Donald Trump. Unlike a number of Middle East leaders, the Russian president refrained from criticizing the initiative, which is beneficial for Israel. Moreover, Israeli national Naama Issachar, convicted in Russia on drug charges, was pardoned as kind of a gift to Netanyahu, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.
According to Chief Researcher at the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Irina Zvyagelskaya, the Israeli public was closely following Netanyahu’s visit to Russia. "This is due to the Middle East deal, and, even more so, to the Issachar case," she said. "The fact that Netanyahu succeeded in bringing her back home will earn him additional points in the upcoming election," the expert added.
An early parliamentary election, the third one in the past 12 months, is scheduled to be held in Israel on March 2. As in the previous election, the main struggle will be between the center-left Kahol Lavan (or Blue and White) bloc led by Benny Gantz and Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party. According to opinion polls, Likud may receive 58 seats and Kahol Lavan is expected to get 55. As for Netanyahu, an election win would act as a personal security shield for him since he is facing several investigations and may lose his freedom because he doesn’t have immunity from criminal prosecution. That said, Netanyahu could use any amount of election points, and the Issachar case sparked a significant response from the public.
As for the ‘deal of the century,’ it has little chance of success because the Palestinians had no say in its development, Orientalist scholar Roland Bidzhamov told Izvestia. However, the initiative may still be considered to be a political success.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Pentagon continues military buildup in Middle East
US President Donald Trump’s statement about plans to reduce the number of US troops in Iraq won’t affect the Pentagon’s position in the Middle East because the focus on a military standoff with Iran is still there, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.
Trump has repeatedly pointed to the possibility of a military response if US-Iran tensions get any worse but many members of Congress don’t support his plans. The White House faces obstacles from using military force against Iran at the moment. In any case, the US continues to expand its troop presence in the Middle East. According to US media, a squadron of F-15E fighters has recently been deployed to Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan Air Base. The US has also reintroduced Patriot missile systems to Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Additionally, Washington has redeployed B-52 strategic bombers to its military base on Diego Garcia Island in the Indian Ocean. Meanwhile, the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group continues its mission in the Arabian Sea.
"The Americans are reducing their troop presence in Iraq but at the same time, the number of troops in Syria is growing. Besides, the Pentagon has decided to restore and reinforce some of its military bases in the country," said Academy of Military Science Correspondent Member Colonel Eduard Rodyukov. The expert cited a Syrian media report stating that "the US is expanding an air base in the Tell Beydar settlement, several kilometers from the town of Tell Tamr (in the Al-Hasakah province)." Rodyukov also pointed out that several clashes between Russian and US troops had taken place in the Tell Tamr area and Russian helicopters had carried out flights over the US air base.
All in all, the United States still seeks to dominate and control the situation in the Middle East. The ‘deal of the century’ to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, proposed by US President Donald Trump, is just more proof of its policy based on military force and illegal setup of military bases in key areas in Syria and Iraq. The Pentagon is establishing footholds for future attacks on Shiite forces and Iran.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Brexit may boost Russia-UK relations, ambassador says
Brexit may provide Moscow and London with a significant opportunity to boost relations, Russian Ambassador to the UK Andrei Kelin wrote in an opinion editorial for Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
According to him, the agreements between the United Kingdom and the European Union stipulate that during the transition period, which is set to last until the end of 2020, London will in fact remain part of the EU’s economic space. Once the transition period is over, the UK will become independent in its foreign economic policy though its freedom will depend on the outcome of talks with the EU.
Moscow expects that EU-imposed trade barriers and outdated restrictions between Russia and the United Kingdom will cease to exist in 2021, the ambassador pointed out. Russia is ready to assess economic cooperation with the UK, which will make it possible to figure out what areas need regulating at the bilateral level in the first place.
Clearly, this is a two-way street and much will depend on the United Kingdom’s attitude. Russia understands that settling relations with the EU and the United States will be a priority for London, Kelin pointed out, adding however that it would be wrong to ignore the fact that British and Russian businessmen were interested in boosting mutually beneficial ties.
As for foreign policy, the United Kingdom is likely to continue to be guided by the principles shared by the West. As an EU member, the UK took pride in its leading role in the policy of sanctions against Russia. The two countries still have fundamental differences on Ukraine, Syria, the Salisbury incident and a number of other pressing global issues. Some statements made by British officials point to their intention to go further than the EU sanctions stipulate, the Russian ambassador emphasized.
Kommersant: Coronavirus outbreak suspends smartphone supplies from China to Russia
According to market participants, Chinese smartphone manufacturers, as well as the US-based tech giant Apple that has production facilities in China, have delayed the supply of their goods to Russia for two weeks because Chinese factories extended their New Year vacations due to the coronavirus outbreak. A multiple-week delay may create a certain gap in the market and lead to a 10-15% rise in prices but it will also help retailers sell their stockpiles, Kommersant writes.
Chinese brands are important for the Russian market. One in two smartphones purchased in Russia in 2019 was Chinese-made, according to data provided by the M.Video-Eldorado retailer. The size of Russia’s smartphone market stood at 495 bln rubles ($7.8 bln) in 2019 with China’s Huawei and Honor companies occupying one-third of the market.
If the delay does not exceed two weeks, it will have no significant impact on the Russian market, Head of the Mobile Communication Department at Marvel Distribution Pavel Vyukov pointed out. However, if the delay lasts two to five weeks, a shortage will emerge, but it may actually benefit business, making it possible for distributors and retailers to sell their stockpiles, he added. However, if the suspension exceeds six weeks, serious negative consequences are possible, Vyukov noted.
The hold-up in deliveries may push smartphone prices up 10-15% by the end of February, but the newest smartphones models will start to sell out by mid-March and stockpiles will come in handy, said leading analyst at Mobile Research Group Eldar Murtazin. A rise in prices will reduce the demand because consumers are used to the fact that smartphone prices in Russia are among the cheapest in the world, the expert pointed out. "It will reduce the retail turnover, negatively affecting the market," Murtazin emphasized.