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Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, February 5, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: Turkey's Idlib gamble rattles relations with Russia
The outcome of the war in Syria is being decided in the province of Idlib these days, Izvestia wrote. The Syrian army, with the support of Russian air power, is conducting a strategic offensive to free its territories and a key highway. However, the United States and Turkey are preventing the Syrian military from success. Erdogan sent additional troops into Syrian territory and fired on government forces and the US is going to launch a large-scale disinformation crusade in the near future, ‘revealing’ to the world the "hundreds of thousands of refugees from the war zones" and "the deliberate destruction of the civilian population", the newspaper wrote. The situation in the region is being actively discussed by Russia and Turkey along a "hot line", military-diplomatic sources told Izvestia.
The fighting for the city of Saraqib on Monday, February 3, led to an exchange of artillery attacks between the Turkish and Syrian armies and a dangerous escalation. As military-diplomatic sources told Izvestia, Russia and Turkey have now intensified cooperation on ending the conflict. Later, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Ankara would not aggravate relations with Moscow because of the situation in Idlib. At the same time, he promised to respond with fire to any shelling of Turkish troops in order to prevent the "Syrian regime" from gaining control of the city.
"Saraqib is the last major settlement on the highway left to be taken by government forces," military expert Dmitry Boltenkov told the newspaper. "It is the road, and not the entire Idlib, that is the goal of the current offensive," he added.
Moscow and Ankara are trying to iron out the situation. Erdogan had a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin. During the dialogue, the parties once again emphasized the need for the strict implementation of the Russian-Turkish accords on Idlib, the Kremlin’s press service said.
Meanwhile, US representatives claim that Syrian and Russian air strikes are directed mainly against civilians and social infrastructure, which, according to Izvestia’s sources in military-diplomatic circles, is not true. In their opinion, if that were the case, there would simply be no military success in the battles against Al-Nusra and other radical Islamists.
Kommersant: Lukashenko continues moving closer to Washington
Foreign Policy, a US-based journal, citing its own sources, trotted out the name of the future US ambassador to Belarus. The post could be taken by Julie Fisher, a career diplomat with experience in Russia, Georgia, and Ukraine. This news is another episode of the ongoing rapprochement between Minsk and Washington, taking place against the backdrop of a protracted crisis in Russian-Belarusian relations, Kommersant wrote. President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus is not hiding his intentions. If new problems with Russia spring up, he will count on US assistance. According to Kommersant’s sources in Minsk, Lukashenko is raising the stakes before the next meeting with Vladimir Putin, scheduled for February 7.
The topic of a US ambassador returning to Minsk after the long diplomatic standoff between Belarus and the US sparked in 2008, has been discussed since January 2019. The recent negotiations between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Alexander Lukashenko focused on this, and on diplomatic relations between the two countries in general. Meanwhile, talking about warming relations with the United States, Lukashenko repeatedly went on to talk about relations with Moscow. Some statements by the Belarusian leader were built on a direct comparison of Russia and the United States, Kommersant wrote. Moreover, Moscow, in his assessments, was presented as a source of problems, whereas the United States was presented as a potential assistant in solving them, the newspaper said. As an example of this, Lukashenko cited the statement by the US Secretary of State on Washington’s readiness to provide Belarus with oil "at a competitive price".
Commenting on Lukashenko’s statements, Vyacheslav Pazdnyak, from the Minsk-based Wider Europe told Kommersant, "Alexander Lukashenko has given Moscow a signal: if Russia does not want to provide support, there are other countries that can do this." However, according to the expert, the newly founded rapprochement between Minsk and Washington is very limited, because the United States, unlike the European Union, regularly extends sanctions against Belarus. Lukashenko even tops the list himself, and is prohibited from entering the United States.
Izvestia: Russian restaurants and hotels cannot turn away Chinese citizens
Hotels and restaurants do not have the right to refuse service to Chinese customers, or they can risk facing penalties, the Consumers Union of Russia told Izvestia. The union noted that the services of restaurants and hotels are public, which means that they are obliged to work with any client regardless of their nationality. Meanwhile, the Federation of Restaurateurs and Hoteliers disagrees with this. They feel that every establishment has the right to apply precautionary measures and there is nothing reprehensible about this.
"The only reason for any refusal is the objective inability to provide services, say for example, a full restaurant or a hotel. Restaurant employees are not qualified medical personnel and cannot determine either the nature of the disease or its threat to others," Co-Chairman of the Russian Consumers Union Alexei Koitov told Izvestia.
The Consumers Union recalled that a fine for an unlawful denial of service under the current Code of Administrative Offenses for legal entities is 20,000-30,000 rubles ($317-$475). Prohibiting Chinese citizens from visiting cafes or hotels may result in criminal punishment, based on Article 136 of the Russian Criminal Code "Violation of the Equality of Human and Civil Rights and Freedoms", and would involve a fine of 100,000-300,000 rubles ($1,585-4,756) or imprisonment for up to two years.
On the other hand, the Federation of Restaurateurs and Hoteliers sees nothing wrong with the fact that some establishments refuse to receive guests from China, since these are their precautions. "I think everyone has the right to take care of their health in their own way. It can hardly be called racial discrimination, rather a certain caution in relation to a well-known epidemiological case," the Federation’s Vice President Vadim Prasov told Izvestia.
Booking.com told Izvestia that it "offers the possibility of free cancellation or modification of any reservations of accommodation facilities in China for arrivals before February 8, 2020, and also provides similar support to all customers from China who are sent abroad." Airbnb investigates all reports of discrimination and, if necessary, takes appropriate measures, even removing users from the platform, its representatives told Izvestia.
Kommersant: Russian government seeks to take control over development of Internet technologies
A set of prepared roadmaps for implementing end-to-end digital technologies, including quantum technologies, blockchain and artificial intelligence, can be supplemented by a document on Internet development, Kommersant wrote. The document was developed by Rostelecom, which proposes to develop, under state control, a platform for collecting the "digital footprint" of an Internet user, a content-based recommendation system, as well as a domestic messenger, browser and mobile operating system. With an estimated budget of 260 bln rubles ($4.12 bln) the new roadmap could be one of the most expensive ones. The need for such expenses was explained by the requirement "to reduce the risks of manipulating the public opinion of Russians", the newspaper wrote.
Rostelecom sent the draft roadmap to the Ministry of Communications, a source familiar with the text of the document told Kommersant. Its development was confirmed by another IT market source. According to Kommersant’s sources, the document includes the development of such technologies in Russia as content-based recommendation systems, speech and gesture recognition, virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), instant messengers, OS, and so on. It was noted that a number of products in this area have already been developed and are operated by large companies such as Yandex, Mail.ru Group, Rambler Group, Rostelecom, among others.
The Internet technologies listed in the roadmap and specifically this area of the IT industry generally does not need special state support, chief analyst of the Russian Electronic Communications Association Karen Ghazaryan told Kommersant. "There is a high probability that this will be a total waste of money," he said. At the same time, through the participation in the development of Internet technologies, the state will have more opportunities for an in-depth analysis of people’s private lives, including for example their habits and interests, Head of data and analytics group at KPMG in Russia and the CIS Roman Milyaev told Kommersant.
Vedomosti: Analysts expect sixth consecutive reduction of Russia’s Central Bank key rate
The first meeting of the Board of Directors of the Central Bank in 2020 will be held on February 7, converging with several atypical events in politics and economics at once. The onset of the coronavirus epidemic, the change of the Russian government and more spending on social measures backed by Vladimir Putin. The Central Bank will have to decide what to do with the rate before the impact of such risks becomes clear, Vedomosti wrote. The majority of experts, interviewed by the newspaper nevertheless expect a rate cut.
Consumer prices have not responded to the easing of monetary policy since June 2019, VTB Capital analysts noted. Against this background, the Central Bank may again reduce the rate. Analysts interviewed by Reuters expect this as well - 15 out of 24 economists expect a rate cut of 0.25 percentage points to 6%.
On the other hand, external risks can prevent a rate cut. Due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the price of Brent oil could drop by $11 in 2020, Citi analysts believe. Oil prices have already fallen by 12% since the end of December and by 4% last week. The ruble exchange rate for January also fell by 2.5%, Alfa Bank analysts said. A couple of weeks ago, the ruble was actively strengthening. This was one of the factors in favor of lowering the rate, chief economist at Nordea Bank Tatiana Evdokimova said, but against the backdrop of the epidemic, the ruble's future is beginning to look bleaker. The virus has already caused a panic throughout global markets, the Central Bank will not be able to ignore it and will take a break from changing the key rate, at least until the peak of the epidemic or the stock markets stabilize, analysts at Veles Capital forecast.
In the future, the regulator may reduce the rate one more time - in April to 5.75%, Rosbank chief analyst Evgeny Koshelev believes, and then they’ll wait and see until the end of the year.