Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, February 6, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: Russia may face economic slowdown due to China’s coronavirus
The novel coronavirus outbreak in China might slow the growth rate of Russia’s GDP by 0.11 percentage points, analysts from the country’s major banks and analytical agencies told Izvestia. Prior to the 2019-nCoV outbreak, they had put the economic growth figure at 1.75%.
MTS Bank analyst Roman Dmitriev handed down one of the most pessimistic forecasts (the loss of 0.2-0.3 percentage points from the annual GDP due to the spread of the disease). Promsvyazbank sees the risk of a decline in the GDP by 0.2 percentage points by the end of 2020 and at least by 0.1 percentage points in the first half of the year. According to its chief analyst Denis Popov, the epidemic could affect, first and foremost, transportation, tourism and machine-building industries focusing on China-made components.
Experts agreed that despite the potential GDP losses, the coronavirus is unlikely to affect inflation. The reorientation to other markets may lead to some inflationary effect, but it will be noticeable only if official long-term restrictions on purchasing Chinese goods are imposed, said Alfa Bank Chief Economist Natalia Orlova.
The more efforts China’s authorities undertake to restrict the spread of the virus, the faster the GDP will fall, Sovcombank Chief Analyst Mikhail Vasiliev stressed.
According to Dmitry Kulikov from the ACRA agency, sales of travel packages and education services, as well as public transportation tickets and entertainment services in China will decrease substantially this year. Extended vacations at some enterprises could likewise cause an economic decline by the end of the year, he pointed out.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Cyber attacks threaten public health data
Cyber threats will become even more covert and targeted this year, while cyber attacks will be even more sophisticated. Hackers will be increasingly more interested not only in people’s bank accounts but also in their medical diagnoses, the IT experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta warned.
"There will be more and more advertisements on the sale of patients’ medical data, including information from health cards or insurance certificates, across the dark net. Even now, they sometimes cost more than bank card data, since they are a valuable resource for hackers, which helps them gain users’ trust and deceive them or their relatives," said Kaspersky Lab Malware Analyst Dmitry Galov.
"We will continue to observe massive information leakage, in particular, personal data. Major companies are currently collecting an excessive amount of data, and few people care about the safety of that information," Andrey Timoshenko, an information security manager at Accenture, explained.
"It is fairly difficult to predict future risks, because modern cyber threats often emerge at the crossroads of technology and social engineering," Alexander Vasilenko, Regional Director at VMware in Russia and the CIS, explained. "This being so, cybersecurity companies should focus on creating the technology, which not only searches for the signatures of existing viruses, but also looks at the entire system’s behavior. In that case, any non-standard behavior will not go unnoticed," he stressed.
Kommersant: Georgia seeks US support ahead of parliamentary elections
Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani visited the United States on Tuesday, and a delegation of the ruling Georgian Dream party led by parliament speaker Archil Talakvadze arrived in Washington the next day. It is no coincidence that several Georgian politicians came to the US capital simultaneously, Kommersant writes. Zalkaliani made it clear that he and his colleagues intend to represent their county in Washington as a showcase of "democratic reforms" in the post-Soviet space.
According to the delegates from the Georgian Dream party, the purpose of their trip to Washington was to counter "the malicious misinformation" disseminated by ex-Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and his associates.
Saakashvili’s team launched a propaganda campaign in Washington in order to discredit the ruling party, Georgian MP and Chairman of the country’s Green Party Giorgi Gachechiladze told Kommersant. "Saakashvili and his accomplices are trying to mislead our American counterparts," he said.
During his visit to Washington, the top Georgian diplomat placed special emphasis on what he alleged was "Russian aggression and ongoing occupation," in reference to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He also reaffirmed that Georgia remained the United States’ most faithful ally in the region.
"The main pathos of the Georgian politicians’ statements in Washington can be defined as follows: Why change horses in midstream, if the Georgian Dream [party] guarantees that a pro-Western choice is unwavering," the paper quotes Sergey Markedonov, Leading Researcher at the MGIMO Center for Euro-Atlantic Security, as saying.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Saudis, Washington to create Arab militia in Syria
Saudi Arabia has given its consent to the United States to take part in creating a new Arab militia in northeast Syria, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes citing media reports and Syrian sources. The negotiations on the issue were earlier held in the city of Al-Hasakah. According to media reports, the Saudis seek to limit Iranian influence and prevent any new Turkish offensive in the region.
Riyadh’s commitments will include training and financing Arab fighters. These ethnic-based units are expected to form part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
Evidently, the assassination of influential Iranian General Qasem Soleimani who oversaw Tehran’s operations abroad created suitable conditions for the Saudis.
In addition, the al-Sanadid forces and some other groups will operate in Riyadh’s area of responsibility. "The al-Sanadid units are operating mainly in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province. Saudi Arabia has been working with them for a long time, because they consist of members of the Shammar tribe. Large numbers of them reside in the kingdom," Kirill Semenov, who heads the Center for Islamic Studies at the Innovative Development Institute, told the paper.
The Arab population in northeast Syria sees any hint of Riyadh’s presence in a positive light, Professor of the Modern East Department of History, Political Science and Law at the Russian State University for the Humanities Grigory Kosach stressed to Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The expert noted that the kingdom’s financial assistance to region, which included the Kurds as well, helped the civilian population to survive.
Vedomosti: China may reduce LNG imports over coronavirus fears
Chinese companies, including China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), are reportedly exploring the possibility of temporarily rescinding long-term contracts for the purchase of liquefied natural gas (LNG), Vedomosti writes citing media reports. Beijing is struggling to take control of the epidemic by closing cities and restricting travel, but demand for gas has decreased significantly, The Financial Times earlier reported citing some sources.
Russia’s energy giant Gazprom earlier said that the coronavirus situation in China had not affected gas exports through the Power of Siberia pipeline. A source close to Gazprom informed Vedomosti that there had been no requests from The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) to adjust export volumes through the Power of Siberia pipeline, adding that deliveries continued according to the contract.
It is difficult to assess now how the coronavirus epidemic could affect gas consumption in China. If Beijing decides to reduce gas consumption, Chinese companies will be in no hurry to declare force majeure, the paper quotes Maria Belova of Vygon Consulting as saying. In 2015 and 2016, Chinese state-controlled companies reduced gas production in the country while maintaining LNG imports, she recalled. "It is currently difficult to assess the scale of the disaster, since it is unclear when the real decline in gas imports will begin. One thing is clear though: this is bad news for the overheated LNG market," she emphasized.
"A ‘perfect storm’ has come for gas prices in Europe - the commissioning of new capacities, a warm winter, along with storage facilities filled to the brim, and now there is also a drop in demand for LNG from China. The market will be recovering longer than many thought. This year, prices in Europe are likely to be even lower than last year, when the market plummeted," Dmitry Marinchenko of Fitch Ratings pointed out.