- Press review: Berlin nixes Russia’s space arms control and China’s Pacific muscle vexes US
- Press review: Russia, Saudis wait for US to cut oil output and COVID-19 to hit Russian GDP
- Press review: US blames pandemic on China and coronavirus deep-sixes NATO’s plans
- UN Security Council to discuss coronavirus pandemic for first time
Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, February 27, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: EU not eyeing border closure over coronavirus scare
Despite the spread of the coronavirus, the European Union is not considering closing its borders in the Schengen zone, the Council of the European Union told Izvestia. The Council noted that returning any border control is possible in the event of a "serious threat to state policy or internal security" and should be used as a last resort. Meanwhile, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), 381 infections and 12 fatalities have been reported in Europe with most of them in Italy.
"The EU is not currently considering closing its borders in the Schengen area in response to the outbreak of the coronavirus in Italy. The World Health Organization (WHO) did not recommend travel restrictions in Europe. The Schengen rules give countries the right to restore border control in the event of a "serious threat to state policy and internal security." This should be used as a last resort, limited in time and minimized solely to solve the problem," a representative of the Council told the newspaper. "At the same time, it is important to understand that the border closure issue concerns all 26 participants in the Schengen zone, including 22 EU countries, and the remaining four — Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland — are not included in the association," the representative added.
"In the current situation, the introduction of border controls due to the coronavirus epidemic is possible and legal," Nikolai Kaveshnikov, who heads the Department of Integration Studies at MGIMO, told Izvestia. "But how practical and likely it would be, is the big question," he added.
According to Elena Maslova, senior researcher at MGIMO, centralized resumption of border controls in the Schengen zone would entail enormous economic costs not only for the member states themselves, but also for the entire European Union. In the meantime, it would not be entirely true to say that the epidemic applies exclusively to Italy. According to the expert, scientists from the country were among the first in Europe who began to study the virus, and in general, their diagnostic technology today can be considered one of the most advanced. However, the disease control measures in Italy vary from region to region.
Kommersant: Russia, Kyrgyzstan to maintain friendship away from the West
President Sooronbay Jeenbekov of Kyrgyzstan arrived in Moscow on a two-day visit. Together with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he will launch the cross year of Kyrgyzstan in Russia and Russia in Kyrgyzstan. At first glance, the cultural event has a geopolitical background. In Central Asia, competition between Russia and the West is growing. The current friction is already reminiscent of the situations that occurred in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Armenia, during the active phase of the EU’s Eastern Partnership Program. According to Kommersant, Moscow hopes to halt its rivals’ growing influence, and China is counted as a key competitor there.
Putin came up with the idea of the cross-cultural year and Jeenbekov actively supported it. In 2020, hundreds of events aimed at strengthening cultural, educational and economic ties will be held in both countries, under the auspices of the two leaders. Accelerated rapprochement is dictated by a change in the geopolitical situation in the post-Soviet space, Kommersant wrote. In February, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States would protect not just European allies from Russia’s "aggressive" intentions.
In addition to culture, non-governmental organizations are another tool of the West’s "soft power," with which Moscow has not yet been able to compete effectively, the newspaper wrote. Russia also lost positions in the economy, experts told Kommersant, noting that China is leading in this area. Chinese companies are building roads in Kyrgyzstan, modernizing thermal power plants, laying power lines. "During Almazbek Atambayev’s presidency, Kyrgyzstan became one of the largest debtors to Exim Bank of China, having received over $1 bln for various projects," former head of the Accounts Chamber Elmira Ibraimova told Kommersant. The cross year has another dimension, which is domestic politics, as parliamentary elections will be held in Kyrgyzstan this year. Both Moscow and the Kyrgyz leadership are interested in those backing ties with Russia emerging victorious, the newspaper wrote.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Looming economic crisis not spooking Finance Ministry
Against the background of falling consumption due to the spread of the coronavirus, oil prices deviated strongly from the level of about $60 per barrel, satisfying both producers and consumers, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote. The market was alarmed by the $50 mark seen recently, and if prices drop another $10, this could lead to a collapse and a crisis that would throw the economy, or at least export revenue, back five years. Meanwhile, Russia’s Finance Ministry announce that the country’s financial system is ready for such shocks, including those associated with the coronavirus spread. By the same token, representatives of the Russian Federation still reject the OPEC+ proposal to further reduce the level of oil production, and experts do not rule out a repetition of the most severe crisis scenarios.
The Russian financial system overcame the 2014 crisis, and is now ready for various shocks, including the consequences of the coronavirus, Deputy Finance Minister Alexey Moiseev said. Russia’s Central Bank has a similar position. At the same time, experts disagree about the prospects for an even bigger drop in oil prices and the ability of OPEC+ to make a decision that would take into account the coronavirus scare and could return prices to the so-called equilibrium level, for which it was recently considered to be $60 per barrel. "A decline of prices to $45 is quite possible, since the specifics of current oil trading is that it is influenced not only by fundamental factors, but also by the mood of speculators and the general financial situation," Stanislav Mitrahovich, an expert from the Financial University, told the newspaper.
"If the coronavirus continues to spread outside of China, panic will certainly mount. Against this background, it is quite possible for oil prices to drop below $40 for Russian Urals oil," Ivan Kapustyansky, a leading analyst at Forex Optimum told the newspaper. "This is an extremely negative scenario for the Russian government, because it will become harder to find additional funds to carry out the National Projects, and this is a key parameter that will be used to evaluate the current government. Therefore, most likely, in the event of a further drop in oil prices, Russia will support additional restrictions on oil production, which were recommended by the OPEC+ technical group," the expert added.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kabul faces unrest in provinces, government rift
Washington called on Afghan politicians to refrain from trying to create a "state within a state." This remark by the State Department emerged because of the refusal by opponents of the current Afghan leader, Ashraf Ghani, to recognize the outcome of the presidential election announced the day before. His rival, Abdullah Abdullah, not only announced the creation of his own cabinet of ministers, but also encouraged the emergence of "parallel" governors in several provinces of Afghanistan. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the situation might have been stoked by external powers.
Kabul’s political circles forecast an increase in the number of "rebellious" areas. This creates a new headache for Ghani, whose legitimacy was already called into question by separate negotiations between the Americans and the Taliban (banned in Russia). Moreover, Abdullah seems to be determined, the newspaper wrote.
Omar Nessar, a senior fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the advocates of a "parallel government" in Afghanistan are not interested in destabilization. "This is unprofitable for them. However, at the same time, they need to demonstrate how serious their intentions are. They want to cancel the results of the presidential election," the expert noted. Nessar doubts that the situation will result in a breakdown of Afghanistan’s central authorities, but believes that it depends on the position of external players, who so far demonstrate interest in preventing destabilization.
In general, the creation of parallel authorities in Kabul and in the provinces highlighted the need to amend the Afghan Constitution, especially as far as presidential powers go, the analyst said.
Kommersant: Council of Europe Committee of Ministers transferred from Tbilisi to Strasbourg
After much debate with European colleagues, the Georgian authorities declined to hold a meeting of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in mid-May in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia that presides over the Council of Europe. According to Kommersant, the decision was considered optimal in conditions where supporters of ex-president Mikhail Saakashvili threatened mass unrest if Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who "repeatedly violated" Georgia’s "On Occupation" law, were to arrive. At the same time, Saakashvili’s associates considered the decision to mean "a surrender to Russia."
Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani announced the decision on the meeting, citing the desire to follow the country’s laws as a reason. The arrival of Lavrov, who visited Abkhazia and South Ossetia, would be in conflict with the norms of Georgia’s "On Occupation" law. In this case, the authorities would have faced an unpleasant choice: either violate the Council of Europe charter and their own obligations, not to let the chief Russian diplomat into the country, thereby causing an international scandal; or to ignore their own law, despite the threat of the opposition to organize mass protests.
The decision provoked mixed reactions in Georgia. Former Minister of State for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Paata Zakareishvili, who has repeatedly spoken out for amending the law on occupation, told reporters that the ruling Georgian Dream party and the government have admitted their helplessness and inability to answer the challenges. Meanwhile, Saakashvili’s associate on the United National Movement party, Roman Gotsiridze said at a briefing that the Georgian government "surrendered" by succumbing to Russian blackmail.