Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, July 7, prepared by TASS
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: London slaps sanctions on top Russian officials
The United Kingdom has slapped sanctions on 25 Russian citizens allegedly involved in the Sergei Magnitsky case and on 20 Saudi individuals suspected of being involved in the murder of Saudi reporter Jamal Khashoggi, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced to the Financial Times earlier. Experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta think that London is able to lead a tougher sanctions policy on its own than within the EU, which may pose a threat to members of the Russian elite.
Among the sanctioned Russian nationals are Head of Russia’s Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin, Deputy Prosecutor General Viktor Grin and former Deputy Interior Minister Alexei Anichin. Raab said earlier that the sanctions against Russian nationals would cover "those individuals involved in the torture and murder of Magnitsky, the lawyer who disclosed the biggest known tax fraud in Russian history."
Alexander Tevdoi-Burmuli, an associate professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University) told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the United Kingdom had announced those sanctions as soon as it could. "It is not a surprise at all that this decision has been taken now, because London needed time to hammer out its own sanctions. Now, the process is underway, and the list of people on the sanctions list will multiply," the expert stated.
Tevdoi-Burmuli assumed that UK sanctions would turn out to be tougher than the EU’s restrictions. Besides, they will be much more unpleasant for members of the Russian elite who own many assets in the UK.
"Downing Street has its reasons for its tough treatment of some Russian citizens, including the recent diplomatic spat related to the Skripal poisoning. Of course, we must not forget that London is gravitating towards Washington, and this too can have an impact. So this is why I think that the UK’s sanctions against Russians will end up being tougher than the EU sanctions," the expert pointed out.
Vedomosti: India to buy Russian jets to the tune of $2.4 bln
India’s Defense Acquisition Council has greenlighted a new plan for weapon purchases, which includes the acquisition of 33 Russian fighter jets to the tune of about $2.4 bln. India intends to upgrade 56 MiG-29 jets already in its possession and purchase 21 additional ones, which will cost about $966 mln. It is also looking to buy 12 Russian-made Su-30MKI fighters assembled by the local state-owned company Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to the tune of $1.4 bln, the council announced in its press release published on July 3.
Russia and India have been hashing over this deal since 2018, a source close to Russia’s military-technical cooperation bodies told Vedomosti. The source noted that Moscow would sell the MiG-29 fighters available in the Russian Aerospace Forces. The contracts may be signed within a year, and preliminary work on fulfilling the conditions of the deal has begun, the source pointed out. The deliveries of 272 Su-30MKI fighters to India and their assembly by HAL under the 1996 and 2000 contracts were completed in early 2020.
The Indian government’s decision demonstrates that Russia won hands down on such factors as price and speed of delivery. Besides, the delivery of new jets will help keep jobs in India, Konstantin Makienko, an expert with the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, told Vedomosti. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, India’s GDP is predicted to grow just by 1.7%, which turns out to be a 40-year low, Makienko pointed out. This is why buying expensive fighters such as the Rafale (the purchase invoice for 36 Rafale jets would total 7 bln euro) would pose a problem for India. Even before the pandemic, India was discussing scaling down its ambitions and purchasing equipment that would be assembled within the country, which benefits Russia, as it is ready to sell its technologies for a reasonable price.
Kommersant: Russian government slaps Nornickel with $2-bln fine for Arctic fuel spill
The Russian federal government has imposed a record fine on Nornickel, a major Russian nickel and palladium mining company, in the wake of the biggest fuel spill in the Arctic that took place near Norilsk on May 29. According to the Federal Environmental, Industrial and Nuclear Supervision Service of Russia, Nornickel should voluntarily pay 147.7 bln rubles (approximately over $2 bln) in damages for the spill. Nornickel stated that so far, it had not received any relevant documents. The company’s shares have dropped by 5% following the news, Kommersant reports.
"It is quite clear that this will be the biggest environmental fine in Russian history," Director of the Ecology Institute of the Higher School of Economics Boris Morgunov notes. "However, it is also clear that this sum is unlikely to be justified, as much more time is needed to estimate the real damage. So this sum is more like a call for dialogue. In all probability, it was calculated based on international precedent."
Nornickel has the means and ability to shell out such a sum. By late 2019, the company had 172 bln rubles (about $2.39 bln) in its accounts, and its liquidity cushion surpassed $7 bln taking into account the unused lines of credit. The company’s capital investment planned for this year only reaches $2.5 bln, and Nornickel expected this sum to grow by about 5-10% in the wake of the fuel spill. Nornickel CEO Vladimir Potanin earlier estimated the expenses to eliminate the consequences of the spill at about 10 bln rubles (about $139.28 mln), not counting the fine imposed by the Russian environmental watchdog.
However, this fine will seriously affect the 2020 net gains and the company’s dividends.
"We want an honest dialogue about what actually takes place within the company," Deputy Chief of RUSAL and member of Nornickel’s Board of Directors Maxim Poletaev told Kommersant. "We are baffled by the fact that the head of the company, whom we trust and who has been a managing partner for 20 years, told the president directly that [the damages would come up to] 10 bln rubles, and then the sum grew 15 times… this is very unexpected," he said, adding that RUSAL will "decide on its reaction after the incident comes to a definite and final conclusion."
RBC: Russia sees rise in personal bankruptcies during first half of 2020
The number of insolvent Russians climbed 47% in the first half of 2020 compared to the corresponding period of last year, while bankruptcies among legal entities declined, RBC stated on Tuesday citing the United Federal Register of Bankruptcy Data.
It noted that in the first half of 2020, 42,700 citizens went bankrupt. In the first three months, courts handed down 22,300 bankruptcy rulings, and in April-June, 20,400 bankruptcies were reported. The biggest spike was recorded in June, when 11,500 Russians were declared insolvent, including individual entrepreneurs, which is 2.2 times higher than in June 2019.
Head of the register Alexei Yukhnin attributed this spike to the fact that many Russian courts had returned to their standard working procedure in June after the coronavirus restrictions had been lifted. "In the period from March 19 to May 11, courts rarely considered bankruptcy cases of companies and fewer cases of individual bankruptcies. By the end of the second quarter, after returning to standard operational procedure, courts partly compensated for the shortage of rulings in the previous months," Yukhnin told RBC.
According to him, the increase in individual bankruptcies will continue in the second half of the year at a level approximately 1.8-2 times higher than last year. Among the reasons for the wave of bankruptcies, the expert lists the increased level of citizens’ awareness and delayed demand. He noted that pandemic-related factors won’t affect bankruptcies until at least the spring of 2021.
At the same time, the number of company bankruptcies in Russia went down by 26% in the first half of 2020 compared to last year, with 4,500 legal entities ruled insolvent by courts.
Kommersant: Coronavirus pandemic remains biggest fear of Russian citizens
Russians have named the novel coronavirus and everything related to it as their main phobia, Kommersant notes. Russians fear losing their jobs and incomes, changing their lifestyle (lockdowns, obligatory mask wearing), being fined for violating quarantine measures and so on, CROS reports in its National Index of Anxieties for the second quarter of 2020. The constitutional amendments vote, "a return to the 1990s due to the crisis," and the unstable international situation have been listed among the less prominent fears of Russian citizens. Experts noted that the anxiety caused by the pandemic is unlikely to subside anytime soon, as the economic consequences of it will be felt for a long time.
The CROS National Index of Anxieties analyzes data from Russian social networks, compiling a ranking of the most discussed topics.
Talk about the coronavirus and its consequences took first place in the ranking. The greatest number of people are worried that they might lose their jobs and incomes due to the crisis (with a 253 anxiety level), that they would have to change their lifestyle (which includes the threat of a second wave of the epidemic, self-isolation and obligatory mask use, totaling an anxiety level of 242.4). People also mention "digital slavery" and fines for violating quarantine measures (241.4 anxiety index), ruined holidays due to closed borders (179.9), and a lack of trust in official COVID-19 statistics (111.2). Other hot topics mentioned by Russians include the fuel spill in Norilsk (75.9 anxiety index), the lack of quality healthcare care during the epidemic (36.9), the constitutional amendments vote (33.1), the global arms race and the rise in international tensions (25.3).
The ranking documents the main fears and anxieties of citizens at a time when coronavirus restrictions are being lifted. In some ways, this sums up what Russians have gone through from April to June, CROS analytics director and author of the research Andrei Lebedev notes. "People have remembered the control measures imposed on them the most, especially in Moscow, which leads them to fear that the technologies and mechanisms used would be employed in the future under certain circumstances, and not just in the capital. A very strong fear that arose during the epidemic is the potential loss of jobs and income, it is unlikely to go away anytime soon, since the economic consequences of the epidemic will be felt for a long time," the expert stated.