- Press review: Putin’s surprise offer for New START and Washington’s pipeline clampdown
- Press review: Yerevan, Baku need to make concessions and Lukashenko to split opposition
- Press review: US nixes Putin’s New START offer and why Iran is waiting for US elections
- Press review: EU targets Kremlin officials in new blacklist and Kyrgyz president resigns
Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, September 2, prepared by TASS
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Washington seeks to cobble together Asian NATO
US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun has disclosed a plan that American diplomats have been cooking up for a long time. During his speech at the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum, he alluded to the fact that the Indo-Pacific region needs to form a NATO-like alliance, with the United States, Japan, Australia and India among its first participants, who may later be joined by South Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam. However, India follows a non-aligned policy course, Nezavisimaya Gazeta points out. The US State Department hopes to alleviate any doubts that India may have about joining such an alliance by the fall.
Washington’s aim is to create a coalition to counter a potential threat from China. In the future, the alliance will attract states that share common values and interests from all over the world, Biegun noted.
This large-scale plan concerns both Asia and other continents, however, at the first stage, the US, Japan, Australia and India are considering joining the alliance. However, both Japan and Australia are already tied to the US by defense agreements. Meanwhile, in the past, India has stuck to the non-aligned principle.
So will India change its traditional policy? Vinay Shukla, an editor at India Strategic magazine, told the paper that New Delhi is against a rift with China, and calls for maintaining dialogue. Meanwhile, Washington wants to use the strong anti-Chinese sentiment that arose in the wake of clashes on the Indian-Chinese border to its advantage, the expert said. Some experts agree that Russia has a weak economy, and India needs to cooperate with America; while some stress that India will never join NATO, as the US has never helped it during a difficult moment, Shukla pointed out. He added that America’s military-industrial complex is the one calling for the creation of a new security bloc, since defense corporations would stand to benefit from uncontrolled access to India’s arms market.
Sergey Lunev, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Washington wants to undermine India’s foreign policy course that was proclaimed after its independence in 1947. Joining the alliance would mean rolling back ties with Moscow, yet Russia is India’s main arms exporter, the expert pointed out, adding that other members of the proposed coalition, Japan and Australia, do not want to undermine trade relations with China.
Izvestia: Russia hits one million COVID-19 cases
According to official data, there are over 1,000,000 people diagnosed with COVID-19, a disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in Russia. However, this figure only reflects the cases diagnosed through testing. According to experts quizzed by Izvestia, the real number of Russians who have been infected with the novel coronavirus since the start of the pandemic may reach from 30 mln to 80 mln. Specialists do not expect a significant second wave of COVID-19 in early September, claiming that the main carriers of the disease - doctors, delivery workers and cashiers - have already overcome the disease and are no longer spreading the infection.
According to Pavel Volchkov, who heads the genome engineering lab at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, the million detected cases only include the most prominent cases of infection. He is sure that up to 80 mln Russians may have faced the disease already.
"I am confident that at least 30 mln Russians have already encountered the coronavirus. I think that the real number is between 50-60 mln, or maybe even a full 80 mln," the expert told the paper. He noted that the share of Russian citizens with COVID-19 antibodies has reached 15-30% on the outcomes of seroprevalence research. "This is a more reliable data that we can base our conclusions on. However, we need to take into account that tests may not show that a person has antibodies, while they do have immunity to SARS-CoV-2."
The possible start of the second wave of the pandemic remains an important issue, as people return from their vacations, schools and universities reopen, and people are spending more time indoors as the weather gets colder.
"I do not doubt that there will be a small increase," said Roman Zinovkin, a leading researcher at the molecular biology lab of the Lomonosov Moscow State University in an interview with Izvestia. Nontheless, he noted that the scale of the second wave would not be as great. "The majority of key transmitters of the virus have already beaten the disease. This includes people who have to come into contact with a large amount of people as part of their work, namely, doctors, police officers, delivery workers, and cashiers."
Experts note that it is hard to make predictions regarding statistical data. Zinovkin noted that Russia’s COVID-19 count might hit 1.2 mln or 1.3 mln by the end of the year, and it might climb to 1.5 mln during the next year.
It is important that Russian doctors are already experienced in treating COVID-19, so the death rate should be significantly lower than in the first months of the pandemic, experts point out, while the disease itself is likely to not be as severe. Besides, the Russian health system is ready to admit more patients.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Turkish-backed Syrian militants reportedly headed to Azerbaijan
Several Telegram channels have reported that about 500 Turkish-backed troops previously stationed in Syria, namely fighters belonging to the Sultan Murad Division, the Free Syrian Army and Hamzat, reportedly have been deployed to Azerbaijan. Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s sources note that this information is pending confirmation, however, it is likely to be genuine. Baku held a protest several days earlier, calling on Turkey "to save Azerbaijan from the Armenians and the Russians." They called on the government to place a Turkish military base on the territory of Azerbaijan and take revenge for the July clashes on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
Turkish TV showed footage from the demonstration, which later was picked up by several Russian media outlets. There is no official response from Moscow regarding this matter, and it is unclear whether Baku had allowed this protest to take place. Igor Dimitriev, an expert on the region, said on his Telegram channel that "the Turks have de facto built a military base in Azerbaijan." "There are rumors going around claiming that after the drills [large-scale Azerbaijani-Turkish drills held in July-August 2020 - newspaper], Turkey left some of its troops in Azerbaijan, including F-16 jets with personnel in addition to a unit of Turkish drones," the expert said.
Telman Abilov, who heads the Azerbaijani organization "Military Lawyers" thinks that an escalation of tensions on the border with Armenia may be related to gas shipments. "The escalation took place right after Turkey had reduced its purchase of Russian gas to a minimum. At the same time, Ankara has diversified its energy sources, namely by buying Azeri gas. On the other hand, Azerbaijani gas is set to enter the southern European market, where it will compete with Russian gas," he said. Dimitriev wrote on Telegram that there is an opinion held by some Azerbaijanis that "the Russian-Armenian invasion seeks to undermine the construction of a transport corridor between the Caspian and Black Seas."
Military commentator Shamil Gareev told the paper that Moscow is likely to be concerned with Turkey’s expanded presence in the Middle East more than with the gas corridor, as Turkey is a NATO state with the second largest army in the alliance. "The real possibility of a Turkish base appearing there, as well as Syrian militants backed by Turkey, are increasing tensions and fail to contribute to the peaceful regulation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.
Kommersant: US dollar plummets globally
The greenback’s exchange rate has hit a new low not seen since April 2018. The depreciation of the American currency is taking place against the backdrop of a massive nationwide monetary stimulus program as well as anxiety over the upcoming US presidential election. European currencies, along with the yuan and the ruble, have strengthened their positions against the dollar. However, the Russian ruble’s exchange rate remains low after a drop recorded in the summer, Kommersant informs.
The greenback has been rapidly losing its positions on the global market. On September 1, the DXY index, which shows the dollar’s exchange rate against six leading currencies, dropped to a two-year low, reaching 91.75 points. This is the lowest figure since April 30, 2018. The US currency has continued to decline for four months running. During this period, the dollar index has dropped by 8.5%, and in the past week, the greenback has shown a 1.6% decrease.
On Tuesday, the dollar-ruble rate on the Moscow Exchange dropped to 73.44 rubles, which is the lowest figure since August 20. The ruble remains an outsider among developing currencies in the wake of the currency drop recorded during the summer. "Outside factors, such as the situation in Belarus, have put pressure on the Russian currency’s exchange rate. However, in the context of low oil prices, the government benefits from a weak ruble in order to increase budget revenues through currency revaluation," said Kirill Sokolov, chief economist at Sovcombank.
Experts do not rule out that the dollar will continue to drop globally and in Russia. "Taking into account the ongoing stimulus policy in the US and large-scale measures to support the economy, the dollar will stay under pressure as inflation is expected to rise," head analyst at Promsvyazbank Bogdan Zvarich noted, adding that the dollar exchange rate against the ruble may go back to 72.5 rubles in the near future if oil prices continue to rise in a stable manner.
Vedomosti: August marked by optimism in Russian industrial production
The seasonal PMI index of Russia’s manufacturing branches has gone up from 48.4 points in July to 51.1 points in August, surpassing 50 for the first time in over a year, IHS Markit’s research informs. A figure above 50 shows a rise in business activity, while a figure under 50 demonstrates its decrease. In April 2020, the PMI dropped to 31.3 points compared to 47.5 the month before. According to IHS Markit, this was a record drop not seen since 1997. Now, Russian companies are noting an increase in demand towards production in the country. "The increase in new orders has reached its highest since April 2019," the company says, quoted by Vedomosti.
Vladimir Salnikov from the Center for Macroeconomic Analysis and Short-Range Forecasting told Vedomosti that the PMI index shows the subjective stance of entrepreneurs, as it is a polling index (IHS Markit analyzes the responses to surveys received by the heads of 300 industrial enterprises monthly). Salnikov noted that while PMI is an early indicator, this year, it has fallen behind. "The industry had begun to recover back in May, however, in late spring - early summer, businesses overestimated the negative repercussions of the pandemic and the risks associated with it. Entrepreneurs were frightened of the coronavirus crisis, looking at the future with pessimism, so polls began to show optimism only in August," he explained.
"Russia has looked rather well among others during the coronavirus pandemic, and it shows a good recovery," Vladimir Bessonov, head of the HSE Laboratory for Research in Inflation and Growth, told the paper. "Industrial enterprises have demonstrated growth since May. Russia has never shown such a quick post-crisis recovery in its history. 2008 showed a quick drop, yet, the recovery took a year, and now we are talking about several months. The expert pointed out that this might be tied to the non-economic causes of the current crisis.
However, experts do not expect that the economy will continue to grow. Salnikov pointed out that Russia would reach a plateau over the coming months, with demand 8% lower than the pre-crisis level. A month ago, Russia’s Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov predicted that industrial production at the end of 2020 might remain at the 2019 level if there is no second wave of COVID-19.